Will the MLS Teams Ever Get a Chance to Play in the Champions League?

The European Super League was a gigantic flop. After being launched without warning by some of the richest soccer clubs on the planet, the press and fans alike mobilized like never before to condemn a move that was seen as purely money driven. 

With teams like Real Madrid and Juventus still plotting to revive their ambitions at some point in the future, an interesting question arises for MLS fans: will teams from the United States ever be able to join the party? If the richest clubs can choose to form their own offshoot league, then they can also choose who gets to join it. 

Even if the Super League never materializes. If pressure continues from the big clubs, it isn’t outside the realm of possibilities that UEFA will decide to revamp the Champions League. An olive branch, if you will, a strategy to keep the rich boys happy and playing ball within the existing framework. 

And this could include an invitation for teams outside the traditional setup to join. There is precedent. Think the United States being invited to play in the Copa América. Or how about the consistent rumors of teams outside Europe joining the Six Nations

Let’s consider what it would look like if the MLS joined the Champions League, and why it’s not such a crazy idea. 

The MLS Can Boost CL Ratings 

The fact is, clubs like Real Madrid and Juventus care about expanding their reach, and reinvigorating interest in the top soccer competitions. Worried about losing the younger demographic, the big names want to shake things up. 

Consider this: in 2017, Gallup ran a poll that points to soccer being more popular than both baseball and basketball amongst the key 18-34 demographic. And for New York City FC, attendance has grown massively, growing from 2.9 to 7.3 million in the last decade. 

Another way to look at the rising popularity is the fact that the MLS is now consistently appearing as a legit option for those looking to place a bet on soccer. It’s a proxy for just how seriously the league is taken; it’s now often sitting pretty with the Premier League, La Liga, and Serie A. 

In other words, the USA offers a gigantic market with the MLS that European clubs can take a slice out of. There’s a mutually beneficial offer there, that’s for sure. If the MLS is given access to the Champions League, the United States will undoubtedly tune in. After all, Americans love top notch products. And the MLS isn’t that, yet. 

The League is Still Growing 

The MLS may not be one of the world’s top leagues, but it’s growing at a steady pace. Starting off with just ten teams in 1996, the current setup offers 24. Big players have donned MLS uniforms, with stars like Landon Donovan and Michael Bradley deciding to stay local instead of going abroad. And think of big name stars like Wayne Rooney and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the latter who was still very much in his prime whilst playing for the LA Galaxy. 

Players are also starting to use the MLS as a stepping stone to big league teams. The MLS is becoming a viable alternative to European giants like Ajax, who perform a similar role for the bigger clubs in Europe. The most recent example is Miguel Almiron, who moved to the Premier League in his mid-20s after impressing in Atlanta. 

And it’s not just players who are investing in the MLS, but exciting new owners as well. Just a few months ago, ex-England captain David Beckham pumped another £11.2m into his club Inter Miami, further extending his investment in MLS. And let’s not forget New York City FC, backed by the same owners who have taken Manchester City to the top of European soccer. 

It’s not just about growth or promises about tomorrow. In many ways, the future is now. Atlanta, for example, pulls in more spectators than PSG, Chelsea, and AS Roma. Granted, this has something to do with stadium size (Atlanta shares its ground with the Falcons), but there’s an important point here: the MLS pulls in the crowds. 

You don’t often get huge gaps with empty seats or passive crowds. There’s real passion from the fans, they’re committed. There are fervent season ticket holders, YouTube channels, podcasts, angry debate amongst fans, a real vibe of a legit league. 

Will it Ever Happen? 

MLS in the Champions League, probably a pipe dream. But it’s clear that MLS is a contender when it comes to soccer, it’s no longer the laughingstock it used to be. And with big name players breaking through, like Pulisic and Dest, for example, the United States has a lot to offer. 

While entering the Champions League proper in the next couple of years is unrealistic, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see teams like Inter Miami featuring in a special competition set up between European clubs and the MLS. If there’s ever a Super League revival, don’t count the MLS out.