What’s the biggest “problem” in Major League Soccer?
You know, the one issue holding the league back from becoming one of the world’s “top” leagues by 2020 — a lofty goal for the 20-year-old league set forth by MLS commissioner Don Garber?
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If you were to ask any MLS supporter or observer that question, chances are you’d get a wide array of answers ranging from “bad refereeing,” to “lack of transparency/making up rules as the go along,” to “the single-entity structure/lack of promotion of relegation.”
If you were to ask 60 current MLS players under the condition of absolute anonymity — something recently done by ESPN FC — you’d probably get a much fairer (and insightful) opinion on the obstacles that continue to hold MLS back.
The No. 1 answer among current MLS players when asked “what is the biggest problem in MLS?” Salaries, which 16 of 60 players (nearly 27 percent — more than one-fourth of the players) said was MLS’s biggest hindrance to itself. 13 players said that travel was the biggest problem, given frequent cross-country flights and the disallowance of charter flights.
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Beyond salaries and travel, no other answer got more than five votes. No free agency (5), lack of popularity and respect for players (4) and the single-entity structure (4) were the only other answers to come up more than three times.
While the average salary of MLS players rose to $226,454 last year — a new high, as will surely be the case once again in 2015 — that number is severely skewed due to the influx of multi-million dollar annual deals handled to the league’s top one percent. Asked if they could make more money right now by doing a different job, 46 percent of players polled said yes. Asked if MLS will become one of the world’s “elite” leagues within the next 10 years, only 54 precent said yes.
One anonymous player said, from ESPN FC:
“We have a long way to go in terms of spending. I think the CBA hinders this league when competing with other leagues around the world. Players leave this league to make great money somewhere else and then the league buys them back as Designated Players. It’s kind of unfair for the players that stay.”
The entire anonymous poll is well worth perusing and/or reading in great detail for anyone who has any interest in the long term prospects of MLS.
As for the most recent Collective Bargaining Agreement, more than half the players polled — 52 percent — said they do not approve of the terms of the deal under which the league will operate for the next five years. 85 percent of players polled also say that US national team manager can take his assertions that MLS players “aren’t fit enough” and get lost, to put it kindly.