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The best leagues in the world, part six: MLS (USA)

Major League Soccer is sixth in Marcus Banks' league rankings. Total Football's Sreesha Vaman assesses the USA and Canada's top league, filled with star names including David Beckham, Robbie Keane, Landon Donovan, Arsenal legend Thierry Henry and potentially even Michael Ballack. The MLS also boasts a significant increase in home grown players.

NAME: Major League Soccer

RANKING: #6

COUNTRY: United States and Canada

NUMBER OF TEAMS: 19

BEST THREE PLAYERS IN THE LEAGUE

1. Thierry Henry – New York Red Bulls – 7 goals through six games in 2012; 14 goals in 26 games played in 2011

2. Chris Wondolowski – San Jose Earthquakes – 7 goals through six games in 2012; 16 goals in 30 games played in 2011

3. Dan Kennedy – Chivas USA – 79% save percentage through six games in 2012; 70% save percentage in 32 games played in 2011

CURRENT LEAGUE CHAMPIONS

Los Angeles Galaxy – 3-time champions – Manager: Bruce Arena

LIKELY LEAGUE WINNERS THIS SEASON

Sporting Kansas City – 1st Place (Eastern Conference) – 18 points through six games – Peter Vermes

Real Salt Lake – 1st Place (Western Conference) – 15 points through seven games – Jason Kreis

San Jose Earthquakes – 2nd Place (Western Conference) – 13 points through six games – Frank Yallop

BEST THREE CLUBS IN THE LEAGUE

Sporting Kansas City – 1st Place (Eastern Conference) – 18 points through six games – Peter Vermes

Real Salt Lake – 1st Place (Western Conference) – 15 points through seven games – Jason Kreis

San Jose Earthquakes – 2nd Place (Western Conference) – 13 points through six games – Frank Yallop

MAIN STRENGTHS

• Parity: unlike European leagues, hard salary caps and deeper revenue sharing means that the income disparity between “rich” clubs and “poor” clubs is minimal, providing for more even competition on the pitch

• Significant domestic presence: due to league-imposed import restrictions, all MLS clubs have significant presence of American and Canadian players developed in-house and don’t rely on foreigners for talent

• Aligned interests: MLS views training talent for U.S. / Canadian national teams sacrosanct; likewise, national teams have strong working relationship with MLS to develop future generations of talent

WEAKNESSES

• Lack of academy / reserve infrastructure: MLS teams are still developing their youth and reserve systems, which means that many prospects either have to learn on the job or to join a foreign club on loan for training

• Competitive landscape: MLS clubs compete with many indigenous sports in North America for the attention and discretionary income of fans

• Summer Season: Because CONCACAF plays in the summer, not in the winter, MLS teams struggle to compete for talent with European teams, and the season sometimes conflicts with major tournaments e.g. World Cup

MOST EXPENSIVE PLAYERS BY CONTRACT VALUE 2011

1. David Beckham – L.A. Galaxy   £4.2 million per year

2. Rafa Marquez – New York Red Bulls   £3.0 million per year

3. Robbie Keane – L.A. Galaxy   £2.2 million per year

BEST HOME GROWN PLAYERS

Landon Donovan – San Jose Earthquakes, L.A. Galaxy – 259 Games   116 Goals – 96 Assists

Bryan Ching  San Jose Earthquakes, Houston Dynamo, L.A. Galaxy – 193 Games – 77 Goals – 29 Assists

Chris Wondolowski – San Jose Earthquakes, Houston Dynamo – 117 Games – 48 Goals – 8 Assists

BEST UP AND COMING PLAYERS IN THE LEAGUE

Will Bruin – Houston Dynamo – 29 Games – 6 Goals – 1 Assist

Brek Shea – F.C. Dallas – 81 Games – 17 Goals – 12 Assists

Juan Agudelo – New York Red Bulls – 30 Games – 6 Goals – 2 Assists

Don't miss Total Football's interview with State Director of Coaching at the California Youth Soccer Association, Karl Dewazien, coming soon!

Words by Sreesha Vaman - Follow Sreesha on Twitter - @sreeshavaman

Edited by Marcus Banks - Follow Marcus on Twitter - @MarcusBanks7

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