Copa America Centenario is in the books and once again the MLS is under scrutiny for not taking a long enough break as it was played. The league stopped play for two weeks from June 3rd- 14th as the tournament moved through the group stages, but failed to account for the 13 (Out of 29) players that made it to the knockout stages. This kept 13 of the league’s biggest players (11 of which are on the USMNT) out of key matches for their respective clubs.
One could make the argument that every team in the league has the same disadvantage, but teams like Orlando City and New York City FC were not affected by the Copa because no player on their roster was called up.
The MLS is a summer league and does not want the headaches associated with stopping play while the tournament is in progress, but what are they teaching owners and fans?
It seems as if teams have been punished for bringing in high quality talent, especially home grown from the United States.
This leads to less talent wanting to associate with the MLS, which means money is being lost because “star players” are not playing, games therefore containing less quality and exciting moments, and results being skewed because the talent that a great deal of money has been spent to bring in is not there to perform. This costs teams valuable points in the title race and could potentially be a deciding factor by the end of the season.
The league should observe a break during a big tournament to respect the owner’s money, player’s talent, and fans’ appreciation. To change the view that it is a farm league, the MLS needs to make changes that allow it to be taken as seriously as the bigger leagues around the world.
Breaks for big tournaments, a relegation system, a more accessible academy program, and higher trade abilities are all things that could impact the league in a positive way. The relegation system is basically already set up because of the USL-Pro and NASL leagues that are technically right ‘below’ the MLS. This three-tiered relegation system would give smaller teams a goal to grow to, and give big teams a reason to get better and stay competitive. The overall effect of a system like this would be higher quality of play, competition, and a more respectable soccer environment.
In the U.S., we have fairly good academy programs, but only if a player has the finances to pay (‘pay to play’ system). Because of this, a lot of players with raw talent and great potential are often overlooked because they do not have the finances necessary to be seen by higher level coaches.
Speak for Yourself analyst Jason Whitlock made the point that until the U.S. can give lower-class children the opportunity to join academy programs, we should not be surprised when they get beat 4-0 by a team like Argentina.
To be successful in the U.S. in one of the most basic games in the world, a player must have money.
I personally had to travel to Dallas (six hours from my home) every other weekend during the fall to play club soccer at a higher level. As you can imagine, it cost my family lots of money that a lot of other kids simply did not have.
We need more competition and more serious pro leagues. This can be done by building from the ground up and having a solid pro league that respects league owners, players, and fans. Hopefully, the next time a big cup like the Copa America comes around, we see a better reaction from Major League Soccer.