Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis called the rise of MLS in the last five or six years "quite extraordinary," but noted that further growth will depend on the league's ability to develop players.
Gazidis has a unique perspective on MLS and the growth of the game in North America. In 1996, he joined MLS as part of the league's first management team. He went on to serve as MLS deputy commissioner from 2001 until 2008, when he left to join Arsenal's executive ranks.
Next week he'll get to see the league's progress up close when Arsenal takes part in the MLS All-Star game in San Jose, California. But from his perch in London, he likes what he sees out of the league he helped build.
"The globalization of the world, and the increasingly multicultural diverse population of the U.S., all of these things created a really fertile ground for soccer to grow," said Gazidis. "We're seeing that in every single way that you can imagine.
"Soccer in the U.S. is now absolutely a part of the global conversation, it's also a part of the sports conversation in the U.S., and it's also a part of the cultural part of the conversation in the U.S."
Gazidis said he felt the ownership group in MLS is as strong as any league in the world, and he's been impressed with the investment in facilities and stadiums, support from sponsors and broadcast partners, the development of the game on the field, and investments in youth.
"All of these things mean that MLS is developing at a rate I think nobody could have anticipated," he said.
Gazidis stressed that while the league has benefited from signing high-priced players like David Villa, Frank Lampard, and Steven Gerrard, he feels the aforementioned investment in academies and youth players will fuel the next growth phase for the league.
"I think a lot of the story is around the big-name signings that come into the league, and I think they've certainly added a really nice sprinkling of star power, " he said. "It's no longer just one or two teams. Every team has players that you pay money to watch. I think that's fantastic.
"But the real foundations for growth are going to be in the development of American players, the domestic talent. I think MLS there is doing the right thing in investing in youth development, the academy system.
"That's a long-term investment. It's not going to happen overnight. But we're beginning to see these young players that have come through as a product of that system. That has to be the future."
As for the current level of American players, Gazidis felt like progress has been made, but the development of the top-end player is still missing.
"I think the talent pool is certainly deeper, and more consistently at a high level when you look across the league," he said. "I still think there is room to have some truly world-class players coming through the development system, and I think we're beginning to see that.
"They've certainly got some young players that, without naming names, have the potential to be truly world-class. That's there to be developed and I think it will be developed."
MLS commissioner Don Garber has laid out an agenda that includes MLS being one of the top leagues in the world by 2022, and a league of choice for the world's best players.
While that might seem ambitious, Gazidis applauded Garber's approach. He noted that MLS is the world's seventh-best attended league.
"I think there are so many pieces in place," said Gazidis. "It's about the environment that a player has. In terms of everything around the player environment -- stadiums, fans, television coverage, ownership, cultural environment -- those are incredibly attractive and the U.S. is the equal of anywhere in the world in all of these areas.
"The two remaining parts of the environment are obviously money, and MLS is prepared to pay market value for top players and top American players.
"The key element, and what MLS really needs to focus on over the next decade is how they can develop the level of play, how they can develop a league that for the world of football, people acknowledge as one of the best leagues in the world. That's just the final piece of the puzzle, and they're moving in the right direction."
Gazidis added that the growth of the sport in the U.S. isn't just about MLS. The Premier League has benefited as well from increased attention with its games being broadcast in the U.S..
"The increasing level of the sophistication about soccer and the knowledge and passion and commitment the fan base has to the Premier League, mirrors that of the growth of MLS," he said. "So this is really good for everybody that is involved in soccer."