Why MLS will continue to struggle

Only 15 players in Major League Soccer have annual salaries over a million dollars.  What does this tell you about MLS?  Yes, there is a salary cap that produces this type of statistic, but I constantly wonder why anyone would watch these teams when there are hundreds of high-quality players and matches in the English Premier League.  That being said, MLS has made some significant improvements that are being restrained by the exclusive salary cap.

To give you the short version of these favorable changes, it basically all started with David Beckham moving to Los Angeles in 2007.  The salary cap, which limited how much money a team could pay each player, really restricted MLS teams from obtaining any big-name players.  Each player’s salary had to be under a certain amount, but in anticipation of the LA Galaxy signing David Beckham to a large contract, the league created the Designated Player Rule.

This rule granted teams two signings with annual earnings over the pre-determined salary cap to improve the prestige of the league.  That’s when the league made a general increase in popularity.  People began to attend games and buy memorabilia, and even though fans were mad at times, like when David Beckham missed part of the MLS season due to a torn Achilles tendon, fans were having actual conversations about the league.

Jump ahead three years, and the New York Red Bulls sign Thierry Henry.  Yes, that’s right, Thierry Henry, the all-time leading goal scorer for Arsenal.  Sure, he’s not being challenged by the same caliber of defenders, but he still plays with that same effortless confidence that you can see from almost any of his best goals.  It’s truly beautiful to see him control and volley the ball into the back of the net with such fluidity.  Again, everyone came to watch.  But even after all of that, there was still more to come.

Now, the MLS couldn’t be expanding any faster—more great signings and new teams along with them.  In 2013, the Commissioner announced that the league planned to reach 24 teams by 2020, compared to the current 19.

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So far, this seems like an attainable goal with the addition of New York City FC and Orlando City Soccer Club for the 2015 season, not to mention the players who will serve as poster boys for these teams: David Villa and Frank Lampard for NYCFC and Kaka for Orlando.  Oh, Frank Lampard, did you say?  Yeah, another all-time leading goal scorer but this time for Chelsea, and I can assure that he, along with the many others I haven’t even mentioned, will bring an abundance of fans and economic prosperity to the league.

Even more important is the signing of Sebastian Giovinco to Toronto FC, which marks one of the first high-quality players still in his prime to be signed to an MLS team.  Most of the other players who have joined the league have either been so crappy that no real team wants them or great legends past their prime, but now the image of the league is evolving, which will hopefully attract more high-profile signings in years to come.

Unfortunately, the salary cap is most concerning when considering the future of the league.  Even if a bunch of great players were interested in joining the MLS, would the cap allow for fair salary compensation for all of them or would the Designated Player rule hold the whole league back?  Would the league simply increase the number of DP spots, but at some point would it not become pointless to maintain the cap altogether?  There are adjustments to it every year, but to make the big leaps that the Commissioner seems to desire, the salary cap needs to be revoked entirely.

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