Op-Ed: Why MLS Is Ruining American Soccer

I was in Orlando covering the USSF Presidential Election in February 2018, and the obvious public relationship between USSF and MLS was a little disheartening. The seemingly unlimited “conflicts of interest” topics that came up publicly throughout the process- from Kathy Carter offering a position to one of the biggest soccer agents in the country (who represents a large majority of MLS elite players) if she were elected, to the weird huddle off to the side during the election of MLS and USSF brain trusts after the second round of voting which resulted in a 27 PERCENT jump in favor of Carlos Cordeiro (and a 23% decrease from Kathy Carter’s votes):

The constant questions and speculation about the Athlete’s Council and their votes, a number of soccer reporters seemingly ignoring certain stories, the numerous common financial interests between MLS, SUM, USSF and major TV Networks Fox and ESPN, the fact that Eric Wynalda was suddenly no longer with Fox following his Presidential Campaign, Hope Solo receiving a standing ovation following a speech that basically said USSF was completely corrupt. The list goes on, during an election process that featured public mud-slinging and political bashing following the United States’ failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

Then came Jermaine Jones, who said that the blind draw orchestrated by MLS between the New England Revolution and Chicago Fire which was supposed to decide where he would play following his move from Europe never actually happened, and insisted that his agent (the same agent who Kathy Carter promised a position to) came and told him he would be playing in New England.

Leading up to the United States’ must-win match with Trinidad and Tobago, US Manager Bruce Arena- who has coached in MLS for a number of years and who many were skeptical of from the time he was announced- also started making some rather strange comments and decisions. The day before the critical qualifying match, he went on a rant about how he would love to see some of the “European Hotshots” try to qualify in CONCACAF, a statement that came off as either a) so naive that top European teams like Spain or France couldn’t qualify in arguably the easiest qualifying region in the world that maybe he was losing it, or b) so pro-American (and, honestly, pro-MLS) that his loyalty to his country was maybe a bit blinding.

Then you realize that Arena didn’t call Europe-based Fabian Johnson into camp for those important last few qualifying matches (resulting in Kellyn Acosta having to spend time at left back vs T&T). He left Geoff Cameron (a regular starter in the EPL for the past few seasons and one of our best defenders) on the bench in favor of Matt Besler. And then, out comes Danny Williams with this gem of a quote:

Obviously I spoke to the boys when I was in Portugal. Everybody has a different view. I heard from a few people that they tried to ‘market the MLS’ a bit more in the [World Cup] qualifying games and get a name for the MLS. At the end of the day it shouldn’t be about that. It should be about quality and bringing the best players and having a plan. That is it. It is not only the U.S. that failed. Holland failed. Italy. Chile. This is unbelievable. Something is obviously going wrong because other smaller nations, they are speeding up their process. When I look at Iceland, they are a small country but they are actually playing at the World Cup.

Then Paul Arriola signs a massive deal with MLS side DC United (the most expensive deal in the club’s history), and come to find out it was actually (former DC United manager) Bruce Arena himself who told Arriola he should make the move.

Maybe this is all a collection of events that MLS felt was necessary as damage control, following the constant damning criticism of the overall quality of MLS from previous USMNT manager (and one of the all-time greatest strikers in the world)  Jurgen Klinnsman. Whatever accounts for all of these coincidences, one thing seemed certain during qualifying: MLS had some influence over what players were selected and showcased, and those selections were usually pro-MLS.

This all makes today’s news that MLS will offer financial compensation to MLS clubs for the purchase and development of INTERNATIONAL youth players even more frustrating. Throughout the USSF Presidential Election, youth development was one of the hottest topics out there. Everyone became an expert on what we need to do better to help develop more quality US Soccer players. The “college vs Europe” debate continued to heat up. Training compensation and solidarity payments both became common knowledge as we debated how we can help US Youth Clubs develop more domestic talent. During Qualifying, the “pro-MLS” bias and obvious favoritism towards the selection of certain US-based players was to the point where Arena himself could have been wearing a MAGA hat and nobody would have noticed. Now the league is going to put a financial compensation structure in place to help purchase and develop INTERNATIONAL PLAYERS?! It baffles the mind.

For anyone who isn’t familiar with the US Soccer Development Academy, you have MLS clubs and non-MLS clubs competing with each other, but it’s not exactly a level playing field. Non-MLS (and USYSA clubs) are basically out there on their own in terms of their clubs’ financial earnings. They’re responsible for improving facilities, paying for field rentals, and covering the numerous costs associated with being a USSDA club, resulting in some parents investing THOUSANDS of dollars each year on club fees, travel costs on weekends for matches, getting their kids to 3-4 training sessions per week. MLS Clubs typically have more resources at their disposal, but as someone who spent a few years as an assistant in USSDA, I’m familiar with the multiple sacrifices that both parents and kids (can’t play for their high school teams, having to do their homework in the car every night, etc.) make while playing at such a competitive level (USSDA and USYSA) and it’s EXTREMELY disheartening to hear that, instead of MLS stepping in and offering financial incentives to improve youth development efforts for our own players, they’ve decided to help every MLS franchise owner who paid the $150million franchise fee with another source of revenue by providing them with the funds (and, likely, resources) to go out, buy a few youth international players, bring them to the States, and sell them for a profit a few seasons later.

