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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Collins

MLS vs. CSL – who will become the next football superpower?

There are many reasons why people could compare MLS and the CSL, yet the comparisons should stop at the season calendar. The Chinese Super League is intent on claiming their position as the next football superpower.


The MLS controls the league, clubs, and players ensuring they progress as one. Meanwhile, Chinese Super League teams are free to spend well beyond what’s available and even what makes business sense. The MLS’s slow and steady development plan laid out by Commissioner Don Garber has led to several altercations with Jurgen Klinsmann, the USNMT coach, who has regularly stated that his players would be better prepared in European leagues.

The CSL are now looking to sign top talent from Europe and the Americas with Hulk being the latest to break the transfer record. Obafemi Martins’ move earlier this year from the Seattle Sounders to the Shanghai Shenhua is a clear demonstration of this shift in power.


The Chinese Super League for the first time ever outspent the Premier League in the winter transfer window. Even China League One outspent all other European leagues excluding the Premier League and Serie A. Meanwhile the MLS came in 20th in terms of total spending:

1. CSL €301 million (£234 million)

2. Premier League €253 million (£197 million)

3. Serie A €81 million (£63 million)

4. China League 1 €62 million (£48 million)

5. Bundesliga €48 million (£37 million)

20. MLS €5 million (£4 million)


This year’s MLS All-Star game will include Kaka (34), Keane (35), Gerrard (36), Pirlo (37) and Lampard (38), all legends of the game, but they’re now past their prime and bring far less influence to the game. Meanwhile the CSL this season boasts Teixeira (26), Paulinho (27), Ramires (28), Jackson Martinez (29) and Hulk (29), the younger generation that are the focal point of the team.

This phenomenon is also seen amongst the managers. CSL managers include Luis Scolari, Sven-Goran Eriksson and most recently Clarence Seedorf in the second division. The list is less familiar in the MLS, with Owen Coyle, former Bolton Wanderers and Wigan Athletic coach, the most globally renowned having recently left Houston Dynamos by mutual consent.


Many fans are quick to criticise the number of foreign imports to Chinese Super League clubs; however, there’s more to it than just the exposure of the recent high profile signings. CSL teams are allowed 4+1 foreign players, the 1 being from a nation that plays in the Asian Football Confederation, hence the high level of Australians. This means that of a Chinese Super League club’s 30 man squad, a maximum of 5 can be from outside of China (17%).

However, the international roster slots in the MLS are far more complicated, including drafts and lotteries between individual teams, with each club holding anywhere between 6 and 11 foreign players (8 slots for foreign players is given). That means on average an MLS squad of 28 players can have around 8 foreigners (29%).


The Chinese Super League average attendance is around 22,000, comparable to Serie A and Ligue 1. The rise of Guangzhou Evergrande has become a common theme, and they boast an average attendance of 45,809. In fact, only Manchester United, Arsenal, Manchester City and Newcastle attract more from the Premier League teams. MLS, averaged a similar level with more than 21,500 per game, heavily influenced by Seattle Sounders of less than 45,000 per game.

From a growth perspective, China’s huge stadia will likely see the CSL teams surpass their European rivals and eventually become the world’s most attended football league.

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