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How Does the Competitiveness of the MLS Compare to the English Premier League?

mls stadium grass in foreground blurred stadium stands in background

There is no point beating around the bush here: the Premier League is much more competitive than MLS.

It just is. In every measurable way.

Look at a bookmaker’s margin on Premier League odds then compare it with their margin on MLS odds. It will be much tighter on the former.

However, that doesn’t mean the MLS is not competitive, and as the fastest growing league in America by quite some margin, a comparison with the Premier League is interesting.

The question then, is how do we compare them?

Breaking Down the Leagues

Let’s look at both leagues from a few different angles and see what we come up with.


MLS is specifically structured to maintain competitive balance. Elements like the draft system and the salary cap exist to stop any one club becoming too dominant.

The Premier League is totally different, with individual club owners, looser regulations on spending, as well as the promotion and relegation system.

This in itself creates higher stakes in each game, especially for teams in the bottom half of the table.

In MLS, a bad season means you don’t qualify for the playoffs. Oh well. There’s always next season, right? In the Premier League, a bad season could result in relegation to a lower league. If you want to see a team playing competitively, put them in a relegation battle.

It’s much harder to win the Premier League too, whereas any team in the top half of either conference could feasibly win the MLS Cup.


The Premier League had a £6.1 billion ($7.78 billion) revenue in the 2022/23 season. MLS revenue stood at just over $2 billion (£1.57 billion).

As the most watched league in the world Premier League clubs earn huge amounts of money, so they can pay star players eye watering salaries.

If a team from each league were chasing the same player, there would be no competition. That player could earn way more in England, and play to a much larger global audience. This grows his stock, brings in more lucrative sponsorship deals, etc.

A 2019 study showed the highest average player salary at a Premier League Club (Manchester City) to be $8,734,375. In MLS, it was just $758,346 (Toronto FC).

The difference is vast.

Star Players

Elite soccer players gravitate towards the Premier League on their way up, and many stay there during their prime too.

Some leave for warmer climates, like Spain, but you will only find those elite level players considering MLS once they are over the hill in soccer terms.

Look at the age of these ex-Premier League stars when they joined MLS:

  • David Beckham – 32
  • Wayne Rooney – 33
  • Gareth Bale – 33
  • Frank Lampard – 37
  • Luis Suarez – 37
  • Chicharito – 32
  • Nani – 33
  • Zlatan Ibrahimović – 37

The fact all of these players excelled in MLS at the end of their careers is telling.

Bradley Wright Phillips is another case in point. He moved to the New York Red Bulls aged 28, still in his prime. In England, he could only manage a handful of goals each season in the league below the Premier League. Yet in MLS, he’s scoring 20+ goals a season well into his 30s.


When studying the data, Premier League teams outscore MLS teams in every significant area.

They complete more passes, commit fewer fouls, offside calls are rarer. There is more pressure on the ball, they take more shots and from shorter distances too.

FootballDataBase ranks MLS’ top team, Columbus Crew, 279th in the world. Just above them are Swansea FC, an EFL Championship side.

The Case for MLS

mls match

In 2015, MLS Commissioner, Don Garber, claimed MLS was more competitive than the Premier League. His rationale being that every club has a chance of winning the MLS Cup each season, whereas in the Premier League this was not the case.

He has a point.

Since its inception, 15 different clubs have won the MLS Cup. In the Premier League, it’s just 7.

It was unfortunate timing for Garber though, because 5000/1 shot Leicester City won the Premier League in 2015 – one of the biggest shocks in the history of English football.

Nevertheless, you could argue that MLS is more competitive because the league is more balanced.

It’s not a convincing enough argument if you ask me, as it requires reframing what you mean by the word ‘competitive’ – but it is a point worth thinking about.