MLS player improvement may be bearing fruit. Another touring European powerhouse with a roster of international superstars -- Chelsea of the English Premier League -- lost 1-0 to the MLS All-Stars on Saturday in Chicago.

But on the financial front, the MLS is "still in the mode of not being profitable in almost all teams," Garber said. "We're got a lot of growth left to do, and we've got to be cautiously optimistic."

Garber didn't mention it, but others point to another reason for optimism: the rapid growth across the U.S. of soccer-loving Hispanic immigrants.

Of course, hard-core soccer fans still yearn for higher-caliber MLS play. Many of the best American players have been lured by the money in the European leagues, which do not have a MLS-style salary cap. The MLS is considering a rule change that would create a marquee player exemption from the strict caps. It's dubbed the "Beckham Allocation," for David Beckham, who has talked about playing in the U.S. after retiring from Real Madrid. Beckham reportedly earns $32 million annually, far above that of the highest-paid baseball player, the New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez, whose salary is about $25 million. Beside Beckham, Real Madrid carries a $90 million annual payroll for just six of its other superstars.

But the MLS is likely to remain far behind baseball, football and hockey in game attendance, team loyalty and the hearts of American fanatics. But I'm still eager to see the Real Madrid-Real Salt Lake game. After all, soccer may not be around in Real Salt Lake next year.



Enjoy the Good Life? Email us with what you'd like to see in future articles
Martin Stolz is a freelance writer living in Salt Lake City. He previously worked as a newspaper reporter in New York and California.

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