Kyle Beckerman/AP Photo
The continued outstanding form of the Houston Dynamo and the likelihood that Houston will win yet another MLS Cup title this year begs the question: Have MLS proponents and the league once again exaggerated MLS’ quality, this time in claiming how competitive the league is top to bottom.
Consider this: Historically one of four clubs has been represented in every MLS Cup final. Los Angeles, DC United, Houston/San Jose, and Kansas City. If you look at the last thirteen tournaments in Mexico, they have produced nine different champions. In MLS however, only six teams (again taking the rightful liberty of counting San Jose and Houston as one team) have won the MLS Cup. For all the talk of a salary cap and squad limits creating more competitive and meaningful matches all it seems to do is dumb down the competition and allow the top front office people like Houston’s Oliver Luck, DC United’s Kevin Payne or the dearly departed Doug Hamilton to who led the Miami Fusion to the Supporters Shield and the LA Galaxy to the MLS Cup in consecutive seasons to dominate the league. In reality MLS rules which its fans and front office claim promotes competitiveness have in fact resulted in tremendous imbalance.
Despite league manipulation at times and several ownership groups coming into the picture and then selling the team the general performance of the New Jersey franchise in MLS has been poor. If MLS were really the competitive product that is claimed, would not one of four ownership groups who have run the Metrostars/Red Bulls have gotten it right by now? The reality is anyone who doesn’t know the system backwards and forwards as Luck and Payne do are at a disadvantage under the current league structure.
MLS is in many ways if you look purely at who has been winning titles and who has regularly represented the league in CONCACAF competitions as uncompetitive as many leagues in Europe that MLS fans bemoan for predictability. Since 1999, a total of 13 different Mexican league teams have represented the league in a CONCACAF event. For MLS the number is smaller: seven, again taking the liberty to include San Jose and Houston as one team. In addition, Columbus birth in the 2001 CONCACAF Giants Cup was based on attendance figures not on the pitch performance. Kudos to Columbus fans who filled Crew Stadium for qualifying the team for the event, but the point is that qualification had nothing to do with league performance.
Right now MLS is no more competitive than the average European league that typicaly sends the same teams to UEFA competitions over and over again. The league is not as uncompetitive as the English Premier League or French Ligue Un, but is not as competitive as the German Bundesliga or Spanish La Liga: so basically it falls right in the middle of European leagues, even when you look at leagues in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. As MLS moves forward on this and many other counts, the league cannot repeat tired old lines and just expect football fans in the United States and Canada to believe these claims when evidence proves the contrary is true. The league, led by Commissioner Garber must take steps to ensure competitiveness beginning with the revision of squad and salary cap restrictions as well as an emphasis on qualification and success in continental competitions not run by MLS itself. (ie Superliga.) Only then can MLS claim as many of its proponents do that it is one of the most competitive leagues in the world.