Saturday, February 8, 2014

Gee, I wish we had one of them doomsday machines.

   Major League Soccer (MLS) has experienced many growing pains in its eighteen years of being a professional league in North America. Some of these pains have been good and some have left fans of the Beautiful Game to scratch their collective heads. Growing up and maturing are a part of any entity that wants to be sustainable. The thing to remember is that these terms do not always coincide with each other.

   MLS has grown up before our very eyes. The thing that it has not done is matured at the same pace. The Commish, Don Garber, wants MLS so desperately to be accepted as an equal among the worlds top-flight football leagues. What "The Don" and the majority of MLS team owners fail to realize is that you cannot pigeonhole what is truly the worlds game into what works for an American audience. At some point, he will have to realize that for soccer to truly grow and mature in America, he will have to embrace what has been proven to work for the rest of the world.

   Since its inception, MLS has tried to shoehorn soccer in America into the same mold that the other major professional sports leagues in America are in. This simply cannot work. The NFL, NBA, MLB are not truly "global" brands in the way that the BPL, Budesliga, Serie A, etc. are. And, neither is MLS. They seem to have a smug superiority complex in thinking that they know what is best for soccer in the United States.

   What they fail to realize, in the digital age in which we live, is that supporters of the Beautiful Game know how it works everywhere else on the third rock from the sun. Why are they so loathe to embrace ideas that have been proven to work elsewhere? Is it because they didn't come up with the idea themselves? Why the arrogance?

   Granted, they are making strides... well, more like baby steps. The potential of MLS to be perceived as a global brand is slowly, almost glacially, starting to progress. The biggest indicator of that is the fact that the New York Yankees (MLB) and Manchester City (BPL) together paid the $100 million MLS expansion fee to field the New York City Football Club (NYCFC) and join the party. This can only portend good things for MLS, if "The Don" and company pay attention.

   The new owners are not used to losing. They have a history of spending money to field the best team possible. This is starkly at odds with the way MLS is set-up. The salary cap, designated players, etc., are things that we might see leaving the MLS in the not too distant future, due in large part to the influence of these new owners.

   One cannot forget the recent news of David Beckham exercising a provision in his MLS contract of buying an expansion club for $25 million in any market except New York City. He chose Miami as the sight for the new club. This could very well turn out to be a sage move on the part of Beckham, as it will capitalize on a very large football-mad Latino population.

   Between just these two entities, other clubs will soon come to realize that the "business as usual" model of doing soccer in America will not be sustainable moving forward. I anticipate a push will be made by the present owners who will see that the status quo will not hold them in good stead. Adapt or die will have to become their mantra.

   Another aspect of the "adapt or die" mantra that must change is the single-entity system that MLS currently operates under. This was a needed system when the league first came into existence, although it's time is now past. By staying within such a rigid system, MLS hinders itself severely from becoming the global brand that it so desperately craves to be.

   In this day and age, I ask the question of "why"? Why must international clubs negotiate player transfers with the MLS and not the individual clubs? What is the logical purpose of this? Why can't the Columbus Crew, for example, negotiate directly with a club such as the Budesliga's Bayer Leverkusen for a player? It makes no sense and stunts the growth of MLS.

   The same logic goes for the "Designated Player" tag. Why have that designation when all that really needs to be done is to increase the salary cap, if a salary cap is desired to be a part of MLS? The newer owners of MLS clubs have money and want to be competitive. They will find ways to make the present MLS rules work for them.

   NYCFC, set to begin play in 2015, recently announced that it would take at least four players on loan from on-loan from parent club Manchester City to help fill out their roster. Couple that with the three Designated Players that they will sign to the roster. This is a significant development in that MLS is allowing NYCFC to usurp the Allocation Order in order to field their team. This has fans of many of the other teams within the league up in arms. My thought is that the Allocation Order is another part of MLS that has to go away if they want to grow.

   Is this fair? In a word, no. But, I see it as the first crack in the MLS armor that will be exploited more openly moving forward. It may be painful to supporters at the present time, but it should pay dividends down the road, as it will open up clubs to be able to make moves out from under the heavy, plodding hand of "The Don" and MLS.

   There are many things that need to be changed within the structure of Major League Soccer. There are also aspects of the league that I like. This is merely the first shot across the bow that MLS will face as it moves from a sprightly upstart to a more mature league that has longevity.

   What are your thoughts on all of this? Is it good for the clubs? Is it good for the supporters?

"It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are" ~ e.e. cummings

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