How One Player Could Spark the Growth of the MLS
By Blake Lovell
If ever there has been a time for Major League Soccer to take a giant leap forward, it's right now.
After Americans throughout the country watched the 2014 World Cup in record numbers, the MLS has an opportunity to really make its presence felt on the American sports stage.
But while taking advantage of World Cup fever will help the league in the short term, how does the MLS keep the momentum going forward? Two words:
When sports fans can connect to an individual athlete, it has quite the effect. That connection doesn't even have to be a connection of liking that particular athlete -- it just has to be a connection of some sort that make fans want to take interest in what that athlete is doing in his sport.
Names like LeBron James, Tiger Woods, Lionel Messi, and Cristiano Ronaldo come to mind when talking about athletes that made truly unique connections with sports fans.
Sure, all of these players have skills and talents that won't be replicated by anyone in the near future.
However, what the MLS is failing to realize is that it doesn't necessarily need a LeBron or Ronaldo in order to be successful as a league.
All it really needs is a player that can capture the attention of the sports world with either remarkable skill or marketable personality.
When we were kids, what types of players captured our attention? Players that either had extraordinary skill or some type of knack for connecting with us as fans. Even if these players weren't the best of the best, leagues convinced us that they were.
That's where the MLS is failing as a league has to improve. The league has to continue to develop more and more young talent, and even if these players don't become the next Ronaldo or Messi, market them in a way that makes us invest in their careers.
Show us personality.
The typical American Joe story doesn't work anymore. You aren't going to find heated discussions on social media about Generic Player A. The MLS can't expect us, as fans, to take an interest in something unless they push us in that direction.
People want to talk about what everybody else is talking about. If you convince fans that something is worth talking about, they will talk about it.
These aren't changes that can happen overnight. It will take a dedicated focus on improving youth players while also finding potential marketable stars. If done the right way, this is a process that will take a little time.
The promising part of all of this, though, is that the league can get there. With the drive and effort, the MLS can become a major player in American sports.
Now we just need MLS officials to realize that.