Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson went out of his way yesterday to praise the progress being made by the clubs of Major League Soccer.
However, he had a substantive, multi-point answer when asked what Major League Soccer needs to do to be able to even approach the great leagues of the world:
"I think that first of all you have to recognize it’s a young league. Something just growing takes time. You can’t expect it to just flourish immediately.
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"The point I was making (in New England), and I think I’m right, what it lacks – America – is a proven system for young lads with skill. There’s college, of course, but that’s not a great stepping stone to full-time professional football, as far as I’m concerned. College football is good, don’t get me wrong. But for a 16-year-old lad with skill before he goes to college there’s no pyramid system where he can go into – like in Manchester, we have a under 16s, under 17s, under 18s – then there are all branches there off from different cities. … Then there’s Division Three, Division Two, Division One. … In the United States there’s only one way.
"Another thing about the States, if there were more teams they could regionalize it. If you regionalize it – South, East, West, North – then traveling supporters comes easier. You see, in Europe it’s fantastic: You can go from Paris and drive through to Germany to see games. Europe’s so small. Whereas in the States, six-hour flight for us (from New England to Seattle on Wednesday). Supporters aren’t going to do that. And having competitive supporters creates a profile for your game also, and brings a competitive element to the games."
It's an interesting answer, but also a depressing one. Because it doesn't speak to anything as easy as increasing salary caps. It speaks to the very way the American athletic system is set up. On the other hand, that American system produces the best baseball, basketball and American football players and leagues in the world. So, perhaps in time it can work for soccer ... especially with MLS putting more emphasis on academies and reserve leagues.