Monday, October 15, 2012

American DPs and Outsourcing in MLS

Article by Anders Aarhus

Jeff Carlisle over at ESPNFC wrote an interesting article last week exploring whether MLS has “[Tilted] its roster rules too far in favor of foreign players.”

Check out the piece if you haven’t had a chance to already, it’s a good read. Carlisle makes some interesting points about the decreasing role of American players on MLS rosters and there’s no arguing with the numbers; minutes played by Americans were down to 56.12 percent from 69.97 percent just six years ago according to the article.

From the article:

“When MLS began play in 1996, one of the principal beneficiaries was the American player… U.S. players would have a chance to perform every week, improve from the resulting completion, and ultimately strengthen the national team.” 

Carlisle goes on to quote current US Men’s National Team coach Jurgen Klinsmann who admits he is concerned about the issue and plans to bring it up with commissioner Don Garber.

Here’s the bottom line, however: foreign players make MLS better. It’s nothing against American players or the talent this country produces, it’s simply the nature of soccer. Look at the so-called best league in the world, the English Premier League. Currently, less than 40% of players in the EPL are English. And although there has been much discussion about how to solve this “problem” the reality remains: a strong domestic league doesn’t have to include an overwhelming contingent of the country’s players.

Don Garber echoes this sentiment in Carlisle’s article. “From our vantage point… we need to be doing…everything we can to get the best product on the field,” says the commissioner.

In terms of his vision for MLS, Garber is spot on. He has stated over and over the desire to be a considered a “top league” by 2022. That’s going to require signing the best players, regardless of what country they’re from.

The problem with this situation is the perceived identity crisis of MLS. Many fans and journalists are worried the league is straying from its roots as an opportunity for American players, but getting away from the original object is exactly what Garber is trying to do. He has a clear vision for molding MLS into an elite competition capable of attracting the best players and tapping into the vast TV and marketing opportunities a country the size of the US can offer. Fans of MLS should absolutely want this.

While an influx of foreigners will logically mean fewer opportunities for Americans, it shouldn’t mean the National Team pool is weakened at all. As Carlisle points out in his article, 17 of the 23 players on the 2010 World Cup roster played in MLS at some point in their careers. Players like Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, and Jozy Altidore got their start with MLS teams before moving abroad to seek a higher level of competition and a bigger payday. That caliber of player is going to break into the first team regardless of who’s in front of them. It doesn’t matter whether it’s an American or a Brazilian they have to beat out, the cream of the youth crop will rise and ultimately be better tested in a tougher league.

What MLS should be concerned about in its continuing quest to improve quality is retaining top American talent. The recent rumor about Chris Wondolowski seeking a bigger contract is a perfect example. Wondo has been the top scorer in MLS two years running and will top the charts again this season. According to ESPN’s Alexi Lalas, Wondo is now seeking a significant increase on his current deal and would ideally like to be paid “seven figures.”

Is Chris Wondolowski worth $1 million? Absolutely. He’s MLS’ leading scorer and the consensus MVP, and deserves a salary that’s among the highest in the league. Unfortunately paying him what he’s due isn’t possible for a small market team like San Jose. Shell out that kind of cash and other key players from this year’s squad (Steven Lenhart anyone?) will have to be moved because of budget constraints.

Where would Clint Dempsey be without MLS?
Yet, this is the type of American player the league should show favoritism to: a franchise icon and elite scorer. How does MLS make sure they can keep players like Wondolowski at home? One option would be to raise the percentage of salary paid by the league, but only for an American Designated Player. The current rule has the league paying $350,000 of a DP’s salary while the club covers the rest on its own. With the hypothetical “American DP” the league could pay $500,000 of the salary, reducing the amount of money the club is responsible for. In Wondolowski’s case, the Quakes would only have to pay their star $200,000 more next season (Wondo’s current deal is $300,000 per year according to the MLS Players Union data), a very manageable amount that would most likely allow them to keep together a core of players that is currently on pace to win a Supporters Shield.

There’s another benefit of this idea. Youth development is a main topic of discussion in regard to MLS these days with everyone acknowledging a better system is needed to produce the best possible American players. Whereas some clubs like RSL, Vancouver, Toronto and Dallas have extensive youth programs and academies, others, like Seattle, have largely neglected the academy system. And even teams committed to their academy and signing homegrown players have yet to produce a true superstar or even consistent squad players. A DP rule that rewarded American players would encourage investing in the academy system. Coupled with the homegrown player rule (and the fact that homegrown player salaries don’t count against a team’s cap) having American DPs would allow a team to build a strong roster within the constraints of the salary cap by capitalizing on American talent.

Americans like the best. We have the top football, baseball, basketball and hockey leagues in the world. MLS and Don Garber are completely on point in trying to get the league to an elite level. Right now the best path is through foreign players, but with some tweaks there’s no doubt the path to top status could be paved with American talent.


  1. Really good piece, and I agree on most of your points.

    Absolutely LOVE the "American DP" idea in which the league covers more of the player's salary vs a forgeign DP.

    1. Thanks for the kind words!

  2. If the league becomes a top league by 2022 (or ever) it will bring up the National Teams playing pool. The more popular the sport and the more people are watching will have more kids trying to play in MLS or other pro leagues. Plus the lower divisions will be stronger with more people playing and striving to be better.

  3. Carlisle makes some interesting points about the decreasing role of American players on MLS rosters and there’s no arguing with the numbers; minutes played by Americans were down to 56.12 percent from 69.97 percent just six years ago according to the article. employee monitoring software