Our Soccer Leagues Guide provides you with background information on soccer’s competitive leagues around the world. Plus, you’ll find out how to watch the games on TV.
With the advancement of modern technology and streaming, it is now easier than ever before for people to watch soccer inside the United States.
Whether you are watching the best players compete on the other side of the world or your local soccer team, there is a good chance that you can see the action live on national television or with the purchase of streaming services such as ESPN Plus, Paramount Plus, and Peacock TV Premium.
The Premier League is known as the world’s most famous soccer league. Like all big leagues in Europe, the Premier League runs from August until May, with all 20 teams playing a total of 36 games without playoffs. There are no conferences or divisions. Most teams face each other twice a season, although each team will only face four teams once.
The roots of professional soccer in England trace back to 1888 with the founding of the Football League First Division in a 12-team league. It is known as the first professional soccer league. In 1992, English soccer was restructured, and the top league in England became known as the Premier League. Ever since no English manager has ever won a Premier League title.
Nowadays, competition in the Premier League is mainly between a group of six clubs: Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, and Tottenham. Manchester United is the most successful club with 20 league titles but hasn’t won since legendary manager Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013.
They are looking to change that with the signing of the legendary Cristiano Ronaldo, who first got his superstar status with Manchester United earlier in his career. Liverpool follows closely with 19 league titles, ending their 30-year drought with a title in 2019-20. Manchester City has been the most dominant club recently, winning the Premier League five times since 2011.
When it comes to players to watch, there are two main targets. First is Tottenham’s Harry Kane. Kane, who also plays for the England National Team, has been the Premier League’s top scorer three times. The other is Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo. One of the greatest players of all time, the 36-year-old has returned to where his pro career got going and is looking to end United’s league title drought.
How to Watch: NBC/NBCSN/Peacock TV Premium
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Major League Soccer
The regular season runs from March until October, with the MLS Cup Playoffs throughout November and the MLS Cup Final in early December. Teams are split into an Eastern and Western Conference, playing a 34-game regular-season schedule. While the playoff format has changed with expansion, the 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs will send the top seven teams from both conferences to the postseason. MLS has 27 teams as of 2021 but plans to expand to 30 teams by 2023.
Compared to most soccer leagues throughout the world, MLS is still in its infancy. Debuting in 1996 due to a deal with FIFA to bring the World Cup to the U.S. in 1994, MLS has been a league built for parody each season.
The most historic franchises are LA Galaxy and DC United. The star-studded Galaxy has the most MLS Cup titles with five, the last winning one in 2014. DC has four MLS Cups, all coming before 2005. More recently, the Seattle Sounders have risen with two MLS Cup titles and two MLS Cup runners-up since 2016. Seattle remains a powerhouse in 2021, alongside Western Conference rival Sporting KC and the New England Revolution.
MLS has become a league with good homegrown talent and a league that has been a popular landing spot for foreign stars. Mexican duo Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez of the Galaxy and Alan Pulido of Sporting KC are exciting players to watch. Raul Ruidiaz has also been great for Seattle since 2017. Portuguese legend Nani is nearing the end of his remarkable career with another excellent season for Orlando City.
How to Watch: Most games available on ESPN+; others on FS1/FOX
Other Top European Leagues
There are professional leagues in every country in Europe. We’re including the most popular, or “The Big Five,” as they are commonly referred to in our Soccer Leagues Guide. They include the Premier League (England), Ligue 1 (France), Serie A (Italy), Bundesliga (Germany), and La Liga (Spain). All the big leagues run on the same schedule, starting in August and ending in May.
France’s Ligue 1 became a professional league in 1932 and has since had several teams find success. Eight teams have won five or more Ligue 1 titles. Saint Etienne has the most Ligue 1 titles with 10, the last winning one in 1981. Marseille has nine titles, the last winning one in 2011. Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) has dominated Ligue 1, with seven of their nine titles coming since 2012.
PSG’s dominance has been guided by the firepower of superstar signings like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Neymar. Their biggest signing came in August of 2021 when they signed Lionel Messi, who many argue is the greatest of all time. Messi will play alongside Neymar and Kylian Mbappe in a star-studded team.
How To Watch: beIN SPORTS
Italy’s Serie A has been the home to some of the world’s greatest clubs. Founded in 1898, Serie A has been chiefly run by three teams. Juventus leads the way with 36 league titles, followed by Inter Milan with 19 and AC Milan with 18.
After Juventus won nine consecutive Serie A titles, their reign ended in 2020/2021 when Inter Milan won their first title since 2010. Despite the departure of Crostiano Ronaldo, Juventus still remains a prominent club led by Italian defenders Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini.
How to Watch: Paramount+
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The German Bundesliga has been the home of some of the world’s greatest players and teams, not to be confused with the Austrian Bundesliga. German soccer has been a bit different because there was no German league until the formation of the Bundesliga in 1963.
Before then, there were 86 clubs that initially founded the German Football Association in 1900, which has since grown to more than 26,000 clubs across Germany. Bayern Munich, who has won every Bundesliga title since 2012, has historically been the best club in the league, with 30 titles. They are followed by Borussia Dortmund and Borussia Monchengladbach with five each.
Highlighted by passionate fans, the Bundesliga is known as one of the highest-scoring leagues in the world. That means that they also have some great players, such as two of the world’s greatest forwards like, Robert Lewandowski from Bayern Munich and Erling Haaland from Borussia Dortmund.
How to Watch: ESPN+
Spain’s La Liga has been the home to two of the world’s greatest clubs: Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. Those two teams make up one of the greatest rivalries in sports, known as El Classico. They also have won a combined 60 league titles, Real Madrid with 34 and Barcelona with 26.
La Liga in 2021/22 will look very different without Lionel Messi leading Barcelona for the first time in nearly two decades. Barcelona does have young American star Sergino Dest. A dark horse for the title is Atletico Madrid, led by former Barcelona forwards Luis Suarez and Antoine Griezmann. Atletico has been the only other contender over the past decade, getting two titles and runners-up twice.
How to Watch: ESPN+
South American Soccer
No soccer league guide would be complete without noting the excellent soccer coming out of South America. South American soccer is unique. A very rough style of play mixed with a lot of passion, South America offers some fantastic entertainment.
Campeonato Brasileiro Série A
Naturally, as one of the historically top soccer countries globally, the Brazilian league is known as the best league on the continent. Many Brazilian superstars, such as Pele and Ronaldinho, were crafted in Brazil. That remains true today, with players like Neymar and Vinícius Júnior getting brought up in their home club and league before being sold to European giants.
There have been five teams to win six or more league titles in Brazil. No one has won more than Palmeiras with ten, as well as Santos and Flamengo with eight each. The season typically runs from May until December.
How to Watch: Paramount+
Argentina Primera División
Since 1891, Argentina’s Primera División has been the oldest soccer league outside England, Scotland, and Ireland. It is a league built on intense rivalries with a lot of South American flare. The biggest rivalry, known as the Superclásico, is between Boca Juniors and River Plate, who consistently meet in hostile environments. The league changes format very often, but the 2021 season will run from July until December.
River Plate has been the most successful club, with 36 titles, but their last one came in 2014. Boca Juniors is second with 34 titles, the last winning one in 2020. Racing and Independiente are third and fourth with a combined 34 titles.
How to Watch: Paramount+
There you have it – our Soccer Leagues Guide. It’s your resource for watching some excellent soccer. I hope you enjoyed it.
By Nathan Dunn
Nathan is a sportswriter based in Kansas City, Missouri. Nathan plays on the men’s soccer team for Park University and is a contributing soccer writer for the KC Kingdom.
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