Reyna: MLS Poised For Further Growth

Claudio Reyna

reynaClaudio Reyna may be a bit biased, but New York City FC’s sporting director has a bullish outlook on Major League Soccer.

In an interview with The Times of England, Reyna said that MLS will grow to be one of the main leagues in the world over the next decade. With the league kicking off its 21st season this year, the former U.S. International sees a time when the American-based league will be able to attract top stars at a younger age.

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“We hope soon we will be able to attract better players at 26, 27,” he said. “Maybe not the elite but that good second tier but, especially being an American, I’ll think we’ve made it as a league when we start developing our own players, a higher volume of real quality.”

In recent years, the league has seen attendance grow and the number of teams expand. Fair or not, MLS has also gained a reputation as a league where aging stars from Europe and elsewhere finish their careers. While those stars do add excitement, they often times have also consumed designated player spots or precious dollars in the league’s mandatory salary cap.

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The 2016 season will feature a number of these stars including the likes of Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo with NYC FC, Kaka with Orlando City and Steven Gerrard with LA Galaxy.

But these stars and others (see David Beckham) in recent years have also served to raise the profile of soccer in the U.S. and driven interest in leagues from other parts of the world. In addition to MLS television contracts with ESPN and FOX, England’s Premier League and Germany’s Bundesliga currently have TV contracts with NBC and FOX respectively.

“When I grew up it was difficult to catch a game on any TV station,” he recalled. “Maybe the FA Cup final, a couple of Serie A matches. Now it feels mainstream. It’s not just the hard core, immigrant population who want their soccer.”

He feels this added exposure has helped grow the game in the U.S.

“For the MLS, it’s all helped with a huge turn in credibility, globally and domestically. And while the league has been going for a while, I think it has really taken off in the last two, three years,” Reyna said. “[Cristiano] Ronaldo, [Lionel] Messi, Neymar roll off the tongues of any fan. It’s on the main sports channels continuously. Add the female interest and it’s amazing to be on this wave of growth.”