When Will the MLS be a Major League Success?

This weekend was the first weekend of the MLS’ 2013 season and I have to say that I’m still left unimpressed by the product being put on the pitch by the United States and Canada’s top tier football league.

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MLS Commissioner Don Garber thinks his league will be one of the best in the world in 10 years.

The story of the North American Soccer League’s mercurial rise to fame and eventual flaming out is well-known, well-versed and has continued to cast a shadow over the MLS for much of its history but at some point you have to get a little more aggressive in building your brand. After all, MLS commissioner Don Garber reiterated his plan to have the league be considered one of the best in the world by 2022.

Hopefully it isn’t as ill-fated as the USSF’s “Project 2010,” the plan to make the US men’s national team good enough to be competitive in the 2010 World Cup.

Unfortunately, Garber doesn’t have David Beckham, who now plays for Paris Saint-Germain in Ligue 1, in his underwear on billboards to bring women to LA Galaxy games and the other European retirees in the MLS don’t have the star power to do what Becks did.

Promotion and Relegation

Currently, there is no promotion and relegation in Major League Soccer. Some people think that’s perfectly fine but I think that’s one of the major problems with the league and the entire USSF pyramid.

People will argue that teams in the NASL (2009), the USL Pro and Canadian Soccer League don’t have the financial backing to survive in a top level league but we’re talking about the MLS. The MLS where there are clubs that can’t fill their stadiums for semi-final playoff games.

Promotion and relegation will allow the pyramid to be built from the ground up instead of the top down as they seem so keen on doing. The lure of possibly playing at the top will bring in new, ambitious owners to the clubs at the bottom. Imagine a Mark Cuban or Jerry Jones-esque mogul coming in and taking over a club like the San Antonio Scorpions. They’d go from NASL club to MLS champion in a matter of months.

Of course, the MLS would also have to get rid of their single-entity model.

Salary Constraints

This comes directly from the downfall of the original NASL. The league grew quickly and the New York Cosmos had some of the best players in the world on their squad. However, the free spending also caused its eventual demise.

The MLS keeps a lid on their clubs spending in an effort to prevent the same thing from happening to their league but when those same clubs go to compete in the CONCACAF Champions League, they have a fraction of the financial power that the teams they are competing with have.

Compare Liga MX’s ability to keep Mexican-born players in Mexico to the MLS’s inability to keep American starlets in the United States — a problem which probably also stems from the single-entity model. Guadalajara in Mexico is a huge club and the parent club of Chivas USA in the MLS, but Guadalajara isn’t able to feed their club in the MLS with the funds necessary to become of the top sides in Major League Soccer.

A little financial flexibility and our players wouldn’t be running to the Premier League, the Bundesliga or the Tippeligaen.

Playoffs

Yes, the playoffs is what makes the MLS American. Americans love to see teams go head-to-head and settle things on the field. We love to see upsets and all that good stuff but I think that’s a problem.

Playoffs create the chance for clubs that have not performed well to get hot at the right time and win the championship. I love that in the NFL but keep it out of my association football. Leagues in Europe may not have actual playoff systems to determine their champions but those clubs still settle it on the pitch.

What do you call it when every team plays every other team twice home and away? A round-robin tournament, that’s what.

People would be downright outraged if Liverpool was crowned Premier League champions — obviously Liverpool supporters wouldn’t be — at the end of this season because they snuck into a playoff and happened to hit form at the right time.

Obviously, there are good things about the MLS and of course there are more negatives, but to think the MLS will be a world class league by 2022 is bending the meaning of world class a little too much.

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