Monday, March 17, 2008

Main points

Earlier today, MLS Deputy Commissioner Ivan Gazidis talked to a multitude of reporters from across the nation and fielded calls on topics such as international competition, artificial surfaces, scheduling, designated players, diversity, etc.

But before he took any questions, he made a few points up front. Gazidis said that while the infrastructure of the league has been developing and that the sport is in a “very healthy condition” with new investors and partnerships around, “nothing will be more important than how the game progresses on the field.”

“The goal as we go through this period of expansion is not just to keep our level of play at where it is today but to continue to take it forward and raise it so that the league a decade from now is substantially stronger than it is today.”

Over the next five years, however, the league’s quality of play might be tested. In 2008, there will be 14 MLS teams in action. Five years from now, that number could increase to 18. If rosters remain at 28 per team, that’s an increase of 112 players that will be added to the league.

So where will all those players come from?

“In short- to medium-term as we go through expansion, we have to focus on the international player pool in order to continue to develop our product,” Gazidis said. “We’re not going to be able to develop overnight new domestic players in the domestic market and so the international player pool is where we look. We’ve accompanied that with an increase and a simplification in our international player limits so that we’re now going into 2008 with eight international players per team.”

Gazidis said that MLS is following the standard set by the English Premier League. A decade or so ago, Gazidis said the EPL was “led by some very talented imports who made the talent around them better and improved, we believe, not just the quality of the league but also the domestic players, the domestic English players, who now rank amongst the best players in the world.”

But the league is not just concerned about the short term. Whereas a decade ago many wondered if the league would still be around in a few years, now the league has no such worries. Now, it can focus on such things as developing players.

“This short term investment in the international marketplace is also being accompanied by a medium- to long-term investment in player development… so that ultimately we are able to supply Major League Soccer primarily from our domestic home-grown player pool,” Gazidis said.

The league is moving towards having all of its clubs having youth academies this year and eight of them, and maybe a ninth, will be free of charge to participating players, Gazidis said. It might take a while for this to pay off but to have a player come up through a club’s youth development system to the first team should happen in the next few years, he said.

“This really is an investment in the medium- to long-term so we won’t really see the fruits of a lot of these endeavors until we’re five, six or seven years out from when we started instituting them.”

As far as the 2008 season goes, rosters might be getting sorted out as Opening Day approaches but that does not mean players won’t be joining MLS in large numbers anymore.

There have been “21 new international players since MLS Cup 2007, including a couple we’re in discussions with that haven’t yet been announced so it will actually go above 21 shortly. Eighteen of those are from Latin America – seven from Argentina, four from Brazil and four from Colombia – so clearly the focus continues to be south as we look for international talent.”

“We’re still early for the cycle of imports. At this time last year for example we’d signed only about a third of our international players that ended up coming in during the course of 2007 so there will continue to be significant signings through March and April… and then again when the window opens in July and August.”

U.S. Soccer, Gazidis said, will determine the participants in the CONCACAF Champions League. Coupled with SuperLiga, the new tournament will provide some much-needed competition for MLS players and clubs, he said.

“Having our players play against teams from overseas in meaningful games is very important for the development of our teams and our players and we have a very full complement of international competition this year. They also increase the intensity of the regular season by providing incentives for regular season finish in regular season games. Together with the fact that we are expanding our league to 14 teams so now only 8 of 14 will make our playoffs, we think there will be an added element of intensity and importance to every regular season game in 2008. We think it will be the most important and intense regular season we’ve ever had.”

20 comments:

Beax Speax said...

504 new players? How did you arrive at that figure?

4 new teams X 28 players/new team
= 112 new players.

L.B. said...

By using a horrendously bad formula.

Thanks for correcting me.

Beax Speax said...

I spend my workdays immersed in numbers, so (sadly) I can spot that stuff in my sleep...

just another one of you said...

anything on the salary cap?

RHdigitalYS said...

I don't think there will be any substantial change to the salary cap till the next round of CBA negotiations. By Jan. 31, 2010 the league will be at 16 with Philly in its inaugural season. I'd think it would be perfect time shore up a talent pool affected by overseas drain and dilution by volume.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the lengthy write up!

Gabriel in Argentina said...

I think the league will go through another rough patch of quality before settling back down. However, the dip may not be as great if they stock up on cheap South American players. The question that arises is what will this do for US player development short run? I think it is clear that they have decided that it is better to have a better product on the field than have lots of americans playing and the quality being lower. It is a legitimate decision but it will probably leave some upset. Me, I will take the better product at the expense (if any) of US player development.

