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    A two-tier MLS salary cap?


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    I want you to check out the bottom half of a brilliant story by Richard Snowden on Soccer365.com.

    The piece begins as a chatty, retrospective interview with former MLS deputy commissioner Ed Gazidis, who has just accepted a new, high-profile gig as CEO of Arsenal.

    But about halfway down, Snowden moves the focus away from Gazidis – and strikes gold.

    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]

    “Perhaps instead of having a system in which only one or two players can receive unlimited wages,” Snowden writes, “MLS could create a new system in which owners could invest extra money up to a specified maximum if they wish in order to sign as many players as they want, so long as these players could be accommodated by the available number of roster spots, which will increase to 20 beginning next season.”

    The writer is suggesting a two-tier salary cap for Major League Soccer.

    The first – a soft cap set at or around $3-million U.S., would be funded directly by the league, essentially the all-for-one system currently in place, where players sign with MLS, not with their individual teams.

    The revolution lurks in part two of the plan – a $7-million hard cap, funded directly by each team’s owner – to be spent any blessed way each team sees fit.

    Three months ago, I floated the idea of a two-tier MLS. Ambitious clubs could buy full control of their franchises from the league, and make their own way in the world free of salary caps, as well as all the carefully crafted financial protections that have kept the league alive this long. The idea got ringingly mocked on fan message boards stateside, but I was mostly trying to dream up a way for MLS not to seem so cartoonishly controlled from above.

    Snowden’s ideas are lighting me up.

    We’ve already learned this season – as the writer points out – that a team like the L.A. Galaxy can invest huge money in David Beckham and Landon Donovan, and still finish tied for root-bottom of the league because the rest of the roster are making brown-bag lunches in their shared college dorm rooms, and it’s showing fatally in their performance on the field.

    The league’s vaunted “designated player” is largely a publicity stunt, because teams still have to give a quarter of their cap space to the name star du jour, and it’s almost certainly going to take more than one big name to significantly goose the performance of your basic MLS roster.

    This twin-cap idea has huge potential.

    Okay, you’re saying, isn’t this just another version of the rich-team/poor-team scenario presently being acted out in the rest of the soccer world, which you yourself, Mr. Knight, have long and loudly opposed?

    Yes, with two huge exceptions.

    - Even if MLS quadruples its salary cap – which this proposal effectively does – there are still going to be plenty of star players striding the globe earning more money than entire MLS rosters.

    - MLS has a great equalizer: its playoff system. Yes, the bigger-spending clubs would tend to dominate the regular season. But playoffs in soccer are a coin toss. Any team on any day can score one goal, and any one goal can win a 1-0 soccer match. If a low-spending team nudges into the post season – and it happens all the time in other sports – they can still be taking the MLS Cup for a victory stroll down Main Street once the playoff dust has settled.

    Right now, MLS has parity to the point of parody. I grew up watching the old NASL, and if the Toronto Metros, Metros-Croatia or Blizzard actually beat the mighty New York Cosmos, that meant something.

    Who gets really jazzed about an upset in MLS? It was great when Toronto FC knocked off league-champions Houston in a cold rain early in their inaugural season, but so many of the current squads are so grindingly similar, I don’t think fans really care that much about who next week’s visitors are.

    This would change that. Ideally, two or three teams would emerge, clearly and presently stronger than the competition. And then you’ve really got something. I don’t think there’s ever been a visiting team come into BMO Field that the fans and players were frightened of. The magnificent melodrama that is professional sports needs bad guys – teams so tough/rich/unethical/whatever that defeating them becomes a collective obsession for all concerned.

    MLS, in its present form, will never have that.

    Toronto FC fans hate New York Energy Drink and the Columbus Crew, but it’s not because they are great soccer sides. Full value for your MLS Cup, Columbus, but any edge at Reds-Yellows games comes from something else.

    So – read the article, and let’s discuss. This plan won’t be with us for a while, what with the global worsening economy and all. But I think it’s the best, sanest, simplest and clearest plan for the future of MLS I have yet encountered.

    … And I’d love to see what Toronto FC would do in this situation.

    Onward!

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