Posts Filed Under Soccer

(This is the second in my series of posts called “Why This Lifelong Soccer Fan Is (Currently) Unenthused About Major League Soccer)

When Major League Soccer was founded in 1993, the new league was determined to avoid the veritable orgy of overspending and lack of restraint that has sunk the North American Soccer League in the 80’s (notably, it seems that, unlike the MLS, the US Housing market did not pay attention to this lesson). Because of this, the MLS structure has some major differences from the professional soccer leagues in Europe.  Major League Soccer is operated as a single-entity model, with the league tightly controlling team spending and salaries, by having a salary cap (currently at $2.6 million per year) and a maximum per player cap salary (currently $375,000).  All player contracts are owned by the league, and the league pays player salaries from a pool collected from all the teams.

The single entity model ensures sustained growth and responsible financial behavior, but completely hamstrings teams’ ability to sign big name players.  And so, in 2006, the owners of the Los Angeles Galaxy, who, behind the scenes were orchestrating the possibility of signing David Beckham, proposed the Designated Player Rule.  The rule would enable each team to sign one player in excess of the per-player spending limit.  The player’s contract would be paid for by the league, and count against the cap only up to the limit.  Any amount in excess was the responsibility of the team.  The thinking was that importing high-priced talent with instantly recognizable names and skill level far exceeding that of current MLS players will help the league leap forward both in terms of off-the-field marketing and on-the-field play level.  This, in turn will increase the prestige of the league, further increasing profits and attraction to high caliber players.  Specifically for the Galaxy, the rule will allow them to reap the incredible windfall of signing Beckham, the most marketable soccer star in the world.  Because of this, the unofficial name given to the Designated Player Rule was the Beckham Rule.

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By Chris Panetta

By Dmitry Mogilevsky

There is one thing at which MLS is really really good. They have some of the most persistent customer liaison reps (let’s just call them salespeople, for simplicity’s sake, because that’s what they are) in the entertainment business. I went to my one and only Chicago Fire game a year ago, when New York Red Bulls, having freshly signed Thierry Henry (an electrifying player who played for my favorite team, FC Barcelona for three seasons), came to town. The ongoing legacy of that unremarkable game has been monthly calls by a persistent rep named Tom who keeps trying to get me to come out to more Fire games.

So far, his persistence has not paid off. I’m not biting, which is somewhat surprising. After all, I’ve been a fan of the beautiful game since an early age. I’ve skinned knees and elbows playing on concrete lots in 105 degree heat in Israel. I follow closely two big name European teams (FC Barcelona and Chelsea), often waking up at 6 am on the weekends during the season to drive across town to watch games at a soccer pub. Earlier this year, I tried to follow my hometown team from Israel by signing up for a streaming website so obscure, my bank may have flagged the transaction as attempted money laundering. Above all, I love watching games live, and the opportunity to watch a large number of games fairly inexpensively should be irresistible for me. And yet..

There’s the obvious problem that Toyota Field, the stadium Chicago Fire calls home, is located in a quaint neighbourhood of factories and warehouses on the Southwest side of the city, 20 miles away from where I live. But on a larger scale, there are three issues with Major League Soccer that I believe keep some casual and hardcore fans away. In this and the next three posts, I’ll try to lay out what they are, and my highly uninformed guesses about what the future holds for domestic soccer.

The first problem is the quality of play on the pitch. Soccer is known as the beautiful game, but the play on a typical MLS field is not exactly that. Sure there are individual moments of brilliance, and the quality is improving, but by and large, the level of play is low. And not the NASL “holy crap, no one can play any defense so we’re going to have a lot of 4-3 type of games” low. More like misplayed passes, terrible first touches, airmailed crosses and point-blank misses low. Drab matches lead to drab results – a shocking 39% of the games so far this season have ended in a draw, and out of the league’s 18 teams, for ten, a draw is the most likely, or tied for the most likely outcome, based on games so far. By comparison, in the British Premier League (widely considered the best soccer league in the world), only 29% of the games ended in a draw, and only 4 of the league’s 20 teams had more or as many draws as any
other outcome. And unfortunately many of these draws are scoreless draws to boot (as was the Chicago Fire game I saw in person). Casual fans already think that soccer is too low scoring and uneventful, and bristle at the idea of a contest in which a draw is not only a possible, but a fairly probable event. Having 40% of the games end in such isn’t doing anyone any favors.

In the next post, I’ll address the double-edged sword that is the Designated Player Rule.