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Dec 30, 2012

Sepp Blatter swipes at MLS' development

FIFA president Sepp Blatter took a sharp jab at Major League Soccer during a television interview this weekend, saying it has yet to catch on as a legitimate professional league in the United States.

Blatter suggested league officials have had ample time to get the world's most popular sport to take hold in the U.S., but the MLS has failed to generate much interest among mainstream American sports fans.

"It is a question of time, I thought -- we had the World Cup in 1994," Blatter told Al Jazeera TV. "But it is now 18 years in so it should have been done now. But they are still struggling."

The FIFA boss made the remarks during a lengthy interview released on Saturday when asked to answer a question by the interviewer, Marwan Bishara, about the state of the game's development in the U.S. and China.

Blatter said that soccer remains the U.S.'s most popular youth participation sport, outranking both football and baseball, but said that the professional league fever that rages around much of the world has never quite stuck in the U.S.

"There is no very strong professional league (in the U.S.)," Blatter said. "They have just the MLS but they have no professional leagues which are recognized by the American society."

The league's regular season attendance seems to belie Blatter's contentions, as the average has increased from 15,504 in 2006 to 17,872 in 2011 and a record 18,807 this year.

Blatter has previously taken pokes at the MLS, among them the beef that it will struggle to prod star players to head to the U.S. unless it matches its season to those in Europe.

He has repeated calls for the league to adopt an August-May schedule, saying that the current March-October season was the overwhelming reason that the MLS cannot compete with Europe's top leagues.

MLS commissioner Don Garber is not opposed to that goal, but has said one major obstacle has been that until recently several MLS teams shared stadiums with NFL franchises and didn't have access to arenas on many weekends in the fall.

But as of last season, 13 of the 19 teams control their own venues, with soccer-specific stadiums having been unveiled within the last two years in Houston, Kansas City and Philadelphia, so that is now less of an issue than in the past.

Soccer's governing body demanded that the U.S. create a national league as one of its conditions for awarding the country the right to host the 1994 World Cup. The MLS began in 1996 and Blatter said organizers had long been aware of the problems regarding the clash in calendars. MLS routinely schedules matches on international fixture dates.

"They have to play and adapt themselves to the international calendar," Blatter said several years ago. "If they do that, they can have success. I spoke several times and I spoke on this 10 years ago when I was still secretary general and nothing has changed in the USA."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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