What to do about MLS's bad signings?

[MY VIEW] Major League Soccer has a lot to be thankful for in April of 2010. A player strike was averted. One new stadium was recently opened, another will open soon, and three more stadium projects are moving forward.

On the field? Scoring was up last weekend -- an average of 3.25 goals per game -- but the fact of the matter is that some abysmal defending was a big contributor to Saturday's output.

For every team that's gotten its a ct together and picked up some real finds in the offseason -- Kansas City with English left winger Ryan Smith, the early candidate for Newcomer of the Year, and midfield dynamo Stephane Auvray, New York with Joel Lindpere and New England with rookies Zack Schilawski and Seth Sinovic -- there's another team that's struggling and made some dubious pickups. D.C. United, Toronto FC and Chicago to name three.

Every sports league is going to be this way -- some teams improve, while others regress. Some teams fill holes, while others find new ones.

My knock is on MLS is that as a young league playing an up-and-coming sport, it should be improving from top to bottom each year. For a league with its ambitions, MLS's teams continue to sign too many bad players or players who turn out to be bad signings, which in turn leads to my other beef with MLS -- there's far too much in-season turnover.

MLS's level of play is being kept down by a variety of factors.

-- MLS continues to suffer from a trade deficit -- it loses too many good players to free agency abroad that other American sports don't lose.

-- MLS's top rookies aren't impact players the way NFL or NBA rookies might be (though we'll modify this if Schilawski continues to produce).

-- As long as MLS teams don't spend on the transfer market, they are forced to take chances on too many longshots, players who want out or are unwanted at their current teams or have been free agents of some duration.

An extreme example is D.C. goalie Troy Perkins, a World Cup candidate just a few months ago. D.C. expended a lot of MLS capital, you might say, and made him the cornerstone of its rebuilding effort, but he's been very shaky behind -- true -- a backline in turmoil.

D.C. hoped one of the answers in the back would be Bolivian Juan Manuel Pena. A classy defender with loads of experience. But he's 37 and was retired when he signed last month. Should it be a surprise that he was injured minutes into his second game and is now sidelined?

Chicago has gone through three players -- Mike Banner, Krzysztof Krol and Deris Umanzor, the latter two imports -- at left back in three games.

And then there's Toronto. Where on earth did TFC find Latvian left back Raivis Hscanovics, whom the Revs' Sainey Nyassi so exposed? And what has Preki been thinking all these months? The only thing that appears to stop him from doing a complete makeover of TFC is Thursday's transfer deadline. He'll need to wait until July 15 to shop anew.

It's great for MLS to talk about adding a second and third DP to each team, but let's first stock every team with decent players. Bad players or bad signings mean lots of turnover -- from month to month, and season to season.

My theory about MLS is the same as it was 30 years ago about the NASL, a league too reliant on foreign players at the end of their careers or on loan. MLS will never achieve its potential until a majority of its best players spend their entire careers in MLS. Until then, MLS fans are deprived of seeing too many players in all or part of their prime, and the league can't fully amortize its investment in the promotion of its best young players.

What can be done about all this?

The expanded DP program isn't the answer. MLS fans have gotten to see Juan Pablo Angel for four seasons with the Red Bulls, but what about all his earlier years?

New homegrown rules are a start. Anything to accelerate the signing and development of young players helps. Players who will begin their careers at affordable salaries and might spend their entire careers in MLS.

If MLS doesn't want to spend money on transfer fees, that's fine. But it must cut down on the number of really bad signings. Right now, teams can cover up their mistakes by replacing them during the summer transfer window that begins July 15 and offers teams a greater abundance of talent than during the window that closes on Thursday.

During the recent labor talks, guaranteed contracts were a huge issue and they are tied the summer transfer window -- MLS teams don't want players to have guaranteed contracts because they want to be able to replace them during the summer.

MLS can start by limiting the number of players teams can acquire on the international transfer market after July 15. Say, two per team. No exceptions.

Anything that forces teams to be at their best on Day 1, not Day 101, will be a start.

8 comments about "What to do about MLS's bad signings?".
  1. Craig Schroeder, April 14, 2010 at 8:11 a.m.

    Bad signings must be attributed to coaches/organizations. Moreover, the best U.S. home-grown talent will rightly go abroad b/c the level of play is much higher and they want to develop. Also, it's unfair to judge the U.S. league with other leagues that have been around for 100 years or more. It takes time and a growing base/pool of U.S. talent, which is expanding. Finally, no team is their best on Day 1.

  2. Joe Grady, April 14, 2010 at 9:10 a.m.

    Um....Paul? I've never read anything by you before but I think I may have seen a ranting or two of yours in the comments section of SOCCERNET. The rant said something like..."MLS will never be any good blah, blah, blah" or "MLS needs to pay more, blah, blah, blah."

