Sep 17, 2008
Things have never been better for MLS.
The announcement out of Ottawa that Eugene Melnyk not only wants a soccer stadium to sit next door to his Senators’ hockey palace, but also wants to join North America’s soccer revolution is just one more sign that things are too good to be true for a league struggling to stay in business just a few years ago.
We already know that Montreal wants in, Portland wants in, St. Louis wants in, New York and Miami maybe want in, Vancouver definitely wants in, and now Ottawa wants in. Did we leave anybody out? (OK: Vegas. Ain’t gonna happen.)
All that MLS needs to do is to set an expansion fee bar as high as possible, welcome the new guys to the club and split the money among those who took the initial gamble back when the league was launched.
Sounds pretty good, eh?
Wait a minute.
Truth is: Things have never been worse for MLS.
I know what you’re all thinking. The business is solid. The money is there. The league’s attendance is up. Worse? What are you smoking, Trecker?
I’m talking on-the-field. Here’s the truth: MLS doesn’t have enough players as it stands today. Adding four to six more teams is a recipe for disaster. MLS’ salary structure cannot support ‘em, and North America can’t supply ‘em. Unless MLS is willing to seriously open their chequebooks — and they aren’t — fans are going to be disappointed with what they get.
As it stand right now, MLS isn’t good enough. Their best clubs continue to cave against CONCACAF opponents: The Champions League is turning out to be vivid proof that what might look pretty good and competitive on a Saturday night flops badly when the other team isn’t from MLS.
How else do you explain the fact that MLS has played five games and lost five in the early phase of the Champions League? (Lost badly, we might remind you.) Only Chivas USA, in the second leg against Panama’s Tauro, actually looked like they might win a game. Let’s put the boot in: Tauro couldn’t beat the USL Puerto Rico Islanders last night! (Oh, and the USL’s two teams came through qualifying in fine style.)
It’s also become sadly predictable that in these games, the MLS team won’t finish with 11 men on the field. When the referee isn’t from MLS the red cards seem to fly for MLS players. Is that because the players don’t understand what a foul is in the global game or are these «neutral» refs picking on our poor guys? (It’s the former.)
What MLS would be wise to do is shore up the cities they’re already in. MLS cannot afford another Toronto: There, they have a great fan base, a great stadium, and an awful team. Patience is running thin up north, and can anyone blame them?
And before adding more teams, MLS also needs to address the glaring problem in the centre of the field. The refereeing quality in MLS league games is atrocious, and it is changing the American game for the worse. Importing some quality refs and helping the players MLS already has learn the international game would go a long way.
So here’s the problem: MLS has a surfeit of wooers, could obviously expand to 20 or 22 teams with the drop of a hat. It sounds nice, and it is surely tempting. While we’ve supported further Canadian expansion in the past, if it comes, it has to come hand-in-hand with bigger rosters, bigger team budgets, and more prep and planning. It also should come with paring down some weak markets, and adding training for officials and coaches. Just taking the cash on the table is not enough.
But too much, too soon, is a very, very bad idea. It also ignores history: It was too much expansion — not the fact that the Cosmos spent big bucks — that killed the NASL.