MLS: To Be or Not to Be?

Major League Soccer: With its creation after FIFA 1994 World cup, the MLS and its fans have seen a roller coaster of Americanization and faulty attempts to stand unique in the eyes of the football fan. It’s hard to believe that the MLS has only been in existence for around 20 years; in which many have been plagued with “idiotic” ideas such as the famed shoot-outs at the end of every tied game. However, one can argue that every new establishment deserves its growing pains but are we as Americans on the right foot to creating an entity that can rival some of the bigger football leagues around the world or are we destined to be a step behind.
In my eyes the MLS has gone leaps and bounds; one thing is for certain they are not afraid to change an idea that does not seem to be working. Some people argue that the Americanization of the sport is aimed to make us unique but do we as Americans truly want this? Soccer is a sport full of pride, emotion and love. Rules and teams have been locked in history, a history that is hard to change; for example the conversation about off side’s and sideline technology in the modern sport. I will certainly argue that the MLS has been through resurgence in some sort or perhaps a change in identity. This can be proven by the changing of team names to Real Salt Lake, Sporting Kansas City, FC Dallas, the construction of top notch parks, and some big international signings. So what is it that we want, do we want to be unique, traditional, o perhaps a mix of the both.
A league divided between the East and West, 34 games between 19 teams (soon to be changing) all over the continental United States and Canada. To find where we want to go, we must first look at some major issues that plagued the creation and still some lingering issues. The creation of the MLS was a start of a no-risk investment, MLS being an entity or holding company in which all teams are owned directly by them. At the beginning some 9 teams were owned by two investors; all revenue, sales, and ownership was and still is centralized. This style of league itself cancels out any hope of promotion/ relegation and creates a safety net for the teams and investors who are bought into the MLS. Perhaps a good business decision for the investors, but something that creates a lack of diversity and change, a chance for the lesser teams/players to make it big on the national stage. Unless you buy into the MLS, your team will never have the opportunity in this elitist style of soccer organization (or business structure) and is something I feel should change. I feel we should adopt the promotion/relegation platform by forcing change in the system in general and applying the fear of relegation which will push teams to sign more players and aim at better marketing strategies to bring the league into a better light.
Another concept of Americanization within the MLS is the playoffs and how it overshadows the true notion of a champion and a season well fought. Throughout the world, the league champion stands above the rest and this is indicated by a point system that crowns a winner at the end of the league play without the need for a playoff. Within the MLS, the leader at end of the regular season wins the Supporters Shield but than there is still a 10 team playoff to determine another champion. The concept of a playoff system is aimed at pleasing the American population with a familiar tone indicated in multiple sports in the United States. This overshadows their place amongst the world’s best leagues as it makes them different in a unfamiliar way; do you think this is the path we should take or should we follow in the footsteps of the rest of the world?

MLS’s schedule operates from March to December which is different from all other leagues, August through May. What this creates is not a comparison to the rest of the world but pushing themselves back. If you look at the way the United States weather works and where some teams are located, you believe that this schedule isn’t in favor of the MLS as if Sporting KC wanted to host a game in mid December, it would more than likely be anywhere from 30 degrees to below zero. In that instance, you would have a very limited fan base at those games due to their own safety. In continents such as Europe and South America, they can play at these times due to their weather doesn’t change as drastically as ours and also they have a break in December which gives them time off with no soccer. No sport takes a “break” like soccer does and in America, they would be by themselves and it could hurt their growing brand.
By playing in the spring and summer time, they don’t have to worry about any of those conflicts but what it does conflict with is the international friendlies, World Cup’s, Euro’s, and all other global matches. Take this summer for the 2014 World Cup, the rest of the world will be on their summer break from any league play but the MLS will have the halt its season for almost a month and a half for the World Cup which also means that some guys who play in the MLS and on teams in the World Cup, will be playing right before the World Cup and when it’s over, have to go right back to league play which can be exhausting. MLS has commented that it will take a two week break for the World Cup, which takes one month to complete, which puts one to wonder: Does the MLS think the United States will be eliminated in group play?
Fighting for T.V. rights is another reason why the MLS has the season at a different time than the rest of the world. In many of the other countries around the world, soccer is their number one sport which consumes their television markets and what is branded non-stop. Their soccer is what American football is to us. It ranks number one in their eyes but in our eyes, it is lucky to be in the top 5. If the MLS was to play during the time frame as everyone else, they would be competing with NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL and also the rest of the soccer world. Their ratings would plummet and it would hurt their brand. By playing when they do, they are competing with MLB and the last couple months of NBA, NHL and other countries soccer. Maybe when the MLS has gained enough momentum they can make the switch but they do not have backing with them to switch their schedule as they would fall down the line.
With such a small market in the United States compared to the rest of the world, the salary cap shows why that is. While there is no salary cap in baseball, MLS has decided to go in the direction of all the other major sports and use the cap. However, around the world, no soccer teams use salary caps as a way to differentiate the spenders and non spenders. By having a salary cap, it limits the talent that can be brought over to the United States as teams are willing to spend that much and also don’t want the tax liability that will come with going over the cap. The salary cap is currently at $3.1 million with the first 20 players by largest salary being counted against the cap with the rest being occupied by players making $46,000 or less. Look at a player like Clint Dempsey who just came over from England to the U.S. and will be getting paid $8 million a year which is the same as 222 minimum salary players combined which makes the league look bad. As the MLS continues to grow and as it wants to be a soccer power house in the next 10 years, it needs to re-examine its salary cap and determine if it wants to keep it or not. As they just received $125 million for selling a 25% share of SUM (Soccer United Marketing), there is rumblings it will continue to get bigger. By eliminating the salary cap, you will let teams spend what they want to spend and it will break away the powerhouses from the wannabe’s and just because your team doesn’t spend in the top five or ten in payroll doesn’t mean you cannot win as you can look at a team like the Pittsburg Pirates or Tampa Bay Rays in MLB who aren’t in the top 20 in payroll but continue to make the playoffs and compete. Keep distancing yourself from Europe in many ways MLS and you will never catch them.

