On one hand, its limit on foreign players serves the goal of developing seasoned American players for international tournaments like the World Cup.
Yet, since its competing against European and South American clubs for fandom, a key foreign acquisition shifts world attention to MLS, if only temporarily.
The league's swoop for Mexican striker Luis Hernandez, formerly of Tigres, follows this year's additions of German Lothar Matthaeus and Bulgarian Hristo Stoitchkov in turning a few heads worldwide.
Hernandez, speaking from New York in Spanish via a teleconference call recently, commented on MLS' rugged style of play.
"The soccer (here) is very fast and very physical. It is not what I anticipated, but it's not too much of a surprise," the Los Angeles Galaxy, player who's nicknamed "El Matador," said.
"MLS is missing some salt, (it's) a little bland. It's like a potato that needs some salt; (it) needs some flavor and savvy."
Hernandez has not yet scored with his new club. He was frank in explaining why.
"I need to keep working, along with my teammates. They need to learn my style of play and my movements on the field. I cannot do this alone," he said. "It basically is the lack of adequate passing. I'm only getting sporadic passes, not the quality or quantity of passes I got in Mexico."
The league paid Tigres upwards of $4 million for Hernandez, who's locked up contractually for three years. But don't be so sure he'll remain with MLS for the duration. Hernandez performed brilliantly on a world stage at France '98, leading an unfancied Mexican side into the second round, where the Tricolores sent a scare into the Germans before bowing out 2-1.
Hernandez scored four goals at that World Cup, and he's eager to return to soccer's biggest geographical stage.
"Being in MLS enhances my abilities to be in Europe," said Hernandez, who will most likely be loaned to a European side until MLS' season begins again next spring. But if Hernandez gets untracked the league may want to sell him for a profit. (Eddie Lewis' transfer to Fulham of the English First Division filled league coffers with $1.8 million, enough to pay Lewis's ex-club the San Jose Earthquakes for the entire 2000 season.)
The 31-year-old Hernandez has left Mexico before, to play with heralded Argentine club Boca Juniors. While there, he mostly rode the bench.
"At Boca Juniors, there was a limit of five foreigners and only two can play at one time," he said. "The coach would choose the other foreigners and not me too often."
Because of the MLS salary cap, the league emasculated the Galaxy in order to fit Hernandez on to the roster. Yet, he's not worried about the added responsibility.
"I don't feel the pressure," he said. "The (downward) turn that the team took since my arrival is circumstantial. I'm just focusing on what we need to do. "I have a professional duty here. It is true that they need to adapt to my style, but I also need to adapt."
The league allocated Hernandez on how he was allocated to the Galaxy to tap the fertile Mexican fan base in the Los Angeles area.
The strategy worked initially, as 40,003 turned up at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena fro Hernandez's first match with the Galaxy, a win over D.C. United.
MLS executive vice president Ivan Gazidis feels the tide will turns eventually.
"It's Not easy for foreign players to come in and dominate," he said via teleconference call. "Gradually, the world is waking up to that. Eventually the cream rises. Once he gets used to the tempo he'll be a very important player.”