Most of the time I write I cater to what would be a world wide audience. Most of my posts are specific to Manchester United, The English Premier League, and The UEFA Champions League. Sometimes I will cover The United States National men’s team, and also through in a little history. Very rarely will you see me write about Major League Soccer; and with good reason, Major League Soccer rarely pops up on the worlds radar.
This will be one of those rare posts. Football as it exists in the USA is known as soccer. The MLS has been in existence since 1993 and has seen a steady increase in participation every year since its inception. The clubs have tried in recent years to develop world wide relationships with European clubs. Most recent has been San Jose with Tottenham Hotspur. American clubs are now getting sport specific stadiums. No longer are most clubs forced to play in a cavernous 80,000 seat stadium that is only filled with 16,000 fans; and the field is no longer fake turf with permanent NFL markings. The MLS has now grown into the awkward acne face teenager; waiting on the wall at the prom for someone to ask her to dance. The MLS has taken strides to grow their brand, but they are not there yet. There are steps that need to taken to be competitive on a world level.
The contract system that currently exist in the MLS is flawed. Instead of each individual club owning their players contracts; each players contract is owned by the league. One of the players in the Landon Donovan transfer to Everton FC most recently was the MLS. When Moyes talked of extending the loan, the MLS said no. The MLS did not want to start the season without one of the star players. When players transfer from the MLS into another league they do not retain the customary percentage of the fee that is paid directly to the player. In a bid to keep wages in a more manageable range the MLS has instituted a salary cap for each club. In theory; the salary cap is a good idea because all clubs financially compete at the same level, however the salary cap hinders as well. Each club is allowed two designated players whose salary will affect the salary cap at $335,000 even though their compensation could drastically exceed that amount. The designated player rule is the reason that the LA Galaxy can keep both David Beckham and Landon Donovan. The down side to the salary cap is that good players often seek lower roles with European clubs for less money.
Stuart Holden was guaranteed a starting role with the Houston Dynamo. Holden left Houston for the chance at playing for Bolton. Holden probably accepted a maybe with the club because his sure thing with Houston Dynamo was in the neighborhood of $40,000. Unfortunately the MLS system is feudal at best, and the best and brightest in the US will leave for greener pastures until a better pay system is put into place.
Another criticism that has been leveled at the MLS is that the season does not match with the rest of the world. The two biggest named in the MLS left on loan to ply their trade in Europe in order to be at a competitive level. The MLS owners excuse is that they do not want to compete with the NFL. In reality the MLS does not compete with the NFL. Most MLS fans would probably watch a local semi pro soccer team before spending hard earned money on an NFL game. Many MLS fans have passions for European clubs, but want to keep their interest local. It is much easier to watch or attend an MLS match, as opposed to going to a pub at 6:30 am to watch Chelsea play Manchester United.
Many people in the US are now saying that the MLS should no longer look to Europe for aging big name veterans to add to their rosters. Rumor is that with one year left at Barcelona that Thierry will be leaving to join the New York Red Bulls. David Beckham and Fredrik Ljungberg are the most notable to make the voyage across the pond, and as salaries increase we will probably see more. I think that big name players coming to the US to play is a good thing. The experience that players bring to the clubs in the US is helpful in exposing younger native players to a style that they would not see until world cup play. Well, the experience could be good as long as they don’t turn into George Best and make everyday a party.
In the book Offside: Soccer and American Exceptionalism; authors Markovitz and Hellerman argue that in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that while America was developing it’s sports identity that forces within the US were focused on keeping culture uniquely American. Sports like American football, baseball, and basketball were tipped to flourish, while football (soccer) of the European variety was not afforded a blip in popular culture. European football has always flourished in areas populated by immigrants. It wasn’t soccer where I grew up; it was futbol. Futbol was marginalized in society because the people that both played and followed futbol were marginalized in American society. Like it or not the immigrant culture in America will continue to grow. Football (soccer) will continue to grow as the people that follow the sport have come from places where players that play for Club America and Club Deportivo de Guadalajara are stars. I get comments when I wear my Manchester United jersey out. This is Oklahoma City; a place that one does not expect to find fellow fans in this American football driven culture. The pitch where I take my children to play on Sundays is filled with people that are new to this country. These people are wearing jerseys from Liverpool, Chelsea, Barcelona, Real Madrid, AC Milan, along with Jerseys from LA Galaxy, and FC Dallas. As the demographic changes’ so does the politics of sports. This is the first year that the UEFA Champions League final will be broadcast on regular television, instead of a sports only network. Just may be that the MLS will finally grow up and no longer be Europe’s developmental league.
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