You will be hard-pressed to find people involved in soccer in the US (aside from a few of the Owners’ Boxes) who believe that Major League Soccer’s salary structure should remain in it’s current form.
But yet again, MLS is getting it all wrong, this time introducing yet another ambiguously yawn-worthy phrase: “Targeted Allocation Money.” But the worst part isn’t all of that – it’s the fact that yet again, MLS is making changes at the behest of one particular team, the Los Angeles Galaxy.
The mechanism itself is constructed yet again in the swirling, murky swamp that remains the MLS Salary Cap, and does little to help fans understand anything. Which is by design mind of course, because the less fans know, the less the players’ agents know.
The theory behind the evolution MLS’s Salary Cap is to keep mid-level and young players on extremely affordable contracts, while splurging on superstars who bring name recognition…and viewers…and fans to the stadium. The way they have done so has all but stratified the system, with domestic squad players expecting to fight for every penny, while players who have played nary a minute command high seven-figure salaries without the blink of an eye.
In that regard, MLS teams started to find out the struggles of when the bottom tier starts hitting into the top-tier. With the threshold for Designated Player (DP) somewhere around $400,000, players like Eddie Johnson, Osvaldo Alonso, Chris Wondolowski, and Omar Gonzalez have pushed above that line of demarcation. In the case of Gonzalez, it meant that the LA Galaxy had to waste one of the three allowable DP slots on the defender.
So when Giovani Dos Santos became a target for Galaxy management, there was a problem. Robbie Keane and Steven Gerrard were already under contract. Teams can buy down salaries with Allocation Money, but clearly the LA Galaxy don’t have $600,000 or so in that currency to buy Gonzalez down below the threshold.
And lo and behold, yet again, the Galaxy give Don Garber and MLS management a phone call. They did so when they wanted to have Landon Donovan become a part of their team. They did it again when David Beckham was available to sign.
Recall that a few months ago, Toronto FC brought in Sebastian Giovinco to be a DP-level midfielder alongside Michael Bradley. The trouble? They already had 3 DP’s. They had to loan out Gilberto to comply with the rules.
Did MLS go and change anything? Of course not. Now, you can point out Gilberto’s contract is north of $1 million, which is likely too large to be paid down in the current mechanism.
What about Seattle and Eddie Johnson? They kill the entire league with attendance figures, and yet when it was time to give Johnson a salary bump, MLS was nowhere to be found to make that happen. If any team ought to be able to justify outspending the rest, it’s the Centurylink Field-filling Sounders. Instead, he was traded.
MLS is a league that has gotten a lot of mileage out of the idea of parity: building a team on a budget and competing for a title even in small markets like Columbus, Ohio.
This rule change immediately benefits the 3-out-of-4 year champion LA Galaxy, and doesn’t give the look of a league that wants to make sure every team has a shot to win. The rule represents a chance for Los Angeles to improve their roster without the sacrifices other teams were forced to make to comply to the rules.
It also stinks because this is all theoretical money anyway. Anschutz Entertainment Group has enough money to pay the roster’s salary many times over. There are plenty of other soccer leagues around the world that watch their best teams take on better players, but without vague, confusing language and a cap that only insures that the miserly teams in poor markets can stay economically viable.
Effectively, the MLS season just got flipped up on its head. The middle-of-the-pack Galaxy, who were likely already an MLS Cup favorite with adding Gerrard, will be even more so. Maybe Seattle can buy down Alonso and purchase their own new DP. Or Salt Lake with Beckerman, or Kansas City with Besler or Zusi (though they still have a DP slot open to use).
In the future, MLS would be wise to start publishing rule changes and salary guidelines BEFORE the season begins.
The way it went down, it sure looks like another case where the Galaxy were given special treatment by the League. That’s a bad look for a league that has repeatedly been blasted over their lack of transparency and apparent bias.
Parity, it used to be a nice thing.
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