MLS vs. Premier League: How Strong is Major League Soccer in 2023?

MLS vs. Premier League How Strong is Major League Soccer in 2023

Major League Soccer has witnessed commendable growth, especially since it welcomed former English international David Beckham in 2007.

Moreover, the recent inclusion of soccer’s all-time great, Lionel Messi, and his former Barcelona teammates, Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets, has significantly improved the league’s popularity and quality.

These advancements have extensively contributed to the league’s ranking among the world’s top 30.4

We will now see how it compares to the English Premier League, widely revered as the world’s most competitive. Follow along as we review the MLS vs. Premier League debate in 2023.

The MLS and Premier League History

MLS 2023 League Cup Champions
MLS 2023 League Cup Champions – MLS / Instagram

MLS originated in December 1993 as part of the World Cup USA ’94 package.

However, it held its first season in 1996 with ten teams competing.

The league has undoubtedly gathered worldwide popularity just three years shy of reaching its third decade.

The MLS as a franchise might not rank among other famous sports franchises in the United States as the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL, but it is a thriving organization in its own right.

Following operational struggles and financial restraints that nearly crumbled the league within its first decade, the MLS has contributed to soccer as a more popular sport than hockey in the country.

The English Premier League was founded in 1992, four years before MLS’s inaugural season.

Today, it is among the world’s most popular leagues, with a TV audience of approximately 4.7 billion people as one of the UK’s highest-rated exports.5

The Premier League’s success over the years is an antecedence to people forgetting that it was established in the same era as the MLS.

MLS vs. Premier League: Popularity

Doubtlessly, soccer (football) boasts of a broader audience in Europe than in any other continent, with South America being a close second.

The MLS viewership audience, however, is commendable, averaging an attendance of about 20,000 people per game to rank as the fourth-highest average of any professional sports league in the US and Canada.6

The MLS also became the world’s seventh-highest-attended professional soccer league by 2013.7

While the MLS may perceive these figures as extraordinary, the English Premier League would frown if it recorded this attendance average at the end of the season.

UEFA’s highest-ranked league in 2023 averaged match attendance at 38,181 during the 2018-19 season, amounting to 14,508,981 to become the highest of any association football league.8

On the plus side, MLS has a higher average attendance than the NBA and NHL in the United States, attracting more spectators than the Scottish Premiership, Dutch Eredivisie, and Mexican Liga MX.

With the arrival of one of the greatest football stars in history to the MLS, those numbers can only get higher.

MLS vs. Premier League: Players

Over the years, names like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Frank Lampard, Stephen Gerrard, Wayne Rooney, and David Villa have featured in the MLS.

Nevertheless, there remains a sharp contrast when comparing the quality of players in the United States to those in England.

Premier League’s top players are among the world’s best, with names like Mo. Salah, Virgil Van Dijk, Kevin De Bruyne, Alison Becker, Erling Haland, and Bruno Fernandez among the finest talents in their respective positions.

The MLS currently enjoys the profile and experience of Lionel Messi, widely revered as the sport’s all-time best, and other high-caliber players like Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba, Mateusz Klich, and Lorenzo Insigne.

Still, the availability of the players after a few years is uncertain because of their advancement in age.

Contrastingly, the Premier League presents a blend of young talents and experience.

Premier League’s Association-grown players are some of the world’s most promising prospects.

Names like Bukayo Saka, Phil Foden, Cole Palmer, and Rico Lewis, among others, including some that have flourished abroad, proves this fact.

While Thiago Almada, Facundo Torres, Jesús Ferreira, Talles Magno, and a few other youngsters are making things happen in the MLS, they are yet to prove their competence on the biggest stage as some of the English talents mentioned earlier.

Are There Rivalries Between MLS and Premier League?

No rivalry exists between the EPL and the MLS despite pitching both leagues against each other.

While both leagues were established in the same era, the only competition we can evaluate is their standard.

There are rivalries within both leagues. Derby matches and teams with a history of notable upsets proves this fact.

The Premier League presents famous matches against its top teams, including Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, and Tottenham Hotspur.

These games represent a fight for pride and glory, having little to do with form, team quality, or recent feats.

The MLS may boast similar matches reminiscent of FC Dallas against Houston Dynamo and the infamous Battle of Cascadia between the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers.

Which is the Better League Between the MLS and the EPL?

Various rankings placing the EPL above the MLS are enough to answer this question.

Nevertheless, the MLS today is not all there is yet, as it is highest-ranked 16th by Global Football Rankings.9

The American-based league will continue climbing up the rankings as it adds more quality in terms of players and structure but may find itself below the English institution for a long time.

The Premier League remains superior to the MLS, considering its popularity among football fans, better financial offers to players, player quality, and many more.

Moreover, MLS top teams are only comparable to a few sides in the English second division concerning players qualites.

For context, the top half of the MLS would be more suited to compete in the Portuguese Liga and Dutch Eredivisie, ranked lower than the Premier League.

