August 8, 2010
To designate or not
A sellout at Toyota Park Sunday and another at Red Bull Arena next Sunday. It looks like the signing of designated players is having the desired early effect on Major League Soccer by boosting attendance for the teams signing the players.
But what about everyone else? Will New York, Chicago, LA and Seattle stocking up on designated players help the other teams in the league, the ones making limited or no use of the designated player?
My guess is that it will. Both in the short term and the long term. I think it’s a very good bet that the Red Bulls will become a better road attraction now that they have added Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez to their lineup. Ditto the Fire with Nery Castillo and Freddy Ljungberg. They might be better draws because of their star power, or simply because they are more fun to watch, playing a better level of soccer. Either way, the rest of MLS will benefit.
One of the arguments against teams loading up on DPs is that it could create a league of haves and have-nots, because bigger markets with wealthier owners could afford to pay for bigger stars than some other markets.
First off, there are no poor owners in MLS. Every one of the teams has deep pockets behind it. Even so-called small markets like Kansas City, Columbus and Seattle. Second, the fact that there is a limit on the number of DPs makes it impossible to create a New York Yankees or Real Madrid type roster in the league. Third, as a single entity, MLS shares more revenues than other sports leagues, so the rising tide lifts all boats.
Lastly, as far as competitive balance on the field, not all star-laden big money teams win the championship. The game is still played on the field. The New York Yankees have had the highest payroll in baseball maybe since forever. True, they have won more World Series than any other team, but that doesn’t mean the Florida Marlins don’t ever have a chance. Man United, Chelsea, Real Madrid, AC Milan, all laden with stars. All don’t win every year. It still comes down to assembling the right mix of players.
What about the argument that MLS could become an elephants’ graveyard for over-the- hill players no longer able to make it in more competitive leagues? One of the longest-held fallacies about the North American Soccer League is that such an influx of overpaid no-longer-stars led to the demise of the league. Maybe some of the players who came here back then were a step slower or not quite as sharp as they had been in their prime. So what? Top players ‘retire’ from international competition all the time, only to continue playing professionally. Each level of the game has its requirements and its regimens.
But, the fact of the matter is that having a top-quality player makes everyone else around him better. Younger players in MLS will get better watching, playing against and training with the likes of Henry, Marquez and Beckham.
That makes the game better for everyone.