I recently caught up with Paul Carr, senior researcher for ESPN Stats & Information department, at a New York City FC game.
We covered a lot of stuff — MLS’s international break problem, the new book from Stefan Szymanski of Soccernomics, and the future of MLS expansion.
Here’s the interview:
Sam Dunn (SD): I wanted to get your take on the impact of international breaks – official and unofficial – on the level of play in MLS. Toronto FC’s Michael Bradley said that he hopes MLS can figure out how to address the international dates and preserve competitive quality.
Paul Carr (PC): The international break takes away two or three of the best players off a lot of these teams, sometimes up to a third of their lineup. In MLS, not all of these teams have a full rotation [of players]. I don’t know what you do about it. You’re sacrificing the quality, and they’ve got to figure out a way to avoid that if at all possible. I think MLS knows that, but it’s really hard with all the factors in play.
SD: Especially with the Gold Cup coming this summer, that will be a story to follow. Speaking of following, I noticed on Twitter that you have an advance copy of the new book by Stefan Szymanski, who co-wrote Soccernomics.
PC: I’m about 100 pages in or so. So far, “teams with more money do better” on the whole. He’s got plenty of charts and numbers. It’s a strong correlation. The top teams spend far, far above MLS levels, but it’s hard to see any of that happening [within MLS] without spending more money on players.
SD: Do you think the organizational structure of MLS – which prevents the level of spending that Szymanski correlates with the greatest level of success over time – exists because it wasn’t always clear that the league would survive? MLS’s perpetuation isn’t in question anymore; should they re-think some of that structuring in a way that permits greater spending and investment?
PC: I would definitely like to think so. MLS has clearly grown. More revenue is coming in, whether it’s from TV, or advertising deals.
Big business people are wanting to get into the league. You could grow the league in a global sense if you just spend more money, but that goes against the very principles on which they founded the league [given the salary cap and single-entity structure]. I don’t know what the answer is. It would be pretty intense to just flip a switch and say, “OK, no salary cap!”