Major League Soccer needs Toronto FC to win MLS Cup
Major League Soccer seeks two things: parity and legacy. Yet those goals cannot be achieved simultaneously. One must come before the other. That is why the league and its fans need Toronto FC to win the 2017 MLS Cup.
The sporting equivalent of Marxism is becoming all the rage in sport.
The Premier League set the ball rolling in Europe by distributing its television revenues almost (but not quite) equally among all clubs. Truth be told, the Bundesliga already had a similar formula, but Germany is the EU teacher’s pet, always ready with the correct solution, raising its hand and shouting “Ooh, ooh!” to show off its wholesome righteousness. Everyone ignores them.
When the uber-capitalist English competition decided it was healthy for all 20 clubs to have a fair financial chance to compete, peer pressure forced even La Liga to revise its give-everything-to-Real-Madrid-and-Barcelona system.
America is where parity took hold, though. In a country where communism is evil, socialism a dirty word, and the Senate has passed a huge tax break for the rich before the bill is even complete and can be independently evaluated, sports leagues are totalitarian. Each and every one desires parity.
There is no promotion or relegation. Power is consolidated between 30 (MLB, NBA), 31 (NHL), or 32 (NFL) teams.
Salary caps of various types and severity are designed to keep teams equal. Spending on players is either expressly limited or severely taxed when the threshold is surpassed. Ostensibly, this was collectively bargained by owners to control spending and players to promote freedom of movement and competitive wages. For both, it’s about spreading the wealth. Yet, in true Soviet fashion, it also punishes entrepreneurial excellence.
When a team wins a title, its core players become highly desired commodities. Other teams are willing to pay them more money. The champion cannot give them all raises while staying below the salary cap. Therefore, it loses its best players and typically cannot defend its title. Another team rises in its place, then endures the same consequences. Parity.
Of course, there are a few teams, the New England Patriots, Cleveland Cavaliers, Golden State Warriors, Pittsburgh Penguins, who are able to defy parity to remain perennial title contenders. Still, despite generational talents such as LeBron James and Sidney Crosby, athleticism has gone from being the core product in sport to mere window dressing. You may disagree, but Bill Belichick is more important to New England’s dynasty than Tom Brady. Winning is predicated on business acumen. That is why transfer policy is so heavily reported and fantasy leagues based on salary are so popular.
Major League Soccer is too young to have established a legacy. The 2017 MLS Cup will complete the competition’s 22nd season. How many people in history, let alone contemporary society, have established their legacy before their 22nd birthday? Joan of Arc. Shirley Temple. Audie Murphy. Nadia Comaneci. Britney Spears and Justin Bieber if you have no soul.
Elvis Presley just barely squeezes in. His breakout era came from the time he was 21-23. The important thing about each figure is they are instantly identifiable by their great achievements. They didn’t merely repeat what others before them had accomplished. Each broke new ground. Well, not Britney or Justin, unless (again) you have no soul.
It’s amazing the list's legitimate members made their mark at such young ages. It's also extremely rare. Unless Major League Soccer relaxes its fixation on parity, accumulating similar icons within its ranks will take decades. It is already too far behind other leagues, both in football and other sports, to wait. Commissioner Don Garber and the owners for whom he works should be focused on building a legacy rather than maintaining competitive balance. Parity is only beneficial to a strong brand.
Look how Europe’s top leagues established their renown. In each case, one dominant team forged the path. Bayern Munich for the Bundesliga. Real Madrid for La Liga. Juventus for Serie A. Liverpool for the Premier League. In each case, others came before, some after. But when those four clubs found their stride, hoo boy.
In North America, it’s the same. The New York Yankees, Boston Celtics, Green Bay Packers, and Montreal Canadiens were all historic dynasties that lifted their leagues to new heights. Parity became the goal when those teams had grown their leagues to a size where many others needed to win to maintain that growth.
By emphasising parity and rapid expansion from the off, Major League Soccer is getting ahead of itself. It hasn’t found a truly dominant side as yet. DC United won three of the first four MLS Cups, then faded. LA Galaxy have won five and had David Beckham for a while. Yet, they’ve also fallen by the wayside. Beckham and Landon Donovan are rarely discussed. Marco Etcheverry, aka el Diablo, is as forgotten as Fred Dewhurst.
Seattle has an opportunity to win back-to-back titles. An argument can be made that its fanbase is already legendary. On the other hand, Borussia Dortmund is also famous for its passionate followers. No one other than BvB’s blindly loyal enthusiasts will tell you they are as big a club as Bayern.
On the pitch, the Sounders best player is Clint Dempsey. He’s 34. The side finished second in the Western Conference this season, seventh overall. That isn’t legendary dominance. It’s hanging around. And not for much longer, at that.
Meanwhile, Toronto FC has just completed the most dominant regular season in MLS’ short history. The Reds won the Supporters Shield by twelve points over the closest competitor. They scored more goals and conceded less than any other side. The roster features a powerful triumvirate in Sebastian Giovinco, Michael Bradley, and Jozy Altidore, who at 30, 30, and 28 have time to build a legend, assuming it can overcome the league’s anti-dynastic policies.
The initial step will be winning the MLS Cup. The next will be making their mark in the Concacaf Champions League. If MLS wants to be seen as a top league, it must finally end Liga MX’s continental reign.
This is also a season in which the United States failed to qualify for the World Cup. If a single team can rise to dominate the regular season, playoffs, and beyond, football fans outside the MLS market will have an outstanding side with exciting players who spark the imagination, rather than a generic league in a far-off, overrated country. They’ll want to see them do it again. Then again.
Partisan emotions aside, Toronto FC is in a unique position to give Major League Soccer a true dynasty. That’s in every supporter’s interest.