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Reader generated content: MLS salary cap, CONCACAF Champions League and the “long run”

Apr 12, 2013, 2:00 PM EDT

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We received lots of wonderful, smart comments after Wednesday’s post on MLS failures in CONCACAF Champions League.

In an effort to introduce a new conversation, in trying to avoid covering the same heavily trampled ground, I proposed that an imbalance of experience in meaningful matches is denting MLS chances in the annual, regional club tournament.

I acknowledged that salary cap and roster depth were surely major elements of this ongoing Liga MX whuppin’. But writers like myself sometimes (falsely) assume that everyone remembers how often we already have stated the obvious, so we tend to undersell the glowing, red-letter items when taking the conversation elsewhere.

For the record, dominance of Liga MX teams in CONCACAF Champions League is largely about money and, by extension, a higher quality of collective play. (That was expressed by several readers simply as Liga MX sides being “better.”  Fair enough.)

Seeing as so many of the comments drew a big red line right back to the salary/money issue, this needs to be said:  Major League Soccer is what it is.

There always seems to be an insinuation in these comments (not always, but often) that MLS needs to spend more. It’s a fine debate to have.

I get the point. Still, patience has its long-term reward. I was seeing the same arguments 10 years ago, a.k.a. the darker years, when a grand total of 10 teams made up (in retrospect) an alarmingly wobbly Major League Soccer. Number of dedicated stadiums 10 years ago today: one.

(The Home Depot Center, this country’s second major stadium constructed expressly for pro soccer, opened in June of 2003.)

Had Major League Soccer owners gone all in at the time, throwing yet more money into the sinkhole, there wouldn’t be an MLS today.

Times have changed, and how. But the “math” here remains fairly simple: TV numbers keep rising, but remain relatively modest. Until those increase substantially, most clubs will continue to lose money. Until a few more beat their way into black ink, the salary cap increases will be modest at best.

It is what it is.

Everybody wants it to happen faster for MLS; me, too. But it deserves to be said every now and then: this has always been a marathon, not a sprint, and the pro game is in a pretty good place, all things considered.

  1. dfstell - Apr 12, 2013 at 2:43 PM

    MLS is really about stability and slower growth. That’s just what it is and that’s fine. What I love about MLS is that it is the rock that American soccer can be anchored to. It allows a bold and new club like the Cosmos to do whatever they want or the NASL to experiment with a split season. Because of MLS, we don’t have to worry about those things at the NASL level damaging American soccer. If they work out: Great! If they fail: MLS will remain.

    But, a league like MLS is just not set up to be competitive with a league like they have in Mexico. MLS is about holding back the big teams so that the whole league can thrive. Mexico would never do that, so their big teams will probably always be a little better than our big teams……but their bad teams also don’t have the safety net of a no relegation, single-entity league.

    • charliej11 - Apr 12, 2013 at 4:26 PM

      I don’t know why you think that. If MLS and US soccer hits it big, the MLS teams will be better. There is just more money here.

      Plus a competitive league is always going to outdraw a non-competitive league. Always.
      Look at England, QPR draws less than an average MLS team. If they were competitive ? A lot more no doubt.

      • robmac330 - Apr 13, 2013 at 1:03 AM

        charliej, while I understand your point, QPR isn’t the greatest example. Their ground only holds 18,000 and even as their season has spiraled away from them they’ve maintained around a 90% capacity. Its not like they’re playing at a stadium the size of the Emirates and only pulling in 17,000, they’re a community club who plays in a community sized ground.

        I think while Europe’s big 4 leagues are what we should aspire to in terms of competition, but we have to accept we aren’t there yet.

      • dfstell - Apr 13, 2013 at 8:37 AM

        I hear you, but I also don’t value that competitiveness at all. To me, that competitivness just means that we have enforced mediocrity. I want to see how excellent an US based soccer club can be. I don’t really care how good the league can be from top to bottom.

        We don’t play CCL with league versus league. MLS might do very well if we matched our worst team versus the worst Mexican team. But, nobody wants to see that. CCL is about finding the BEST and MLS just isn’t designed to deliver “the best”. It’s designed for stability and steady growth……not wild-ass volatility, highs/lows, etc.

  2. charliej11 - Apr 12, 2013 at 4:31 PM

    The great thing is we have a very competitive league to watch and follow, it is a very well run league and fears of the league not growing ( or folding if you have been watching soccer as long as me ) are not big concerns.

    Going into the games this week, we see Dallas in first versus defending champs LA.
    We see, Seattle, picked to win it all, in last place versus a young New England team that came so close so many years in a row.

    You don’t get that in any other league in the world. Best league by far….and it will only get better.

  3. drewvt6 - Apr 12, 2013 at 5:03 PM

    You know, there’s nothing limiting the way MLS teams use money for scouting or player development. Is there any league rule stopping the Galaxy from setting up an Academy in Tijuana? Or San Diego? Is there any league rule stopping RedBull from bringing in low-cost on the cap youngsters from Salzburg? Is there any league rule stopping SKC from spreading a huge scouting net across Argentina/Paraguay/Uruguay/Brazil in hopes of signing the next Messi/Neymar at age 16/17/18? Is there any league rule stopping Seattle/Portland/Vancouver from filling out an entire roster for a USL-D3 or NASL team to have players immediately ready to jump into positions for their MLS parent?

  4. danielofthedale - Apr 12, 2013 at 5:07 PM

    I totally agree, this is a long term process. I wonder how many people that complain about the league were fans going back to 1996 or even 2000? The quality has grown by leaps and bounds. Now yes you can say damning with faint praise it its a fact. Would I like the quality to be even better? Heck yes! But I want a healthy MLS not just now but 20, 30, 50 years from now too.

    Controlled Salary Cap management is the biggest factor in the long term viability of the league. The current Salary Cap is $3M I think but in reality most teams operate well over that. I think raising the cap in the $500K range could have a noticeable impact on the league if spent properly. Where MLS is at large deficit with Liga MX is not players 1-5 on the roster but players 6-18. I think MLS needs to raiser the minimum salary and median salary. Keep more of the mid level players and grow them instead of them heading to Scandinavia or Second Division European Leagues.

    And as fans there are some simple things we can do to help raise the salary cap. First watch as many games on TV as you can, that is the golden ticket to quick infusions of large amounts of cash. Second thing, when out at a bar on a MLS game night, ask the establishment to turn the game on or patronize a place that will show the game. Come up with a twitter hash tag to let your friends know where you are watch the game and try to get them to come over there too and retweet the hash tag. The more we watch league and more friends we get to join us the healthier the league will become and the quick the salary cap will increase.

  5. talgrath - Apr 12, 2013 at 6:25 PM

    My main gripe with Alexi Lalas your analysis was that it seemed like you weren’t acknowledging reality. MLS is a smaller league in terms of money and influence and Liga MX is seen as superior overall by pretty much everyone worldwide; the fact that two MLS teams got as far as they did in the CCL is a sign that MLS clubs are better at managing their money wisely and that the MLS players really were playing to win this year. Saying there was a lack of focus or that MLS teams should be beating Liga MX teams in CCL is a great disservice to the league and all of the progress it has made. The fact of the matter is that the Sounders beat a LIga MX team in the CCL for the first time in the history of the tournament (in this format, at least) and for the first time we saw two MLS teams in the semi-finals; that’s progress, that’s competitive spirit and that’s damn impressive in my book.

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