Major League Soccer has come up in leaps and bounds in the last few years. From being derided as a destination for washed-up European stars to spend their last few years earning a pretty penny, MLS is now seen as a legitimate league in its own right, with well-run clubs and some young, talented players who could soon be making a name for themselves across the world.
The current season, which is currently suspended after just two rounds of fixtures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, saw the addition of Inter Miami FC, owned by David Beckham, to the league’s roster. With plans for two more teams to join in 2021 and 2022 each, the league will potentially have 17 teams by 2022, making it comparable in size to the European leagues. Most MLS teams are efficient, polished teams, but the following three clubs probably have the best-operating models in the league.
Dallas are widely considered to have the best academy in the league. Their academy system has produced a number of players who are professionals across the world now, and it is still providing the first-team with young, talented prospects. As an example, one only needs to look at their current squad, where Paxton Pomkyal has become the heartbeat of the midfield despite being only 20 years old, while 19-year-old Jesus Ferreira is set to be the main man up front, and 17-year-old Ricardo Pepi announced himself with a late, late equalizer in the game against Montreal Impact. Dallas’ model is sustainable and is allowing them to nurture some incredibly talented players, and other teams across MLS are now looking to emulate them.
Sounders have been one of the most successful sides in the MLS in recent seasons, winning two of the last four MLS Cups, and have yet to miss out on the playoffs since their formation. The latest free tips have them as one of the favourites for this season once it gets back underway. Their success is down to their recruitment, where, unlike other teams which have seen constant turnover in their playing squad, Sounders have tried to maintain a settled core of players. The likes of Ozzie Alonso, Roman Torres, Stefan Frei, Cristian Roldan, Nicolas Lodeiro, Jordan Morris, Chad Marshall and Joevin Jones have all been at the club for a number of years now, allowing them to develop continuity and establish relationships both on and off the pitch. Sounders have added players here and there to embellish the squad, but have not needed to overhaul the entire team, and this approach towards squad-building has enabled them to become one of the most successful and consistent sides in the league.
Atlanta United have probably had the most influence on the league over the last few years, and certainly the most that an expansion side has ever had. They are only in their fourth year of existence, and yet their approach has been well-defined and clear, with many other clubs scrambling to replicate it.
Theirs is a simple but very effective strategy – invest in young, talented players who can then be sold on for a huge profit. It is quite akin to the model that Southampton were following in the Premier League till about a couple of seasons ago, with one difference. While Southampton would try to develop players through their own academy as well, Atlanta have been busy making South America their feeder country, with the likes of Miguel Almiron, Ezequiel Barco, Gonzalo ‘Pity’ Martinez and Josef Martinez all arriving from South America to instantly light up the league. Almiron has already left in a big-money move to Newcastle United, and the expectation is that Barco and Pity will soon follow in his footsteps to Europe. Atlanta have embraced the fact that most players see the MLS as a stepping stone to the bigger heavyweight leagues of Europe, and have allowed their players to ‘market’ themselves while playing for them. This approach, while at odds with the MLS’ own image of itself, has been wildly successful.
So there you have it – three of the best-run clubs in the league. All three have varying models and approaches, but have seen great success, and other clubs would do well to pick up some of these traits if they are to be successful.