Bloggers: Help MLS win the CONCACAF Champions League

For all that people fret about the Premier League and Champions League (European edition) eating into Major League Soccer’s share of the TV market, that’s really a problem you can’t fix. You could turn MLS into a European-style league on the European calendar (minus Scandinavia) with European players tomorrow, and many people are still going to prioritize Manchester United-Arsenal over Chicago-Toronto. You could spend all of Phil Anschutz’s accumulated wealth on MLS salaries, and while you’d probably sell out most MLS venues and possibly double the ratings, any soccer fan who’s awake and not on a soccer field on a Saturday morning in March is going to flip on the TV and listen to Rebecca Lowe talk about today’s matchups.

A more reasonable goal is to make MLS the best league in CONCACAF. It won’t start a sea change in MLS media presence — MLS already draws decent numbers on Spanish-language TV — but it’ll help.

In the wake of Montreal’s strong but ultimately doomed challenge for the CONCACAF title, Taylor Twellman tossed out some charts:

In short: MLS is getting elite talent with the Designated Player rule. It’s the rest of the roster in which Liga MX outspends MLS.

To which Dan Loney replied with an old saying: “Doubling Kelly Gray’s salary would not have made Kelly Gray twice as good.”

Flip, perhaps — that’s Dan’s style. But because he’s writing a typically epic blog post and not a Tweet, he develops the point: “Look, here’s the current list of Yanks Abroad. The most significant names MLS is missing out on would require outbidding not just LigaMX, but in many cases teams in the Bundesliga and the Premiership. Frankly, there aren’t that many guys who would be worth getting into a bidding war over, and equally frankly, the more guys that play abroad, the more spots there will be for unproven, overlooked players in MLS. We’re better off with those guys staying abroad, and if the occasional ass-kicking at the hands of Club America is the price of a stronger national team pool, I for one am prepared to get over it.”

I’ll add another wrinkle: Some youth coaches are going to push their most heralded prospects overseas so they can be stuck in limbo because MLS clubs are a bunch of poopy pants, nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah. (Not saying the “nyahs” apply specifically to anyone who coached Ben Lederman. Just saying some coaches really have it in for MLS, and I don’t think they’ll be persuaded by a change in the salary rules.)

Let’s leave that aside for now and just consider the proposition Twellman’s making here. Let’s say MLS clubs could match the best of Liga MX by bringing up those rank-and-file salaries.

In a Liga MX team with a $6.5 million salary budget, everyone in the starting lineup makes at least $215,000. The bench players (who made the 18 for a given day) make $155-$215K. Three more players (Nos. 18-21 on the roster) make $100K, three more make scraps.

Now take the MLS salary data — unfortunately, due to the last-minute CBA scrambling, the latest data we have is from September, but that’ll do.

Now let’s take FC Dallas as a random example:

Table 38 – Sheet1

You could also take a bigger spender like Los Angeles and try to compare it to the biggest-spending Liga MX club in Twellman’s charts.

So, bloggers, here’s your assignment. Find all the players who would fit these spots. You can use the Yanks Abroad list above, or you can shop globally.

Which leads to another question: Do you ditch or raise international player limits? And how does that affect MLS as a place to develop U.S. talent?

I’m not buying the “Oh, more good athletes will pursue soccer with better salaries, so we’d have Chad Johnson playing center back for $515,000” argument. That’s not reality.

Within the parameters of the real world, can we make MLS teams CONCACAF winners here?

MLS vs. Mexico: The Goonies are not good enough

MLS teams made another predictable exit from CONCACAF Champions League play this week, and this time, one of the opposing coaches saw fit to kick a little dirt northward after the final whistle.

Toluca coach Jose Cardozo: “(San Jose’s players) were all just sat back. Here (in Mexico), they say soccer has grown a lot in the United States, but I honestly don’t know in what way.”


MLS fans can protest, of course. Sure San Jose plays that way, but isn’t Real Salt Lake fun to watch? And the U.S. talent pool did a bit better than Mexico’s in World Cup qualifiers, right?

And hey, the optimistic line goes, things will pick up when we get more money in MLS to develop and maintain a wider talent pool. Just wait until the Academy teams develop more players and the new TV deals let MLS teams spend more on players. And then more players will skip college to play on reserve teams in USL Pro, and they’ll be great, and we’ll come back and beat all you sorry Mexican teams and take your World Club Championship spots. Just you wait!

Maybe there’s a simpler explanation. Maybe soccer players and coaches in the USA just aren’t that good.

MLS has cast a pretty wide net. College players? Got ’em. Caribbean players? Come on over. Europeans, either big names getting Designated Player contracts or fringe youngsters looking for first-division play? Sure, they’re here.

Mexican teams are typically drawing from Mexico. Toluca and Cruz Azul certainly do. They may have more money to spend, but they’re just using that money to keep their top players home, not bring over Robbie Keane or Jermain Defoe. An exception is Tijuana, which looks a bit like old-school D.C. United — a few non-internationals from Argentina along with some skillful Americans.

And that brings us back to the Big Youth Soccer Paradox of this decade. We in the USA are taking youth soccer oh so seriously these days. The Bradenton’s U17 residency program debuted in 1999 with Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley, Kyle Beckerman and Oguchi Onyewu. A few more good ones followed — Eddie Johnson, Mike Magee, Freddy Adu and Michael Bradley. (Yes, and Tijuana player Greg Garza.) The program expanded to 40 players. We have a curriculum or two or three. We’re funneling players into national leagues and telling them not to play high school soccer any more.

All that, and the USA’s international youth tournament results have actually declined since the days of sending a bunch of unprepared kids in mullets to face down the top youth players of Europe, South America and Africa. And our MLS teams don’t look any better than D.C. United and the Los Angeles Galaxy of the 1990s.

So what are we producing? If MLS lands a megabucks TV deal — something that isn’t the least bit confirmed at the moment — and breaks open the wallet, what will that money buy?

Maybe it’ll take a combination of patience and investment. Maybe it’ll take a few more steps away from the enforced parity that MLS once had.

But maybe it’ll also take some players looking at themselves and saying, “You know what? What we just did wasn’t good enough. My performance wasn’t good enough. Forget the salary cap and TV deal for a minute — this is about me. What am *I* going to do about it?”