CBA Negotiations / MLS / MLS Rules

Bradley signing strengthens eastward shift in MLS

Didn’t we just have this dance a few months ago?

Clint Dempsey’s return to Major League Soccer was a fun ride, but we ain’t seen nothin’ yet. If the reports are true, Michael Bradley will be next. ESPN claims Toronto FC is close to finalizing the deal, a startling move that should rock the league’s power structure.

Eastern Conference teams captured all three domestic trophies in 2013. Still, the East has lagged behind in true star power, save for the New York Red Bulls. For MLS to permeate the East Coast consciousness, the East likely needs another glamor team or two to move the needle.

TFC appears to be that team.

Ambitious. Expensive. Good?

Tim Leiweke took a season to get his feet wet in Canada, but evidently he’s all warmed up. He started by signing Jermain Defoe, a reported $37MM (salary + transfer fee) spend on a player who defined inconsistency at Tottenham Hotspur. We’ve seen a similar player in Robbie Keane work out very well for Los Angeles, but his initial deal in Southern California totaled just under $10 million. In other words, Toronto is paying quite a premium to try and right the ship.

But Leiweke’s real coup appears to be Bradley. His time at Roma has diminished, and thus the perfect storm ensued for the Reds to attempt to acquire America’s most important midfielder.

If the deal goes through, all that remains is for the team to actually perform on the pitch. The pieces are there, and much will be expected out of the spotty Defoe and the iconic Bradley. Can Ryan Nelsen pull the delicate Designated Player strings as well as Bruce Arena out west?

Go east, young league?

Western Conference dominance has become a tired cliché for MLS media and fans alike. They’ve cornered the market on results, stars, depth, and filled stadiums. The West was so deep that, in 2011, Houston switched conferences and proceeded to be the East’s representative in two straight MLS Cup Finals.

The disparity between the two conferences must trouble Commissioner Don Garber. The last two seasons have been a steady diet of Cascadia and the Galaxy for MLS fans. Sporting KC has become another marketable team for MLS, but Peter Vermes’ style isn’t the prettiest sell. Gate revenues are solid, but TV revenues must improve.

Regional success is OK, but national success must be the ultimate goal for MLS. They must conquer the East sooner or later for that to happen.

Economic disparity

On Twitter on Wedsnesday night, Juan Agudelo dropped an interesting Tweet, which he immediately deleted: “And still players in @MLS making 39,000 a year living off peanut butter and jelly.”

Respectable contracts can be hard to come by for MLS players. Toronto is handing out mammoth contracts, dwarfing many entry level deals. It seems that this paradigm, where all but three players must have salaries under the $400,000 mark, is reaching its tipping point. The Collective Bargaining Agreement runs out this year, and we may expect more public expressions like Agudelo’s as this season progresses.

What about parity?

Another Twitter sight Wednesday was Union fans lamenting their own team’s inaction thus far in the offseason. While TFC has gone out and apparently made a huge splash to improve their fortunes, Philadelphia lost out to Malaga in getting Argentine midfielder Pablo Perez, and while there are rumblings, there hasn’t been anything firm yet.

Another improved Eastern Conference team should light a fire under the remaining clubs. Add Jason Kreis and New York City FC to the mix, and that makes three deep-pocketed Eastern teams to match Los Angeles and Seattle. Throw in a solid Kansas City squad, and the East is more than formidable heading into the second half of the Teens.

Teams like the Union will be pushed to take significant steps to improve — or be content as back markers.

That will test this league, which has used parity and competitiveness as a badge of honor. Most professional leagues see results sharing a proportionate relationship to wage bill. The Designated Player rule started MLS down this path, and it appears ready to take a whole new turn.

These are the problems of an evolving league. The next five years should be interesting.

19 Comments

  1. “The Collective Bargaining Agreement runs out this year…”
    .
    I think this is going to be the most interesting collective bargaining negotiation in at least the last 20 years in American sports. Especially if the league gets big (relatively speaking, of course) money from the new TV deal that’ll move them away from NBC. During CBA negotiations, a lot of energy gets spent at the “top” – salary cap numbers, max salaries (in the case of the NBA, and sort of in MLS) and so on. Me? I always find the “bottom” to be more interesting. What’s the salary “floor” (if anything)? What’s the minimum salary? How long do rookie contracts last, and when – if ever – can they be renegotiated or extended?
    .
    And I think those topics will be especially interesting with this CBA discussion.
    .
    PS: Players, please don’t strike next year. Don Garber, please don’t lock the players out. I think the NBA and NHL (and MLB back in the 90s) have demonstrated those “nuclear” options suck the life out of your league, at least for a short while. And that’s not something MLS can afford to have happen.

    • Rights management could be an issue. I’d be willing to guess the players would want more freedom of movement, or, at the very least, limiting how clubs retain rights after a player is out of contract or leaves MLS and returns.

