116street Soccer

Footballing from a lesser authority...

Location: New York, New York

Monday, November 13, 2006

State of the League

How will we know when MLS has arrived? Perhaps one indicator would be when the news on the field actually manages to trump what happens away from the pitch. Houston became the first orange-clad MLS champion (actually, off the top of my head, I can't really think of the last time an American team won a championship wearing orange, so good for them), but the bigger story of the weekend has been the avalanche of initiatives, rumors, deals and general innuendo coming from Don Garber & co. Here on 116th Street, we couldn't let the weekend go by without some kind of analysis, so here goes.
As usual, Grant Wahl has all the good stuff, giving us the lowdown on the Designated Player Rule. We've all been hearing about the "Beckham Exemption" for quite a while, but the logistics of signing players to unlimited salary have been hazy until now. We now know that every team will receive one Designated Player allocation, the salary of which will be paid individually by the team's owner. Knowing that some owners have been pushing hard to sign more star attractions while others are wary of overspending, it will be interesting to see how this impacts the league; for the first time, we are seeing a departure from the single-entity mentality. Are we entering a phase in which MLS owners begin to decide to go it alone?
Getting back to the details, the allocation will count $400,000 against the cap, and can be traded. No team can have more than two Designated Players at a time, and the second allocation will count $325,000 against the cap. How this will affect the league economically remains to be seen, but I, for one, am very excited. I know there are many who would rather that money go to developing American players, but eff that, I want to see Luis Figo. Interestingly, according to the league, players already receiving above-cap salaries (money paid collectively by the league's owners) will be grandfathered in after a year as Designated Players. Can't wait to see which owner wants to pay Eddie Johnson out of pocket.
The league will be keeping the conference format for the foreseeable future (I've already argued that this is a good idea), and I have to say that I like the new schedule format quite a bit. Each team will play each other twice (24 games) plus six additional intra-conference games, bringing the season total to 30. With Toronto FC joining the Eastern Conference next year, each Western team will play one extra intra-conference game (the East will have 7 teams, versus 6 for the West), with preference given to rivalries.
While some would argue for more regular season games instead of two fewer, I have to say that this is a win-win. Having fewer regular season games puts more importance on each matchup; furthermore, the additional intra-conference games should add a little spice to the season, creating stronger rivalries. MLS, of course, would not be MLS without missing a key opportunity every year, however; these intra-conference games should have severe playoff implications, yet they will not, because the league has implemented an even more idiotic playoff format than they previously had.
How did this happen? How did they manage to make the regular season even more irrelevant than it already was? We still have eight playoff teams, and conference hierarchy has been virtually abolished. The top two teams in each conference get ranked (good idea), but the reamining four playoff spots are up for grabs, regardless of conference (bad idea). So after playing six extra intra-conference games for playoff spots, the playoffs won't even be conference-based? Beyond that, they still kept the eight-team format, even though everybody wants to get rid of it? Even six teams, with the top two teams getting a first-round bye, is a better idea than that!
The league really piled on the news this weekend, announcing a very ambitious youth development initiative (in short, each team is required to start an "academy" system, with each team retaining the rights to development players), as well as a worldwide scouting network (not really sure how they will implement that, but time will tell). These measures, in addition to being very potentially beneficial as a long-term investment in quality of play, signify that the league is serious about its place, not just in the American sporting hierarchy, but also in the overall global soccer scheme. This is very good news.
A few other tidbits emerged from the weekend, such as each team getting a bigger share of transfer revenue (more ownership independence?), the possibility of a second New York team (I want a Philly side, dammit!), some more non-news on the partnership with the Mexican league (will they ever have anything concrete to say about it?) and Freddy Ady training with Manchester United (probably not such a bad idea for right now). Oh yeah, and the MLS champ (Houston Dynamo) gets to use a special silver ball for all of their home games next year, in a move of actual marketing brilliance (who knew the league had it in them?). Surprisingly, not much was said regarding the next year's ESPN partnership, but overall the State of the League seems pretty positive. Congrats to the Dynamo, enjoy that silver ball!


Anonymous McCrum said...

I know it's a bold step for MLS to enter the big money arena, but it seems they're still working a lot of things out. For instance, if Dallas trades their Designated Player allocation to, say, New England, that would mean NE gets two.

This math is easy.

Now, what happens in two years? Does Dallas ever get a new allocation? Are there only 13 allocations, ever? What if NE doesn't want to trade back and Dallas is about to lose a valuable American player, will single entity let him go?

See, they don't seem to have gotten some issues out of the way and thought this through. Like how LA is dealing for Beckham, when Landon is going to suddenly be a huge pile of money coming out of someone's pocket at the same time a bunch of other players are and suddenly LA has to decide: long-term-Landon or to trade Beckham?

11:39 PM  
Blogger Z. Jackson said...

Interesting point. I suppose the ideal here would be that the allocation would exist similarly to that of a first-round pick in other sports, where (using the Dallas - NE analogy) Dallas would probably get another allocation the following season.

With every team being allowed no more than two Designated Players at a time, I can't really see this getting out of hand. But yeah, I guess they will iron out some of these details over time.

4:52 PM  
Blogger Matt said...

The '97-98 Broncos had orange trim. Orange as a base color ... the Flyers in '75, I think.

5:44 PM  
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