By Paul Kennedy
So when are eight international player slots in MLS not enough?
Too often, it seems.
Seattle and Toronto FC announced a trade on Tuesday that had lots of folks scratching their heads. The Sounders acquired TAM (Targeted Allocation Money) and an international roster spot from
Toronto FC in exchange for GAM (General Allocation Money).
A trade without a player or the rights to a player? Thing is, it wasn't the first time that has happened this season. Colorado
struck the same deal with San Jose two weeks ago.
Both Seattle and Colorado currently have seven international player slots filled, so their deals give them the flexibility to sign two
more foreigners this season. But they are not the kings of the international player slots. Vancouver had 12 and Orlando City 11 as the 2016 season opened.
But 160 international player
slots over 20 MLS teams don't tell the whole story about the foreign influence in MLS. On top of that, you have players who used to take up international player slots and have earned green cards since
their arrival. Stars like Robbie Keane
, Federico Higuain
and Diego Valeri are no longer listed
as holding international player
Of the 220 MLS players who started on Sunday, just 102 (or 46 percent) are eligible for the U.S. national team. (We could throw Canadians into the mix, but only four started on
The situation is not as bad as in China where every goal on the opening weekend of the new Super League season was scored by a foreigner. MLS's tally was 13 of 36 goals
scored by players eligible for the U.S. national team. But the number of foreigners holding down starting jobs on key teams is startling.
Portland, the defending champion, started just
two U.S. national team-eligible players, though only five starters are classified as international players.
FC Dallas, first in the Western Conference in the 2015 regular season, is
touted for its work developing youth players. Only three starters against Philadelphia were U.S. national team-eligible players though just four starters are classified as international players.
, one of FCD's highly touted Homegrown players, earned the "iron-man" award for starting 33 games in 2015 but his job in midfield was taken by Ecuadoran DP signing Carlos
MLS has put $2.1 million into each club's pocket via TAM -- $500,000 over the period 2015-19, $800,000 in 2016 and $800,000 in 2017 -- but the TAM rules make it more likely
that it is used on foreign players coming into MLS than the Americans already in the league. (That despite, the most publicized use of TAM, which allowed the LA Galaxy to keep U.S. World Cup defender
, for one season at least, after the acquisition of Giovani dos Santos
Without specifying the Gonzalez deal, LA Galaxy coach and general manager Bruce
joked that the move earned him the nickname the "Milton Friedman of TAM” in his interview
with the Washington Post's Steven Goff
In the interview, Goff asked Arena, the former national team coach, to comment on the current state of the team. He said it wasn't much better or worse than before. Asked whether that was a
reflection of the current state of the player pool, Arena rang the alarm bell, “A lot of factors, but our domestic league needs to have more Americans playing in it to make the pool stronger. We
have a lot of international players now, players who aren’t helping the U.S. national team.”
You could argue MLS needs to do a much better job of attracting and keeping young
American players -- players like Christian Pulisic
, Bobby Wood
, Matt Miazga
, Emerson Hyndman
and Paul Arriola
who are in Europe or Mexico -- but you must wonder when
is too much on the international player front.
Just 10 Homegrown players, including Seattle rookie Jordan Morris
, started on opening day. You could throw in a player like
first-year Galaxy defender Daniel Steres
, who spent two seasons at Galaxy II. But that's the total return you saw starting on Sunday for MLS's $40 million annual investment in youth
When you weigh that equation -- spend on average $2 million for a 50-50 chance of netting one HG starter or use TAM, money that a team loses if it's not spent, on an import
-- it's clear which way the playing field is tilted.