Major League Soccer… What’s Next?

I don’t begin to think I can capture all the issues or even ensure I get it right when it comes to the state of MLS but here’s what I see as being some topics to tease and tantalize the typical fan of MLS as the off-season approaches; others may have a different view?

  • Collective Bargaining Agreement
  • Two new expansion teams
  • Chivas USA going belly up – or down the rabbit hole for two years; pick your pleasure
  • Introduction of new USL Pro Sides affialiated with MLS teams
  • General Business Operating Conditions

Working from last to first – General Business Operating Conditions:

In a phrase the league operates from an “entitlement-based” system… no penalty for poor management other than bad press.

Even more disappointing is that poor management and leadership skills are rewarded with top draft picks and more money with the allocation process.

Is that like throwing good money on top of bad money or what?

In my opinion the sooner Business Conditions better reward great management and organizational skills the better this league will compete in the World for top class players.

And likewise – the sooner all Referee’s are Professionalized the better.

If you can’t support a top officiating system how can you expect to be first class as a Business?

Especially when every business organization out there knows… you need to have great quality control and great quality assurance to make yourselves better than the competition.

Finally, video replay – not just an MLS issue – but a FIFA issue.

Every major sporting system in this country has been able to find ways of leveraging video replay more effectively in the hopes of minimizing human error in judgment calls.  With the continued abuse by players on fake injuries and time wasting can FIFA really be expected to ignore the wholesale advantages of institutionalizing the use of video replay to confirm/deny controversial calls or non-calls?

Wouldn’t it be reasonable to take the lead with FIFA to institutionalize a video replay system that sustains the ‘time integrity’ of the game (treat video replay analysis as added injury time for instance) and take time to make time to ensure the right calls are made in one of the fastest paced and most lucrative games in the World?

It’s simply NOT TOO SOON to institute the opportunity for video replay – the sooner the better.  And if there was ever a management tool to mitigate “game throwing” it’s this one!

Introduction of new USL Pro sides:

Introduction of more, new, USL Pro Sides continues to establish a minor league feeder system not unlike Minor League Baseball… geographically developed leagues where the young talent can blossom and get promoted to the Big Team without the headache of College and an NCAA system that beggars common sense.

Just convince me with at least one reasonable statement how on earth the NCAA can continue to reinforce the use of multiple substitutions in a soccer game… if there is anything out there that better represents reinforcing an ‘entitlement based system’ it’s that!  Wow…

And with the continued pressure to align US Soccer with FIFA (THE International Governing Body for Soccer) how can an NCAA system, partly responsible for developing future US Soccer players, continue to work outside the lines of eveyone else?

So yes, I see the continued development of USL Pro sides as being a superb idea to do an end-run on the complete bollocks offered up by the NCAA.

And I also see it as being an adjunct to support MLS Teams that simply don’t have the same depth of youth soccer in their geographic area as other Teams…

Chivas USA going belly up or down the rabbit hole for two years – pick your pleasure:

Let’s be clear – an entitlement based system can work but it needs constant baby-sitting when owners and top brass in those clubs simply don’t know how to function.

What’s disappointing is that the MLS is literally weeks away from an Expansion Draft for two new clubs and they don’t even know what they’re going to do with all those excess players who already have contracts with MLS but no place to work next year.

The sooner this embarrasment to MLS gets resolved the better – what remains is how the league will disperse those players or leave them high and dry.

And since MLS owns the team why on earth do they hesitate in not moving that franchise elsewhere?

Just what is the rationale for keeping a team in LA when there are so many other areas of the country that have better facilities or ownership schemes, with better organizational skills, to fully function as a franchise?

The less said here the better…

Two new expansion teams:

Congratulations are due to the owners and supporting staff of Orlando City and New York City!

Strengths – in this case the more the better as the level of competition should increase and therefore the level of intrigue and media attention should increase – with that the level of revenue should increase – all good if your looking to expand the popularity of soccer in the United States.

Weaknesses – More means less.

With more teams there may be less skilled players to continue to build a respectable league that can help the US sustain a high level of standard in feeding the US Mens National Team.

In other words – given the increase in teams, and not the same corresponding increase in skill levels, there is greater risk that the technical ability of the league will move closer to that of College soccer and further from leagues like the English Premier League (the benchmark in my opinion).

