How MLS Is Different To The Big European Leagues

There is no denying that Major League Soccer is ambitious. Its commissioner, Don Garber, routinely makes statements about how it will soon be considered to be on par with La Liga, the Bundesliga, the EPL, and the rest of the gold-standard European leagues.



The arrival of big-name players has been one way that Major League Soccer has been able to punch above its weight throughout its 30-year existence. David Beckham might have brought initial attention from the soccer world at the beginning of the 2000s but Lionel Messi signing for Inter Miami made the league headline news and definitely increased the number of fans betting on MLS.


But still there is a feeling, at least on the European side of the Atlantic, that MLS is an inferior league and product. Some of that can be put down to good old-fashioned snobbiness and fear of the new. But there are fundamental differences between the US league and the big five in Europe that continue to affect its chances of being taken seriously as a world power.


Single Entity League

One of the major factors that makes Major League Soccer stand out from the majority of soccer leagues around the world is the way that the “clubs” are run. The fact that the teams should not really be considered “clubs” at all is the sticking point. MLS is run as a single-entity operation, with all teams owned by the league and individually operated by league investors.


This goes against the basic idea of how sports clubs are run around the world. It is also the reason why US (and Canadian) cities lobby MLS to be granted a franchise and regularly ignore existing clubs to form brand new entities that are then owned and operated by the league.


A Sense of Parity

For a nation that is considered one of the most capitalist on the planet, America’s sports leagues have always operated in what could even be considered a socialist manner. Salary caps and player drafts are specifically designed to keep parity at the heart of the way the major leagues are run.


Although this could be thought of as a very noble way of doing things – allowing all teams the chance of success, as there are no teams that are considerably wealthier than the rest – it has kept the overall standard down. European leagues (and fans) look down on MLS as the enforced parity stops any team from coming through and being able to outgrow the league.


Player Trades and Drafts

Another way Major League Soccer operates in complete contrast to many other soccer leagues around the world is the way it deals with its players. The athletes in La Liga or the EPL are some of the most powerful on the planet when it comes to their careers and decision-making.


A lot of this is relatively new – thanks to the Bosman case of the 1990s – but players in Europe have the ability to dictate which teams they will play for as part of their contract. Trades, or transfers, in the US, tend to be dictated by the franchises (or the league itself) without any need for permission from the player. The draft system also means that players follow the will of the teams and the league, rather than planning out their own destiny.


League Calendar

FIFA has always preferred national leagues to follow the same calendar, running broadly from the end of the European summer to May the following year. This allows it to schedule major international tournaments in between and regional governing bodies to more easily organize continental events.


Major League Soccer’s season, however, runs from around February to October. The main reason for that is to avoid the harsh winters where many of the teams are located. But that doesn’t seem to take into consideration the extreme summer conditions that are also prevalent in the US. There are some other leagues, even in Europe, that run at different times but this is just another factor that sets MLS aside from the norm.


Promotion and Relegation

A lot of the ways Major League Soccer differs from European leagues would not work if it weren’t for the fact that there is no promotion or relegation. The governing body and many of its supporters would say that its introduction would ruin the league and make aspects such as salary caps unworkable.


But promotion and relegation is the way that the vast majority of leagues around the world operate. It brings a greater sense of competition and introduces consequences for teams that do not play to a high enough standard. This is a major sticking point that stops many global soccer fans from taking MLS seriously and is an issue that will continue to be contentious.


Fan Culture

This is one area where things are changing and becoming more like other leagues from around the world. There used to be a “soccer mom” stereotype about US fans that, however unfair, made fans in Europe dismiss their MLS counterparts as not understanding the culture and tradition of the game.


But with MLS now 30 years old, many teams have fan groups that look more like what is common in European and, increasingly, Central and South American stadiums. A genuine, organic culture has developed in Major League Soccer – although European fans still have an outdated view of what is actually happening.


Changing for the Better

For all its differences – and flaws, if you are so inclined – Major League Soccer has changed over the years and adapted to appeal to a wider audience. There are fundamental operational issues that still need to be altered for it to be completely accepted as an equal for many fans. But it is still a relatively young league in global terms and can possibly be afforded more time to grow into the major soccer league it wants to be.





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