Lalas: MLS is starting to win the hearts and minds

Two years after the introduction of Targeted Allocation Money, MLS has changed. The depth of talent is evident in the many players passed over for selection to the MLS All-Star Game.

Fox Sports 1's Alexi Lalas talked with Soccer America about what accounts for the change.

"Simple answer is: money," he says. "Not ridiculous amounts of money, but money where you start to be in the conversation for mid-level players around the world, players that were going to Liga MX, players are going to places in Europe that aren't England. I think a lot of that has happened. The way we hopscotch around to different hotbeds, whether it is Colombia, then it goes to Argentina, where we see a couple of players come out and then we see all the the MLS clubs descend. The scouting network has improved. But ultimately, it comes down to having money to be competitive in the individual markets."

Respect for MLS opens doors that were closed for many years.

"There is an appreciation and relevancy MLS has achieved that this a place I can go to that won't hurt my development," Lalas says. "Off the field will be fine. But the perception of my national team coach or scouts of other clubs around the world, that's not going to hurt me. I think they see it in a much more favorable light. Not everyone. When you talk with a [Diego] Valeri and ask him how he perceived it and how he perceives and how players coming in from the outside perceive it, it has changed. Before it was out of sight, out of mind or will it hurt my brand? I don't think that is the case any more."

MLS's in-house efforts to sell broadcasting rights internationally have had the benefit of allowing players with an insatiable appetite for the game to become familiar with MLS.

"It's a battle of hearts and minds," Lalas says. "I said out of sight, out of mind. If you can get in sight, you can in their minds. I think MLS has done a really good job of realizing that this is not just a domestic product, but that it can be exported because this is the world game."

Of the players who have come into MLS in 2017, the player who stands out for Lalas is Atlanta United's young Paraguayan Miguel Almiron.

"He's the real deal," he says. "Whenever he gets the ball, the potential for something magical to happen exists. That's the definition of a star. He seems to be faster with the ball than without the ball. He's incredibly active with the ball and busy on the field. Sometimes that's not a good thing, but for him and the fact he's doing it for Atlanta and for what Atlanta is, it is really interesting."

11 comments about "Lalas: MLS is starting to win the hearts and minds".
  1. Mike Polonski, August 2, 2017 at 8:59 a.m.

    I agree with most of Lalas' comments but I would still prefer to see a greater distribution of wealth in the league. Instead of signing one player for a yearly salary of 5 million, I would rather see 5 players signed at 1 million each. This is the only way that we will be able to compete with, and one day beat, Liga MX sides to win the Concacaf Champions League. The CCL is the true measuring stick of how far the league has really come.

  2. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, August 2, 2017 at 10:27 a.m.

    I agree with this. Strengthening the depth of rosters is the next step to improve the league and compete with the likes of LigaMX.

  3. Paul Berry replied, August 2, 2017 at 5:49 p.m.

    Schweinsteiger has paid for himself and more, and increased interest in the game at home and abroad. Chicago's attendances are up 20% since he signed which works out at about $4.2 million in ticket sales alone. And he's been a great mentor to the club's younger players.
    The occasional big signings are important for marketing purposes and I believe they pay for themselves and more. Look out for more target allocation money over the next few seasons to bring more of those $500k to $1M players in.

  4. Bob Ashpole, August 2, 2017 at 10:23 a.m.

    In my view, club international competitions are a battle of roster and payroll size. Clubs cannot be successful with only 11 starters and a few substitutes. Between league, cup, and international competitions, there are too many matches for 11 starters to play. In a "parity" league, you don't want a dominating club like the NY Yankees prior to 1965 dominated baseball.

  5. Asa Christiana, August 2, 2017 at 12:55 p.m.

    I rarely agree with Lalas(!) but this time he is right on. It's about attracting good players. That takes both money, visibility, and perception that the level of play is good. International players don't mind living in the states at all IMHO, but they don't want an MLS move to hurt their careers. It's cool how everything is coming up together: product on the field, attendance, TV viewership, international perception, player salaries, etc. For lifelong football lovers like me, it is a dream come true. Far from perfect, but more than I thought was possible.

  6. John Soares, August 2, 2017 at 5:37 p.m.

    Good points, Lalas. As important as it is to develop American players. For the MNT and USA soccer overall. It is NOT vital that they always play in the MLS...Understanding that it does help and it is certainly a motivator for youngsters. However; to pick on the top level. Messi and Ronaldo are not Spanish and they seem to be very popular in Spain.
    OK, bad example...:) Vileri, Lodeiro, Kaka, Villa and many others are very popular with their "new" teams and helping the game in America. It is an international game and Americans are more and more comfortable/accepting with that.

  7. Paul Berry replied, August 2, 2017 at 5:59 p.m.

    American players will continue to leave for Europe but having players playing at a higher level will benefit the USMNT and increase the reputation of American players, which will be good for the credibility of MLS.
    Most leagues are selling leagues these days. 18 of France's 23 man squad at Euro 2016 play outside of France. Austria, Northern Ireland and Ireland had entire squads playing abroad and it hasn't done them any harm.

  8. Elvis Epstein, August 3, 2017 at 9:03 a.m.

    It is exciting to see. MLS has come a long way. With 22 MLS teams, now all having Developmental Academy teams, this helps strengthen the system across the country. Players coming up have many more options now, as opposed to 20 years ago.

    As a fan, MLS still has a bit of growth to do. In mid August when things start up in Europe, I hope MLS can hang on to the momentum

  9. Daniel Clifton, August 3, 2017 at 3:54 p.m.

    The long term key is the development of American players. That appears to be happening now with the development of the Academy system and many of the MLS teams fielding teams in lower divisions. I have been blown away by the crowds in Atlanta. I didn't realize Atlanta would be a hotbed for soccer. That organization has done an incredible job. I love watching that team play. I agree with Lalas. The new wave of younger players, especially from South America, coming into the league, such as Almiron, is driving up the level of play in MLS.

  10. Wooden Ships, August 3, 2017 at 10:05 p.m.

    Agree with AL, but would like to add that in the years forward we provide support for the referees to call a game more suited to the technical player. That is an important component for me and I hope the owners, Garber, players and fans won't default to the crunching ooh and awe style of play. I realize its not just MLS (and it appears to be getting worse) issue but I would live to see the players stay out of the face of the referees. Its hurting the game.

  11. R2 Dad replied, August 4, 2017 at 12:26 a.m.

    I agree on your point about officiating. I'm in the middle of this transition from youth (below 15) to U19/adult and everything is changing--I see a lot of young players turned off by the men's league-level of refereeing/physical contact, flying tackles, diving, wrestling within the 18. Half my kid's U15 team won't make it to this transition to U19 (the clubs are too small/there are too many of them/not enough older players so the transition is from U15 straight to U19). I see the same refereeing standards in NASL and MLS, and this doesn't bode well for the smaller/technical players we have. Not everyone plays the sport like it's rugby, but that's how the men's leagues are all officiated.

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