By Caleb Adams
Major League Soccer is entering the final stretch of the regular season. The 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs kick off November 19th where 14 teams will be entering a classic single elimination showdown for the prestigious MLS Cup title.
While Charlotte FC will not be competing for that crown this year, there are still many compelling reasons to tune into MLS right now.
It can be monotonous when the same team wins year in and year out, unless it is your favorite team. A quick look at the previous champions in the prominent European leagues over the last 10 years reveals a familiar story of one-to-two team dominance.
In this 10-year period, Bayern Munich has won the German league nine times. Juventus, not to be outdone, has triumphed in the Italian league nine times. In France, Paris Saint-Germain has won seven titles.
La Liga has mostly been a two-horse race for the past decade between Barcelona and Real Madrid, with the occasional Atletico Madrid win. In the Premier League, considered to be the most open of the top European leagues, Manchester City has won five times over the same period.
In the same 10-year span, MLS has boasted seven different MLS Cup winners.
The salary cap and roster rules in MLS create greater parity and may prevent any one team from becoming too powerful and dominating the league. This allows teams that do not have as many resources to remain competitive. Teams that know how to make the most of their salary budget are rewarded with long, sustained success.
This creates a more unpredictable league where any team can win in any year. A team that finished in last place one year can make changes and be one of the best teams in the league the following year.
In most leagues around the world such openness is impossible, but it is one of the aspects that makes MLS stand out and the playoffs thrilling.
Unique Playing Styles
The United States is a country made up of many different subcultures from all over the world, with different cultural influences in different regions. This blend of differing cultures under one flag translates onto the pitch.
Depending on which team they follow, fans can enjoy a different playing style influenced by the unique local blend of region, players, and coaching staff.
For example, Orlando City plays a Brazilian style of soccer that is free flowing and focuses on individual flair and creativity. The Philadelphia Union plays a more structured and direct style like that of England. The New York Red Bulls play a hyper-aggressive, high pressing German brand of soccer.
In the Carolinas, Charlotte FC will be looking to play a more Spanish, attacking, possession-based style.
“Football, for me, is a possession game,” Charlotte FC head coach Miguel Ramírez told The Athletic, “But not in some superficial way. Having control of the game means having the ball. That’s the foundation on which I can build everything else.”
All these different international and domestic styles will clash in the battle for the MLS Cup.
Goals, Goals, and More Goals
When soccer fans talk about their favorite iconic moments, the majority of those will be legendary goals. Very few things in sports compare to the joy, agony, thrill, and pure emotion felt when a pivotal goal is scored.
If there is one thing MLS games are not lacking, it is goals, averaging 3.06 goals per game over the previous three non-Covid seasons.
MLS clubs tend to invest significantly more money on attacking players than defenders which leads to an attacking-centric league that has fast-paced, back-and-forth, high-scoring soccer.
Coach Ramírez wants to add to the MLS goalscoring spectacle with Charlotte FC.
“I will work to offer Charlotte a beautiful spectacle for 90 minutes that will be worth to go out to on the weekend with friends and family…,” Ramírez explained. “I see soccer as a spectacle. I want my team to be fun to play on, while also fun to watch. I like games with goals and with intense moments.”
A major contributor to the high scoring nature of the league is the multitude of dynamic, fast, and skillful attacking stars from around the world.
Columbus’s Lucas Zelarayán brings the Argentinian technicality and flair. The Revolution’s Spaniard Carles Gil combines incredible vision with precise passing. Sounders playmaker Nicolás Lodeiro is an industrious Uruguayan who brings an electric directness in his attack. LAFC’s Carlos Vela creates unforgettable moments with his magical left foot. The list goes on.
Some of the biggest stars in the Americas light up MLS week in and week out and will look to shine brightest on MLS’s biggest stage in the coming months.
Bringing the midweek 🔥!
Whose finish was best? #ATTGotW
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) August 19, 2021
Exciting Young Domestic and International Talent
Major League Soccer has had a stigma that it is a “retirement league”, but that could not be further from the truth today. Any MLS game will feature plenty of young faces all over the field, not only as role players, but as key players for their teams.
A report done earlier this year by the International Centre for Sports Studies (CIES) states that of all the minutes played by American and Canadian players in the 2020 MLS season, 25.3% of those minutes were played by players under 23 years old.
MLS is proving to be a solid platform for youth development not only in the US and Canada, but throughout the Americas. Since January 2020, no other league on this side of the Atlantic outside of Brazil’s top flight has exported more players to Europe than MLS.
Why does this matter?
It means that the quality of players in MLS is valued abroad. Notable MLS academy products playing for top European sides include Tyler Adams of RB Leipzig, Giovanni Reyna of Borussia Dortmund, Weston McKennie of Juventus, and Champions League winner Alphonso Davies of Bayern Munich.
Ultimately, watching MLS gives viewers a sneak peek of tomorrow’s world superstars.
This evolution of MLS is evidence of the league’s continued focus on incentives for developing and playing youth.
Incentives like the Homegrown Player Rule allow teams to promote academy players to the first team if they have been in the academy for at least a year. Teams can sign an unlimited number of Homegrown players to their 30-man rosters that, if they are registered to the supplemental roster, will not count towards the salary cap.
To incentivize signing young foreign talent, the new U22 Initiative allows MLS clubs to sign up to three young players, age 22 and younger, to substantial contracts at a reduced budget charge, decreasing the risk associated with acquiring or retaining players who are still approaching their prime.
MLS has two standard methods of acquiring youth players in soccer: developing them in their own academy or signing them from another team outside of MLS. However, the league’s third method – the MLS SuperDraft – is not found anywhere else in the world.
The SuperDraft works like the NBA or NFL draft, allowing MLS teams to acquire the top college talent. Recent SuperDraft picks Daryl Dike (Orlando City SC) and Tajon Buchanan (New England Revolution) have gone on to be pivotal players for their playoff-contending teams.
Due to Charlotte FC being an expansion team, fans can look forward to the team having the number one pick in the SuperDraft in January as well as participating in the expansion draft later this year.
For many of the youngsters in MLS, the impending playoffs will be their first opportunity to make a lasting mark on the league.
At its core, soccer is about bringing communities together, sharing the joys and despair of a favorite team, and having a good time. It is about providing access to the game and opportunities for youth development.
As Charlotte FC owner David Tepper likes to say, it’s a party!
You can meet friends for life that you would have never met otherwise. Pulling for a local team with family, friends, and community is a special experience of togetherness and unity.
According to a study done by CIES in 2019, MLS had the eighth highest average attendance in the world in a top ten that includes the Premier League, Bundesliga, Ligue 1, Serie A, La Liga, and Liga MX.
Already averaging 21,358 fans per game, MLS’s average attendance growth of 34% is second only to Poland and continues to trend upwards. Every team has their own unique fan culture and customs that can be witnessed in every game.
Charlotte FC will be looking to create its own unique fan culture and stadium atmosphere when they begin playing in 2022.
Having a local MLS team is also an opportunity to have national representation for the most popular sport in the world. A local MLS team can contribute extensively to the growth of the sport throughout the state and country and can have a social and economic impact on the lives of many people.
With exciting young talent, riveting stars, thrilling action-packed games, and unpredictability, there has never been a better time to start watching Major League Soccer ahead of Charlotte FC’s 2022 debut.