Major League Soccer is on some kind of hot streak: The return home of our captain, Clint Dempsey, to the Seattle Sounders. Now Omar Gonzalez picks MLS over Europe.
Gonzales, possiblely the US Men’s National Team center back for the next 8 years, has become LA’s third Designated Player. The twenty-four year old was raised on MLS. And he’s a defender, that’s a milestone right? MLS cares about the total game.
It’s such as big moment that LA decided to pull out their El Tri inspired black jerseys. Take that Chivas! Unfortunately, NBC Sports and MLS don’t have a Sunday Night Football type flex agreement in their TV deals. MLS hasn’t been able to capitalize on it’s two biggest DP signings yet (Portland @ Seattle August 25th on ESPN2/ next English LA Galaxy broadcast is September 21st Seattle @ LA ).
Omar staying in the US is a great story. LA drafted, developed, and managed the player and situation well. Nevertheless, let us take one big step back. Do not isolate this move or this player but think about the actions of the league as a whole. The actions of this commissioner and power the league has over all MLS players regardless of the team.
This is not an attack on Omar and his ability. The 6’5” center back is a world-class caliber player. Strong ball winning, excellent on defensive set pieces, but overrated on set pieces in the attacking third. The best defender in the league label is not hyperbole. He is a top tier player. However, the MLS front office only cares about retaining quality players to a point. The highest priority is survival and after staying alive, the next is providing the owners with a return on investment. If quality is higher on the pecking order, they would not be expanding the league by an additional hundred plus players over the next seven years. Imagine any other professional league increasing their total rosters by more than 20%. It is a bit hypercritical to make claims that this signing is a move to retain a quality player, while restricting teams spending to obtain quality through salary caps, and then diluting the talent pool through expansion. Nevertheless, regarding DP, especially an American one, MLS is selling the quality angle through their public relations machine.
MLS paid Tottenham the $10 million transfer fee to bring Clint Dempsey to Seattle. The commissioner’s office circumvented the allocation rules (arguably) to get Dempsey to his (and the league’s) desired landing spot. It’s great copy for the league, Deuce crossing the country to appear on every news morning show… again why was Seattle @ Houston not the game of the week? MLS is doing what it can (shy of changing TV and MLSsoccer.com Stream of the Week programming) to capture the attention of the domestic soccer populous on the eve of the Premier League season.
Don Garber understands the importance of television and capturing viewers’ attention. He views the EPL as a bigger threat to the league than any of the American professional leagues. The timing of the Dempsey signing was to signal domestic fans, and the signing of Omar as LA third’s DP was a signal to international leagues. But, it is primarily about business, and not just quality.
In a salary cap, league money – in terms of players’ salary – is the most valuable resource. The 2013 season salary cap is $2.95 million with each DP counting as $368,750 or 15% of the cap. Next year, if the figures are similar, LA will have 45% of their allowed salary locked up in two forwards and the main cog in their back line. While an attacking partnership can carry a team, a single defender cannot. Omar is not a defender in the same vein as John Terry or Sergio Ramos, he provides little in the attacking third aside from a decoy on set pieces. He netted his first goal of the season off a header on Saturday night versus Real Salt Lake. He is only one goal off his career high. Why does Omar get DP status, 3-year contract at $4.5 million?
Fellow USMNT center back Matt Besler earns $180,000 at Sporting KC, and Clarence Goodson earns $342,000 with San Jose (not a DP). All-Star center backs Aurelien Collins ($250,000) and Jamison Olave ($325,000) have not earned DP status either. We’ll do the math for you, that $1.097 million combined for four center backs, our
During the 2012 summer transfer window, Geoff Cameron moved from Houston to Stoke City for a $2.7 million transfer fee negotiated by MLS. Omar is younger, more accomplished (2012 MLS Cup Final MVP and 2011 Defender of the Year), and has more international experience. At the time of Cameron’s transfer, he had a year and a half remaining at $255,000 per. The MLS asking price for Omar after the upcoming World Cup could be double or triple that amount. Both the Galaxy and MLS are placing their bets on the center back.
Now, Omar is officially the prized thoroughbred in the MLS stable. Although Dempsey will probably go out on loan, and Landon Donovan to AC Milan rumors have started this week (but they are just rumors); Omar will be the next big name American sold to Europe. As a single league entity and owner of all contracts, MLS receives a third of the money from all player sales. Is MLS is in the business of putting quality play on the field, or of selling tickets domestically and players internationally?
Perhaps you noticed another trend, the average age of DPs before this year was 31. The average age of the ten signings in 2013 is 27. The youngest among them is FC Dallas’ Fabián Castillo at 21, next is 26 year-old Jerry Bengtson as New England. If we remove the Union’s 34 year-old Brazilian Kleberson and last year’s MVP Chris Wondolowski at 30, the average age drops to 25.5.
Is this shift in signings a coincidence or has MLS recognized a new revenue stream? It wouldn’t be hard to believe they are modeling themselves after many South American leagues; the same ones with direct pipelines to La Liga and Serie A. They could parlay the addition of NYCFC to create a pipeline to England and take advantage of Jurgen Klinssman’s success with the USMNT to open doors in Germany.
Anyone that follows MLS knows unwritten rules can pop up at the darndest times. Rules to create parity and fairness are pushed aside for the “good of the league”. The success of the league trumps all. Of course, it depends on how one measures success, and who is doing the measuring. But maybe I am just more cynical than most when it comes to this league.
This week’s throw ins:
Chicago @ New England
I don’t know how to describe the Juan Agudelo side of the foot flick volley. “Mah, WTF… WHAT! WOW!” Can’t explain it but when Agudelo is on the field the Revs just win.
Seattle @ Houston
Seattle is winless at home… home being anywhere within the United States because they’re America’s Team now, right? Bad joke? Kind of annoying, I get the hint, not sure if everyone else will. Good job Houston, a sellout crowd and convincing victory. Don’t let Sounders fans get to you for having only twenty-two thousand in attendance, at least you play on grass.
Philadelphia @ New York
This was a brutal game to watch, and not the way MLS and NBC wanted to end their first full day of soccer. For all the pregame chirping from the Union about grabbing their first win at RBA, they wanted no part of a Red Bull attack that scored 4 goals in their last two home games. Philly parked the bus and sent long balls to Le Toux, Carney and McInerney. By the way NBC, keepers are not the only option for Man of the Match in a scoreless draw. I thought Sekagya was the best player on the pitch and blocked as many shots as MacMath. Second place goes to the cross bar for the saving Le Toux’s strike late in the second half.
About the author:
Jay’s first memory of professional soccer was watching a flaming haired pirate in a blue shirt with white stars menace a golden shirt lion on the field of roses. Since then, he has followed the game from the cradle of US soccer, Northern Jersey. Tracking the progress of the sport in the states through the international team and Major League Soccer he has become a student of tactical football, the business of sports and the cultural impact of the game. Jay enjoys the view from the ivory tower but is not afraid to be in arm’s length of the ultras in the South Ward. You can follow Jay on Twitter@rescindedred.