The American-based league as a European association will compete in the Europa League (UEFA’s second-division continental club tournament) at best.

However, the Premier League’s top six teams regularly compete in the Champions League, where MLS’s best may find themselves flat-footed.

Bottom-half MLS teams might be zoned out of the English second division, only worthy of featuring in the country’s third-tier professional football league.

What Things Does the MLS Do Better Than The EPL?

While it is a fact that the MLS is not on the same level as the EPL, there are noteworthy structural policies that make the earlier exemplary.

Work Permits

The MLS makes it easy for players to secure a work permit, not minding their popularity, before the transfer.

However, non-EU players may experience difficulties processing their work permits to play for an English club. Los Angeles FC’s captain, Carlos Vela, suffered this ill fate when he signed for Arsenal FC in 2005.

The Mexican was ineligible to play for the English side until May 2008 due to work permit restrictions for non-EU citizens.10

The authorities made this restriction to prevent an inflow of international talent over English talent.

Respect and Chaos Control

The MLS has set a standard for respect among players and club fans, of which the opposite is a trend in the EPL.

Improper gestures as Luis Suárez’s against Fulham FC’s supporters in 2011 and similar reports in the Premier League are few and far between in the MLS.11

The United States’ soccer environment is friendly as the franchise works to entice kids and families. Contrastingly, English fans are notorious for their disorderly conduct.

Spending Limits

The franchise’s salary cap helps maintain the competitiveness of teams within the league as they have a similar worth, allowing teams to have equal shots at titles each season.

Bottom-half teams in the Premier League remain in their berated bracket, hoping to escape relegation every season.

In contrast, the league’s top-6 and a few teams have enough to maintain players and personnel that keep them atop.

Sadly, the salary cap limits the league’s talent pool, forcing players overseas to hunt for better wages in European clubs.


A club’s home ground is its pride! While EPL clubs praise their stadiums for their history and size, they lack the magnificence and technological advancements of some multipurpose or soccer-specific stadiums in the United States.

Some EPL stadiums date back to the dawn of the 20th century or before. However, some MLS stadiums are as recent as the 2020s.

The four reasons highlighted above are the most notable things the MLS has over its English counterpart.

However, some may argue that playoffs and championship match inclusion, the exception of the relegation rule and player approachability are noteworthy.

Growth opportunities as new clubs are immediately allowed to compete with the oldest existing ones have also earned some positive reviews.

Nevertheless, the Premier League ranks above the MLS all-around.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Does MLS pay more than the Premier League?

The English Premier League is the world’s most lucrative.
The association generated $6.04 billion in annual revenue in the 2017-18 season. However, the MLS yielded $1.02 billion over the same period.

MLS vs Premier League: Revenue, Salaries, Transfers and Attendance

According to an article on ESPN, Philadelphia Union coach Jim Curtin made a bold claim that the MLS can become the world’s top league by 2026.12

Has an MLS team ever played a Premier League team?

Despite the geographical distance between both leagues, their teams have played against each other. 13
However, most of these games occur as friendlies as Premier League teams prepare for a new season during preseason.
The MLS All-Star recently faced Arsenal FC in July 2023 and suffered a 5-0 thrashing from the Gunners.

Is the Premier League big in America?

The Premier League is the most-watched and accepted soccer league in the United States.14
Moreover, top Premier League teams are slightly more popular than MLS teams in America. This fact is attributed to Britain’s cultural influence on the United States and other reasons.

Wrap Up

We have reviewed all aspects of the MLS vs. Premier League debate, and have established the MLS growth and expansion through the course of this article, highlighting some of the league’s positives that lead to a position amongst the world’s top 30.

The needle points towards the Premier League when the MLS is described in relation. 

References & Notes

Facts Sources:
  1. MLS can be world's top league by 2026, says Philadelphia Union coach Jim Curtin. ESPN
  2. MLS lost 18-5 to the Premier League and it means absolutely nothing. USA Today Sports
  3. Why Premier League success in USA is partly due to Anglophiles. World Soccer Talk
  4. The Strongest Leagues in World Football: How the Opta Power Rankings Can Help. Opta Analyst
  5. Playing the game: The soft power of sport. British Council
  6. The Case for the MLS. Duke Edu
  7. Expansion, refs, Cascadia: MLS Commissioner Don Garber covers it all in annual address. MLS
  8. English Premier League Performance Stats – 2018-19. ESPN
  9. Football League Rankings. Global Football Rankings
  10. Arsenal granted Vela work permit. BBC
  11. FA investigates Liverpool’s Luis Suárez for gesture after Fulham defeat. The Guardian
  12. MLS can be world’s top league by 2026, says Philadelphia Union coach Jim Curtin. ESPN
  13. MLS lost 18-5 to the Premier League and it means absolutely nothing. USA Today Sports
  14. Why Premier League success in USA is partly due to Anglophiles. World Soccer Talk

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