MLS's DP agenda is misdirected

[MY VIEW] Our 16-year-old son has (finally) taken to soccer in a big way, going from video gamer (Pro Evolution Soccer) to active participant (with hopes of making his high school varsity team next year, his senior year). He has found the YouTube highlights of all the great players of yesterday and today and was excited by the prospect that Ronaldinho might be joining the Galaxy in 2011.

Our son can describe -- if not replicate -- every one of Ronaldinho's great goals (YouTube Top 10 Goals), so the news that the Brazilian is headed elsewhere (Brazil, at last word) was taken hard in our household. For he was the only one of the names being mentioned as a 2011 DP candidate that created any excitement.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic fit the bill if he was thinking of coming in 2011, not 2014, but other names being mentioned are hardly to sell. Guillermo Franco? Robbie Keane? Adrian Mutu? Harry Kewell? Patrick Vieira?

MLS's Designated Player policy was introduced to make it possible for clubs to sign players otherwise unaffordable, given MLS's salary structure, but the results so far have been mixed. For every Juan Pablo Angel there has been the Spaniard Mista, waived by Toronto after half a season.

Most players near the end of their careers might be affordable by MLS standards, but big-name players like a Lionel Messi or Didier Drogba (the cornerstone of our son's PES team) or the real Spanish stars remain out of reach.

Elevating the likes of Fredy Montero and Alvaro Saborio to DP status was a start in the right direction -- getting the stars MLS already has and keeping them.

But only one American -- Landon Donovan -- is signed to a DP contract. Stuart Holden, now thriving with Bolton in the EPL, got away last year, and Edson Buddle, Jeff Cunningham and Robbie Findley are all looking to complete moves abroad.

I'm not saying Buddle, Cunningham and Findley all deserve DP money, but they are among MLS's top American strikers, and if in the long term MLS can't keep its best American strikers it has a real problem.

If MLS can't attract the great foreign stars of yesterday, it must work on keeping the great American stars of tomorrow.

14 comments about "MLS's DP agenda is misdirected".
  1. Kip Lewis, January 5, 2011 at 8 a.m.

    This is an interesting point, but I wonder how many of the great national team players around the world continue to play in their domestics. Growing the MLS clearly has difficult dynamics to overcome like having great players here to grow the sport in our country, but I also feel that it is a great sign of the MLS that players like Holden, Dempsey etc, are going from here to the "best" league in the world and they are respected over there.

  2. Jeff Suddeth, January 5, 2011 at 8:40 a.m.

    I agree with the author of this article. We need to keep our best players here. It is difficult develop a large fan base when we send our best abroad and they can only be seen on sport channels that most of us don't have. If we can keep them here and develop a larger fan base in the US then these players will get just as much respect here as they do abroad.

  3. beta zeta, January 5, 2011 at 9:50 a.m.

    I completely disagree. MLS is a venue for up and coming home-grown players to get noticed by the big overseas clubs (Dempsey a prime example), and for good players who are past their prime but can still contribute and put fans in the seats (Henry). The fate of soccer in America and of MLS is tied to the fate of the national team, and if we want the national team to consistently make it to at least the quarterfinal stage of major tournaments--and thus bring in new fans and even athletes who currently ply their trade in other sports--then our players need to play with the best in the world.

  4. Kip Lewis, January 5, 2011 at 9:50 a.m.

    I agree with Jeff in that we need to grow our fan base, however I don't think it is that simple. I think in order to get our fan base up for the sport, our number one objective should be to win the WC or come very close. In order to do this we need our players to become "world class" for a lack of better terms. Will they do this by staying in the MLS? All examples show that the best players of the best National teams are developing at domestically and going to play in Europe. Is not that what is happening in the MLS?

  5. Kip Lewis, January 5, 2011 at 9:53 a.m.

    KK just confirmed what I am trying to say

  6. Marc Silverstein, January 5, 2011 at 10:32 a.m.

    I doubt Holden is making a million bucks in his current deal with Bolton; but Houston was probably reluctant to commit even $400K to keep at home, let alone DP money, which takes up a slot and hits the cap just like someone making $400K. You need something in between if you want to keep these younger guys from moving abroad.

    There is a near term problem, which may come to a head about the time for a new CBA. The tweener salaries. Guys who perhaps aren't DPs; but may deserve more than the usual league max. I could foresee a mechanism where the salary cap hit is limited, with a fixed sum (say $250K) plus a percentage (say 1/3) for guys who exceed the max, and then keep perhaps two or even three DP slots for whom the total can exceed an overall limit of say $500K against the cap.

