This morning in the Washington Post, Steven Goff wrote a column indicating the MLS is strongly considering doing away with age restrictions for international players and will then allow seven full internationals per 18 man (perhaps a bump up to 20 man) senior squad. I can think of no possible policy change that would be more destructive for both MLS and US Soccer than adopting this potential rule.
English Football fans lament the loss of an Englishness to the Premier League and claim the struggles of the national team England fields is directly related to the number of foreign players in the PL. MLS to this point in its history has been both fiscally disciplined and committed to growing and developing American players and those who come to the United States at a young age. The opportunities for many of these players are soon to evaporate if MLS adopts a rule change that doesn’t require teams to buy young foreign talent and doesn’t encourage the development of young American talent.
While it is true that MLS desire to quickly expand the league is troublesome due to the lack of depth of American home grown talent, their are other solutions. For years I have advocated a somewhat protectionist idea to address MLS’ squad restrictions. I would exempt all players from the CONCACAF region and count them as domestic players. While this would be bad news for some of the leagues in Central American and Carribean it would help improve the quality of play in MLS and tie the largest ethnic minorities in the nation outside of Mexicans firmly to the league. Mexican players are very expensive and despite this exemption, I doubt you’d see many more in MLS if this rule was applied. Secondly, I would drop the number of international players from other Confederations per team to three, with at least one having to be under the age of 23. Only two senior internationals would be allowed per squad. While this would affect teams such as DC United and FC Dallas who have scouted South America well, it would protect American players and those from the CONCACAF regions whose growth ultimately helps US Soccer. This would also stem MLS’ temptation to buy over the hill and over priced European players ala Lothar Matthaeus.
As part of this solution I would urge MLS to cap expansion at 16 teams until 2014 and allow
this system to grow and work. Once this squad policy is implemented I believe MLS will be a stronger league both financially and with regards to quality of play. It will also become the regional destination league of choice for footballers from Central America, the Carribean and Canada.