    From your 'article' is is clear you know very little about the reality of MLS. (or NASL for that matter). Go search the comments section for my responses to that type of MLS hater. Clearly you need the practice in doing research.

    Any 18 year old could have written this article it is so....insightful.

  3. Robert Kiernan, April 14, 2010 at 9:39 a.m.

    No player in the league is going to sign a long term contract that has little or no guarantee of giving them some stability in their lives... the incident last summer with Kenny Cooper, and the subsequent lack of National Team call ups that seem to be associated with his move, shows players that they walk a very thin line with the USSF/MLS establishment... if you stay, you will be under payed and given little or no control over your career... you see most of the players being called in for National Team duty coming from European leagues, yet if you manage to bolt and go there, you risk being labeled a trouble maker and in effect will be black balled... so what is a player like, say Chris Rolfe to do, he played ten time for the Nats, and did a reasonable job when he played for them, but wasn't called in for last summer's Gold Cup matches, he had already done about as much as could reasonably have been asked of him playing with the Fire and so he went on a free transfer to play in Denmark... if he stayed, he wasn't going to be payed much more than before, and there was a very real chance of a strike and he STILL wasn't getting any hints of a call up to Nats, despite their obvious need for someone to play in Charlie Davies absence at wing forward.
    I realize that the wild spending of the late 70's in the old NASL has made MLS very gun-shy about player salaries and spending in general, but at the same time players like Rolf, Holden and Clark can just up and leave the league with no transfer fee and others that have left the league by and large seem more than willing to play for fishermen in Norway or Denmark rather than play in Houston or Chicago.
    North American fans are regularly getting to see the top teams on the planet, playing in the Champions League as well as seeing the EPL, and Spanish leagues on ESPN and then you expect them to get all excited about, say the Kansas City Wizards playing FC Toronto? ... but if they keep playing musical chairs with even the ordinary players being played up as our "Stars", well I really think they are going to have problems selling that for the long hall. The League MUST start treating it's journeymen players as more of an asset than as a liability or that's very likely just how their paying customers are going to see this... as a mediocre product. They MUST find a way to grow their own and waiting for some kid to go through four years of mediocre at best College soccer really ISN'T going to develop anything but age spots... College soccer will NEVER develop enough quality players and those few that do come through will be years behind their counterparts over seas...at the very least there needs to be some relationship with the D2 league to allow young players TO PLAY SOMEWHERE...or else it's still very much like the old NASL days where you have a new crop of "OLD" young players ever two years or so and little or no real home grown talent worth marketing to your paying customers.

  4. cony konstin, April 14, 2010 at 11:15 a.m.

    MLS has come a long way and has a long way to go. Soccer in America is a hobby and not a way of life. So we must be patient and hope that things will continue to evolve. Mean while there are many things that need to be done to help soccer develop in the US. US Soccer with the help of the MLS, Adidas, Nike, quick goal and other possible sponserships must invest in developing our inner city kids. I believe that is the most important thing that must be done immediately if we want to eventually be the number soccer power in the world.

  5. Ted Westervelt, April 14, 2010 at 12:18 p.m.

    Here's the thing. In every other major soccer nation, there is a tried and true system of open leagues in which club performance is the deciding factor. It is a system that rewards club performance, not league fiscal discipline.

    In the US, everything but club performance is the deciding factor. Not only do we have a closed league system, but we have a single entity model primarily designed to maintain closed league status, shield our coddled sports moguls from risk, and offer them all the entitlements they enjoy in our dominant domestic leagues. We can ramble on ad nauseum about it, but the problem, as always, is systemic.

    MLS, and the single entity in which it's ensconced, wasn't designed to incentivize owners to create the best possible clubs, on day one, and it isn't incentivizing them to do it on day five thousand and one.

    Soccer has been a part of daily life in large swaths of this country for a century. The problem is that American sports owners can't find a way to cash in while maintaining their entitlements.

  6. Craig Schroeder, April 14, 2010 at 2:35 p.m.

    Ted, great comment. I agree 100%.

  7. I w Nowozeniuk, April 14, 2010 at 4:50 p.m.

    Bad signings happen when the MLS and the specific team in question has failed to do their homework...Gallardo was the most recent bust. He didn't fit in with DC, hardly matchfit and now is about to be dumped by his Argentine squad. On the other hand, look at Nyarko of the Fire who has shown tremendous ability, calmness on the ball and sound field vision...that's the type of player that makes it happen and his qualities should be the barometer for league acquisitions. Other bad signings are some truly poor referees who either swallow the whistle or blow it out of proportion. The MLS continues to foster mediocrity with their officials. And than, the TV broadcasting crews, many former players who are clueless in what fits. There constant irrelavent chatter is suffocating the game...tutte fumo et niente arrosto...they are horrendous.

  8. Joe Grady, April 16, 2010 at 4:48 p.m.

    TED...are you perhaps a Players Union negotiator? Or another person out to lunch with the author of this article?

Next story loading loading..