      Also, the number of DPs will be a point of discussion. Wouldn’t be surprised to see it increase to 4 or 5, whether thru the CBA or some new LAG rule.

      • Yep, I think all of those will be talked about a lot, both at the table and in the media. Especially the rights management stuff. And that’s all important stuff for the league and players to sort out. Absolutely.
        .
        But I think the “bottom” stuff will give quite a bit of insight into the fiscal standing of the league. Are they willing to significantly increase the minimum salary? Are they willing to force teams to spend (say) two-thirds of their allotted cap money?
        .
        Yeah, I think overall it’s going to be a fascinating process to watch the next CBA develop.

      • That’s an interesting point because MLS, of the American leagues, is in a tough spot on the topic of players leaving the league and returning. If the rules are done wrong, one could see how a player could manipulate that to leave a less glamorous team, and return to get on one of the bigger sides. Increasing the “haves” and “have-nots”. NBA, MLB, and NFL players have no viable alternative league to go to so it’s not really a problem. Just recently, the Russian KHL has emerged as an option for NHL players and the league has struggled with it. Whatever they do, MLS will have to do it without a good American system to copy. Wonder if/how other smaller leagues world-wide have dealt with it?

    • I think Camilo has just escalated the unilateral option to Issue Number 1 for the next CBA.

  2. I sincerely hope that the DP limit is not increased. As it is, the future for the Union looks more bleak when we get outbid for players in the $1million range, let alone the Michael Bradley range. NYCFC has the potential to be a top team within a year or two if they spend enough, and 4 DPs that could all be >$10M is just too much of a disparity compared to what the Union can (or are willing to) spend. I’d love to know what we bid for Bradley, but my guess is probably about a third of what TFC bid. It’s a shame…Bradley would be a dream signing for the Union. Fits the brand perfectly and still has a big upside. Maybe we should be talking to Jozy’s agent…?

    • The DP limit increases slightly each year under the current CBA. So it will probably be roughly proportional to what it was the last 2-3 years. As for a big increase, sure, it’s possible under the next CBA. An interesting topic for discussion.

    • No one else bid for bradley TFC was to lone suitor.

  3. While I understand his frustration and the fact that he’s only 20, that was still a pretty shitty thing for Agudelo to say. Put it in perspective. We’re still in a recession; many people would gladly accept $40k a year to play soccer. More specifically, did Juan lose $350 million investing in this league? The initial investors did. The league appears to be improving, and it is, but more than half the teams still aren’t even profitable even while paying these guys $40k. He’s comparing the 100-year-old Premier League with one that nearly cratered only 10 years ago. Ask Alexei Lalas what it was like playing soccer in America before MLS.

  4. James lockerbie says:

    Agreed, limit dps, but raise the minimum salary and middle steps to keep the young guys here!

    • OneManWolfpack says:

      Agreed. Keeping the young, up and coming guys will be what drives this league. If we become the league that starts guys careers and pays them fairly well, we can carve out quite the niche. Eventually, that turns into a place where talent can come play and get paid… and we as fans can see players in the 23-27 year old range, instead of over 30. It will take time, but it all starts with the fact that these guys have to stop making $40K a year. That should double if we want this league to continue to grow forward.

  5. The issue isn’t that the Union cannot keep up or will not Spend….Everyone involved but the owners who “are the Money” will not spend it. Simple solution is GET NEW OWNERS WHO WILL SPEND/INVEST and not just COLLECT money like a Toll Bridge!

    To Clarify, I am not saying Spend for the sake of Spending. I am saying Invest/Spend on talent we should be able to acquire and have a legit shot of being able to capture. Make the team look appetizing for Domestic and European players.

    In 11 months Jack Mac will be in Europe or maybe playing of NY FC, but as the Club looks/Feels now he knows it’s a sinking ship and his talents belong elsewhere more suited. For me, that will be the nail in the coffin, and the telling sign that this club is utterly scuttled on the shoals of disillusionment.

    I welcome the “hate replies” LOL

    • OneManWolfpack says:

      No hate reply here. This ties into what I wrote as a response above. If you want to be better as a league, you have to spend. Agreed, that spending to spend is wasteful and will get you no where. If the MLS begins to put more pressure on teams to have to spend money to compete, like higher minimum salaries, more DP’s, etc., than the owners will have to. And if the owners don’t, the teams will fail. I know “fail” is the word the MLS is most scared of, but at some point the reigns have to come off and the owners have to spend money.
      .
      Money, smartly spent = MLS moving into the top 5 leagues in the world by 2020

      • The 2 biggest impediments to this teams success are Sakiewicz and Hackworth plan and simple. Sakiewicz is a money changers and Hackworth is a non professional manager with no ability to strategise or coach veteran talent. When both are history and we have solid ownership willing to spend then the Union will be the team we’ve prayed for.

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