Can MLS Teams Compete With EPL Teams?

Last night I watched (on TV) the KC Wizards (my home team) v Man U game.  Over the years I have often wondered how to put into perspective the results of these exhibition games and I still struggle with it.

On one hand, the Wizards played well and deserved to win…a tie at worst.  From the Wizards perspective, it was an incredible opportunity to play against one of the biggest clubs in the world.  They are in the middle of their season, in tip top shape, and motivated like crazy to give it 110% for a once in a lifetime opportunity.

On the other hand, Man U look at it from a total opposite perspective.  It is pre-season for them…and early in the pre-season at that.  They are not in great shape and are still building their fitness.  The majority of the starting 11 are back home resting.  They never play a game in 90F humid heat back in England.  The 11 players are a mixture of first teamers, reserves and young players who deserve a look.  These players are pieced together and play these exhibition games.  The players certainly don’t have the motivation that the Wizards players do and basically end up doing as little as they can get away with while still trying to win the game, which sometimes bites them in the butt like it did yesterday.

The bottom line is, the games shouldn’t be taken seriously from either perspective, yet they often are by the supporters of the MLS teams.  Man U, Man City, Tottenham and other European teams really only come to the U.S. for the financial implications.  It pays well.  But most of all, I think they have realized the vast untapped market that the U.S. is from two perspectives.

1.  They can create a new fan base…lots of replica jerseys to sell.
2.  I think they are starting to see the signs of a potential market for young players.

I think they would have better options in Europe in terms of pre-season preparation.  The climate would be better and they would have better options of opponents to play.  Years ago, the pre-season games at this stage of the pre-season were usually played behind closed doors.  And I’m sure, the big name teams struggled and lost some of those games to motivate, lesser opponents.  But being behind closed doors, there was little or no publicity.  But now, the opportunity for these pre-season games to be monetized brings along with it, the hyped up publicity.

So with this said, and New York Red Bull’s win over Man City yesterday, it brings up the question that I raised in a blog a couple of months ago.

How do MLS teams compare with the teams in Europe’s top leagues…specifically, the EPL, Italy and Spain?

If the Wizard’s and Red Bull can beat Man U and Man City in exhibition games, is there hope that they can compete at that level for real?

To try and answer these questions, try and imagine how an MLS team would do in the EPL or Serie A for a complete season.  Or try and imagine how a team like Man U or Arsenal would do playing in the MLS?..let’s imagine a Champions League spot is theirs if they win the MLS.

So, what do you think?


  1. Steve says:

    Because of the salary caps in the US, it would be very difficult for an MLS team to crack the top 5 in the EPL.

  2. jw7 says:

    Do ya think money/TV viewership has anything to do with coming to play in the US?

    55,000 paying fans in KC to watch a training game… Yep!

  3. jw7 says:

    How many would show up to watch that game in London?

  4. alan says:

    Difficult to say right at this moment but that gap is surely closing and quickly. I have been impressed with the speed at which soccer is gaining in popularity in the U.S – this in turn leads to more people playing, taking it seriously and more effort into the development and structure of the game.
    I read something in the last day or two attributed to someone involved in organising the MLS that they are trying to learn from other leagues mistakes and aiming for slow but steady growth where the playing field is kept even and fair for all.
    Back on point, the MLS is still behind the major Euro leagues but would guess that the better U.S teams could survive a season in the EPL comfortably.

  5. benjamin says:

    You make great points, Mike.

    It makes all the difference when you have one team that is just getting started, as compared to a team that is in the heat of things. in my coaching experience, playing in tournament, it’s like playing your third game for the day against a team that is playing their first.

    @ Steve: I think this goes beyond salary cap.
    To go into the question of how would a MLS team to in the EPL, you have to look at player talent. I think that was shown in these pre-season games played. I think the better teams in the MLS would be able to survive in the EPL — middle of the table teams. So with that said, I agree with alan, the gap is closing — not sure how quickly though.

    In the reverse; a team from the EPL playing over here?? Yeah, right — LOL! they would ship over their reserve team. As you can see, that’s pretty much what our MLS teams are playing.

    That might be a market. Have EPL teams set up reserve teams in the MLS for their “training”.

  6. Gary says:

    I say this in all seriousness:
    Any MLS team would struggle being top 5 in THE CHAMPIONSHIP. If placed in the PL, they would be fighting the relegation battle.
    The vast majority of American players selected to MLS rosters would have serious troubles cracking a starting lineup in 2nd and 3rd divisions of Spain, Italy, Holland, Portugal, or France. I’ve seen the quality of player in those flights. But don’t just take my word for it, take a look at the difficulties facing many of the Americans abroad. Americans who supposedly are among best this country has to offer.

    If any of the top European teams played a serious balls-out match against an MLS opponent, it would be a tremendous thrashing.

  7. Soccerpro says:

    The gap is closing quite fast. The MLS plays very innovative soccer compared to Europe. Within a decade you will see US reach World cup semis.