Fix Major League Soccer

Despite all the successes the league has had the last three years, Major League Soccer is a joke of a competition in some aspects. This doesn’t take into equation the promotion and relegation debate that is doing the rounds now, but there’s a massive amount of steps the league has to take in the next couple of years to hit that goal of being the top league in the world by 2020.

The league needs free agency. The mechanisms to get players into Major League Soccer is very laborious and confusing. Plus, the league makes up rules to suit what they want. There’s drafts upon drafts for players, allocation orders and backdoor deals. Added onto all of this is the league is a single entity, meaning the players are owned by the league and paid for by the club. Confusing isn’t it? And if you’re out of contract, you go into either a wavier draft or a re-entry draft based on service time, we think. Got that? The league also has academies, but still has a ‘Super Draft’ and a ‘Supplemental Draft’. It takes a very smart person to figure it all out.

The re-entry draft was put in for free agency, but here’s the thing folks, all contracts are owned by the league and the teams – so you can be out of contract with a team but the club still owns your rights. So someone like Jonathan Bornstein, who hasn’t been in the league for a while, has seen his rights traded back and forth between clubs. He’s still not back in the league. This is slavery. Sort of. If Jonathan wanted to come back and play for Dallas or if a player like him whose been out and has their rights owned by a club, they just have to wait it out. Free Agency means free, not partial. In the US, sports have fought over this and we even fought a war on this, but the MLS doesn’t learn.

The salary cap has to be raised significantly. There’s players on DP contracts making lots and lots of money and others making $30,000. Think of that, your attacking midfielder, could be on six million a year, and the central midfielder could be on benefits. Is this right? The league’s stance is that they are losing money, yet they are bringing in Designated Players, paying for them and claiming that they are going broke. Really? The argument is that the salaries will explode and the league will fail. This isn’t the old NASL folks. Raise it like the NFL does by a million every so often, and get this, better squad players will come in.

There also needs to be transparency in the dealings with the MLS. I’m not saying we need an open book in all of their dealings but they need to stop making up rules as they go along. The Designated Player contracts have more than helped the league. It’s grown beyond what I ever has thought it would. However, the most recent Designated Players coming in have made many people question a lot about the league.

There apparently is an allocation order. That is the method to get players who are outside the league who don’t have their rights held by a club and when a player comes in they have to go through this order, or so we think. Mix Diskerud wanted to sign for Portland and Columbus in successive seasons, but the league squashed it. Portland tried to sign Clint Dempsey and in the allocation order of that year they were allowed to, but the league moved him to Seattle. Jermaine Jones wanted to sign with Chicago, eventually did, but the league intervened and New England Revolution got him instead. A player should be able to sign with whoever they want to and not be told where to go, surely?

The same thing can be said about the ‘Super Draft’. In no other league in the world do the young players get signed by the league and then drafted. Other leagues scout their talent and the talent picks what team will suit their growth. Not the MLS, of course. We have to tell them where they’re going. The draft is stupid, these clubs have academies, allow the players to play for academies during the summer and allow them to step up through the leagues that way. This year UCLA player Leo Stolz didn’t sign with the league and told them he’ll only sign with LA or NYC or he’ll go overseas. Think of that, a player telling a league to go away. He did end up with the New Jersey Redbulls and will play in the league but it shows players are sick of being pushed around. The draft needs to go away and the players need to be able to go to academies. However, the coaching in academies does have to improve also for this to function properly and successfully.

The league won’t improve or do any of this, I bet, but it has to as frustrations are growing stronger and stronger with fans. MLS is turning into a bit of a laughing stock. The hierarchy say ‘look we have older players coming in that are great’ instead of focusing on the infrastructure and the growth of the league. Major League Soccer isn’t going away or going to fail but it can lose its fans which would be a real shame considering the amount of new fans the league has attracted. There’s more than one league out there to focus on nowadays. The players need freedom and are willing to strike for it. It happened in Major League Baseball twice a while ago and subsequently the sport lost fans. Do we really want this to happen with Major League Soccer?

By Stephen Brandt – Liverpool fan – @yellowcardSCB