Saturday, January 5, 2008

My MLS Wishlist

I posted this on my blog at MySpace last month:

When the history of the MLS is written, I believe that 2007 will be considered an important watershed year for the MLS. The L.A. Galaxy's signing of David Beckham in January and the events that followed the Beckham signing brought the MLS a level of attention and notoriety that the MLS has never experienced before. This year, the soccer pundits in Europe and even the general sports pundits in America had to stop and take notice.

The designated player rule that signaled the arrival of Beckham, also enabled teams like Chicago Fire, F.C. Dallas, and Red Bell New York, to sign DPs, but with mixed results. The best success of the DP rule would have to be Chicago, where Blanco's big name increased ticket sales and his tactical skills improved the team on the pitch. Red Bull saw significant improvement on the pitch by bringing in Juan Pablo Angel, but his name wasn't big enough to attract more fans. And as many have already pointed out, this year's MLS Cup teams, the New England Revolution and Houston Dynamo, do not have DPs. Thus, the DP rule is not a cure to all that ails the MLS.

Now that we have entered the Holiday season, I have a Holiday Wish List for the MLS, things I'd like to see it accomplish in an effort to become one of the top leagues in the world:

Scheduling that does not conflict with FIFA's international breaks. I would really prefer to see the MLS move to a fall/winter/spring schedule, and this is based on the fact that I live in Houston and know what 95 plus degrees and 92% plus humidity feels like, and a great soccer going experience it does not feel like. The MLS could do a winter break like some European leagues, stop just before Christmas and resume after the Super Bowl. I'm not much of an NBA or NHL fan, so I'd love to have some U.S. soccer in February and March.

The current system of salary caps, designated players, and the newly adopted Landon Donovan grandfather clause should be abolished and a new sliding scale salary system should be adopted whereby each team receives an individual salary cap that is based on a team's gross revenue and projected gross revenue - relying on sound principles of accounting. Such a system would be fair and would encourage teams to increase their revenue streams and allow them to retain stars on their rosters, but would still prevent teams from overextending themselves financially. A flexible salary system would enable the MLS to grow while not abandoning its sound fiscal principles.

MLS teams need to develop depth in their rosters, especially in light of the increasing role of MLS teams in international tournaments like CONCACAF Champions and SuperLiga. Depth will allow these teams to compete in all of their games without having to field worn-out starters several times a week. Making my suggested change to the current piecemeal salary cap system would help teams in developing roster depth.

The minimum salary needs to be increased. The salary received by some MLS players is criminal, especially considering the cost of living in markets such as San Jose, Boston, L.A., and New York.

Each team should establish a youth academy. Ideally, MLS teams would also cherry pick coaches and trainers from academies in the Netherlands, Brazil, and Mexico. America produces some of the best conditioned soccer players in the world, the MLS needs to increase the focus on technical skills.

Each team needs to increase its scouting abilities, focusing on young, prominent talent in developing countries. Forget Europe, look to Asia and central and south America. This will help bring some young skilled tactical players to the league, and increase the MLS' presence in important soccer countries and markets, thereby increasing revenue streams.

Expansion to twenty teams, the gold standard for soccer leagues. This expansion should occur slowly and smartly. I'd like to see the MLS expand to the following markets: Philadelphia, St. Louis, Florida, Las Vegas, and the upper Midwest/Great Lakes Region. New York does not need a second team, it has enough trouble supporting the team it has.

Improve the officiating. The officials need more training and accountability. The MLS should adopt the hawkeye technology at the goal line.

Soccer specific stadiums for all MLS teams, these stadiums should be intimate with potential for expansion, and should have special supporter sections. But until that happens, I don't want to hear anymore whining about seeing football gridlines on the pitch, it might not be great but it's better then no soccer at all.

ESPN and ABC should hire Glenn Davis as their primary play-by-play for all of their MLS games.

Finally, more cowbell.

If the MLS continues to build on the progress that was attained this past season, then we will see a day nobody scoffs at the notion of an MLS team being able to go head to head with a top flight European team.

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