Yankees

Further MLS attachment to the English Premier League is a good thing … right?

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Major League Soccer’s fan and media legions were understandably abuzz over this week’s expansion news.

Expansion news is always buzz-worthy, of course, but this one especially so for several reasons.

First, it’s No. 20, which was always a strategic resting spot for MLS; commissioner Don Garber has said that his league would stay put at 20 clubs for the time being.

Second, it’s New York – and dropping a new brand into nation’s premier media market, even a second club in MLS, will gather more media momentum than a new club anywhere else.

Third, big engines from Manchester City and the Yankees are pulling this train, and those are some mighty engines, indeed.

But there is another angle to explore here – one that will surely get more discussion going forward.

What if broader MLS attachment to the venerable English Premier League backfires? What if, in the bigger picture, increased EPL awareness on this side of the Atlantic actually pushes Major League Soccer closer to the margins of U.S. cultural awareness rather than toward the center of it?

That’s a main point in the New Yorker blog piece on this week’s news.

Still, it’s been difficult to convince even invested fans that, in the scheme of international soccer, M.L.S. is truly worth caring about. This is where Manchester City’s involvement comes as both a blessing, and a possible curse. It brings the approving stamp of Europe’s most prominent soccer league, one American fans have begun watching with more fervor than they watch their own, and any chance to ride the coattails of international soccer’s growing domestic popularity seems useful. But the ownership scheme brings with it the inherent implication of inferiority. Will N.Y.C.F.C. ever feel like anything more than AAA ball to Man City’s major leagues? And how will New Yorkers react to foreign ownership of one of their teams?”

Major League Soccer is betting there is enough interest to go around, and that even the sharpest plasma or LED displays in someone’s home cannot duplicate the energy of game day at a proper ground.

Still, it’s a question worth asking.

A few implications of the ‘sister-club’ relationship between City and NYC FC

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For ages countries like England, Spain and Italy have been taking the proverbial piss out of soccer in the United States.

They laugh at our men’s national team as we struggle to qualify for World Cups in a CONCACAF group that lacks the quality of European competition. They laugh at our domestic league, equating it to the second or third divisions of European football.  And they discount our incredible achievements in the women’s game where we have won two World Cups and four Olympic gold medals.

But it’s all good.

Because we, as Americans, know it’s coming.

We know that soccer is set to explode in America.

Whether its Major League Soccer expanding from 10 clubs in 2004 to 19 in 2012, five Premier League clubs being purchased by American business owners, or the World Cup and Premier League broadcast rights packages tripling in value between offerings, the writing is on the wall: America is on the precipice of becoming a soccer-crazed nation.

And with Tuesday’s announcement that Manchester City and the New York Yankees have combined forces to create New York City Football Club, we have yet another ground-breaking moment in U.S. soccer history.

By forming NYC FC, City and the Yankees have created what is essentially a ‘sister-club’ relationship – an innovative bond between a Premier League and MLS club. The implications are numerous.

First and foremost, it means that two of the world’s richest sports teams, each flush with billions of dollars, now have a vested interest in MLS and U.S. Soccer. This interest will translate to better facilities, coaching, player wages and youth programs. Oh yeah, and that elusive first club academy where players are educated and live together in the mold of La Masia? You better believe that’s now a reality.

(MORE: Why MLS was so focused on New York as the 20th market)

Second, the ‘sister-club’ bond represents a definitive player pipeline between the U.S. and England. That means City’s top youth prospects will spend seasons cutting their teeth in MLS. This will help further reduce the league’s stigma of being a retirement hotbed while providing MLS fans with looks at the future stars of European soccer. But the pipeline won’t just flow one way. With City on board our top homegrown youth products will now have a much greater opportunity to make it in England.

Third, the ‘sister-club’ relationship will do wonders for the NYC FC and City brands. Fans in Manchester will be more likely to support NYC FC while fans in New York will have a Premier League club they feel connected to. This translates into greater exposure for MLS in England and the Premier League in America.

The possibilities are endless. Believe it.