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DC United Falls Victim to Salary Cap

While the salary cap for American sports leagues such as the NBA and NFL have been smashing successes testing the skill of most clubs front office, the same policy which so many in England want placed on Premier League clubs would lead to nothing short of a major competitive advantage for smaller clubs. Let me state that I have always supported salary caps in American sports leagues, because unlike international football they do not have a system of transfers and unlike international football they do not have a varying number of fixtures based on the number of competitions a club either enters or qualifies for. As someone who leans to the left politically I have always looked for the fair approach, even if it meant as it does in the case of the NFL imposing a socialistic system on the league. It’s not just socialism from an economic sense, but also from a societal sense in trying to promote smaller market clubs, and the have nots of American Football. As someone who saw the Green Bay Packers inability to compete in the 1980s, the 1990s and the salary cap coupled with the genius of Ron Wolf led to a rebirth of American Football’s most classic franchise. But sadly this could never work for Blackburn or Wigan in the Premier League because European Football is so different than the NFL.

Major League Soccer was perfectly American in its approach to a salary cap imposing the same hard cap that the NFL does, but then allowing bigger market teams to hide money and essentially misreport the salaries of top players who may have better offers to play elsewhere. However the MLS Salary Cap had a huge victim Thursday night and further evidence that it can never work in International Football. DC United is the crown jewel of MLS. They have more international trophies than the rest of the league combined and have continued to develop good players and scout well despite the restrictive nature of MLS. It is DC United that has single handily saved MLS’ reputation in Latin America where much skepticism prevails about the quality of football in the US. Without DC United, MLS would likely be called Much Lousy Soccer by far more than just Martin Samuel.

DC United subject to the same salary cap rules as the Chicago Fire, their slayers in the MLS Playoffs, played in three more competitions this season. While the Fire never left the United States to play a match, DC United had to travel to Honduras and Mexico twice. United all toll had played in eleven more competitive matches than the Fire and had logged far more frequent flier miles than the Fire as well, with midweek international matches coupled with weekend league matches. Yet unlike in Europe where the bigger clubs that participate in UEFA competition have a higher payroll, DC United did this with the same restrictive squad rules the rest of MLS including Chicago face. Making matters more complicated, DC United’s signature player, Jaime Moreno had to twice fly to South America for National Team duty down the stretch run of matches, again something no other MLS club had to deal with.

Another aspect of the MLS salary cap is that the transfer fees that help to sustain so many small clubs abroad are kept largely by the league under the cap system. So in other words no incentive financial or otherwise exists for clubs to actually develop players and then sell them off to more prestigious leagues abroad.

Thus we have in a nutshell what would happen in Europe if a salary cap were imposed. While in concept I want to look for ways to reign in the G-14 clubs that seem to be running amok and making football rules for themselves, MLS has taught us a salary cap is not practical in international football.

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  1. Anonymous

    November 3, 2007 at 8:54 am

    Houston seems to have done alright despite playing in the same competitions as DC United. Masybe DCU is as always OVER RATED!

    GO FIRE!

  2. eplnfl

    November 2, 2007 at 10:28 pm


    Clearly one of your most interesting posts. You bring up several excellent points and are clearly right to honor DC United for their extra-MLS efforts, but they did not make the best use of their salary cap. In the NFL ( btw The Chicago Bears, are the NFL, classic team, not the group from dairyland) it is still important how you manage your money under the cap. It’s still an art even with everyone having the same bank.

    To my eye, DC United gave out at the end of the season, maybe they were overworked and it hurt in the playoffs, but the Fire should be praised for re-working their team mid-season and bringing new players and coaches and blending veterans and young players.

    I would not exclude the salary cap idea but all major leagues would need to sign on too it.

  3. Anonymous

    November 2, 2007 at 6:47 pm

    I 100% agree!

  4. Soccer Guru

    November 2, 2007 at 2:22 pm

    bah humbug. You are credible except when it comes to your obvious outright bias towards DCU.

  5. Anonymous

    November 2, 2007 at 2:12 pm

    I watch plenty of world football and the asinine idea of Americans to introduce a playoffs is what leads to this.

    I would like to see the sport succeed in the USA but MLS is a joke.

  6. GG 223

    November 2, 2007 at 1:50 pm

    While this is a well written and well thought out post, those of us who listen to your podcast know that this “objective observer” crap you promote is rubbish and you are in fact a serious apologist for everything DC United.

    So this post is in reality nothing but bitter spilled milk.

  7. (j)on

    November 2, 2007 at 12:24 pm

    very interesting post, and I agree wholeheartedly. You need look no further than depth on the bench to see that we were stretched way too thin, and couldn’t afford capable backups, especially in the attack. I’ll post this on my blog. (

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