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Major League Soccer IS a seller’s league … and that’s OK

Mar 1, 2013, 8:30 AM EDT

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As soon as the words left MLS commissioner Don Garber’s mouth, I could feel the temperature rising in some domestic soccer supporter corners.

Meanwhile, his words were a soothing balm to others. It all helps demonstrate an ongoing conflict in the minds of some supporters: is Major League Soccer as a so-called “seller’s league” acceptable?

During his Google+ Hangout address on Wednesday, Garber said he wanted Major League Soccer to be a “destination” league. That is, he wants players landing in MLS to settle in, cozy with the knowledge that they have arrived at the promised land of a soccer career.

But we know better. Money is still better in Mexico, Europe and elsewhere, decidedly and measurably so in some cases.

So my question is this: Why isn’t that OK? Why is that anathema in some corners of the U.S. soccer supporters collective? Is being a “feeder” league to associations that have a 100-year head start, where soccer is so faithfully entwined in the culture, such a repulsive thing?

In the case of an MLS executive, I can see where it might be considered impolitic to say otherwise. But supporters? The Dutch Eredivisie is a technically strong, mid-level European league; aren’t we all excited to see Jozy Altidore excel there? The Eredivisie is certainly a seller’s league.

The real rock and hard place here is that supporters are divided – sometimes even within themselves. In some corners, we want MLS to mature, to evolve out of this position as a holding ground until something better comes along. (That’s hard to accept in a land where ambition was always a bedrock virtue.)

But in some corners, we get all twisted in an angry knot if MLS deciders don’t let the best young American stars go find their betters selves abroad.

“We don’t MLS to be a seller’s league!”

“But, uh … hurry up and sell that guy to the English club!”

What Garber (pictured above) said:

I’ve said this since I’ve became commissioner. If it were up to me, if this was a perfect world where everything was under my control, and no commissioner ever controls everything, we would never sell a player.

Part of our goal is to be that league of destination, so that the issue is how to manage all the players who want to come in. But that’s not the reality, players do come and go. The movement of players is part of any sport.”

Garber is a smart man. So, again, perhaps he is just saying what he must. Problem is, fans hear the words from on high and get on board.

Garber and MLS must accept the reality: until TV money arrives at a point where it becomes competitive with Mexico and the leader leagues in Europe, salaries will be similarly skewed. And until the domestic titles and trophies find the same level of reverence and relevance as UEFA Champions League and the championship targets of England, Spain, Germany, Italy, etc., it is the way it is.

And that’s OK. Major League Soccer now exists in the middle of the food chain, a place of destination for players from some countries and a feeder league for the world’s marquee associations.

It won’t always be that way – and the ambition to seek more is OK, too. But for now, it is what it is.

  1. whordy - Mar 1, 2013 at 9:05 AM

    From a NT perspective there is nothing wrong with being a feeder league, plenty of great NTs have on domestically.
    Of course the MLS wants to be at the top of the food chain (for the money that comes with that ) so there is conflict between those two things.
    I don’t think anyone really thinks its better for our NT if our players languish in the MLS until they are 26. The MLS does, cause they want that (usually) tiny marketing kickback.

  2. dfstell - Mar 1, 2013 at 10:57 AM

    I’ve got no problem with being a seller’s league. Selling is good as long as the price is right. All players should be for sale at all times….if the price is right. It’s nothing unique to MLS for clubs to sell a promising talent because they can’t resign them to a new contract. Heck….even big European clubs have to deal with that as we see with Man United (Nani) and Dortmund (Lewandowski).

    I guess it’s a little sad if an MLS club really wanted to keep a player and could somehow afford it, but was restricted from resigning them due to some salary cap concern or because they already had 3 DPs or whatnot. But, I’m not sure that happens often.

    It would be nice to know how much allocation money these teams have. Otherwise we can’t really evaluate these transactions. Did Dallas sell Brek Shea just because the price was right or would their finances not have allowed them to pay him a market rate? Would the Galaxy be able to keep Omar if they had 4 DP slots or is the money not really there?

  3. Steve Davis - Mar 1, 2013 at 11:16 AM

    “Did Dallas sell Brek Shea just because the price was right or would their finances not have allowed them to pay him a market rate? Would the Galaxy be able to keep Omar if they had 4 DP slots or is the money not really there?” — I really believe the answer is “all of the above.” It’s all rather inextricably linked, isn’t it? It all kind of falls under the umbrella of “market factors.”

  4. unclemosesgreen - Mar 1, 2013 at 11:29 AM

    It’s ok to be a sellers league. Every league is a sellers league to some extent except for BPL, La Liga, Serie A and the Bundesliga. You are what you are.

    The USMNT can only benefit from having its’ top players going abroad to higher level leagues and experiencing top-flight competition.

    There will always be people who think that they’re big league when they’re really lower level, and they do love to e-shout. They can’t be Garber’s concern.

  5. sluggo271 - Mar 1, 2013 at 12:07 PM

    So as a player, the pinnacle of your career is to win the MLS cup?? MLS teams don’t take any CONCACAF tournaments seriously and have stated their number one priority is to win MLS cup. If I was a player and heard that, the first chance I had to play in Europe or Mexico I would take it. In my opinion.

  6. jpi75 - Mar 1, 2013 at 1:39 PM

    How far is MLS – financially speaking – from the mid-level European leagues?

    • arbeck - Mar 1, 2013 at 5:13 PM

      In the English Championship the average salary is around $300k. I believe it’s closer to $450k in the Eredevise. It’s very hard to figure out what the average is in Liga MX. It’s probably not that much higher than MLS. The difference is that they are paying many more players (not limited to as few players).

      • cktai - Mar 2, 2013 at 1:42 PM

        Average for the Eredivisie is 305k euro per year

  7. charliej11 - Mar 1, 2013 at 1:54 PM

    I disagree with those that say every league is a seller’s league except…..

    There are no exceptions. Ba moved on to a team more likely to win, that can pay him more, because it is in the same league, suddenly the English league is NOT a sellers league, but an MLS team would have cause MLS to be a sellers league. I guess so.

    I don’t want MLS to be a sellers league. I want to watch O Alonso play forever. But the money is not there yet league wide and they actually run a league in MLS rather than the top teams dictating everything.
    People that are OK with MLS being a sellers league, watch MLS secondary. Probably the same in favor of the winter schedule people.

  8. jramsdale - Mar 2, 2013 at 12:44 AM

    One of the things that makes MLS unique is it’s both a buyer’s AND a seller’s league. At the high end we’re pulling in DPs (getting younger all the time, meaning they have hope for a professional future here) and at the lower end we’re selling players. Both of these are good for the league because they indicate an increasing respect for and value in the league.

    We’ll know we’ve arrived when we no longer need the DP rule and the league is compelling enough financially and professionally that the best young American players choose to stay. In the meantime, the talent and $$ influx combine to help build the league. If MLS refused to sell any players we’d be leaving $$ on the table and worse we’d be failing to expose foreign leagues to the talent we generate, an important measure of the quality of the league. You want to show off MLS and sell your brand? Send a selection of your best players to prominent teams in the big leagues and see them thrive.

  9. Dan Santaromita - Mar 3, 2013 at 3:29 PM

    I think the Eredivisie is a nice long-term goal for MLS. It’s going to be hard to be a top tier league unless there is a drastic change in the landscape of the sport.

    Besides, being a seller’s league is better than a retirement league. Let’s not complain about that short-term label. Let’s call it leveling up in the world of soccer.

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