And I’d be willing to bet that if you ask any College Coach the ‘what’s up with the technical side of college soccer’?

They’d offer this… we are continuously measured (fired and hired) for our ability to win games with semi-talented players that usually drive us towards a direct attacking style of play, as opposed to a more possession-based, technical passing game, where direct attacking is a (run of play) tactic not an enforced need.

In other words – College soccer, given a poorer/watered down talent pool, usually plays more direct simply because they don’t have the skilled players, in the right areas, to play more technical based soccer.

With the introduction of two new sides, without a substantial increase in the Salary Cap, it is likely we will see an even greater gap in teams that have and teams that don’t have…

Exactly the opposite of what the College Draft and Allocation Money reward system is in place to prevent…

Collective Bargaining Agreement:

Here’s some areas where I think additional clarity/changes are needed to make MLS better:  Player salaries, What to do about Chivas USA, Changes in Allocation Money/Salary Caps, Numbers of designated players, MLS Best XI, College Drafts, and Scouting.

Player Salaries – as the volume of money increases through improved media contracts it seems only reasonable that the players will be reaping some additional benefit from that effort.

How that takes shape compared to increased expansion within the MLS and USL Pro is unclear but expect it to be a discussion point that will need to be resolved as part of the CBA.

Chivas USA – as noted earlier – a complete balls-up…  how and when and where do the players get sorted, with a two year hiatus, given that Chivas didn’t even own the players to begin with.

Do they go straight into the new sides or is there an additional ‘draft’ of sorts for the leftovers after NYCFC and OCFC take their picks?

And given the overall poor team performance exactly how many of those players are really worthy of competing for a spot in more functionally effective teams?

Whatever happens I imagine it will be sorted out either before or part of the CBA; this may include setting up an organizational process if this event might be expected to happen again.

Allocation Money and Salary Cap – a bit of a mystery there – for the most part the Salary Cap simply has to go up if this league is so sustain a growing level of talented players.  And the more teams you have the more talented players you need.

I’d expect the owners will look for a substantial increase in the Salary Cap and may even poo-poo a substantial increase in Allocation Money.  Increasing Allocation Money rewards poor management but increasing the Salary Cap doesn’t – it rewards great management more…

Designated Players – if the league is really looking to expand the skill level then it is likely more DP’s will be needed or made available as part of operating costs…  And with an increase in teams it is likely this changes; so perhaps more of the burden falls to the individual team than MLS as a whole.

And while not mentioned specfically – the number of foreign players needs to increase as well.  Limiting foreign players reinforces MLS teams having to sacrifice ‘foreign’ positions for lower skilled players that are American.

By increasing the amount of foreign players quality goes up – if quality goes up competition to make those teams goes up – that in turn should drive up the standard Americans need to play towards if they are going to compete at the very highest level.

MLS Best XI – I continue to find it highly embarrassing to this league that their Best XI is comprised of just three defenders instead of four defenders.  No-one in this league operates a 3-4-3 and only a couple of teams have experimented in this effort.  And when running a 3 CB formation (3-5-2) the wideouts, on those formations, are usually fullbacks converted to wingers.

With one of the biggest gaps in technical skills residing in the Fullback position across this league, and on the USMNT, you would have thought MLS would want to showcase the Fullback talent a bit better in this league.

College Drafts – the average age of college students completing 3-4 years of college puts them about 2-3 years behind most of their counterparts in competitive soccer – and in some cases as many as 4-5 years behind.

If college players are to have greater influence then the NCAA needs to fix the college game to match FIFA – get rid of the unlimited substitution rule and run the match according to FIFA – this may also help better develop Referee’s in this country…

Scouting – based upon what I’ve heard the MLS runs ‘scouting combines’ for players to sell their wares to every team all at once.  What is that all about?  A competitive market should be driven by who’s the best at organizing and excuting scouting themselves…  the idea of having an even playing field for scouting players is past.  It breeds entitlement.

In closing:

Plenty of activity this off-season; lots of opinions, thoughts, and postulates… mine are just a few, be them well founded, controversial, or fundamentally flawed they are what they are…

Feel free to pile on with your thoughts, rants, or raves.

Best, Chris

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