Football in Canada may not be the most popular sport and it might never be, though Toronto FC have made the right signings that will take them to the next level in the MLS as well as increase their fan-base. Following the opening of the January transfer window, the Canadian club secured the signings of Roma’s American midfielder Michael Bradley and Tottenham Hotspur’s striker Jermaine Defoe, both of whom will bring a lot of quality to the team.
The return of Michael Bradley to the MLS has a lot of importance as it means that MLS is no longer viewed as a low quality league for retiring players. Now, an American who was playing abroad in his prime years has decided to return and play in his native homeland despite having offers from Serie A and Premier League clubs. The same happened with former Tottenham midfielder Clint Dempsey who made the move to the MLS earlier in summer.
The other player to join Toronto, Defoe, is currently 31 years old which means he can easily play at least four more seasons and he still has the quality he possessed a few years earlier, Defoe ended his stint at Tottenham with a goal on his final game but before that he even managed to become the 14th most scoring player in the Premier League as well as scoring five goals in a single Premier League match. Thus Defoe, Bradley and Dempsey are not just high profile names but they also have the ability to play in the world’s best leagues yet they chose to move to the MLS which shows that football in the US and Canada is growing rapidly.
Studies show that despite the MLS itself not having a big audience, football or soccer has a lot of followers in the US, as the number of US citizens who watch the Premier League and other European competitions is more than double of the number of those who watch MLS and thus the return of those native heroes to play in their league will definitely attract more Americans to watch their own local teams.
The average fan attendance has been increasing and now football stadiums are attracting on average more fans than NBA does, basically this is helped by the fact that football stadiums can accommodate more fans but the attendance numbers are quite close to the ones in France’s Ligue 1 with a difference of about only 500 fans attending per game between MLS and Ligue 1.
Seattle Sounders have broken the average attendance record of MLS in 2013 as they managed to have over 44,000 fans attending per game which is more than double the record that was held in 1999 by Columbus Crew. During Seattle’s game in August against Portland Timberwolves over 67,000 fans attended the game, such numbers would make any team in the world proud.
The league is definitely growing as four new clubs joined since 2010 and an additional two will be joining next year, one of which is New York City FC, a club that is said to have a big budget and determined to establish itself among the world’s best.
What makes the MLS system interesting is that it promotes all its teams to be competitive among each other. Unlike Europe, where a few clubs monopolize every domestic league, in the MLS, the league itself helps teams build their own stadiums, promote them through its own marketing agency Soccer United Marketing, SUM, and even helps some teams with certain signings such as the famous David Beckham to LA Galaxy deal. In addition, there is a salary cap that limits a team’s ability to attract all the best starts of the game, yet the system through its designated player rule allows a club to sign a maximum of three players whose wages are not included in the salary cap. For example, New York Red Bulls have Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill, Seattle Sounders have Osvaldo Alonso, Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey, LA Galaxy have Robbie Keane, Montreal Impact have Marco Di Vaio and so on. Yet if the clubs are to sign designated players they are expected to pay what is called a ‘luxury tax’ which is a significant sum of money that they pay to the MLS.
MLS are definitely growing season after season and promoting competitiveness within the league. Toronto, a fairly new club, now has the ability to compete in the play-offs with its three new designated players. Football in USA may not be as popular as it is in Europe but the league standards are not constantly improving.