How Major League Soccer Is Better Than the English Premier League

Besting the English Premier League isn’t an easy task for any soccer organization. The EPL is home to some of the most prestigious clubs in global football, possesses many of the most talented players, and generates astronomical amounts of revenue. In short, the EPL is the most popular league of the worlds most popular sport.

In stark contrast, Major League Soccer is an afterthought globally. It could even be considered an afterthought domestically, as MLS is arguably only the fifth most popular professional sports league in America. With it being deemed a second rate league both home and abroad, and operating under very restrictive financial parameters, how can Major League Soccer excel over the English Premier League in any facet? Ironically enough, it is thanks to those restrictive financial parameters that MLS trumps the EPL, and other prominent European leagues for that matter, in one crucial area of the sport; pure competition.

While MLS is certainly not without its flaws and critics, it cannot be denied that no matter which club you support, on a year to year basis each franchise possesses a legitimate chance to find glory and success. And not just merely a mathematical chance but a legitimate possibility of being victorious. Sure, certain clubs have learned how to navigate the complicated MLS roster stipulations better than others, thus they win more consistently but “parity” is something MLS head muckety-mucks preach and are steadfast in promoting.

Of course we all want to be entertained by our sporting bouts. What better way to be entertained than by the truest form of competition? The type of competition where essentially all combatants stand a fighting chance. Entertainment in sport stems from the the battles, the cutthroat business decisions, the teams, the fans, the personalities, all of which are intertwined organically to create engaging story lines. Sport naturally provides us the protagonist we need to root for, the antagonists we loathe so deeply, and it all culminates with either the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat. True competition elicits entertainment. Major League Soccer fosters true competition superbly.

Whereas the largest European leagues suffer when it comes to pure competition, due to the leagues being a free-for-all financially. The “Big 4” European leagues have little to no financial restrictions, thus nothing is in place to negate “super clubs” from taking over. Ultimately, parity is what makes MLS so damn entertaining.

Breaking It Down
Unlike in American sports where bracket style playoff tournaments decide the champion, the EPL awards their championship crown to the team with the highest point total at the conclusion of the regular season. Major League Soccer follows the unwritten rules of American sports and crowns the league champion after a month long MLS Cup playoff, though the league does also award the “Supporters Shield” to the team with the best record at the conclusion of the MLS regular season. Given that the EPL doesn’t have a playoff, for the sake of this discussion I will compare apples to apples, and review MLS Supporter Shield winners to previous EPL champs from year to year.

Spanning the ten most recent MLS seasons, we have seen six different Supporter Shield winners, while the EPL has only crowned three different league champions. In that same period of time, MLS had fourteen different clubs manage to finish within the top 5 of the overall MLS standings. The EPL had a mere eight clubs manage the same success. With few teams attaining such levels of success, clearly the domineering franchises run rampant in the Premier League. Arsenal finished within the top 5 each and every year. Chelsea and Manchester United earned top 5 honors in all but one season, while Tottenham managed seven top 5 finishes. On the flip side, Major League Soccer didn’t have a single club garner more than five top 5 finishes over the last decade.

Top 5 Finishes in the Last Ten Seasons



DC United 5
FC Dallas 5
LA Galaxy 5
New England 5
Real Salt Lake 5
Chicago 4
Houston 4
Columbus 3
Seattle 3
Sporting KC 3
Chivas 2
San Jose 2
Portland 1
Arsenal 10
Chelsea 9
Man United 9
Tottenham 7
Man City 6
Liverpool 5
Everton 3
New Castle 1

Noteworthy Findings

  • Columbus Crew finished 9th out of 13 teams in 2007 but went on to claim the Supporters Shield and the MLS Cup in 2008.
  • New York Red Bulls pulled a similar move in 2010 when they finished first in the Eastern Conference, after finishing dead last in the entire league in 2009.
  • Portland Timbers were second to last in the Western Conference (17th overall in the league out of 19 teams) in 2012, and went on to win the conference in 2013, finishing third overall in the league.
  • Ben Olsen led DC United to the biggest single season turn around in league history when the club jumped from the leagues worst in 2013 to winning the Eastern Conference in 2014.
  • In each season from 2005 to 2014, at least one new team made it into the MLS top 5 that didn’t the previous year.
  • Similar feats are quite uncommon in the EPL. Outside of Reading having their great run during the 2006 – 2007 season, finishing 8th after being promoted from the second division. A mere four other times did a promoted team manage to make it into the top 10 their first year in the EPL. Majority of the time, clubs who earn promotion to the EPL find themselves relegated back down to the Championship within a season or two.
  • The most striking statistic for any MLS fan has to be that the late (not so) great Chivas USA organization actually had, not one but two top 5 finishes during their existence. We all tend of forget that Chivas actually had a solid run with Brad Guzan, Jesse Marsch, and Sacha Kljestan on the pitch.
  • It should also be stated that in the same ten year time period, Major League Soccer had 6 different MLS Cup Champions.

Again, the English Premier League deserves all of the accolades it receives as the most talented league in the world. However, the league is lacking when it comes to true competitiveness. Yes, a second-tier team like Swansea City or Sunderland can pull off the occasional upset and beat one of the leagues “Big 5” but ultimately we all know the select few teams that stand a shot at bringing home hardware at the end of the day. Even in comparison to other European leagues, the EPL lags behind in true competition.

The German Bundesliga is the most competitive of the prominent European leagues. Over the last decade, fourteen clubs earned top 5 table finishes. The Italian Serie A had a respectable twelve clubs find top 5 success, and the La Liga had eleven. Even so, the usual suspects dominated their respective leagues, with Bayern Munich finishing in the top 5 all ten seasons and capturing six league titles. Barcelona and Real Madrid finished either first or second in all but two of the last ten La Liga seasons.

German Bundesliga Spanish La Liga

Italian Serie A

Bayern 10
Leverkusen 8
FC Schalke 7
Dortmund 5
W Bremen 4
Wolfsburg 4
Hamburg 3
Stuttgart 2
Borussia 2
Augsburg 1
Freiburg 1
FSV Mainz 1
Hannover 1
Hertha BSC 1
Barcelona 10
Real Madrid 10
Sevilla 8
Valencia 7
Atletico 6
Villarreal 4
Bilbao 1
Malaga 1
Mallorca 1
Osasuna 1
Real Sociedad 1
AC Milan 8
Inter Milan 7
Juventus 6
Roma 6
Fiorentina 5
Napoli 5
Lazio 4
Palermo 3
Udinese 3
Chievo 1
Genoa 1
Sampdoria 1

Does MLS have the greatest collection of players in the world? No! Is MLS’s brand of soccer the most technically sound and eye appealing to the majority of global football fans? Probably not. But it shouldn’t apologize for that. What it does provide is a big heaping portion of true competition on a week to week basis. Goliath consistently slaying David is a boring narrative. In MLS, there is no Goliath, just 20 Davids, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

About Mike Crosky

A writer, podcaster, coach, player, and fan of the beautiful game! Former MLS employee and now contributor to TotalMLS and host of Crosky on Soccer Podcast. Lifelong USMNT and MLS supporter! I am making it my life goal to eradicate diving from soccer. Join me!