This will obviously be taking away even more opportunities from US-based players, during a time when more Division 1 NCAA programs are offering scholarships to International players, there are more International players getting first-team minutes in MLS than in the past, forcing top young American talent to spend a few seasons in USL before hopefully breaking into the first team in MLS (which continues to look less and less likely as each year passes). The MLS Draft has basically become irrelevant over the past few seasons, and today’s news is yet another reminder why MLS is limiting the overall potential for soccer in the United States.

I don’t even need to go into the MLS and SUM partnership which obviously plays a big part in the growing number of people who don’t trust MLS’ true intentions, which always seems to be about one thing: money. This is no different. The constant over-exaggeration of attendance numbers at every MLS match at the beginning of the season, the league forcing individual MLS clubs to tweet out and promote matches which feature two different teams (which DC United called MLS out on a few months ago), and this season they seemed to be stooping to a new low- Tweeting out transfer rumors like Balotelli and Wayne Rooney to DC United before the transfers ever even materialized.

Oh, and don’t even get me started on promotion and relegation. MLS (together with USSF) continue their desperate efforts to ignore the general public’s outcries to recognize a second division in order to introduce pro/rel, but instead of looking at the expansion that comes along with pro/rel as a way to add more teams and actually improve overall development opportunities for United States players, they are more focused on the $150 million franchise fees that they can collect each time a new team is added.

Right now there are 23 MLS teams, let’s say 28 players on each team’s roster. Once the league gets to, lets say 26 teams, that is a total of 728 roster spots that are available.

If the league were, instead, able to evolve into two divisions with, say 20 teams in each division, that’s a total of 1,120 roster spots that are available. And on top of it, the league is now able to introduce teams in smaller markets and in markets where they have no presence at all, allowing the sport to flourish in more markets and introducing the passion that comes with a promotion/relegation battle to the players, fans, and next generation of youth players. Instead, a short-term money grab of $150 million for each MLS franchise, similar to the short-term solution that was announced today that will see MLS clubs purchase young International players and sell them for a profit in a few years.

If MLS actually cared more about youth development in our country and less about short-term ideas on how they can make more money for their team owners, they would not have introduced a “youth transfer fee” system which will limit the number of first team opportunities for our domestic youth players.

The league is clearly more concerned with Tweets which will result in more clicks, commercials which try to brainwash people into believing “this is OUR soccer”, fake attendance numbers so they can show their 2% increase to the TV Networks every season, and trying to sell the fake promises to the general American public that MLS has the quality on the field and overall infrastructure to compete with other top leagues in the world.

It’s all based on lies and money, and if you think it will be HELPING our US Men’s National Team over the next 4-8-12 years, I hate to say it but you’re drinking the Kool-Aid.


It’s Finally Over

As the 2018 USSF Presidential Election comes to a conclusion, the mud-slinging and political warfare has ended, the smoke has cleared, and the (soccer) people have spoken.

Carlos Cordeiro will be the next USSF President.

Each candidate focused on “change”, a keyword that has floated around Twitter and social media discussions often. It’s a process that many are excited has come to a conclusion. Each candidate was given 5 minutes to make their case, with the first being Paul Caligiuri, who focused on his overall credentials as a potential candidate. A USMNT veteran with a passion for coaching and youth development, he told potential voters that “your vote represents everyone” within US Soccer- fans, players, coaches, everyone…and asked them to “feel and share my unified vision”. Unfortunately, Caligiuri was the first eliminated when the first round of voting concluded.

first round of ussf voting

Next up was Steve Gans, whose message to voters was that his experience in a successful corporate environment, paired with his lifelong passion for the sport which started at a young age, made him the best man for the job. Gans told the story of his father immigrating from Germany to Boston, introducing Gans to the beautiful game at a young age. Gans said that State Associations carriy a burden, which local state associations actually identified with after speaking to a few local representatives. However, Gans was the third to withdraw, after the second round of voting concluded and it became obvious that Carter and Cordeiro were the front-runners.

