It was anticipated, perhaps hoped, that the league’s Board of Governors, consisting of many owners, would attempt to take advantage of the attention on the league brought by its streaming deal with Apple, Lionel Messi’s joining Miami, and the World Cup coming in 2026.
Because of MLS’s unique rules for acquisition -- there are more than 10 different categories or ways to sign players -- in addition to a salary budget/cap, the predictions were that some of those legal handbrakes would be removed. The goal would be to make it easier for each team to spend their money how they want to spend it. The players hate all of the categories. Some supporters of clubs still don’t understand the labyrinth of rules: how the age of Designated Players affects the number of Under 22 signings a team can make. What’s the difference between a Under 22 signing and a Young DP? There are Homegrowns AND draft picks? Players can’t be called up from the second time any time the manager wants? Not all of a players’ salary goes against the cap? What’s a transfer fee? Senior roster players....are they older or just the most expensive?
Those are just a few examples that could have been streamlined.
Instead, the owners did nothing.
No fourth Designated Player.
No marked increased in the salary cap.
No taking advantage of Apple and Messi.
MLS has been very deliberate in managing its growth and expenses. It should be commended. Commissioner Don Garber has overseen progress that wasn’t expected when the league’s first games were played in 1996. The league now stretches from Vancouver to Miami, Toronto to San Diego in 2025. It is, as Garber pointed out last week, the biggest league geographically in the world. It will have 30 teams.
Some of the rules were put into place long ago so that the owners who don’t want to spend don’t have to spend. With expansion fees now eclipsing $500 million, owners want to recoup that cost sooner. Doing so requires putting a quality team on the pitch to draw in the ticket-buyers, corporate sponsors and local merchandise sales.
It’s nearing time for it to make it easier to sign more quality players from around the world and to develop more quality players from their academies to push to pass Ligue 1 in France and the Eredivisie in Holland.
It would have been so easy. Increase the cap on the team’s Senior roster players from $5.2 million to something more significant. Allow intraleague transfers for real money instead of for a made-up currency called Allocation Money. Get rid of the Young DP/DP rule so that teams can sign as many players with potential as they want. Allow managers to call up players from their academies or 2s whenever they want, instead of the maximum four times a year. There were past Atlanta United managers who were stunned they couldn’t call up players from the Academy or 2s to play with the first team as often as wanted.
MLS started because of the 1994 World Cup. The eyes of the world will again be here and on MLS in the years before and after the 2026 World Cup.
It’s time to make some reasonable changes.
It’s past time.