In this economy, the “Buy American” mentality has increased almost everywhere, except for in the MLS. The arrival of Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez has created quite the buzz in the MLS, helping to carry the New York Red Bulls (last year’s worst team) to compete for the top place in the east and a guaranteed spot in the playoffs.
As of this year, the MLS introduced the Designated Player Rule, which allows each team to have up to three players outside of their salary cap. The third comes at a cost of $250,000, which gets distributed evenly to the remaining 15 teams in the league. The hope is to bring in more high profile, international players. It appears to be working.
Both playing the last few seasons together for Real Madrid, Henry and Marquez are looking to wind down their careers on a high note while jump starting American interest in soccer. In total, seven new designated players signed this season, joining players like Landon Donovan and David Beckham for a grand total of 14.
All the talk after the U.S.’s minor success in this year’s World Cup was about whether or not soccer would begin to gain popularity here. For me, a major part of why the World Cup is great is because of exposure. Lack of exposure to the top European soccer leagues in the U.S. makes it difficult to care about them. I don’t know about the teams, cities, or players. Why would I care who won? Bringing in big names and talent not only makes the league more legit, it gives us a reason to care.
Beckham thought he would single-handedly change soccer in the U.S., but quite frankly, I still didn’t care. The only time I made an effort to watch the MLS was to see Real Salt Lake in the championship. They won, by the way. However, Beckham may have been the catalyst for the changes to bring in more big names. I am now excited to watch one of my favorite players, Rafa.
If more and more big names and talents continue to relocate to the U.S., will the MLS become the fifth major sport? Will soccer ever become significant in the U.S.?