New recruit Michael Roach offers us an insight into one of the fastest growing leagues in the world – Major League Soccer.
In the past few years, the MLS (Major League Soccer) has gained a growing notoriety in world football since it’s formation in 1996, thanks in no small part to former England captain and pioneering football megastar David Beckham. Today, fans can see stars such as Tim Cahill, Rafael Marquez and Thierry Henry – and that’s for the New York Red Bulls alone! The MLS is a unique league which prides itself on traditions that you might associate more closely with American Football rather than European ‘Soccer’.
The current MLS has 19 teams spread across the United States (16) and Canada (3), split into two individual leagues or ‘conferences’, Eastern and Western. The league is unique in that there is no promotion or relegation, and the league is decided by a playoff. Furthermore, ownership of the clubs belong to the league, and operations are controlled by the franchise’s (team’s) investors.
The season runs for 34 games from March to December, culminating in the playoffs for the MLS cup, the league title. The playoffs are contested by 10 teams, the 5 with the most points in each conference. The top 3 teams receive a bye, whilst the 4th and 5th place teams contest the first round. Though not compulsory, teams will often participate in high profile friendlies during the summer break, including a league select team: The MLS AllStars, who most recently beat Chelsea in Summer 2012.
In order for the teams to get through these fixtures, each franchise is allowed a squad of 30 players, comprising of 20 seniors, who contribute to an annual squad salary cap of $2.81 million, and 10 young players, split across Generation Adidas players and Senior Entry Level players – both of which are on fixed salaries, though neither contribute to the overall squad salary cap. Match day squads comprise of 18 players, with all 30 players available for selection subject to injury or suspension. Teams are allowed 2 ‘designated players’ by default and can purchase another slot for $250,000. The designated player rule has also been called ‘the David Beckham rule’ in the past, as the rule was created to allow LA Galaxy to pay his salary despite it not fitting the salary cap – each designated player contributes $350,000 to the salary cap budget, however. In order to ensure a wealth of homegrown talent within the league, each club started with only 8 international slots, which could be traded within the league system in exchange for money. The Canadian clubs could fill their domestic slots with both US and Canadian nationals, though a minimum of 3 Canadians must be on their team rosters.
In order to recruit players, teams may use the annual drafting process, similar to the NFL, where teams pick from a pool of players to fill their roster, starting with the team with the lowest ranking in the previous season. Team can also trade players with each other in exchange for allocation money (transfer funds) and/or draft picks and international slots – though unlike in Europe, contracts are not automatically renegotiated, and teams may decide to keep players on their existing contract. US National Team players returning to the USA do so in a unique process whereby they sign first with the league, and then are offered first to expansion franchises (teams who have just joined the league in the season), and then to the teams in ascending order of rank, just as in the draft process.
Though perhaps a lot to get your head around at first, the MLS is an exciting league that has had 9 different winners in only 16 seasons – with all teams having a realistic chance of winning. Whilst fans would expect New York Red Bulls and LA Galaxy to dominate the leagues, neither are the most successful, with the Galaxy having won the league 3 times, and the New York Red Bulls (formerly the MetroStars) yet to win an MLS cup. The MLS cup isn’t the only award that players and teams set their eyes on throughout the season however, with various rivalry cups (usually for local derbies) up for grabs, as well as the MVP Award, Best XI, Coach of the Year, Golden Boot and Rookie of the Year awards – amongst many more.
To celebrate the league’s growing popularity, I’ll be bringing you fortnightly round-ups from around the league, including the latest team news, results and match round-ups – right here on ‘It’s Round and It’s White’ as MLS Editor!
Next time it’s time to nail your colours to the mast, when I bring you an introduction to all the teams. Will you be one of ‘The Screaming Eagles’, ‘The LA Riot Squad’ or even one of the ‘Sons of Ben’? Stick with us and find out!