MLS 2.0: Can it Work?


The indispensable American Soccer News had a good story on Don Garber’s plans for MLS 2.0, which will be discussed later this year with the league’s board. While Commissioner Garber deserves lots of credit for steering MLS away from the troubled waters that threatened its existence a few years back, the arrogance and hubris of the league which we’ve recently editorialized on this site threatens its long term credibility in the football world.

Some points from this story:

Garber says ” In regards to the CONCACAF Champions League, our credibility is being attacked but we want our clubs to focus on MLS…In reality, we are a business developing and to reconfigure our business model is not in our best interest.”

I’m not sure how he can spin this in MLS’ favor. The reality is it was Commissioner Garber whose comments were out of line when MLS teams failed in the forerunner tournament of this, including DC United against Pachuca this past Spring. It was the commissioner and league seemingly anxious to buy international credibility that emphasized these results.  Now the Champions League performances are all the more embarrasing not because Mexican or Costa Rican teams are showing up MLS sides: those are clearly better and deeper leagues than MLS, but because the United States’ own second divsion, with which MLS broke off a relationship thus scuttling the American Club football pyramid has been so successful in this event. Sides from the United Soccer Leagues have actually defeated Mexican and Costa Rican sides in this tournament while MLS is winless in the event. I have for many years maintained that the soccer press in this country was ignorant of USL and discounted the quality in that league partly because of the obsession with representing MLS as something it is not. For years I have maintained that while MLS is on the whole stronger than USL the typical gap between a first and second division doesn’t exist in this country, thanks to the limited budgets and poor scouting of MLS teams. The league may not like it but it’s credibility is in the gutter based on its embarrasing performances in the Champions League. The bottom line is this: we live in a Global world where Football from all over is on TV: the best leagues in whatever region rise to the top in their regional club tournament, be it the Argentine teams in Copa Libertadoras or the English teams in the UEFA Champions League. The fact that USL teams are showing more than MLS teams in the champions league for CONCACAF speaks volumes about the overall quality of MLS.

There will be no promotion or relegation unveiled at that time and the league would prefer another Midwest team such as St. Louis to provide more balance geographically. Interest in a Miami franchise has resurfaced and Garber reiterated the demand in the Pacific Northwest is strong as well.

MLS expansion continues to dilute talent and the quality of the product on the pitch. No doubt exists in the my mind that MLS sides would have been more competitive in the CONCACAF Champions League had for example Chivas USA not lost Preston Burpo and Jason Hernandez in the expansion draft, and been forced to replace injured players with guys who are essentially being paid a semi-pro wage.

I can say this from the Miami perspective. MLS can work in South Florida but only if the quality of the product improves rapidly. The same for a second team in New York. If MLS is going to continue to to put out a product where defending is shambolic in almost every match and the pace is like watching paint dry, bigger more sophisticated football markets are going to tune out the product. I’d put Miami, New York and even Boston at the very top of this list.

Garber also expressed that the Superliga is a priority for the league based off of attendance and television ratings. 

This line speaks for itself and to the priorities of the league. SUM makes money that sustains the league and thus MLS puts a priority on all SUM related events even if it means promoting a Mexican National Team game will for example cut MLS attendance for the games in the same market around the El Tri matchup on the calendar.

Currently, there are no short term solutions however, in 2009, there may be a possibility that teams will be more carefully selected to avoid fixture congestion so there may be more balance and variety in the Superliga, CONCACAF, and US Open Cup competitions

So no Apertura/Clausura at least for 2009. Even more disturbing I see no mention amending the squad limits or the salary cap in this piece.

What are our readers thoughts about MLS 2.0?

11 thoughts on “MLS 2.0: Can it Work?”

  1. I've almost given up on this league. All Garber and his cohorts want to focus on are short-term financial gains and getting as much a return on their investments as possible. There is no concern over the overall quality of play in the league nor any initiative to actually deliver on a promise to provide the very best soccer on the continent.

    I understand that soccer is a business and that the commish and governors have economic masters to satisfy, but MLS has taken things to a completely new low.

  2. I've said before and will say it again.

    When I watch USL I see more complete teams, actual football being played. No they don't have Becks, Blanco or even Donovan or Mastroeni caliber players but they have a real emphasis on team and survival.

    MLS is becoming unwatchable.

  3. Look you guys seem to forget that SUM is the only reason from what I can tell that MLS is still in business. Kartik complains about the Mexican National Team games and Superliga but they have sustained the league.

    USL is better run from a pure football perspective. I watch both leagues and honestly think the experience at a USL game is much better. It’s real passionate football. But MLS is a much better marketing entity than USL and has taken the best of American sports marketing and the best of the Premier League into one.

    MLS is clever. American footy fan are just now becoming sophisticated enough to realize the league is essentially a fraud from a pure football standpoint. But to the casual fan who doesn’t know better and does not follow the international game, MLS will appear to be a major league with glitz and glamour while USL appears to be like Rookie League Baseball.

    As Soccer fans we know USL in fact is in many ways better than MLS. But that’s not the point. For sure MLS is a con job of sorts but it’s working. SUM is the mothers milk of the whole deal.

  4. For all his bravado I think MLS is scare S$%^&less about USL's success in the Champions League.

    USL isn't charging $50 million to join the league, doesn't have a TV contract and must buy time on FSC and often times plays in tiny facilities. Yet that hasn't stopped the league from developing arguably a superior product and without a doubt a more honest, community driven product. If an investor is given a choice of putting $50 million in a league where they have little control over the team they run and spending $15 million on a team they have full control over which will they choose? The Open Cup spot for the CCL gives USL teams based in the US a route right into the CCL and thus should create some opportunities as we go forward for the league.