Jim said...

Luis, thanks for the nice story. While Gazidis says that the league will rely on foreign players, where will they come from? Already, we are getting the older foreign players and the younger ones are going straight to Europe. This league will need to be able to compete (money wise) to be make it a league worth continuing investing and developing. There are going to have to be some serious leaps of faith in the next few years for the fans.

RHdigitalYS said...

One benefit of all the overseas player movement during the off season is that MLS will seem much more legitimate in the eyes of foreign players, primarily Central and South American.

Though the dollar is weak, there are other benefits to playing in the US because of immigrant communities, on time paychecks, and a higher safer quality of life.

The main barrier to attracting those players to shore up the talent pool is then just money.

Jim said...

I guess playing in this league is better than not being paid at all (Levante in La Liga) or living in the shadow of some slum. Hey even living in Kansas City has got to be better than living in some of the EPL cities.

L.B. said...

Ha! I had the same thought. I was thinking about Kansas City earlier today because I got a release saying they're going to introduce Claudio Lopez and Ivan Trujillo to the press on Tuesday and figured that the area would probably be vastly different than what they are used to, well, at least Lopez. I'm guessing Kansas City will provide a change of pace if nothing else, perhaps a bit of much-needed (public) obscurity for Piojo perhaps.

As far as player movement, the focus is on Central and South America. Gazidis said as much during the call. KC is a perfect example of that, having brought in an Argentine and a Colombian to beef up their front line.

MLS teams should continue tapping into the South American pipeline and getting in guys like Toja and Richetti and Gomez and Conde.

Anonymous said...

I found myself in the lobby of a trade show in Anaheim last week speaking with a British lady over for the show, and the subject of Beckham came up...she said that he never should have left Europe, since he still has it...I asked where he would play, since none of the big 4 seemed very interested in him, and she said "Newcastle would take him"...my response was "where would you want to live-Newcastle or LA?"

I'm sure that for similar (admittedly not as lucrative, though) reason the likes of Kansas City or Columbus probably looks good compared to some of the options available in South America...stable paychecks, safety for your family, no extortionists/kidnappings, etc...

Nick said...

LB,

Did he talk about Libertadores???

L.B. said...

I was on the call for an hour and he didn't mention Copa Libertadores. Nor did he talk about Sudamericana.

My opinion on the tournaments is that MLS isn't ready yet to compete in Libertadores, but I'm not sure if the league feels the same as well. If I have the chance to talk to Ivan Gazidis soon I'll ask him about Libertadores.

Joseph D'Hippolito said...

This seems like more MLS-speak. We want to increase the talent level with foreign players but we won't increase the salary cap.

I guess Nike isn't the only one relying on outsourcing cheap foreign labor.

Ty Harden lives on....

Anonymous said...

Thumbs Up for this write up, any more news up your sleeves ?

It's good to see more South American players coming to play MLS.

Now all they need to do is to increase specially the minimum salaries (so there are less dropouts/moving abroad of future players) and increase the salarycap by at least 1.5 M$ or more.


Currently the cap is estimated to be 2.3M$
14 Teams(2008) + 2Seattle/Philly = 36.8M$

Now I don't know the numbers of how much good/bad the MLS does, but an increase of the cap to 4M$ would be very good.

Each team could add 4-5 200k players or 8-10 100k ones) + and the talent pool (rookies) would get more aswell.

IMO that would already be a huge step forward in the right direction. if it's realistic that's another matter MLS would have to pay 64M $ salary then.

Ben

just another one of you said...

Luis or Andrea, do either of you know where to find the total revenue # for MLS? It would be good to see what % of revenues is taken up by player salaries. Most leagues try to stay around 30-40%, but I have no clue what the MLS is currently at. The league probably has a ton of debt to write off so I doubt it's near tha #, but at least with this info we'd have an idea at where the cap # should be.

L.B. said...

I think that figure would be difficult to come by. If it's a low number, it could scare off investors so the league probably wouldn't want to make that public.

As far as increasing the cap, with all the money coming in due to new owners, new clubs, new stadiums, etc., at some point that has to trickle down to the players and hopefully soon it will in the form of an increased cap and higher salaries across the board for players.

Anonymous said...

Libertadores!!!! This has to happen sometime in the future, right? I think the top teams in MLS can compete...Thats the tournement I want to see an MLS team in!!

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