Spanish soccer league trying to gain foothold in US — PHOTOS

There is no doubt in the mind of former Real Madrid star Raul that La Liga is the best soccer league in the world. But when it comes to marketing Spain’s top soccer league to the United States and the rest of the planet, Raul concedes La Liga lags behind England’s Premier League.

Raul hopes to help change that in his new role as La Liga’s country manager for the U.S. The former Real Madrid captain and career scoring leader (323 goals) was at Sam Boyd Stadium for Wednesday night’s international friendly match between La Liga’s SD Eibar and the storied New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League.

“We have to improve a lot of things in our league, but I think we have the best product. We have the best players, the best coaches and the best teams,” Raul said. “Now we have to learn from the Premier League. They do a very good job of marketing to sell the product. In this way, we have to learn from them and expand our brand around the world.”

While the Premier League has a TV contract with NBC, La Liga has a deal with beIN Sports. The global network broadcast Wednesday’s match, which was won on penalty kicks by the Cosmos before a sparse crowd and was part of La Liga’s LFP World Challenge, which aims to increase interest in the renowned league beyond its signature clubs, Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Raul retired last season after finishing his career with the Cosmos but stayed in New York City to open La Liga’s first U.S. office.

“The USA is very important for us to try to collaborate and develop the soccer here,” Raul said. “My kids play soccer in New York, and I would like to be here at least two or three more years to share my experience with La Liga and also with the United States people. To try to help them and push their soccer here in the future.

“The U.S. team has potential. They did well in the last World Cup, but the goal for the United States is to try to win one World Cup. They have to work very hard. The key is to work with the academies and the grass roots and have very good coaches and educators try to teach in the right way the next future stars in soccer.

“We’ll try to speak to the leagues and collaborate together to try to create very good players for the USA national team.”

Raul, who played for the Cosmos the past two seasons, said the quality of play in Major League Soccer and the NASL is improving every year but still has a ways to go.

“The teams are very physical. They’re improving in a tactical way but have to improve more in technical,” he said. “Sometimes the games are not very nice for the fans (to watch). Hopefully in the next years they can improve and play in a nice way that people can enjoy.”

Eibar jumped to a quick 2-0 lead over New York on goals by Escalante in the third minute and Antonio Luna in the eighth. The Cosmos rallied to tie the game on two goals by Yasmani Duk, who scored on a header in the 12th minute and knotted it at 2-all in the 52nd minute.

New York prevailed 5-4 in penalty kicks when David Diosa beat Riesgo on a blast in the right side of the net. Cosmos goalie Brian Holt set the stage for Diosa by stopping Keko Gontan to preserve a 4-4 tie.

“I knew I had to get it in. My friends were helping me out. They wanted me to finish the game, and that’s what I did,” Diosa said. “It was a really good game against a really good team. It’s important to win games like this.

“Like coach says, ‘There’s no friendly games for us. Every game is a final.”

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0354. Follow him on Twitter: @tdewey33

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