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These might be the good ol' days of MLS

As embarrassing as it is for fans not to be allowed to park on site at MLS Cup, it's a reminder that our league still has some small-time charm.

Last Updated
4 min read

The other day I sent out a tweet making light of the situation surrounding parking for MLS Cup. In short, there is none. Seriously, there’s literally no fan parking available for those attending the game. Everyone is being told to take public transportation, ride-share or a shuttle from Dodger Stadium about six miles away. I assume the players, match officials, various VIPs and maybe even some media will be allowed to park on site but I’m not even sure about all that!

It turns out that there’s a USC football game happening the same day — albeit six hours later — and they have priority.

This is an undeniably hilarious situation for MLS’s marquee event that is being held in its marquee market at arguably its marquee venue. I think we can all agree on that. (To be clear, it’s not that there’s no parking — this is a thing with many urban stadiums around the world and people manage just fine — it’s that they’re losing the parking they had because of a college football game. That tailgating culture is absolutely a thing with LAFC only makes this even funnier. I digress…)

But after thinking about this a bit more, I think it also serves as a reminder that this game is being played during what might be the final stage of what I suspect will be remembered as the “Good ol’ days of MLS.”

I say this because I don’t think we’re all that far off from MLS becoming something completely different than it is now. I don’t necessarily mean the core product of MLS is about to change — the quality of the soccer will probably continue to get better without necessarily becoming one of the top leagues in the world in the foreseeable future — I just mean the way that it’s consumed, how popular it is and how that impacts the way we as fans and media interact with it.

That there are now credible rumors of Leo Messi joining Inter Miami as soon as next summer only adds fuel to my belief. This signing has the potential to have a similar leveling-up impact as David Beckham’s in 2007, at least in the sense of the exposure the league will receive.

Beckham’s signing, in case you’ve forgotten, dramatically changed the trajectory of MLS, granting it the kind of relevance it had lacked previously. In just one data point, consider that prior to Beckham’s signing, Forbes didn’t even bother to do MLS team valuations. The year after he signed, the Galaxy were valued at $100 million and 9 of 14 were at least $30 million. The 14 teams were estimated to be worth about $500 million combined.

Fast forward to the latest valuations, and LAFC leads the way at $900 million, CF Montreal is the least valuable at $390 million and expansion teams are selling for more than $300 million. Collectively, MLS teams are estimated to be worth about $17 BILLION. It’s not an apples-to-apples comparison and you can certainly find issue with how these valuations are determined, but that’s like a 30-fold increase in collective franchise valuation.

A lot of that is due to there now being more than twice as many teams in the league as when Beckham first signed — itself another sign of growth — and this rate of expansion simply can’t continue, but I do think Messi is probably going to have an even bigger impact on the way the league is perceived. With Apple getting ready to take over the league’s global broadcast rights, it’s not hard to imagine MLS enjoying a level of worldwide popularity that feels unimaginable now. This will also change the way we all interact with it.

From a completely selfish perspective, I love that the players still seem like real people. While players are making a lot more now than they were in Beckham’s early days — when some legitimately needed second jobs just to cover basic living expenses — their day-to-day lives are still recognizable to us working stiffs. Most, if not all, MLS players still do mundane tasks like take their cars to the shop, drop their kids off at school and can go out for a bite to eat without being mobbed. It’s not hard to imagine even someone like Nicolás Lodeiro folding laundry on occasion. This might seem silly but these activities are grounding and they absolutely impact the way we interact with them, both professionally and socially.

To localize this a bit, consider how any random fan can show up virtually any day they want at Starfire Sports Complex and get players to sign autographs or pose for selfies. I assure you, fans in Europe get nothing like that access.

Anyone making an honest assessment will also admit that the quality of play in MLS has also improved, maybe not as fast as we all want but at an undeniable clip nonetheless. Gone are the days of every team running the same 4-4-2 formations and just hoping a star player can take over. There’s a tactical variety in this league that rivals just about any other circuit around the world and rosters are deep enough to regularly compete for Concacaf Champions League titles — and even win one!

To help pay for this, attending matches has gotten more expensive. That’s somewhat inevitable, especially as MLS continues to have an outsized reliance on ticket sales as part of their income, but it’s still much cheaper to attend games than most other American leagues. The Sounders are one of the more expensive tickets in MLS, but there are still tickets available to most games for less than $20. It’s almost impossible to find tickets to the Seahawks for less than $100 apiece; the cheapest seats for the  Kraken are like $80; even Mariners games could be more expensive in 2023.

Yes, one of the knock-on effects of the league’s status is embarrassing situations like the one surrounding parking for MLS Cup. The reality is that a random USC football game is bigger in just about every sense. That won’t help you get a random bartender to switch on the Sounders game, but it does add to the charm of our little league. Cherish these times, they won’t last forever.

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