In Part 1, I presented a plan for the USSF to work with MLS, NASL and USL Pro to continue to build a stable soccer pyramid by developing the talent in the US at the forefront of discussion. This path will allow the USSF pyramid to become the premier league of North America ahead of Liga MX and eventually close that gap between US Soccer and the top 5 of Europe.
And now we dig deeper ...
This plan is great in theory, but all plans have a cost and who is going to pay for it? USSF isn’t really on the hook for any of this outside of the cost of them organizing the discussion and getting everyone on board. The NASL and USL Pro can’t afford to put any kind of money towards this endeavor but their participation is necessary for this to succeed. That leaves the MLS. I am not an accountant so I won’t get too specific, but I am going to look at this from one teams point of view and essentially budget $1.5 Million in additional annual costs to fund what I want to call a 3 year test model. The thought is that by the end of year 3 the gains in profit will catch up to the cost (better product = more success + more TV revenue, etc.). How will every MLS team come up with $4.5 Million over 3 years to find out if it will pay for itself after year 3? $4.5 Million x 19 existing MLS teams = $85.5 Million. Where will MLS come up with that cash? Oh, wait … wasn’t there an announcement not too long ago about a $100 Million expansion fee paid by some pretty wealthy cats? Have you seen the announcement of where that money is going? If MLS’s mission is to be considered the best league in the region and a top 5-8 in the world, then I’m anxious to hear an alternative plan how that will be accomplished … especially when it comes to using this money!
Ring Ring …
Rob Heinemann – Hey Don, how are you today?
Don Garber – Good Rob, and I feel like Santa Claus must feel.
RH – Why is that?
DG – Because I’m handing out a gift every one of my MLS Club Presidents wants to receive.
RH – What is that?
DG – I’m going to give you $4.5 Million on top of what MLS is giving you now over the next three years to improve your product.
RH – That’s great, what’s the catch?
DG – You have to reduce your roster by 5 and raise your MLS salary minimum to a more respectable $75,000, build a 20 man U23 squad with a $1 Million cap and prove to the rest of the world that we are the best league in CONCACAF by winning the CCL and that we’re a top 5 league in the world!
RH – This is great, let me see what I can pull together!
So what does SKC’s squad look like today in terms of salary cap (based on information found here)?
Rob Heinemann has built that squad of 29 players and found a way to pay them $3,236,085 and Don Garber is giving him $1.5 Million per year more than that to spend on talent for 2 squads. What might those 2 squads look like given all of the information about "the Plan" we have above?
The MLS full squad has 21 players so there are 4 roster spots available to improve this team. The SKC U23 team has 8 players and needs 12 additions to improve the team. Per cap restrictions SKC has $706,500 left to fill the 12 spots on the U23 team ($58,875 per player) and $769,250 ($192,312 per player) for the full squad.
This roster generator site allows you to generate an entire team given one input, budget. This doesn’t allow you to take an existing squad and add quality players that fit in the other rules of MLS (mainly the international player limits and DP limits). It isn’t that practical from a standpoint that every team can’t have Robbie Keane on it! So what would 4 players using that cap space do for SKC? Well, I used this amazing link to go out in do a little GM work. The 4 players I picked wouldn’t really be available because they’re on existing MLS teams under contract. But think about these 4 players. Is it reasonable to think I can use the money that they are getting paid and go out and get somewhere close to "like for like" talent in other leagues around the world and get them to come play in the MLS for the same money these 4 guys are getting paid? I think that is reasonable to say. Will there be failures in scouting that you make mistakes on? Sure, but that’s what will separate the good MLS teams from the bad ones. That will always be the case no matter what the salary cap is. So lets get on with it … my four players are …
I come in slightly under budget, have less than 3 (2) DP’s on the roster and 5 spots used for international players. (leaving room for adjustments).
Player names added to the U23 roster are not that important. Ideally with the additional budget allowed for the MLS for the U23 teams they can sign more homegrown players and develop them past their academy instead of depending on the college game to develop that talent. The salaries could offset the tuition they’re getting and they can possibly work with local universities to allow those players to get their college degree as well as train and compete as professionals (SKC could work with UMKC, Rockhurst, William Jewell and local JUCO’s and set up training around their college students playing on the U23 team). There would need to be a limit on international U23 players that each MLS squad would be able to sign for the U23 squad. The squad’s 20 players budget set at $1 million results in an average salary of $50,000k, which seems reasonable as the minimum salary for the current MLS squads is 31,125 so this could also be the minimum for the U23 squad and you still have room to pay some players more based on talent.
So what does the Sporting KC Depth Chart look like after this? This is something you might see on the white board in Peter Vermes office …
How does this squad look? Have the Depth to compete in MLS, CCL and the Open Cup at the same time?
You get 3 years to see how well this improves your product before adjusting or it costing the league or the owners anything. These changes should add enough to your product to improve the TV contracts, ticket sales, merchandise sales, advertising, interest in the league from players abroad, etc. It costs NOTHING to MLS teams or the league.
Here are the questions I don’t have answers two that could potentially shut down this plan.
Who does this hurt? MLS? USSF? NASL? USL? Veteran players? Young Players?
It does hurt the college game because the players that SKC would need to pay to fill out their U23 teams are essentially a number of their former academy players playing in college. But this just opens the door for more players to get those scholarships and squad spots. If done right it still allows those U23-U18 players from the SKC affiliated academies (which is a growing number in cities like Columbia, MO, Lincoln, NE, St. Louis, MO, etc) still get the college education and the salary they make more than makes up for the loss of tuition.
There is also the matter of the $14.5M the league gets from the NYCFC expansion fee. I don’t know what their plans are for the $100M, but I do know one thing. If they’re serious about making this one of the top leagues in the world, I’d use the $14.5M to go recruit every American soccer player playing in a foreign country, especially any player with USMNT ties and I would set a cutoff at any player not playing in a top 5 league as a target, which would include the EPL, La Liga, Bundisliga, Italian Serie A or Brazilian Serie A. If you can get a pool of 19 players then you can potentially do what the USSF and the NWSL did recently and have them list 3 preferential destinations and allocate a player to each location instead of leaving it up to a lottery. That will ideally be another recruiting tool to attract them back as well as evening out the level of talent across the board.
Please, tell me this plans flaws, tell me if that team could compete in CCL, tell me if all of this puts MLS on track to becoming a top 5 league in the world, heck, simply build on this or create your own plan.
I think Sporting could win the CCL with this squad, if it was able to qualify … this plan may improve other teams more drastically so leaving SKC out of the CCL … which would mean that the league is good and deep. SKC would also put a very competitive MLS team during that competition.
Will this get the MLS to a top 5 league in the world? No, will it get it to the top in CCL? Maybe? Probably!? Either way, it looks like a feasible, low risk plan to get to those goals … one step in the right direction.
Someone get this to somebody in MLS and USSF and let them tell the fans why something like this can’t happen.