On Twitter, I have seen more and more MLS pundits sitting firmly behind the MLS Players Union, wanting to see them hold strong and fight for free agency.
This is an interesting position for these pundits, who over the years have been quite staunch in a belief that I would characterize as “MLS Knows Best.”
Allocation order? “Sure, MLS knows best.”
Seattle getting Dempsey? “Ok, MLS knows best.”
Of course, the real synthesis of this belief comes from the most polarizing topic of all:
Promotion and relegation? “Hell no, because MLS knows best.”
So you can see that the vigilance with which these writers and podcasters have been supporting the players isn’t exactly following form. Don Garber’s crew has been vigorously against free agency, saying that franchises fighting for talent would drive up prices.
Within that talk is masked the entire need for the Single Entity, and that is preventing rogue, deep-pocketed clubs from overbidding on talent. Some will argue that leveraging the risk of loss evenly among many owners is a major reason, but at this point it is minor. The league is raking in money through media contracts, and there has never been more interest in expansion.
Supporting players’ rights to move freely in a competitive market directly contradicts the Single Entity structure. This could mean that there is a bit of a change in the blind consideration that “MLS knows best.” Perhaps the average MLS pundit has finally realized the brokenness of the status quo, and thinks this is the best opportunity to see it destroyed.
It used to be that Roster Rules existed to benefit smaller teams. But the evolution of the Designated Player has altered the paradigm. Today, aside from sheer luck, only the big spenders can acquire the best players.
The drafts are outdated, yielding teams what normally amounts to squad players (save your occasional Graham Zusi). Instead, the way to build a great team is to buy talent – and to work the archaic system.
For instance, the New York Red Bulls found a way to acquire Sacha Kljestan, even though they were a playoff team in 2014. A few traded assets to Montreal yielded New York the top Allocation Ranking, the mechanism used for distributing returning USMNT players (unless it’s not, of course…see Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley). It’s tough to believe anyone who follows MLS could see this as fair to Montreal.