To Americanize or not? Whether we want to think it or not, the MLS is young and it’s not the best football in the world, perhaps a retirement home for the world’s best or an opportunity for the youth. The MLS is still moving forward and with a few tweaks, we can make this something to last.

Wednesday March 5th:
International Friendly
8:00 AM
Georgia
v
Liechtenstein

8:00 AM
Russia
v
Armenia

9:00 AM
Azerbaijan
v
Philippines

9:00 AM
Lithuania
v
Kazakhstan

9:45 AM
Bulgaria
v
Belarus

11:00 AM
Algeria
v
Slovenia

11:00 AM
Greece
v
South Korea

11:00 AM
Hungary
v
Finland

11:00 AM
Montenegro
v
Ghana

11:30 AM
Bosnia-Herzegovina
v
Egypt

11:30 AM
Czech Republic
v
Norway

11:30 AM
Israel
v
Slovakia

12:00 PM
Andorra
v
Moldova

12:00 PM
Colombia
v
Tunisia

12:00 PM
Cyprus
v
Northern Ireland

12:00 PM
Macedonia
v
Latvia

12:30 PM
Luxembourg
v
Cape Verde Islands

12:30 PM
Turkey
v
Sweden

1:00 PM
Albania
v
Malta

1:00 PM
Gibraltar
v
Estonia

1:00 PM
Ukraine
v
United States

1:30 PM
Switzerland
v
Croatia

1:45 PM
Belgium
v
Ivory Coast

1:45 PM
Germany
v
Chile

1:45 PM
Poland
v
Scotland

1:45 PM
Republic of Ireland
v
Serbia

1:45 PM
Wales
v
Iceland

2:00 PM
Australia
v
Ecuador

2:00 PM
England
v
Denmark

2:00 PM
France
v
Netherlands

2:45 PM
Portugal
v
Cameroon

3:00 PM
Spain
v
Italy

7:30 PM
Mexico
v
Nigeria

11:00 AM
South Africa
v
Brazil

1:00 PM
Romania
v
Argentina

1:30 PM
Austria
v
Uruguay

Saturday March 8th:
Major League Soccer
2:00 PM
Seattle Sounders FC
v
Kansas City

6:00 PM
DC United
v
Columbus

6:30 PM
Vancouver Whitecaps
v
New York Red Bulls

7:30 PM
FC Dallas
v
Montreal Impact

7:30 PM
Houston
v
New England

9:30 PM
Los Angeles
v
Real Salt Lake

9:30 PM
Portland Timbers
v
Philadelphia Union

Barclays Premier League-West Brom v. Manchester United- 6:45 AM
Barclays Premier League-Norwich City v. Stoke City- 9:00 AM
Barclays Premier League- Crystal Palace v. Southampton- 9:00 AM
Barclays Premier League- Chelsea v. Tottenham- 11:30 AM
English FA Cup- Arsenal v. Everton- 6:45 AM
Spanish Primera Division- Real Valladolid v. Barcelona- 9:00 AM
Spanish Primera Division- Celta Vigo v. Atletico Madrid- 1:00 PM
Italian Serie A- Udinese v. AC Milan- 11:00 AM
Sunday March 9th:
Major League Soccer- Chivas USA v. Chicago- 3:00 PM
English FA Cup- Sheffield United v. Charlton Athletic- 7:00 AM
English FA Cup- Hull City v. Sunderland- 9:00 AM
English FA Cup- Manchester City v. Wigan Athletic- 11:05 AM
Spanish Primera Division- Real Madrid v. Levante- 1:00 PM
Italian Serie A- Juventus v. Fiorentina- 6:30 AM
Italian Serie A- Inter Milan v. Torino- 9:00 AM
Italian Serie A- Parma v. Hellas Verona- 9:00 AM
Italian Serie A- Napoli v. AS Roma- 2:45 PM
German Bundesliga- SC Freiburg v. Borussia Dortmund- 9:30 AM
French Ligue 1- Bordeaux v. Lyon-3:00 PM

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