As soon as the words left MLS commissioner Don Garber’s mouth, I could feel the temperature rising in some domestic soccer supporter corners.
Meanwhile, his words were a soothing balm to others. It all helps demonstrate an ongoing conflict in the minds of some supporters: is Major League Soccer as a so-called “seller’s league” acceptable?
During his Google+ Hangout address on Wednesday, Garber said he wanted Major League Soccer to be a “destination” league. That is, he wants players landing in MLS to settle in, cozy with the knowledge that they have arrived at the promised land of a soccer career.
But we know better. Money is still better in Mexico, Europe and elsewhere, decidedly and measurably so in some cases.
So my question is this: Why isn’t that OK? Why is that anathema in some corners of the U.S. soccer supporters collective? Is being a “feeder” league to associations that have a 100-year head start, where soccer is so faithfully entwined in the culture, such a repulsive thing?
In the case of an MLS executive, I can see where it might be considered impolitic to say otherwise. But supporters? The Dutch Eredivisie is a technically strong, mid-level European league; aren’t we all excited to see Jozy Altidore excel there? The Eredivisie is certainly a seller’s league.
The real rock and hard place here is that supporters are divided – sometimes even within themselves. In some corners, we want MLS to mature, to evolve out of this position as a holding ground until something better comes along. (That’s hard to accept in a land where ambition was always a bedrock virtue.)
But in some corners, we get all twisted in an angry knot if MLS deciders don’t let the best young American stars go find their betters selves abroad.
“We don’t MLS to be a seller’s league!”
“But, uh … hurry up and sell that guy to the English club!”
What Garber (pictured above) said:
I’ve said this since I’ve became commissioner. If it were up to me, if this was a perfect world where everything was under my control, and no commissioner ever controls everything, we would never sell a player.
Part of our goal is to be that league of destination, so that the issue is how to manage all the players who want to come in. But that’s not the reality, players do come and go. The movement of players is part of any sport.”
Garber is a smart man. So, again, perhaps he is just saying what he must. Problem is, fans hear the words from on high and get on board.
Garber and MLS must accept the reality: until TV money arrives at a point where it becomes competitive with Mexico and the leader leagues in Europe, salaries will be similarly skewed. And until the domestic titles and trophies find the same level of reverence and relevance as UEFA Champions League and the championship targets of England, Spain, Germany, Italy, etc., it is the way it is.
And that’s OK. Major League Soccer now exists in the middle of the food chain, a place of destination for players from some countries and a feeder league for the world’s marquee associations.
It won’t always be that way – and the ambition to seek more is OK, too. But for now, it is what it is.