The MLS has come a long way towards being a competitive professional soccer league respected by the rest of the world. With the signing of David Beckham and even just rumors of other stars (Thierry Henry, Ronaldino, etc) saying they'd seriously consider playing Stateside has given the American league something to puff it's chest about in recent years.
But in my opinion, one little thing will hold us back in the eyes of our European counterparts whose respect we so dearly crave: our fans. I was watching the Seattle Sounders' inaugural game against the New York Red Bulls and was so distracted by the pitch. Look at all that confetti!
I know it may seem trivial in the grand scheme of things, but think about it: what does all of that paper and trash all over the field look like? That's right, a Central or South American soccer game. Don't get me wrong, a lot of great players and national teams have come out of those two continents. But what about their club soccer leagues? All of their best players play in Europe (Messi, Ronaldinho, Kaka, Robinho, Dani Alvez, Rafa Marquez). Little world-wide impression is made by these clubs. Granted I do think there is a language issue here (Europe is all English-compatible and easily translates to infiltrate American news, whereas the Spanish-oriented Central and South American only has a niche market in the US), but it goes beyond that. These fans are so loud and passionate, but that's about all the noise these clubs make. They're known for having fans that are absolutely crazy and throwing all kinds of unimaginable things onto the pitch, but they're club teams aren't much to be feared.
Hands down, Europe is recognized as the hub of world soccer. The best players from around the world go to play there. Two (Champions League, Euro) of the 3 most important tournaments in the world are exclusively European, and the other (the World Cup) is frequently won or contested by European countries. Look at their fields. No confetti around the endlines. No trash blowing across the pitch. No streamers draped across the goal. Granted, Italy still has crowd control problems and Spain a history of racism and flares in the stands, but in the most respected professional soccer leagues in Europe (England's Premiership, Germany's Bundesliga, Spain's La Liga), the field is pristine. It's hallowed ground. Fans wouldn't dare affect their team's chances of losing the game because the goalie had to wade through toilet paper around the penalty box in order to save a shot. Or their star player has to clear the corner flag just to get the free kick off. They have too much respect for the game, too much respect for the historic stadiums in which history has been and is being made.
The MLS and US Soccer would do themselves a huge favor if they took a long hard look at the situation. There are many other ways to show a fans support of a team. For instance singing, or beating drums or wearing your team's colors. In fact, a true fan, can appreciate the little things in the Beautiful Game. English fans applaud great play in the middle of the field, because they know that's where the game is really won and lost. To me, that's a real fan; one that can watch and pay attention to a goalless draw and argue that it might've been one of the best games ever played. It just looks trashy and tacky to have stuff strewn all over the field and to feel that "this is how a real fan behaves."
If the American professional soccer leagues (heck, even the fans) want worldwide respect for what they put on the field, they better make sure that what they put on the field is respectable.