MLS Ready

Great Expections

When Major League Soccer was first being discussed in 1988, it was done so as a condition of FIFA awarding the 1994 World Cup to the United States. The governing body required the country to have a Division 1 professional league. It would provide an opportunity for young Americans to be able to play professionally in their own backyard and gain opportunities that hadn’t existed prior to it. In 2021, the league is proving to be a hotspot for developing young talent and turning them into international superstars. Clubs from around the globe are starting to take notice as well.

Canadian Alphonso Davies was a product of the Vancouver Whitecaps residency program, before taking the league by storm and eventually moving to Bayern Munich, where he helped the team win a Champions League title at just 19-years-old. He then became the first Canadian in history to ever be named to the FIFA FIFPRO World XI.

Davies is far from the only example, with American teenager Bryan Reynolds causing a stir in Italy for his services in January. Both Juventus and Roma were fighting for his signature after just two years in MLS. The FC Dallas academy product was the club’s youngest ever home-grown player and will be plying his trade in Rome in 2021.

“We actually had a bidding war among several Champions League teams, which is a new dynamic,” FC Dallas CEO and chairman Clark Hunt told media. “I think that says a lot about where our academy is, but it also speaks to the quality of the American player. With Major League Soccer helping, we’re starting to develop world class players through our academies.”

FC Dallas have sent a variety of academy players to Europe in recent years including Chris Richards to Bayern Munich in May, 2018 and Weston McKennie currently playing with Juventus.

As the league continues to expand and grow, we will see more talented young players shipped off to the world’s biggest clubs. While many question whether the league will ever be able to keep hold of their brightest stars, MLS is clearly trending in the right direction. Expect to see more North Americans playing across Europe sooner than later.

Not So Good

The threat of players being locked out by their owners and not being able to take the pitch or earn a wage is real. It is in their best interest that MLS owners and the MLSPA negotiate a Collective Bargaining Agreement that makes sense for all involved, but sometimes that can be easier said than done.

The COVID-19 pandemic shook up the sporting world, with MLS being no exception. As a result, a new CBA had to be agreed upon in order for the league to still be able to function and operate. The union agreed to help owners and extend the CBA by one year through 2026, while also reducing the salary cap every year from 2022 to 2025. The revenue-sharing plan for the next media rights deal was also reduced from 25% to 12.5% for 2024.

However, the MLSPA wants MLS to lower the qualifying criteria for free agency to players 23 years of age or older and with at least four years of service in MLS. That’s compared to the previous threshold of 24 years of age and five years of service.

Even if the 2021 season isn’t affected at all by a lockout, the lengthy negotiation process and uncertainty is not good for the players, owners or the fans. The pandemic has already caused enough confusion for people, the last thing they want is more from a sports league.

It is important that the league operates on a fair deal for both the players and the owners, but they need to find a way to come together faster than what we saw in January for the benefit of all involved.

Ugly Stuff

While every league goes through their silly season fuelled with rumours running rampant and transfer gossip spreading like a forest fire, Major League Soccer has often taken the cake for the most ridiculous news.

United States Men’s National Team head coach Gregg Berhalter did not do his star striker any favours when he discussed Jozy Altidore’s current situation. The tactician mentioned that the 31-year-old had a plethora of suitors interested in his services.

“Jozy is another focus of transfer speculation,” Berhalter told members of the media. “I don’t think it’s my place to go into details of that. I think that’s a place for his club and for Jozy. But there have been a number of clubs interested in Jozy, as well as other players in camp.”

It wasn’t long after Berhalter’s press conference that it was reported the American no longer wanted to play in Toronto as his relationship with the team’s general manager Ali Curtis has been strained. He also reported that an unknown Mexican team had inquired about Altidore’s services.

The striker quickly took to Twitter though to help take control of the situation and try to squash the speculation. “Don’t believe everything you read. The devil is working overtime” Altidore wrote.

It remains to be seen whether there was any truth to the rumours, but it does go to show that everything is not always what it appears and you cannot necessarily believe everything that you hear.

Altidore signed with the Reds prior to the 2015 season and has made over 150 appearances for the club during his six seasons in Toronto. He helped lead Toronto to their first MLS Cup triumph in 2017, being named the MLS Cup MVP after scoring the winning goal in the 67th minute. He signed a three-year contract extension in 2019 that runs through 2022, worth a little more than $6m per season.

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