    So in other words, a $200k player costs exactly that and someone making $500K only hits the cap for $300K. And teams that want to sign players for a $1m+ will have it hit the cap at $500K. This would also entail raising the overall cap limit; but it would at least allow room to sign at least some young veterans to their next big contract.

  7. Marc Silverstein, January 5, 2011 at 10:40 a.m.

    It also gives MLS clubs that don't want to invest a lot of money on DPs to be competitive by having a stable of young, well-paid Americans. This encourages the pipeline development and allows a younger player to stay here maybe until he is 26-28 instead of 22-24. The league gets more benefit from having American players in their prime and they leave as genuine stars rather than prospects who are just coming into their own. It also would smooth the disparity between DPs and other players.

  8. beautiful game, January 5, 2011 at 11:14 a.m.

    Time to develop DPs at home. This can only be accomplished with the right coaches in the right environment. A recipe mix from the Ajax and Barca academies could be the model. Talented players need to develop the nuances of the game which is clearly lacking in the MLS.

  9. Rick Kurianowcz, January 5, 2011 at 11:38 a.m.

    The article fails to recognize the primary reason for US players going out of country and why top flight international players in their prime do not come here. The first is the level of competition and the second is the available pay scale.

    What is the ultimate destination for top flight players? Manchester, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Chelsea, Inter, AC Milan just to mention a few.

    Until the level of play in the MLS come close to that level we will not attract top flight talent in their prime from abroad or retain our top flight home grown talent. Landon would be the only exception but that is only because he does not like playing abroad with the exception of his short and very successful stint with Everton.

    Home grown youth talent through MLS academy programs is the way to develop, showcase and retain our own top flight talent. But again the very best of those will go abroad because of the quality of play and the money waiting for them there.


  10. Amos Annan, January 5, 2011 at 12:02 p.m.

    American soccer fans are missing the point that money is the biggest driver in the success of professional soccer. The money will not be there until more Americans view soccer like Football, Baseball, or Basketball.

    While I think it will happen, it may take another couple of decades.

  11. Kenneth Barr, January 5, 2011 at 12:16 p.m.

    While I agree with Paul's basic point, it appears that most Western Hemisphere players almost have to go to Europe to have any impact on the club game. So long as football remains Eurocentric, this problem will continue. This, like most issues involving the game over here, will be solved by an evolutionary rather than a revolutionary process.

  12. Robert Kiernan, January 5, 2011 at 8:38 p.m.

    MLS simply will not be able to compete for the best players in their prime, either domesticaly developed or not... and the DP status isn't going to change that. It's been the case that MLS is losing not just it's "stars" to top European leagues but, and this is telling...our journeymen professionals to say Scandinavian leagues on a pretty consistant basis... add to this the players going say to the second tier of English soccer, think of say Stern John, and you see that MLS isn't really in charge even of it's "semi-marquee" players. So long as the single entity status is maintained, the league will continue to exist, but much of it will continue to be done on the cheap. What is troubling about this set up is that after say three or four seasons we are seeing players jump to Europe on free transfers and both the league and the individule teams are left with nothing but memories. Look at the exidus over the past few years of National Team pool players: Holden,Clark,Parkhurst,Goodson,Edu,Howard,
    ... on and on...and then there are so many who won't even sign with MLS in the first while there might be some older "name" players signed by the league, it's the matter of losing not just the "stars" but the working stiffs to play in front of farmers and fishermen in small Scandinavian towns instead of playing here in big cities...this is a structural problem and no amount of juggling money for DP's is really likely to change that very much.

  13. Juan R, January 5, 2011 at 9:57 p.m.

    Whatever Paul, if your kid wants to see Ronaldinho here then tell him to get him transfered on his PS3, as that will be the only sure way. This league is growing and I would rather have steady growth then a explosion that just fizzles out. We have enough drama and attention with Beckham. We'll add a few more this year, but we are building a good league and just like other people have commented, we don't have the EUFA Champions League to partake in.

  14. Nate L, January 6, 2011 at 9:59 a.m.

    Buddle and Cunningham have spent their entire careers in MLS. If you want to talk about the future AND prominent US forwards getting away talk ALTIDORE, DAVIES, most likely BUNBURY & AGUDELO, as well BEDOYA.

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