As the 2021 edition of Major League Soccer concludes, it means the 26th year of operation is now in the history books and after somewhat humble beginnings back in 1996, such a lengthy stint can only be considered a huge success.
Because with the American sporting landscape being one that is so congested, the ability to gain any form of traction can be somewhat difficult and although not many gave Major League Soccer a chance of long-term survival, there is no doubt that the competition is here to stay.
Of course, survival was not a given during the league’s formative years and with 10 franchises getting the ball rolling in 1996, that number would soon increase to 12 after the addition of two expansion teams.
Unfortunately, such expansion was very much a case of running before being able to walk and with reported league-wide losses of nearly $250m, the powers at be within the confines of Major League Soccer had to tighten their belts.
Which meant instead of expansion plans accelerating, there was necessary contraction instead and with both the Tampa Bay Mutiny and Miami Fusion ceasing their operations, 12 franchises were whittled back to 10.
However, such a lesson and albeit an expensive one, was one that actually set the league in good stead and with a steadier approach to expansion forming over the next two decades, a slimline figure of 10 franchises at the turn of the millennium has now become a rather weighty 27.
A figure that will become 28 in 2022, as Charlotte FC will enter the fray and with plans to grow the number of teams in operation to 30 or even 32, there are continual conversations regarding the introduction of promotion and relegation to the American soccer setup.
Something that is a fixture within the confines of English soccer and with EPL odds being offered on who will win the Premier League season and who will fall through the top-flight trapdoor to the EFL Championship, it is one of the most popular competitions in the world.
With the eyes of the world on the product, it collects an incredible amount of revenue for the sportsbooks and with countless wagers placed on the fortunes of each of the 20 Premier League teams, what happens in Manchester is closely followed by those in New York.
Whether the Premier League is too big a global juggernaut is something that can be argued and although many will feel that it has been a hindrance to the development of the American game, you could also argue that it has been a massive help.
Because after watching the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo or Mohamed Salah perform wonders on the playing field, events in the Premier League can be considered as a gateway to what happens within the parameters of Major League Soccer.
With the Premier League being such an international juggernaut in terms of marketing, it comes as no surprise that many American soccer fans will have an English team and an American team to offer their support to.
Something that works almost perfectly when you consider the time differences of the competition both around the clock and around the footballing calendar. Wake up and watch Tottenham and Arsenal in the morning, watch a playoff conference final in the evening.
Not only that, but with no Major League Soccer action on the horizon until 2022, it means those soccer fans who also love the Premier League can watch the action on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean unabated for the next few months.
Because although the Premier League clubs are known for stealing the limelight over here – something that comes around with their pre-season tours, they do have a habit of lifting the American game up as well.
With average attendances being over 20,000 for five years in a row (2015 to 2019), it suggests that the league is in rather good health at present and with more and more games being added to the annual schedule, the appetite for Major League Soccer is still growing.
Especially when you consider a new wave of American talent which is now plying its trade with some of Europe’s biggest clubs, as Chelsea, Barcelona, and Juventus all currently have Men’s National Team squad members within their rosters.
With Christian Pulisic, Weston McKeniie and Sergino Dest all now on the other side of the pond and contributing their efforts to such continental powerhouses, it can only paint Major League Soccer in a rather good light.
A light that continues to shine brightly and with now more than a quarter century of existence in their locker, Major League Soccer will now be able to plan ahead for what happens in the next 25 years and beyond.