I see 3 major problems with MLS, and all 3 problems have manageable solutions that we could see enacted within the next 10-15 years:
- In English soccer, they use something known as a tier system. This is also seen in Spain and Germany. In England, the top teams play in the Barclays Premier league. This is where popular teams such as Manchester United and Liverpool play. There are 20 teams in the Premier League. Underneath the Premier League is the Football League Championship. This league has 24 teams in it. After the Football League Championship, there are 6 other different leagues. To promote competition, there's something known as relegation and promotion in English soccer. During the season, each team will play every other team for a total of 38 games. At the end of the season, the bottom 3 teams of the Premier League are relegated to the Football League Championship, while the top 3 teams in the Football League Championship are promoted to the Premier League. So every year, there are three new teams introduced to the Premier League, who replaced those three relegated that underperformed the previous season. In the US, there is no such thing as promotion and relegation. We do have 4 different leagues: the MLS, the USL Pro, NASL, and the NPSL. These four leagues used to barely interact, with most NASL and USL Pro teams now acting as "farm teams" for MLS squads. Recently, there has been a call from many different USL Pro teams that they want to join the MLS. One, Orlando City SC, has been successful and will join the league in 2015. MLS has also recently announced the expansion of its league with 3 more teams: New York City FC, Atlanta, and Miami. This year, the MLS has 19 teams and with the expansion they will have 21 next season (Atlanta joins in 2017 and Miami is TBD). Since the US doesn't have a promotion/relegation system, they have a playoff system. There are 2 different conferences, East and West, and the top 5 teams from each conference at the end of the season will play in the playoffs. This is how the top team in MLS is determined. With the MLS eventually having 23+ teams, a playoff system will be pointless and boring (as if it isn't already). The obvious solution for this is to stop expanding and turn to promotion/relegation. This means the MLS would have to work with the leagues beneath them to help further organize them and make them stronger. This also means that the MLS will have to stop randomly making teams (GASP). I cringe whenever I hear that the MLS is just going to "make" a team, such as in Atlanta or plans for a team in Las Vegas. Why do that when there are teams that have established themselves and made a name for themselves already? If a team wants to be created, they'll have to start at the bottom and work their way up. If they really are as good as they say they are then we will see them in a few years when they make their way up the tier system. (Goodness I wrote a lot about that....)
- Designated players. If you said this to a soccer fan in England or Spain they'd have no idea what you're talking about. That, or they would make fun of the American system for having them. The designated players rule in MLS needs to go. This rule allows each MLS team to sign 3 players that are above the set MLS salary cap (also a dumb rule not seen in Europe). In 2014, the salary cap was $3.1 million dollars, and this salary had to be split between 20 players for a whopping total of $155,000 per player per year. To put this into perspective, top players at Manchester United make more than half of this.... A WEEK. Every MLS team can have 3 exceptions to this, their 3 designated players. The reason I think this rule will be changed soon is because of the expansion team known as NYCFC. New York City will be unlike any other team seen in MLS. It was bought by Manchester City of the Premier League and the New York Yankees. Both teams are known to be very rich and spend high amounts of money for players. NYCFC has already bought 2 of their 3 designated players: David Villa, a very popular Spanish player, and Frank Lampard, a popular former Chelsea player. I see the owners of NYCFC eventually sitting down with MLS and trying to fight the designated player rule. When that time comes, I will definitely be on the NYC side.
- This last problem isn't as major as the other two, but it definitely deserves a looking at. The MLS year runs from February to the beginning of December. Most other leagues in the world start in late August and finish in the middle of May. The problem with the MLS schedule appears when the World Cup comes around. The MLS is forced to take a two week break, while most other teams are already in their break in between seasons. This break also isn't long enough because it only goes until the end of group stage, and not through the whole tournament. It punishes teams that have World Cup players, because they will have to go on without their usual stars while they participate in the elimination rounds of the tournament. Another problem was seen just this past week, when the US played an international friendly on a FIFA friendly date. Lots of other leagues usually take a one week break when a FIFA date comes around, and allow their players to go play for their respective national squads. MLS refuses to do this, and keeps on going about their business playing games. Since it's so late in the season, many US national team members that play in the MLS refused a call up from Jurgen Klinsmann because they found it necessary to stay and help their team secure a spot in the MLS playoffs. Recently, there has been lots of chatter about the MLS changing to a FIFA calendar, and I believe that it will be forced into it within the next couple of years.