The passionate soccer fan can go insane trying to keep track of the myriad soccer leagues around the globe.
The “Big Five” leagues in Europe — England, Spain, Germany, Italy, and France — command much of the world’s media attention. North America has MLS and Liga MX. South America has strong leagues in Brazil and Argentina. Dozens of smaller European countries can claim that their domestic leagues are just a step below the Big Five, and there are more than a handful of Central and South American leagues that feel the same way about their position in the Americas.
The question rages on: which league is the world’s best — and where does MLS rank?
Three leagues — the English Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, and the German Bundesliga — have a legitimate claim to the world’s top spot. Spain’s best teams dominate European competitions, but the Premier League is deeper, thanks in part to its status as the richest league. The Bundesliga, meanwhile, is the best-attended league in the world, and arguably the most fun to watch.
Your pick probably depends on your personal preference.
If you love a deep, competitive league that signs players from around the world, then England is your choice. If you love technically proficient soccer with the world’s best teams, then Spain is top. If you love huge crowds and entertaining soccer, then Germany is the pick.
Ten years ago, Italy’s Serie A might have topped this list, but a wide-ranging match-fixing scandal and the depressed Italian economy have hurt the league. France’s Ligue 1 might have fallen even further. Apart from Paris Saint-Germain, the annual league champion, the French league is fairly anonymous, more in line with some of the second-tier European leagues, such as Portugal, Russia, the Netherlands and Belgium.
On our side of the Atlantic, MLS commissioner Don Garber was in the news this week for acknowledging that Liga MX is better than MLS. It’s a candid — and truthful — admission from someone who has long touted his league’s goal of being among the world’s best leagues. The leagues in Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina are all ahead of where MLS is at right now.
Placing MLS in a worldwide context is harder.
While MLS attendances is top 10 in the world, the on-field product isn’t there yet. Given players who have moved back and forth between MLS and Europe, the league is probably on par with some of Europe’s smaller leagues, such as Norway or Scotland.
An even better comparison might be the second divisions of Europe’s top leagues; most MLS teams would be able to compete in the English Championship or the 2. Bundesliga (the German league’s second division).
That’s just one step away from the big time, but as any team that’s promoted to those leagues can tell you, it’s an awfully big step.
Whether competing with Liga MX, or ascending into a group with the leagues in England, Spain, and Germany, MLS has a long way to go.
Minnesota United has struggled in the U.S. Open Cup in recent seasons, with two first-game losses against lower-league teams in the past three years. The schedule for the team’s first two games is set. The Loons will host current titleholders Sporting KC on June 15 if they can beat third-division St. Louis FC on the road on June 1 — the same place Minnesota was bounced from the competition last season.
• Give Mexican giants Club America credit for sticking with manager Nacho Ambriz after a difficult patch in midseason. Many assumed Ambriz would be fired after a bad fall season and a rocky start to the spring, but America recovered to finish in the top four, while winning its second consecutive CONCACAF Champions League title.
• U.S. men’s national team striker Jozy Altidore will miss the Copa America this summer, after injuring his hamstring for the umpteenth time. The burden of scoring goals for the USA this summer likely will fall to Bobby Wood, who scored 17 times for Union Berlin in the German second division this year.
WEEKEND WATCH GUIDE
FA Cup: Manchester United vs. Crystal Palace, 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Ch. 9. It’s hard to tell which fans need this victory more. Manchester United’s fans endured an excitement-free season that ended with their team finishing fifth, out of the Champions League spots. Crystal Palace started brightly, then tanked in the season’s second half, winning just twice in calendar year 2016.
DFB Cup: Bayern Munich vs. Borussia Dortmund, 1 p.m. Saturday, ESPN3.com. It’s Pep Guardiola’s final game in charge at Bayern, before he moves on to manage Manchester City in England. A win would give him a second cup title, to go with the three Bundesliga titles he won in three years. Dortmund, Bayern’s main competition over the past few years, would dearly love to ruin the goodbye.
Copa del Rey: Barcelona vs. Sevilla, 2:30 p.m. Sunday, ESPN2. Sevilla are Europa League champions for the third straight year. A domestic cup, to go with European glory would be a perfect end to its week. Nothing but a league/cup/Champions League treble will do for Barcelona’s fans, so another cup to go with their La Liga title might be almost a consolation prize.
MLS: San Jose at Los Angeles, 6 p.m. Sunday, FS1. They call this game the “California Clasico,” and it’s one of the best rivalries in MLS. Los Angeles, with just one loss in 10 games, is probably the best team in the league this year. The Earthquakes are looking solid as well, and should make the playoffs — assuming ageless forward Chris Wondolowski can keep scoring a goal every game or so.