For the last week we heard about the great 2009 for Major League Soccer. Please pardon me, while I take a step back from Don Garber’s rhetoric and raise the ugly side of 2009 in American soccer.
I will not dispute that this summer appeared to be the tipping point for the sport in the country. We saw the biggest non World Cup crowds over the summer since Cosmos mania swept the nation in the mid to late 1970s (when several NASL teams averaged over 25,000 fans per match) for several friendlies involving European club teams, and the national team reach its first ever FIFA final.
But as the year wore on, the increased mediocrity in MLS took hold, a dispute between the second/third/fourth tier USL and its club owners became public, and the US National Team struggled at times, ending the year with two loses in European soil to exactly the type of sides they will see next summer in South Africa.
The US beat Honduras for a nice win in San Pedro Sula, but needed a dramatic late goal to draw with a poor Costa Rican side in Washington, and then finished the year losing to a Danish “B+” side. The US was also missing several regulars for this match, but the game showed the lack of depth the US had when compared to the type of European side that will be in pot two of the World Cup draw.
Despite constant advertisements during College Football games on both ABC and ESPN this weekend, the MLS Cup Final still netted viewership in less than a million households on English language TV. To me this is a bitter disappointment, and perhaps evidence that I have been wrong to have bought into MLS’ recent hype after the “tipping point” this summer.
I’ve editorialized that MLS has now overtaken European club football in American interest based on recent TV numbers. Despite having David Beckham, and constant weekend ads on all ESPN affiliated networks, the MLS Cup netted less viewers on ESPN than each of the last four UEFA Champions League Finals on ESPN 2. This is despite the most obvious fact that the UEFA Final was on a Wednesday afternoon US time, while the MLS Cup final took place in prime time on Sunday, traditionally the best TV night of the week. In other words, my recent posts have been off the mark on this subject.
MLS’ bluster and self congratulation has seldom ever been more intense than this past week. I’ve outlined several problems above, but none come anywhere close to the present policy of how MLS treats its players, most particularly the American player, the league was partly founded to promote and develop.
Eric Wynalda raised some excellent points in his interview with Yanks Abroad yesterday. These are the same points I have made for years on this and other websites. When I have brought these issues up in the past, I have almost always gotten nasty, rude and sometimes maniacal responses. I still cannot understand why a brand loyalty to MLS trumps some fans willingness to help the players of the league.
In today’s MLS, if you are an American player you face an almost incredible and unconscionable salary discrimination. Unlike those making a low wage in other football leagues, the MLS player cannot test himself on the open market, and has to submit to ridiculous standards to achieve a transfer.
This season, it was revealed the MLS has compelled players sought by European clubs to sign over to the league the 10% of the transfer fee owed to the player by FIFA regulations. This is done despite the fact MLS’ bluster would make you believe the league is healthier than ever and has more investment than ever, and despite years of underpaying and taking advantage of the very American player whose backs the league was built on, MLS still tries to grab as the player is on his way to Europe.
These practices are from the vantage point of this particular fan and writer, completely unacceptable. As we shift from self congratulation mode, to Collective Bargaining Agreement discussion mode, it is imperative that the American player be recognized for his sacrifice to build this league. This league is now fourteen years old, and in that time players around the globe have seen a large increase in market value. Yet, MLS’ salary structure has remained largely the same.
MLS’ will possibly shift from “things have never been better” mode to “Recession has hit us hard” mode in order to try and put the screws to the players once again. I would urge any and all readers, whether you like me or not to remember the American player, some of which you may have yourself played with or against. When MLS’ ratchets it up its rhetoric, many an American soccer fan act as if they have been mesmerized by the pied piper: be that an MLS owner or the Soccer Don, himself.
To the American player, we owe our very being as fans of the sport. I know whose side I am on in the upcoming CBA negotiations, and I urge everyone reading this to consider the case made, whether you like my writing or not and also give support to your local players.