MLS Salary Cap is Choking US Soccer


The Salary Cap system implemented by Major League Soccer (MLS) is choking American soccer. I wish it weren’t true. I love the idealized way the MLS has attempted to build from the ground up. I love the idea of all teams being on equal financial footing and championships being won by clever roster construction. Sadly, it isn’t what’s best for soccer in the US. In fact, the MLS Salary Cap is choking US Soccer.

What US football needs is a superpower. I’m not sure why the powers that be at MLS don’t recognize this right away. They understand that stars sell tickets and generate interest. That’s why players like Pirlo, Gerrard, Lampard and Drogba were such sought after commodities for the League. It is an obvious conclusion that a star-laden, dominant team would also generate the most interest.

Instead, what we have is a league where all of the teams are equal. Sure, some do a better job of in the draft or using their three designated player spots than others, but the salary cap prevents a franchise from burying the competition. On one hand, this is great for the league and it’s owners. Costs are artificially held down by the Salary Cap and you get parity in the league. It’s easy to understand why the MLS instituted such rules in its infancy to attract ownership groups.

Now, to the credit of MLS, the league has outgrown this naive concept. It’s time to take the shackles off ownership groups and let them spend what the market will bear. If an ambitious ownership group is willing to sink millions of dollars into a franchise to make them relevant on the world-wide stage, let them do so.

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Bayern Munich regularly dominates the Bundesliga, but I believe they’ve done a fine job of keeping up fan interest. So the argument that a dynastic team’s emergence might kill MLS is laughable. If a team managed to dominate the league, it would draw more interest to MLS. Fans would tune in to matches just to see if David could beat Goliath each week. American culture is built on the ideal that the poor and destitute can overcome the rich and powerful via the collective spirit. Allowing MLS to mirror this culture is the right way to go.

What would be even more important for the emergence of MLS would be to develop a team that was really capable of making noise on the world stage. Imagine an MLS franchise investing so much that it was able to field one of the world’s elite teams. It would have the ability to drag the league’s other teams up with it. Other players would be attracted to MLS by the opportunity to compete against such an elite side. Slowly but surely, play would elevate.

Perhaps then, the MLS could get a team enough worldwide credibility to earn a place in the Champions League. I realize it’s reserved for European sides now but that’s an artificial construct. If their was an opportunity to generate more US interest in Champions League play it would be a financial boon. Just imagine the interest of fans (and sponsors) in a Tuesday night Champions League clash between Manchester United and the Seattle Sounders. That’s how you would know MLS has arrived.

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Unfortunately, those that control MLS today are more in tune with helping ownership groups make money than they are truly growing the brand of the league. There’s no way MLS ownership would vote to uncap the league because that would mean taking money out of their own profits. It’s a shame, because unshackling ambitious ownership groups is the only way that MLS can really become relevant.

Like it or not, MLS is the league that will most influence the success of soccer in the United States. Whether you support USMNT or just growing the game in the states, you must be somewhat invested in the best domestic league. The success of both are tied to what MLS does moving forward.

Until MLS wakes up, be content with the Direct Kick package and a smattering games on ESPN. Enjoy the aged European stars who come to the United States to retire. Dream with me though. Dream of dominant American teams from the MLS earning the respect of football fans all over the world. Dream of the quality of MLS becoming high enough to propel the US Men’s National Team forward. Dream of soccer becoming America’s game.