Getting Used to Major League SoccerFebruary 3, 2011 at 4:53 am | Posted in General Football, Major League Soccer, Vancouver Whitecaps In MLS | 2 Comments
Getting the Vancouver Whitecaps back into the big leagues of soccer has been a wish of mine going back to 1984. Now that the prayer has been answered and we are on the brink of our first season in Major League Soccer, I am finding it difficult to figure out the complex nature of the league and how it works.
One thing I have learned for certain: Major League Soccer is truly exceptional in world football. In most countries in the world, football acts on a free market model in which a few big teams are allowed to dominate the game and have done do for decades, even generations. The fans in those countries seem to have no problem with a total lack of parity in the resources clubs have, and don’t seem in any hurry to do anything about it. In most if not all European Leagues, Before a ball is even kicked, one can predict a winner with relative ease from two or three possible winners.
MLS acts on a parity model under which all of the teams are tightly constrained as to how much money they may spend, though the rules have been loosened up a bit recently. Under this system, no small cadre of dynastic super teams may dominate the league for decades, as happens in Europe. A look at the MLS Cup winners since the start of the league reveals no small number of super teams has dominated.
On this parity model, the teams in the MLS will not improve unless all of the teams improve together. In my view this is a novel approach, and one which might save football from itself. While European teams mull over financial responsibility regulations, the discussion on parity is a non-starter. The notion that Manchester United should live under the same salary cap as Blackpool is suggestion which would be met with laughter.
This is why I like the MLS: it is kind of a laboratory for new football ideas. This is why I call on Don Garber to resist pressure from dinosaur football organizations like FIFA and UEFA. If Garber gives in to these guys, football will lose a valuable laboratory for new ideas, and MLS will lose its value. MLS should play in summer and resist the European winter schedule, for example. Summer football suits our weather patterns, so why change that just to please the conservatives overseas?
The problem with MLS exceptionalism is how we judge the progress of our league and the strength of our teams. The answer to this is to take the CONCACAF Champions League seriously, and to attempt to get MLS teams into the Copa Libertadores. Thus far the performance of MLS teams in the CONCACAF Champions League has been pitiful. Winning this trophy should be Don Garber’s goal. Even exceptionalists cannot afford to hide the quality of their product. Today’s football fan knows what good football is.