Gans was followed by Michael Winograd, who focused his attention on the cost associated with playing youth soccer in the United States, referring it to a “money grab”. Winograd also focused on his experience working for “the biggest companies in the world”, and urged voters to consider him as the most likely candidate to “make US Soccer better”. Winograd, like Gans, withdrew after the second round of voting

second round of ussf voting

Kathy Carter spoke next, and talked about her dad coaching her at a young age, despite knowing nothing about soccer and wearing baseball cleats instead of soccer “boots”. Carter pledged to “lead change, not by using a few band-aids, but through hard work”. Carter said that the lessons she has learned in the business world gives her the ability to lead, vowing to make improvements in youth soccer and going “all-in” as it relates to the women’s program. Carter said it was time to “stop talking, and move towards action”, vowing her commitment to the game and overall soccer community.

Up next was Kyle Martino, who gave an early shout-out to his youth coach in Connecticut who he says was in attendance. Martino stated that unity was still a possibility after such a heated election, and accredited his parents for being able to afford for him to play soccer growing up as a big part of him being given the opportunity to run for USSF President. Martino stated that US Soccer was not available to underserved youth, saying that participation was down 25% from last year. He focused on grassroots movements, vowing to empower State youth soccer associations, and pushing for “change”, as he continued to deliver his speech over the music that was attempting to play him off of the stage.

Eric Wynalda followed Martino, vowing to keep his speech short and to the point. Wynalda said that US Soccer, as a whole, would be better off after this election process. He said that he was ready, as a candidate, to “fight to the very end”, but said “the fighting stops here”. Wynalda said that he planned to help collaborate all groups (youth, adult, professional, etc.), asking voters who claimed they were ready for change to “vote with your heart”.

Hope Solo was up next, and the former USWNT GK came out firing. She mentioned the complaint that she filed against USSF, and went on to “throw shade” at both Kathy Carter and Carlos Cordeiro, which rubbed many within US Soccer the wrong way. Sge said that Cordeiro failed to stand up for unsafe playing conditions for women players, and claimed that he did not stand up for equal pay for women. She used the pay discrepency between herself and Tim Howard as an example, then went on to mention Kathy Carter whom she publicly criticized throughout the election. Despite Solo’s loud standing ovation at the conclusion of her speech, her words failed to register with voters, earning only 1.5% of votes once the second round of voting concluded. Leading into the third round, once Winograd and Gans withdrew, she would be the candidate most likely to be eliminated, but it didn’t matter.

Last to present was Carlos Cordeiro, who many viewed as one of the two “establishment” candidates who were both front-runners. It was a bit awkward for Cordeiro to follow Solo after the allegations she made against him, but he didn’t appear shook and delivered a composed speech to voters. He said that he was the candidate most qualified to actually deliver change, stating that he was the only presidential candidate who had the necessary full-scope vision and plan that were necessary to implement.

Once the third round of voting concluded, Cordeiro was the winner after obtaining 50% of the vote that was necessary for victory. He gave his acceptance speech, followed by an emotional goodbye from Sunil Gulati.

Local Reaction

Following the election results, I caught up with MSYSA board members who were in attendance. They stated that they spoke to every candidate, and said the decision was extremely difficult in the end. However, they believed that Carlos Cordeiro was the best option when they thought about who was best for youth soccer in Maryland and in the United States, also stating that he was the candidate who could most likely deliver a World Cup hosting bid for the United States in 2026. They made sure to stress that they seriously considered every candidate, and their decision was extremely difficult, however they went with Cordeiro, who Virginia Youth Soccer Association also sided with.

The 2018 USSF Presidential Campaign has come to a close, with Carlos Cordeiro elected as the next President of US Soccer.

But Wait, There’s More…

Baltimore USL

While in the lobby, I ran into a USL representative who could be considered EXTREMELY reliable. I asked if they had heard any updates about the potential for Baltimore as a USL city, they even said they had seen our petition which was pretty humbling.

I was able to confirm that an announcement would be coming in the next 60 days, with an ownership group approved. The only hold-up is the stadium announcement, which was coming along and apparently a few potential locations are currently being considered.

We both seemed extremely excited about the near future as it relates to USL coming to Baltimore, which looks to be finally becoming a reality after years of speculation. Extremely good news for Baltimore soccer!

Family Business

I just got done watching Jermaine Jones’ epic Instagram rant against MLS and their close relationship with the USSF, and the main point that he tried to get across to everyone was “if you see something that doesn’t make sense, or doesn’t seem to add up, speak out against it.”

Jermaine Jones is a guy who played for 11 different clubs in his 18-year pro playing career. He’s someone who I’ve followed (and covered) dating back to his days at Schalke when there were talks of him potentially switching from Germany to The United States because of a falling out with the coach… or federation… I don’t remember which, because the incredibly-talented CDM who made 69 appearances and always came up clutch for the Stars and Stripes seemed to usually having a falling out with someone.

