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MLS Targets Elite Players

This article is more than 12 years old.

* (Author's note: This is one of those commentaries that really does work better if you hear it. But if you're going to read it anyway, imagine that the stuff in parenthesis is an angry little voice in my head that's trying to prevent me from getting on with the business of the week.)

Before Major League Soccer's Championship Game on Sunday evening, the league announced a change in policy.
(The overtime was sudden death. So the Revs won. No, that's not it.)

The new directive, the "Designated Player Rule," gives each team the opportunity to sign a player whose salary would exceed the budget previously imposed by the league, which presently controls all payrolls. Money over the previously mandated cap would be paid by the team signing the designated player.

The announcement lends weight to rumors that have David Beckham leaving Real Madrid for an MLS team.
(Maybe he'll join the Revs. Maybe he can put a penalty kick in the net. Maybe they'll win. Argh.)

The new rule seems to assume that by offering one higher salary per club, Major League Soccer can compete for players with the best leagues in the world. It can't. The best players in the world, whatever their nationality, will continue to aspire to the world's largest stages. If David Beckham signs to play in the U.S., it will be at least in part because he has accepted that he is no longer one of the best players in the world. On the other hand, should the New England Revolution decide that their very own Clint Dempsey - of the Nagodoches, Texas Dempseys - should be their designated player, Dempsey will probably turn down the honor and the money in favor of more money and the opportunity to play on a team that fills a large stadium in the U.K, Spain, Germany, or Italy...a team that plays in the Champions League...a team that will challenge him to prove that he is one of those aforementioned best players in the world...
(And because the Revs lost. They lost. did they fail to protect their end after Twellman scored?!)

The considerable money that at least some of the MLS teams are apparently ready to lavish on a designated player assuming that he'll draw fans would be better spent on increasing the entire player payroll. If, rather than paying a designated player a lot, pro soccer paid everybody more, more superb athletes might choose to play the game. The quality of the league would improve. MLS would generate more money, and the agents for the best Brazilians, Brits, Spaniards, and Italians would begin seeking placements in the U.S.

Buying each team a star until that time arrives feels at best like impatience, at worst like panic.
(Sort of what happened when Jay Heaps missed that penalty kick. Argh.)

This program aired on November 16, 2006. The audio for this program is not available.

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