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In a landscape still dominated by more traditional American sports, Major League Soccer (MLS) has come a long way over the past few years.

Soccer's rise and rise in the US – How the MLS is bridging the popularity gap

In a landscape still dominated by more traditional American sports, Major League Soccer (MLS) has come a long way over the past few years.

Soccer's rise and rise in the US – How the MLS is bridging the popularity gap
In a landscape still dominated by more traditional American sports, Major League Soccer (MLS) has come a long way over the past few years.

The NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB remain at the forefront of public consciousness in North America, but the MLS is making great strides as it attempts to bridge the popularity gap.

According to Neilsen.com, MLS has experienced a 27% rise in interest since 2012, with Los Angeles, New York, Dallas/Fort Worth, Philadelphia and Seattle/Tacoma the top local markets for soccer.

Television audiences and social media engagements are also on rise, highlighting that the league is capturing the imagination of sports fans.

Increased investment in player development and strategic expansion have helped MLS enjoy a sustained period of growth.

However, it is the acquisition of the game’s tops stars that most helps to increase the popularity of the MLS both at home and abroad.

The league has often been criticised as a retirement home for players searching for one last big payday before their careers come to an end.

While that may be true in certain cases, the likes of David Beckham, Robbie Keane and David Villa are amongst numerous success stories in the league over the past few years.

Fast forward to 2018 and two major world stars are now doing their bit to raise the profile of the MLS.

Wayne Rooney enjoyed a stellar career in the Premier League with Manchester United, breaking scoring records for the club before re-signing for Everton in 2017.

He ended the season as the club’s top scorer, but after new boss Marco Silva made it clear that he wouldn’t be a regular starter he decided to move on.

Ex-Liverpool midfielder Steven Gerrard, who also had a spell in the MLS, encouraged Rooney to head to the US this summer.

“I hope he does, I hope he makes it - I enjoyed my time at the MLS and enjoyed the life experience,” he said.

“I think where Wayne is now in his career I think it would be great for him and his family to go and settle in an incredible state and see a lot of America.

“It is certainly a life experience I’ll never forget and I hope he goes and has the same.

“The league is a good league - the players are fit and mobile and it is competitive and I enjoyed it at that stage of my career.”

Rooney, the second highest scorer in Premier League history, took that advice on board and sealed a move to DC United. He has already made a huge impact, helping drag the team off the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings and within touching distance of the play-offs.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic was also hugely successful in Europe, winning titles galore with the likes of Inter Milan, Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain.

The 36-year-old Swedish legend joined LA Galaxy back in March and he’s already bagged 15 goals to leave his side looking a good bet to reach the Western Conference play-offs.

The pair’s exploits will undoubtedly help the MLS grow even further and potentially pave the way for other top names like Cristiano Ronaldo to follow in their footsteps over the next few years.

With new franchises recently announced for Nashville and Miami, the league’s hopes of reaching a total of 28 teams over the next few years looks achievable.

Beckham’s involvement in the Miami project bodes well for the future exposure of MLS on a global 

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