Major League Soccer's goal of being one of the top leagues in the World by 2022 is still a major pipe dream, but that doesn't mean it isn't closer than ever. One of the biggest ways that growth can be measured for the league is how many of its players are now playing for their countries.
In 2014, 26 players from Major League Soccer represented their countries at the FIFA World Cup, a huge accomplishment for the young league. This included Toronto FC's Michael Bradley for the United States and Julio Cesar who was the goalkeeper for the host Brazilian national team.
That number has only increased as the league has brought in even more global stars, while talents grown domestically are also representing their various countries more frequently. For the most part this has been a positive for the league, but because MLS does not take a break during international dates it is also a problem: the quality of play suffers while its stars are away.
But as more and more of the league's best players are called up to their national teams, finding a solution for this is no longer a luxury for the league, it is a necessity. That's why taking a break for the group stage of the Copa America Centenario is a step in the right direction for Major League Soccer.
Its not ideal, as teams will still lose stars players should their national teams get passed the first round of the competition, or even to the final which is played on June 26. But it will mean clubs lose their stars for two or three games as opposed to an entire month.
Its not just the stars either who are being called internationally now. More than ever depth and role players from the league have been getting call ups as the average player in MLS improves in quality. The reach is becoming more international, but most still play for national teams in the Americas.
In the past Major League Soccer hasn't taken breaks for domestic international events, even those that involve the United States and Canada. This was again the case with last year's Gold Cup, as many teams had fixtures throughout the tournament.
Taking international breaks is difficult for a North American league that is only offered a limited ideal window for soccer by the climate in its northern markets. Most FIFA international windows fall during this time as well because it is the offseason for the majority of leagues around the world.
However, if MLS's goal is to become one of the top leagues in the world in the foreseeable future shutting down for international windows is a must. In a salary cap league teams cannot sustain a roster big enough to compete at a high level when their star players are absent for international duties.
So while taking a break for the knockout stages of the Copa America is a good early step for the league, it needs to be only the start of a process. Hopefully, by the next time the World Cup rolls around the league can figure out how to take a full break for that.
Ultimately, in today's sports landscape a soccer league is only as good as its stars, and if Major League Soccer wants to be considered a top league it needs those players to be playing as much as possible.