Tuesday, October 27, 2009

What is MLS? Here is My Bizarre Fantasy Version

Let me present a very simplistic formulation. Let's assume that in order for MLS to receive higher television revenues, it must draw in more supporters. Let it also be resolved that, for those fans to show up at MLS games and commit wholesale to the league, the quality of the on-pitch product must get better. And let's assert that the only way the on-field product will get better is if the league spends more money to buy better players. Finally, be it resolved that the only way MLS can afford to buy better players is to generate higher revenues.

Assuming you agree with the above assertions, MLS seems stuck in a vicious cycle, right? It might also be the reason for so much blogger-on-blogger violence in the MLS sphere. So let's see if there is any way out of this conundrum.

Let's say that for now, the issue of the soft cap and designated players is immovable. How do you generate a better on-field product in order to entice more fans to the league?

This might put me on the business end of a very detailed flaming post, but why doesn't MLS consider a radical move: a wholesale ideological change in direction away from purchasing "ready-made" talent, either overseas or within the league, and toward investment in superb managerial and coaching staff? The move would be coupled with player development above and beyond the current academy and Generation Adidas college draft scheme, like strengthening administrative ties with USSF development academy clubs, as well as restarting the reserve league (Canada's player development set-up is so outmoded it requires its own post. In the mean time, listen to ICF's interview with CIS coach Pat Nearing and the SAAC's Gary Miller).

In other words, why not take MLS to the wild extreme of its original mandate? Why not lower the current salary cap across the board while increasing rookie wages, as Ben Knight once suggested, and allow owners to invest not in DPs but top line managerial and coaching talent, at the league and academy levels? Why not kill off the draft system altogether, and allow managers to compete with one another in negotiating with college and USSF academy players directly?

Sure, we might lose a lot of very good players in search of higher wages elsewhere. Good on the league; it might raise its overseas profile beyond the borders of Craven Cottage. Let's transform MLS into a European farm league, hell let's even encourage a European/MLS partnership, investment in player development in return for first rights to players when they reach a certain age.

My fantasy would be to have a league of up-and-coming eighteen, nineteen, and twenty year-olds, selected from a healthy and interconnected youth academy system, in administrative tandem with both a (reformed) CSA and USSF, coached by young, top level managers wanting a move away from the South American or European spotlight, free to experiment with formations and training techniques without the traditional repercussions of a top-heavy relegation/promotion system. Free, attacking football, young, mistake-prone, yes, but also open, new, and equal. A league where North American soccer fans can go to spot global talent in its infancy before hopefully striking out for Europe or elsewhere. A league where young managers can prove themselves before making a bigger move down the line.

Since we're likely to keep supporting our clubs no matter what, what is there to lose? It won't ever happen, and no one will go for it, and it the owners would likely balk at the prospect, but I think it would be kinda cool, even if it would mean bye-bye TFC as we know it.


daryl said...

Your MLS: Bizarre Fantasy Version is definitely interesting. I'd watch it. Seriously.

But I think it would mean giving up on exposure in the US media. Plus if it's all youngsters and inexperienced managers then you'd risk MLS losing what credibility it has overseas, so European clubs might be less inclined to pick up players or managers from A More Splendid MLS than they are from the current version.

Rob said...

Well Said.

I agree for the most part. The MLS has an awfuly hard task of having to balance the Business of Soccer (aka make some money for the owners that have been around a while) and developing young American talent for which the league was originally created for (FIFA mandated for the '94 Cup).

The problem as I see it is while Soccer is definitely on a high in North America, how much of a short term focus do you take in order to take advantage of such a high. Do you ignore the market niche that MLS has found this summer and completely focus on the long term? Absolutely not. But if the player development system isn't fixed (and I mean fixed, not tinkered with) then I think MLS strays from its duty to the USSF in the sense of developing American players.

The MLS as a whole needs to redefine its mission statement in its business plan. Come up with a good balance focused on increasing revenue and American soccer talent. If I were Garber right now, I would be focusuing on modeling as many franchises after Toronto, LA, Seattle, and Real Salt Lake.

There are so many dimensions and solutions, but one thing the MLS needs above all is time. The MLS will never be the EPL, La Liga, Serie A, or Bundesliga (at least not in my childrens lifetime - and I'm only 20). American soccer fans must accept this and embrace their own league before unnecessary is pumped into the league to bring in aging stars that will only cause hype for a matter of days.


I'm afraid I agree with Rob. MLS will never be on par with euro leagues. It's a cultural thing. MLS has to compete with three other pro sports that are WAY older and embedded in US culture. Euro leagues don't have to compete with anything like that, as footy is already ingrained and has been for so many years.

Seattle is bringing in 30K fans, which is totally impressive. What more do we want? If other teams can manage that it would be pretty amazing. But I think retaining and attracting great talent is more than being able to pay on par. It comes down to players striving their entire life to play in Bundes or Premier, etc. That's the destination. Once they make it there, they know they made it in soccer. MLS will never have that cache anytime soon due to lack of history.

However, one thing that does bug me about MLS is that I can't understand for the life of me why there isn't a full blown promotion/relegation system in place across all leagues. That would help to bump up the quality.