April 23rd, 2009 | by HANK STERN News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, Sports

Will Pro Soccer In America Ever Get The Stars?

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Here's an interesting read from The New York Times soccer blog that quotes Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber saying the league's quality of players isn't meeting the fans' demands. Strikes me as a hard problem to surmount, especially as the league expands with moves into Portland and Vancouver. Here's why:



Even if there's a time when the crowded U.S. sports landscape creates enough great American players to have a world-class American league, it's hard to imagine enough of them will find enough prestige or money to stay home, given the head-start that more soccer-mad countries have on us.

Think of it this way: In basketball, I can't imagine Spain's Rudy Fernandez, France's Tony Parker or Argentina's Manu Ginobli ever dreamed of playing in their countries' pro basketball leagues. No, they aspired to play in the world's top pro league: the NBA. Their countries' home leagues can't catch up to the longer-established — and more prestigious — NBA.

Similarly, great American soccer players would be much more tempted by the greater cash and cache coming from Germany's Bundesliga, England's First Division, Italy's Series A or Spain's Liga than playing for Real Salt Lake.

And until MLS lands a big TV contract — the real mother lode that finances sports, not stadium attendance — MLS will struggle to attract enough big-name foreign players here to keep up with an expanding league, unless those foreign players are on the downside of their career. Just as LeBron James or Kobe Bryant would never seriously consider playing abroad in their prime, the top foreign soccer players would never consider playing here in the prime of their careers.

So it seems that Garber's solution of increasing the number of foreign players that MLS teams can sign is not the solution, especially as the league expands. And if not that, what will ever elevate Major League Soccer to be "major league"?
 
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