    Oh yeah and Nike bought Umbro who owned USL. Nike is PISSED royally at MLS for selling them down the river so look out.

  5. “international credibility”???

    Do you really think anyone outside of CONCACAF cares 1 bit about results in the CONCACAF CL? I'd bet 99% of soccer fans (and probably journalists) in Europe don't know we have a CONCACAF CL.

    MLS 2.0 was formed at the latest in 2001 after contraction.

    What does USL teams performances speak about the quality of MFL? Is it crap too? Did anyone see the empty stadium for Cruz Azul against Saprissa? Mexican fans aren't on board yet. CONCACAF CL has potential but it's time hasn't come yet. Mexican teams take the region for granted and will play reserve lineups on the road. MLS isn't deep enough. Ok, blame MLS, but I think they're financially much better of than USL at this point. It's not charity and MLS has done well to cement the larger US markets. The crowds at MFL/MLS games seem to indicate that these games aren't generating much revenue yet, and I can only imagine what Warner is making off of this.

    I've patiently sat through just about every televised Champion's Cup game the last 4 years, but with the European leagues revving up, I'm just not going to make time for mor than a quick glance at this CL group stage. Yes, this event exposes some MLS weaknesses that are perhaps flaws. But I won't see USL as any sort of rival until USL players start stepping up in numbers in MLS league play. Or until USL owners aren't negotiating $30-50 million expansion fees to move up. I enjoy scouting USL games during the summer when Europe is on hiatus. And in a couple of years I might go to some Rowdies games. But I still don't get the case for any non-die hard US soccer fan that doesn't live in a USL pro market to care about USL1&2. If I'm looking for enjoyment I'll just watch more European soccer.

  6. undrafted got a nice bonus check from league hq the other day. He's earned another one here.

    let me remind you it was garber himself as this article mentions that emphasized the results for mls sides in concacaf competitions. it was also garber and co that kept the open cup winner out of the champions cup for fear a usl team would qualify. garber completely disparaged dc united's performance versus pachuca and then the league on numerous occasions played up the champions league as a true test of the us versus mexico and central america because it was played during mls season.

    now that the results have gone against mls, it does not matter and the superliga does?
    international and domestic credibility is at stake. i've been a proponent of mls but many soccer fans of the european ilk in this country are asking me how i can watch mls if the league performs worse than a second division that plays in 2,000 seat stadiums in the champions league. when i say they are focusing on their own title, the response, is what is an mls title worth if the league is so poor when they step out?

    i have had this conversation with probably about 10 people since the new england-joe public fiasco. one friend who likes the premier league now threw down $50 for usl live.

    so basically if mls is trying to win over core fans of the game it's losing. if the goal is to win over casual american sports fans by inflating its own image and downplaying international events not controlled by the league then maybe that's another strategy.

    undrafted you don't get it. usl has never been a rival for mls. it is run fundamentally differently. maybe it's a bad business but it is about soccer. mls is about money and image. the grassroots partnerships set up in a usl market by the clubs seem to always exceed that of mls local partnerships. the owners are mostly local and they can actually control their clubs.

    without a viable second division brining soccer to the masses in smaller markets and working with the youth level we have zilch.

    mls is as it is becoming nothing more than a retirement home for washed up foreign players. and unlike the nasl they are not getting the biggest names in the world.

    mls as it is currently constituted is bordering on worthless.

  7. MLS has current USMNT reserves, future USMNT stars, and former USMNT stars. I don't see how you can say it has nothing?

    I think USL and MLS now have pretty similar grassroot efforts.

    What USL side in this CL has a 2,000 seat stadium? Bogus fact?

    Washed up foreign players? Steve Guppy anyone?

    Many here were talking up USL as a rival. So I was responding. A few within USL have gone on the record the last few years talking up a rivalry (including Marcos) but I think it's bluster and most sane USL folks no that isn't the case.

    Garber said “we want our clubs to focus on the league”. Can he be any more clear. Of course it's his job to hype success and minimize failuire. He's paid well to do that. Unfortunately I'm paid nothing but I'll take donations.

    1 year of bad results in CONCACAF CL will mean squat towards MLS's international reputation long-term. If this becomes a pattern year after year with USL teams doing something in the Spring knockout stages, it might get some foreign notice. International credibility is fairly meaningless. Foreign fans outside CONCACAF won't care for MLS in the next generation no matter what. Unless MLS teams start finishing top 2 in the Club World Cup, they won't care if MLS wins CONCACAF CL or not.

    This is good press for USL. They can matter within their own markets and can get a boost from this. I don't see much more coming out of CL results. Call me when Portland, Vancouver, and Montreal all pull their MLS expansion applications. Long-term, CL group stages as they are now are mostly a waste of time.

  8. Actually undrafted Saputo the owner of the Impact has very openly said in the last few weeks he's considering sticking with USL because some investment is possibly coming to the league and he doesn't want to spend $40 million plus expand a brand new stadium which seats 12,000 because it was built for USL.

    Saputo has basically been saying lately that they can get to the Champions League every year through the Canadian Cup and that they seem to have taken on the mantle of Canada's team because the MLS side in Canada has so few Canadian players.

    It was an interesting read in the Globe and Mail.

  9. I think it's been pretty clear all along Saputo won't be going into MLS without Gillett. Anyways we should know within a month who ended up actually applying.

  10. Garber is all talk. Nothing will change. Undrafted you remind me of those operatives from undemocratic regimes that use the interwebs to spread misinformation.

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