The Vanishing American Middle Class

I was looking for an excuse to link to these guys. Here's the money quote, which summarizes a conversation you yourselves are probably having with, er, yourselves:

This hits close to home as a fan of the Galaxy, the MLS team whose income distribution most closely resembles that of France in 1788. (Except Frank Yallop would have said they couldn't storm the Bastille because they were too ********ing knackered.)

For MLS to solve this problem, they first have to accept that it actually is a problem. I don't see that happening. With Scandinavia putting up the Statue of Liberty with Viking horns, the Mighty Ducks of Trondheim have been a useful safety valve for discontented, underpaid and underappreciated serfs such as Pat Noonan. If this is still the case when Eddie Pope and the MLSPU comes around again in 2010, then even MLS players will have a little trouble making their case. The great players get paid by MLS, the discontented ones join the ambitious on the boat, and the young ones get a shot that they would otherwise wouldn't.

The quality of play argument is compelling, but in a way that's extremely hard to quantify financially. Teams that win don't outdraw teams that lose in MLS. Taking Houston and New England as teams which flowed well last year - well, neither team won its division. The teams that did win their division arguably were the prettiest to watch in the league - and they flopped in the first round. All this while the Galaxy were swimming in Olympic pools filled with gold coins like Scrooge McDuck.

And then there's the difficulty of applying this on the micro/player level. In theory, good players who contribute to championships shouldn't be tossed aside. In practice, if New England thinks Wells Thompson and Adam Cristman have more upside than Andy Dorman and Pat Noonan, that's a case they can defend even outside of what they get paid. Get Dominic Kinnear or Oliver Luck on "The Moment of Truth," and ask them whether they think they can replace Joseph Ngwenya. That would be, what, a $5 question? "Thanks for the goal and all, but what have you done for me lately?"

It's been pointed out that a number of young prospects are avoiding MLS entirely, to try their luck abroad. Good for them. They're not famous yet, they haven't made a dime for MLS, and if they do come back home, they usually they end up becoming the next Dario Brose or Stefani Miglioranzi. Anyone think Ramiro Corrales is gonna tear it up for New Jose this year? Yeah, didn't think so.

And given finite resources (a dubious assumption given guys with pockets as deep as Anschutz and Allen, but work with me here), what do you put your cash into - middle-class guys who help you win...or youth academies? You know, the Holy Grails of player development? If this is the choice that gets presented to hardcore fans like you and me, I shudder once more for the plight of middle-class players (who have actually already contributed to the league and its teams, unlike the vast majority of kids who enter youth academies).

And, to make matters worse, isn't this pretty much what teams who aren't big profitable behemoths face all over the world? Talent flows upward - in European soccer, in American baseball, in...okay, not in politics. Okay, not in a lot of branches of show business. But in sports, generally, accounting for the vagaries of scouting and consistency, the rich tend to employ the skilled.

There are plenty of "Yes, but" responses to this, most of which I would agree with. How can freaking Scandinavian teams turn people like Ngwenya and Noonan into money, but MLS can't? What happens if the Mighty Ducks of Trondheim make a similar economic decision as MLS, and decide to win with their own U-23s and O-32's, rather than our middle class? How do seemingly-distant MLSPU collective barganing negotiations affect all this? Didn't Sunil Gulati try to hardball MLS players back in the 90's, leading to the league being so amazingly profitable it had to fold two franchises and lost something like half its original I/O's?

This is going to be a discussion that lasts a long while. And in this discussion, money won't talk - it'll stand on the table and scream at the top of its lungs.