Changes Needed For MLS To Become Top Tier League

By Matthew Evans
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Major League Soccer along with San Jose Earthquakes, Philadelphia Union and Los Angeles Galaxy confirmed a report on Monday regarding the transfers of Rafael Baca and Michael Farfan as well as the full-season loan of Jose Villarreal to Cruz Azul of Liga MX.

It is a wonderful move for these young stars of MLS who are taking the next step in their careers, but for the league as whole this is not good news.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber has made it very clear of his goal to make Major League Soccer be “among the top leagues in the world by 2022.” Right now that dream is nowhere near possible.

There is one big thing that Major League Soccer will need to change before being even in the realm of a top-tier league and that is salary cap reform.

The MLS salary cap for the 2013 season was set at $2,950,000 or the equivalent to what New York Yankees third basemen Alex Rodriguez would have made in 36 days this past season. This number is way too low, especially when you consider that MLS is one of the only soccer leagues in the world that has a salary cap.

With a salary cap this low it causes clubs to make extremely tough decisions regarding who deserves the limited amount of salary that is available to them meaning that good, young talent is not always rewarded with contracts to keep them in the league and develop them into future stars.

The best example to demonstrate why the salary cap needs to be raised is the Colorado Rapids. Colorado has one of the best young cores in the league in Clint Irwin ($35,125), Chris Klute ($46,500), Dillon Powers ($46,500) and Deshorn Brown ($65,000); these four combined for 15 goals, 18 assists and 31 starts in goal for the Rapids while making a combined $193,125 or 6.55 percent of the salary cap. In fact, all four of these players are off-budget players and technically do not count towards the salary cap.

To get to top-tier status the salary cap will need to be significantly higher, but for now doubling the cap to $6 million would be a huge step in the right direction.

The current cap hit for a designated player is $368,750 which is equal to 12.5 percent of the cap; keeping this current percentage for the new salary cap the hit would be $750,000 meaning that any player below that mark would not be counted as a DP. Teams are still only allowed to carry three players above that salary if they choose to.

Factoring in the roster spaces with available cap room that would make the average pay for non-DP players be $220,588 for teams with three DPs, $250,000 for teams with two DPs, $276,316 for teams with one DP and $300,000 for those with zero DPs.

The average player salary in MLS for the 2013 season was $160,000 or roughly $3,000 a week by comparison the average player salary for a player in the second-tier of English football (The League Championship) earns approximately $250,000.

The “off-budget” players 21 through 30 system should remain in place with spots 21 through 24 earning a minimum of $115,000 and 25 through 30 earning a minimum of $90,000. If all of those spots were filled it would add $1 million to the total payroll not count against the cap.

Ultimately what MLS needs to do is come up with competitive wages to keep the starting lineups strong and improve the clubs’ ability to bring in quality depth players. Clubs have to deal with the Reserve League and US Open Cup while some clubs will have to also compete internationally in the CONCACAF Champions League which will surely test any club’s depth.

Investing more money in the squad will improve the overall quality of action on the field which in turn could bring more eyes to the televisions; an issue that MLS will need to address as they are not getting the TV ratings that they want and their current TV deals expire at the end of the 2014 season. Also keeping players, especially American players, in Major League Soccer will help the league be better able to market the product. Kids around the country have their idols like Tim Howard and Michael Bradley, but almost none of those kids would ever get to see those players live since they play overseas.

Imagine the boom in soccer interest in America if our US Men’s National Team stars were playing in our domestic league. It can happen, but MLS will need to make the first move.

Matthew Evans is a soccer writer for, “Like” him on Facebook, Follow him on Twitter, or add him to your network on Google


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