Michael Gardner over at Waking the Red has one of the more definitive and effective “How MLS Really Works” type posts up today. I think anyone interested in the weird mechanics of Major League Soccer should take a look. Gardner’s at pains to point out that there is strictly speaking no ‘salary cap’ in MLS, but instead something more resembling a discretionary budget. This distinction matters a great deal, particularly when it comes to the murky world of “allocation money”:

To attempt to level the playing field, MLS sets the budget at the same number ($2.81M in 2012) for each club. Much like fantasy sports leagues the world over, Managers build their rosters against an overall number and operate within a series of (sometimes complex) roster rules as they work through the season. Seems fair and square, right?

Not quite.

Consider a large corporation. This entity starts the year with an overall budget and then sets budgets for each department. As the year goes, it will flex budgets to take advantage of opportunities, increasing some, decreasing others. All of this is done to the benefit of the corporation, not necessarily to the benefit of an individual department. This is the MLS budget process and the way that MLS flexes budgets is via Allocation Money.

This will likely enrage the conspiracy theorists who have long suspected—likely with good cause—that some clubs—particularly those in major US markets—enjoy a healthier relationship with MLS HQ than others when it comes to this ‘flexing.’ It’s not a conspiracy theory to suggest that money might be made available to some markets where it wasn’t made available to others depending on a particular situation. That’s part of the nature of single-entity.

But love it or hate it, if you’re going to run a successful MLS franchise, you’ll have to work within that system.

The takeaway from this piece is that there is a lot of league head office diplomacy that goes into running a Major League Soccer franchise, perhaps more than most fans acknowledge. As in the Mellberg deal (Toronto FC have still yet to go on public record with their account, by the way), the fact Toronto FC may have attempted to squeeze in a fourth DP because of Danny Koevermans injury likely irked other clubs, who would have had a case any such deal would have been made in bad faith. That matters. You can’t can’t just point to the Roster Rules and shrug and hope Don Garber says “okay.”

This is particularly important when it comes to how Toronto FC have run the club since 2007, and why the club would ideally need a president and head of operations on the financial side with experience either in MLS or at least running a sports franchise in similar circumstances. Because the person in that role has to navigate the vague bullshit of the Roster Rules in a way that will help the club on the field. It should most certainly NOT be left to the GM, or worse, first team coach, who couldn’t care less about making nicey nice with the league. In any case, Tom Anselmi was not that man for Toronto FC.

Comments (3)

  1. The MLS system is necessary because, unlike much of the rest of the world, soccer in Canada/US is the fifth most lucrative / valuable professional sport, not the first (or in many cases, the only) one. Unlike ice hockey, baseball, football, and basketball, MLS is not a global monopoly or in a position of global dominance when it comes to attracting and paying players. These factors make MLS very different than the other four major pro sports, and that calls for a different way of doing things, whether we like it or not, and whether they admit it or not.

  2. Does Garber have a son we could hire?

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