Four changes that will make you watch MLS Soccer

Soccer Fan cheering for their team in MLS cup in 2006

Soccer is a competitive sport that is in tune with the other major team sports in the US. True, the NFL and NBA appear more appealing than the Major League Soccer (MLS), which in turn results in higher TV ratings, but I believe soccer through the MLS can be just as interesting to watch in the US.

The main issue with the MLS gaining traction among American viewers is that it is not being tailored for this audience. As a late comer in American sports, the MLS should not try to persuade the US to like the sport of soccer as it is known internationally. That has been tried for over years and Americans are just not receptive to this foreign sport.

The key is to make soccer more American so that it becomes identifiable to the casual American. This means making adjustments to how MLS runs its soccer as follows:

1. Initiate a time limit. I often catch a few games where players are holding on to the ball “setting up” a play. While this may be ideal for executing an offense it nevertheless creates static movement.

To promote a faster pace, which is the world we live in, to the game the MLS needs to add a “shot clock” similar to the NBA’s 24 second timer. It can limit the length of time for how long a player holds on to the ball or how long the ball can be held on one’s own side of the field (similar to backcourt violation in the NBA). In essence, more urgency is created.

2. More physicality. I often dread, as do many others, how quickly soccer players whine over mild contact plays. A slight push or collision and the game is stopped because a player is in agony asking for medical attention.

While this is accepted internationally, the MLS can filter this bad habit by not enforcing any penalties or game stoppage for such trips or slides. Officials will have to be lenient on collisions that occur as part of the game and only call penalties on truly flagrant plays.

By ignoring flop plays, players will have to grow accustom to play through contact. Ultimately the MLS brand of soccer will remove the image of a soft sport held by Americans.

3. Market Soccer Jerseys. NFL and NBA uniforms market the team and the player by having both names dominate the content of the jersey.

The sponsors’ logo, Addidas and Nike, are a mere small emblem in the context of the jersey. While having the sponsors dominate the look of uniform may be the “thing” in NASCAR and international soccer, US consumers are not buying this; figuratively and literally.

Soccer uniforms needs to highlight the team and player names with the sponsor logo a distant third priority. I don’t need to see the Corona logo overshadow my team’s name. Is it a wonder Americans can’t connect with the MLS teams?

4. Embrace Technology. The NFL has made various adjustments on how the NFL is presented to the TV viewers; adding the line of scrimmage and first down markers being the most notable. In distinguishing itself from international soccer, the MLS needs to test and adapt new technologies on presenting the game on the television.

This can be in the form of a colored trail of where the soccer ball moves similar to what the NHL attempted in tracking the movement of the puck. This can appeal more to soccer viewers because the field is more spread out and not crowded as in hockey.

Whatever the end product, the MLS will need to be the pioneer in enhancing how the sport is displayed by accessing new technologies.

Although these changes will make the MLS different from the international soccer, it will help grow an American soccer fan base. This will be similar to the NBA’s basketball rules differing from international (FIBA) rules. The NBA has adjusted the rules of basketball to appeal to the US viewer even if it differentiates from the international regulations.

The challenge for MLS will be to make significant adjustments to invite the American audience but still maintain the qualities of the sport that makes soccer unique. Going too far with changes can lead to a watered down version of the sport which will interest neither the soccer die hard fans nor the potential soccer fans. XFL anyone?

Photo credit: Jarrett Campbell (wjarrettc)

I don't know. Sometimes it feels like my writing & thoughts are way off. Who knows if it'll help anyone or if it means anything.

Written by Nassau Jones

  1. Mark Alvarez says:

    I beg the differ Americans want quality, right now the MLS is too physical this isn’t American football they want tactical plays little flairs here and there and not so many games ending in draws. Soccer can’t embrace technology since its suppose to be free flowing and fluid for the beauti-needed imagine plays always stopping for something minor it would just be boring. No to the time limit since like I said should be free flowing. I agree with you on marketing jeresy for ex there’s a section at Target with Raiders Dodgers Cowboys USC UCLA Chagers but no galaxy its an outrage.

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