Playing through the summer, resting during the entire winter, two separate conferences, designated players; all of these are ways in which the MLS varies greatly from the typical soccer league model found throughout the rest of the world. When the MLS was created, it seems that someone completely ignored the leagues found anywhere else and thought that following along in the footsteps of the MLB, NBA, or NFL was a better idea. But the biggest difference the MLS has when compared to the leagues of England, Germany, Italy, and Spain are that teams have financial caps when assembling their squads in the United States.
In US soccer there is no shortage of sponsorships or even viewership, but the league has set themselves back by not allowing the teams to follow in the footsteps of the European leagues. While critics will be quick to say that salary caps keep the competition honest and the playing field relatively level, it also waters down the quality of the league. In Europe where there are several giants, no one team is restricted by a certain amount of funds to assemble a squad.
The only impetus that only came into existence recently is Financial Fairplay, which requires that teams post positive numbers at the end of the season or face sanctions; expenditures versus earned income, it is an ideal financial check and balance, unlike a salary cap.
What the MLS has done is made themselves unattractive to the type of talent that is required to make a league truly noteworthy by self-imposing financial restrictions upon their teams. Teams such as Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Juventus, Manchester City, and Manchester United are big because they are freely able to use their assets to bring in whomever they wish. If you have a several hundred million dollar sponsorship, why shouldn’t you be able to use that as you so please?
In the US, the MLS has taken the viewpoint that they wish every team to have an equal chance to sign players; no one team has a different salary cap than another. While it may be true that it keeps the playing field even, it does not allow the superstars of the sport to come to the United States to play the game, because they will not be paid enough to do so.
The multi-million dollar Euro contracts garnered by the likes of Messi and Ronaldo are unthinkable in the MLS. Their contracts alone would eat up almost the entire budget and that’s assuming the MLS would even allow them to be signed as they approve all contracts.
The MLS is acting too much like a governing body and needs to act more like a helping hand for the teams. If they did away with the the American salary cap model, they would free up the teams to bring in the talent required to make the MLS a competitive league internationally. Until that happens, we will continue to witness old greats come over once they’re over the hill and looking for one last paycheck before retirement.