Counterattack: MLS Could Need A Dominant Team

Goal.com’s Allen Ramsey and John Zielonka debate whether or not Major League Soccer needs a dominant team to help the league grow in popularity.

Major League Soccer's defending champions, the Columbus Crew, is still winless six games into the season. The Crew’s struggles are proof positive that nothing can be taken for granted in MLS from year to year. While Houston had a nice two-year run, and New England did well in reaching the finals for three years on the hop, no team has been able to consistently dominate MLS.

 

The Crew’s struggles this season got Goal.com’s Allen Ramsey of The Short List and Seattle correspondent John Zielonka wondering: Does MLS need a dominant team?

 

 Ramsey: The way I see it, MLS needs a dominant team, a Manchester United, Dallas Cowboys, Chicago Bulls type dynasty. I'm not saying that we have to have a team as good as Manchester United, I'm just saying that the league needs a franchise to be its face. And no, it can't be a Galaxy type team that everyone knows just because they have a superstar.

 

Zielonka: If you look at the EPL, La Liga and the Bundesliga it’s the same teams dominating year-in and year-out.  These "Super Clubs" are limited to no more than four teams, in the case of the EPL.  When you aren't Real Madrid, Barcelona or Bayern Munich, in the case of La Liga and the Bundesliga, it lessens the interest level.

 

Ramsey: Yes, but at the same time, those leagues’ fame is based around those top teams and that is exactly my point. Without a team that dominates nobody cares about your league. Look at the Scottish Premier League. Would you ever watch an SPL game that didn't include Celtic or Rangers? For that matter, would you be able to name a single player or team in the league if you didn't watch them play against the top two? The fame of a league's top team is often the stick by which a league is measured, and in the case of Major League Soccer that team does not exist.

 

Zielonka: Look at the collegiate basketball tournament at the end of their season that's called March Madness, and the interest that's generated when smaller colleges take on the dominant teams.  All of sudden everyone is talking about "Small College U." having a run in the tournament.  People who would never watch a game love to root for the underdog.  How boring is the Champions League now that we have three EPL teams in the mix?  Wouldn't it be great if a Hull squad was there?  It's the same old teams going at one another one tournament after another or fighting for the top spot.  Give me a group of Davids rather one, two, three or four Goliaths.

 

Ramsey: For anyone to pull for an underdog there has to be one. Who would be the George Mason of MLS? New York? Would Houston be the North Carolina or Duke? Without Goliath, David has nobody to slay. And isn't it more fun to watch Hull beat Arsenal in the EPL because Arsenal is such a huge favorite?

 

Zielonka: Wouldn't you agree that the most egalitarian and most successful league from top to bottom is the National Football League?  MLS is set up in a similar manner and anyone can beat anyone else at any time.  Every game, during the regular season and playoffs, allows last year's worst team to be able to rebound and win a Super Bowl.  In the case of MLS, it's wide open every year, unlike the EPL.

 

Besides, how often does a team in the lower part of the table beat one of the "Big Boys?" Not very often.

 

Ramsey: Well, you've got a point with the NFL, but how did they get to where they are? They had dominant team after dominant team (Steelers, Cowboys, Packers, 49ers) until their brand was so big it couldn't be busted. As far as how often the big four get beat in the EPL, it's more regular than you would think. Arsenal three times this season that I can think of, Man U at least once to Fulham and that’s just off the top of my head.

 

Still, I don't care for MLS having a team that owns the league like Man U, that's just too much, but a nice six-year run would be good to see.

 

Zielonka: Oooohh...so in 30 plus regular season games multiplied by 20 teams, we have...let's see...maybe 10 games where we have an upset.  The way I see it, a dynasty is good for a very small number of teams, and, to your point, a league is stronger if all the teams have a chance.  For MLS, which is struggling or challenged in certain cities with attendance and televisions ratings overall, getting a crowd out every week is more important than coming out whenever one of your dynasty teams is the opponent.

 

Ramsey: On another level, do you not think having a team that can compete internationally would help the league? We also have to face the fact that with the league so even we are probably going to continue to struggle in international play, but if one team is far and away the best in MLS it would stand to reason that they would be able to compete against the likes of Saprissa, Marathon, and the Mexican clubs.

 

Zielonka: My preference is for branding that recognizes the overall strength of MLS overall on the international front.  The league needs to either adjust to the international schedule or adapt to have its best players available for global tournaments.  Now, it's more of the time of year dictating whether or not you're sending the best team.  I think most supporters watching these tournaments root for whichever team is from their respective league rather than one side that dominates from year-to-year.

 

Again, look at the Champions League in Europe. It would be great if we had representation from more than two leagues.

 

Ramsey: I guess. I just feel like a top-level club could raise the overall level of play in MLS. Plus, giving the rest of the league someone to root against is always fun. Where would Major League Baseball be without the hated Yankees, or the Red Sox who finally beat them after 80 years? I just want MLS to have a team that the world looks at and says, “Wow, that's a good squad. Maybe we should rethink how we see this league.”

 

Zielonka: The way I see our discussion, is the preference of a small number of teams that are the face of MLS to the rest of the soccer world.  Or, do you take the road of the NFL, and brand ALL of your teams as one.  I'll put by bet on the league that has sold out stadiums everywhere, is one of the most profitable from top to bottom, and, in my mind, is what MLS should strive for.  Let's give them another 10-20 years or so, and see if they surpass EPL, La Liga, Serie A, etc. in dominance and prestige.

 

I'll take the long term approach for long term benefits.

 

Counterattack runs every Thursday on Goal.com USA.

 

For more on Major League Soccer visit Goal.com’s MLS page.