MLS Pursuing the Road Previously Traveled and Failed

1998 was an expansion year in MLS. Chicago and Miami entered the league and MLS sensing it needed to expand the pie of potential players in the league increased the number of foreign players allowed in the league from four to five and the results were less than pleasing. Perhaps it was a sign that MLS clubs didn’t have very advanced scouting networks but the resulting signings- from Peru’s Jerry Tamashiro with Miami, to Holland’s Richard Goolouze with New England to Brazilians Gilmar with Tampa Bay and Marquinho with Colorado failed to do anything to enhance the league and their spots could have easily been filled by lower tier American players. The expansion of foreign spots gave us a laundry list of failed second division players from overseas who wanted to try their hand in MLS.

With the salary cap in place and rapid expansion on the mind of MLS officials this management team, whose prior record is one of much better results than the Doug Logan led team that gave us the 1998 expansion and foreign player rule a repeat performance of the 1998 signings is probably in order. Even though we now have a codified “Designated Player” rule, I would be almost certain that in the 1996 to 1999 time period the very same rule existed without it being written. Do you realistically believe Roberto Donadoni left AC Milan to join the Metrostars in 1996 to make what was then the MLS maximum salary of $280,000? The same goes for Carlos Valderrama, Luis Hernandez, Hugo Sanchez, Walter Zenga, Branco and several other international stars who flocked to MLS in its early years of existence. The pity is we have no idea of knowing what these players made because in those days MLS was remarkably secretive about its books. But since those players were almost without a doubt making the kind of money, let’s say Juan Pablo Angel is making now (not the sort of money David Beckham is making but still a nice chunk of change) the cheapest and most economical foreign signings (from a scouting standpoint) were made in that time period and a bias existed towards South American and European players because MLS General Managers felt it would be easier to sell let’s say a Brazilian like Gilmar as a potential upgrade to a team than let’s say a Jamaican or a Canadian.

I may be in the minority but I believe MLS’ decision to allow Eight internationals and teams to trade the spots is simply fools gold. The league is never going to be a major player in the world market while dealing with a salary cap structure as is. In addition, when MLS allowed three senior internationals it allowed American talent to rise up and grow something which has no doubt helped the national team. These new rules mean less and less young Americans will get an opportunity in their domestic league and like so many in the past two years or so will have to seek work abroad where less will be at stake in their development. Some of these Americans will never realize their full potential as footballers because of MLS’ desire to appear more international by opening the floodgates to failed second division players abroad. That is what happened in 1998 and will happen again in 2008. History in Football as History in society, world affairs and politics teaches us well. Alas, I wish MLS had learned the lesson.

2 thoughts on “MLS Pursuing the Road Previously Traveled and Failed”

  1. All of these are valid points and are frequently echoed worldwide. (Just look at the alarm in England over the number of foreign players flocking to the EPL. The English seem to want it both ways–to be able to perpetuate the idea that the EPL is the best league on the planet that attracts the best players while at the same time using it to develop future England players. But that is an issue for another day.) I guess my question is what standard we should use to judge the new rules on foreign players. Even in the early years when the league did have a few big names there were a number of foreign players who were busts (e.g., Doctor Khumalo, Nicola Caricola, Juan Berthy Suarez, Ruben Dario Hernandez). Is this new rule a success if 30% of the new foreign players fulfill there promise? What about 50%? The standard we apply will color our evaluation and to expect a boatload of Donadoni’s to fill the league is certainly unrealistic (though that is not the argument the author was trying to make). If the standard is the development of American players, we are still in a situation where the remaining 20 slots on a roster are filled by Americans. Will the number of American starters now be the standard? How can this take into account the fact we now have an unprecendented number of Americans plying their trade abroad, with many top young Americans skipping MLS entirely? All of this is to suggest that it’s a complicated business and one that I think will yield few clear answers. My own view is that it is a necessary step given the paucity of quality in the American college system but one that, due to budget constraints, will not signal a sea-change in quality in MLS. But perhaps with expansion immediately upon us that is a better outcome than a drop in quality.

  2. Emilio, Toja, Marinelli, Fred, Condoul, and their friends would like to disagree.

    I think the scouting network has greatly improved. MLS is starting to look for good, smart buys rather than names they might have read about in a Euro magazine.

    MLS can be a player in this hemisphere in buying talent.

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