How would the best MLS team fare in the Premier League?
You'd be surprised what the players think.
By Thomas HautmannFOX Soccer
Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber has repeatedly said his overarching goal is to make MLS one of the world's very best leagues by 2022.
So, with that benchmark only six years away, how close is MLS to the universally recognized "best league in the world" -- the Premier League?
In the players' view, it already seems to be pretty close. In ESPN's second annual anonymous MLS player poll, 123 MLS stars were asked where they think the best MLS side would land in the Premier League table right now, and the results might surprise you.
An overwhelming majority of 50% picked the best MLS side to finish comfortably in the lower half of the table but safe from relegation (10th-14th). Thirty-three percent predicted a finish in the bottom six, while 17% confidently put the best MLS team between 5th and 9th. Nobody gave MLS' best a chance to finish in the top 4.
In other words, 67% of players are at least irrationally overconfident, and 17% are borderline insane.
Please. No MLS team would finish in the top half of the Premier League, or even come close. You have a better chance getting Kanye West to calm down on Twitter.
If you want to believe a team like the Seattle Sounders could stave off relegation, fine. It's extremely hard to rule out any MLS team beating Aston Villa at the moment. I mean, have you seen Aston Villa play this year?
But over a 38-game, grueling Premier League season, with two domestic cup competitions filling out the calendar even further, there's absolutely zero chance an MLS team and its average payroll of $8 million could compete with middling EPL clubs who spend that kind of money on a bench player in the transfer market. Sorry. It's not happening. The financial gap is just too great for that to be realistic. Not even Leicester City's dreamy Cinderella season changes that. The Foxes' payroll this season, which is in the bottom four of the league? Just shy of $68 million.
Then again, it seems a bit gratuitous that this question was even asked. MLS doesn't try to compete with the Premier League, nor should it. It never has, and probably never will. It's a completely different product, one American fans have enough reason to be proud of without feeling the need to look longingly across the pond. Why can't we love both leagues independently of one another?
In the same poll, 99% of players said the quality in MLS is getting better. With the league expanding to 24 teams over the next four years, it's obvious that interest and competitiveness continues to rise. MLS is in a good place today and will be better tomorrow, and it mustn't need to concern itself with what the Premier League is doing.
It might be a fun exercise to wonder what would happen, but it would only end poorly for MLS.