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Conor Sen

America First Didn't Work for Major League Soccer

The league needs foreign talent if it's going to thrive.
What success looks like.

What success looks like.

Photographer: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Sports are often an interesting prism for larger societal debates. As the U.S. considers a course of economic nationalism, a sports league that was founded with such inward leanings, Major League Soccer, is moving the other way -- becoming a buyer and seller of international talent. Its nationalistic approach failed. Perhaps that's a warning sign for lawmakers.

Major League Soccer was founded in 1993 as a way to grow American interest in soccer and to develop U.S. talent. Yet every move the league has made since to grow and stabilize its finances has been to globalize. American-centric rules for play, such as using a countdown clock, were dropped because they alienated traditional soccer fans. In 2007, recognizing that American talent alone wasn't enough to improve the league, MLS created the designated player rule, allowing teams to spend extra money to attractive international players. Initially set at one player per franchise, which let the legendary English player David Beckham to join the Los Angeles Galaxy, the rule now allows three designated players per team, with the money allotted for each slot increasing over time.