8 Differences Between US Major League Soccer and the UEFA
The US Major League Soccer and the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) differ in many key areas. Players transitioning from American soccer to European football should understand these contrasts before playing internationally.
Seasonal Time Frame
You may think that soccer players all engage in their seasonal play at the same time, but that’s not the case! In Europe, professional soccer leagues begin in mid-August and finish up in May. The MLS, on the other hand, runs from mid-March until November.
An additional difference is how the leagues finish up their season. In Europe, teams aim to be the champion of their individual league and play to win national and international (i.e. Europe-wide) tournaments. Comparatively, American players engage in a single playoff tournament to decide a singular champion.
In addition to playing during different times per year, MLS players are subject to more extreme weather conditions. The US’ geographical size pushes for more diverse weather variables than in Europe, and teams prepare for a variety of temperatures, altitudes, traveling distances, and time zones.
Because Europe is smaller and more topographically consistent, their players simply don’t have to adapt to the same range of playing conditions as quickly.
Not all soccer is played equal! European players tend to play long ball, which is when the ball is brought down the flanks and crossed into the air forwards into the goal in order to score. Spain and Italy specifically play possession football, where agile players hold the ball and connect via short passes for a goal shot within close range. The U.S. plays a hybrid of the two, where both conditioning and possession are emphasized as key characteristics of game-winning play.
Home Field Advantage
Players will often tell you: playing at home gives you the ultimate advantage. Whether founded in the truth of familiarity or simply a Placebo effect, statistics show that home field advantage is real and more significant in the MLS than in European leagues.
MLS teams win by an average of 0.88 points per game when playing at home, while the Premier League teams win by an average of just 0.5 points per game when playing at home. When you consider that the average number of goals scored per match is only around 2.6 (based off of FIFA scores averaged across the last 40 playing years), that difference is certainly influential!
Relegation is the process of determining a team’s worth and placing them against similarly-ranking teams in order to create fair and equal leagues. Teams are evaluated each season in Europe, and poorly-performing teams will be relegated, or sent down, to a lower division. Well-performing teams will be elevated to a higher league in their place. In the U.S., the MLS instead rewards well-performing teams with higher picks during the league’s player draft.
The U.S. Major League Soccer operates as a franchise, and therefore the teams invest in the league itself. In doing so, all of the teams work together to grow the league as a whole and ultimately share profits.
Contrastly, in Europe each team is its own entity, meaning that they build themselves up by attracting better players. Because of this (in addition to the MLS wage cap), U.S. soccer players have a significantly lower salary, averaging $330,000. In comparison, UEFA salaries range between $1.2 million and $3.4 million for the best players.
Age of Signing
European leagues recruit and find talent at a much longer age. European clubs will scout, sign, and begin training players between the ages of 10 and 14. American players begin joining college teams around age 18, but that’s when European players are already playing on their first team or a reserve team.
American players will typically join a professional competitive league around age 21, and are usually behind in skill level when compared to European players of the same age who have already been playing at a professional level for a few years.
Compared to Europe, soccer is not nearly as big in the United States. However, it’s the long-standing number one sport in European countries, and sports fans in Europe have a ton of loyalty to their football teams. In the United States, soccer trails behind bigger sports such as American football, basketball, and baseball — with regards to attendance, ratings, and financial support. Despite this, more people play soccer in the U.S. than people play football in any one European country due to the sheer population size of the United States.
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