MLS: The Most Diverse Professional League in America

Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

MLS released a PDF including its player world map, which lists each player's country of birth. According to the data MLS is the most internationally diverse professional league in America.

When MLS started in 1996 it was with the hope that it would become a viable league and be able to have staying power. Today MLS released it's annual player world map and the data shows that MLS has indeed become a viable league. Currently MLS has players from 61 different countries and the international players represent 40.1% of the current MLS players.

It may not seem like international players are a good indication of league viability but it is. International diversity shows that the level of play in MLS has increased to the point that players feel MLS is a step up compared to their countries' league(s). It also shows that players think of MLS as a good stepping stone to Europe and their leagues/money. If that process continues and MLS becomes more of a feeder league then more money comes in and more money brings in better talent.

The next step in MLS's evolution would then be to morph from a feeder league to a destination league for players from Europe. MLS has already become a destination league for the lower tier leagues in the CONCACAF and has helped bring up the level of play in CONCACAF. Just look at the current Hexagonal participants and how many MLS players those countries currently have.

  • Panama- 2
  • Honduras - 8
  • Mexico - 12
  • Costa Rica- 7
  • USA - 293
  • Jamaica - 12

While the numbers don't seem like a lot it does show you how much influence MLS has started to have on CONCACAF.

US Sports

Another interesting tidbit about this data is that among professional sports in the USA, MLS is the most internationally diverse, as you can see from the following table.

League (year)

Total # of Players

Players Born Abroad
(% born outside USA & Canada)

Countries Represented
(incl. USA & Canada)

MLS (2013)

530

213 (40.1%)

61

NBA (2012-13)

438

84 (19.2%)

44

NHL (2012-13)

753

183 (24.3%)

19

MLB (2012)

1,057

272 (25.7%)

16

NFL (2012)

2,041

55 (2.7%)

16

Just look at the data and you can see which sports are popular outside of the Western Hemisphere and which ones are popular world wide. What this does not mean is that MLS is the most popular league in America, however it does show the ability for MLS to grow not only domestically but internationally as well.

Other Tidbits

  • For the amount of teams that have wanted to employ the 4-3-3 there is a scarcity of Dutch-born players who would be familiar with such a system.
  • Brazil (23) has almost surpassed Canada (24) for the country with the second most players in MLS.
  • Argentina has only 10 players in MLS but among those ten are some great play makers.
  • No surprise here but of the the 24 Canadians in the league 17 of them play on the three Canadian teams, with Toronto employing 8 of those 17. Surprisingly Montreal only has two Canadians on their roster.
  • Montreal on the other hand has 3 of the 5 Italians in the league.
  • Of the 12 Mexican born players Chivas USA only has 5 on their roster.
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