Not that it’s always a bad thing… some might call him outspoken, others might call him passionate.

One thing he seemed genuinely passionate about tonight after his first IG Live post caused more than a few ripples the first time around back in October, was the huge problem that United States soccer fans are seemingly ignoring: USSF’s close relationship with Major League Soccer.

Let’s ignore Pro/Rel, whether we need more players in Europe, Cyle Larin transfer fees and normal soccer banter over the past 4 months and jump straight to the point….

Kathy Carter will more than likely be elected as the next US Soccer Federation’s president, and what ultimately pushed her over the edge were votes from the athlete’s council, as many have Tweeted about and speculated.

Hope Solo Tweeted Julie Foudy two days ago, asking her if she organized a call with “select” athletes.

So did you not organize a call last week with select, but not all, former players as well as current players and athlete council members advocating for the status-quo Kathy Carter?

Which Foudy replied:

I did organize call. But wasn’t to talk about candidates. Sorry to disappoint. It was about the power of the athletes council. And how to best utilize that power.

Well it appears that they are fully utilizing that power, because many believe that the call was to “suggest” that current and ex-athletes would be better off (professionally) with Carter as their vote for President. Kathy Carter has a close relationship with Wasserman Media Group, which many also believe have been using political influence to persuade voters to choose Carter.

It’s fair to say that Wasserman Media Group has a strong political influence in the soccer community, and despite whatever went down on that call, it’s becoming apparent that it’s very likely that Wasserman is putting pressure on others to vote for Carter. Many believe that a call went down, and thanks to Julie herself confirming it (we’re not saying Foudy is involved, Foudy isn’t a Wasserman client, but the agency does represent a number of on-air personalities and television is something Wasserman is very involved in) I believe that it’s now on them to provide the notes from the call, and provide “transparency” and “change” and “leadership” and all of those other annoying buzzwords floating around campaigns that make you want to throw your phone in the closest container holding a liquid.

Oh, and Wasserman also represents Bruce Arena.

Yes, seriously, Bruce Arena.

bruce arena

So when Jermaine Jones says that MLS is the problem, and you start remembering comments from Coach Arena during qualifying  “I’d like to see some of those European hotshots come over here and try to qualify in CONCACAF” and leaving Fabian Johnson off of the roster, continually suggest that MLS players are our best option, and rely on players like Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore and a host of other MLS veterans (I’m not going to the work of researching what agent represents every USMNT player, but I’m sure there are some from Wasserman) and it makes you wonder….does the USSF have US Soccer’s best interest at heart, or do they have MLS’s best interests at heart?

Is ANY OF THIS going to make us a stronger soccer country? Or are we going to turn into a country like Argentina where Messi was willing to retire from the National Team because of the politics and corruption involved in his country’s Federation?

As if it’s not a bitter enough pill to swallow that an “independent commission to review US Soccer” would be lead by a sports agent which represents the higher majority of MLS players and has numerous ties to television, events like the Olympics and a World Cup bid, etc. but you also look at known facts like:

We mentioned in a Tweet that I have spoken to an attorney who is familiar with the USSF Presidential campaign about how USSF could lose their tax-exempt status if Carter was voted as the next USSF president. While this is simply a hypothetical, I believe it still raises the OBVIOUS question of “conflict of interest”.

So if Wasserman is the new chief wahoo of this new “commission” to change US Soccer, and if I sound skeptical of the likelihood that this commission will actually yield any results on how to produce the next Neymar than I assure you, they are genuine, then where does the pencil thin – wait, no, I meant extremely thick, big ol’ magic marker-sized- line of “conflict of interest” come into play?

-Sports agent takes over as head of commission.

-Sports agent’s players benefit monetarily….NOT as a result of Wasserman’s involvement, I’m not painting conspiracy theories, but I’m just saying that over time, like every other athlete, they become more marketable, they’re getting higher contract offers,etc.

-Sports agent, who is now involved with USSF, makes more money as a result, so how is that not a conflict of interest?

But here’s the thing that someone with a lot clearer understanding of how IRS and tax-exempt laws work than I do pointed out. USSF is setup as a 501(c)(3) Non-Profit, and according to the IRS:

A section 501(c)(3) organization must not be organized or operated for the benefit of private interests, such as the creator or the creator’s family, shareholders of the organization, other designated individuals, or persons controlled directly or indirectly by such private interests. No part of the net earnings of a section 501(c)(3) organization may inure to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual. A private shareholder or individual is a person having a personal and private interest in the activities of the organization.

Once again, this is all copy and paste on my end, I am not a lawyer and I have no idea where that thick, 200pixel-wide line of “conflict of interest” is crossed… I’m just listening to Jermaine Jones and speaking out if something doesn’t add up, and all of this just doesn’t add up for me.