Why Major League Soccer is heading in a worrying direction

Major League Soccer, for almost fifteen years, was based on a strict financial model that was made to prevent the league from becoming the old North American Soccer League of the 1967 to 1985 time. However, since the British underwear model, or should I say David Beckham, came to the league they have been skating close to the line of becoming the NASL.

Unlike every other league, MLS has a salary cap. The most recent addition, the Core Player Rule is another step to the old NASL, and that’s not what a country that has seen the sport grow needs.

The core player rule is basically a way to pay down another player who is at Designated Player (DP) level, a rule that will be mentioned later, to get another player in at DP level. Basically the Designated Player Rule is that there are three slots each team gets to pay a player outside the salary cap, basically like Beckham, Kaka, Gerrard and so on. Instead of the three DP’s that a club can afford, they can now get a fourth in, which is all paid for by the league.

NASL, at the time, did the same thing, but without the financial regulations that MLS has. They spent beyond their means and had owners who saw the rise in the love of the sport, and kept bringing in more and more expensive, established talent.

While this is all well and good for clubs like the Manchester City Juniors, or as they are really known – New York City FC, what about clubs like Columbus or Colorado who won’t spend the money and don’t have owners who do not really care about their clubs and see it as their latest play-thing. This could lead to the attendances to drop, fan apathy and less money being spent on the teams. If the fans fail to warm to your product, then you have failed and they won’t bother. Simple as that.

In theory, the Core Player Rule is good for every team and having more slots for game-changing players is always worth it. In reality, though, only a couple of  clubs have used the rule – Los Angeles and Portland. That’s it. Expecting every team to use this rule is laughable. Some clubs like FC Dallas don’t bring in great players. This rule will create a gulf between the haves and have nots that will ruin the league.

Sure every league has a top two or three that are always good, a middle that’s a mess, and the clubs at the end that battle away for survival, but MLS doesn’t need this. It’s a young league and it’s grown so much in the past five years that this essentially could ruin it. A league that’s going to have maybe one or two clubs win all the time will drive people away.

When the NASL was around it was a different climate. Americans couldn’t see matches overseas. When the league decided to market itself only for the Cosmos, the fans had to only watch the local league. The league also had owners that didn’t know the sport, something we are seeing in MLS. For every owner from the likes of Seattle and Los Angeles, you have owners like the one at Chicago and Colorado – who do not care or aren’t clued up on the game at all. It’s a potentially damaging issue.

Here’s what I propose to stop this – end single entity and the salary cap. Single entity is the fact that MLS owns the contracts and the clubs. Take the training wheels off folks, there’s owners who know the sport and can support their local clubs without having the league dictate to them what to do. Open it up, allow the clubs to bring in who they want and watch the sport grow. As much as Los Angeles is good for the sport, Columbus is better. We need clubs like Columbus, who don’t spend massive amounts of money, to have the chance to bring a player in who can create that buzz that we’ve seen elsewhere. Am I confident things will change? Sadly, no.

By Stephen Brandt – Liverpool fan – @yellowcardSCB

One thought on “Why Major League Soccer is heading in a worrying direction

  1. “A league that’s going to have maybe one or two clubs win all the time will drive people away”

    By that logic no one would be watching Spanish football… I know that there is more to it than that (history, politics, regional/national identity etc.) but I don’t think you can state as fact that a more fair league (where a lot of teams have a real shot at the title) would attract more viewers/fans than an unfair league (like in Spain, Scotland and to a certain extent England, France)

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