(Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Major League Soccer has worked awfully hard through the years to make itself a draw in ways that extend beyond offering former European stars with huge names a soft preretirement landing spot. The stadiums are properly sized (as in, they don’t play in NFL stadiums anymore), the fan culture is mostly strong, the teams are loaded with young and hungry players, and the average playing style is aggressive. The league has a lot to offer and doesn’t need to bring in the next David Beckham or Zlatan Ibrahimovic to sell tickets.
When you have a chance to nab Lionel Messi, however, all rules justifiably go out the window.
Messi, probably the greatest soccer player of all time, will make his debut with Inter Miami in the coming weeks, likely when they begin Leagues Cup play against Mexico’s Cruz Azul on July 21. He’ll bring Sergio Busquets, one of the greatest defensive midfielders of all time, with him. They’ll be ready for the Leagues Cup, the U.S. Open Cup semifinals and about the last third of the MLS regular season. Spanish outlet Marca has already published a story titled, “How many points does Messi have to win for Inter Miami to challenge for the MLS playoffs?” (The answer: a lot.) This is going to be a pretty interesting experiment, one that I’m guessing will sell a lot of Apple TV+ subscriptions in the meantime. (Apple owns most of the league’s broadcasting rights.)
This fun, intense and often haphazard league just got even more watchable, in other words. And it will likely rope in some new fans.
If you’re one of those newbies, or if you’re signing up for a season pass to rekindle an old flame — or, hey, if you’re Messi or Busquets and you want to know what the hell you just got yourself into — allow me to be your sherpa. You can simply look at the league table to figure out who has been good or bad this season, but who brings the most bang for the entertainment buck? Who’s the most watchable?
For the past few years, I have been sharing Watchability Rankings for the teams in Europe’s biggest leagues. I did the same for MLS last summer. With the new blood on the horizon, now seems like the best possible time to post this year’s list.
You can look at the criteria in-depth here, but the gist is this: shots; goals; offensive aggression; defensive pressure; close games; big, fun matches; and plain old quality are entertaining and watchable. The teams that have those things end up ranking pretty highly, even more so if they throw a few fun defensive breakdowns into the mix as well. You can be good but unwatchable, and you can be mediocre and ridiculously entertaining.