Kelly Gray v. The Entity

I'm a tad behind the curve on this (well, a tad in space terms), but I did want to touch on Kelly Gray's brief article against single entity. By the way, it's a royal pain in the ass to try to find stuff in Goal's archives. "Search" function, guys, look into it. (Unless I was thick and I missed it - but then, thick people deserve navigable websites too, ya know.)

That was pretty much the meat of his argument - it would be interesting to see him expand his thoughts on the subject when he isn't preoccupied with Rapidity.

First of all - oh, my God. Calling the Rapids "we". Could he BE more amateurish? There are certain standards of journalistic integrity that we like to adhere to around these parts, Mr. Gray. In the future, at least pretend to be objective. I would never say this to his face, because any professional athlete could wipe the floor with me....but, um, the thing about importing players. I'm trying to say this delicately, but the talent level required to make MLS competitive on a global level would probably put players on the Kelly Gray level out of a job. I'm not entirely sure Kelly was offering to nobly sacrifice his career for the sake of the league. C'mon, you're only 27, you've got years left.

There is a silver lining, depending on what you mean by competitive on a global level. Competing with the Premiership, Serie A, La Liga, and the Bundesliga is completely out of the question. So, in the short run, is competing with FMF teams for FMF stars. I don't know how much money is pouring into the league, but in a serious auction against Club America or Guadalajara, MLS teams are going to lose. But so would the vast majority of teams throughout the world. There's no reason that MLS teams should lose auctions to Scandinavian teams for American players.

Five or six years ago, I would have said (from the safety of my keyboard) that the salary cap was an accurate, if depressing, reflection of how much MLS teams could realistically afford for players. I don't think you can make that case in the post-HDC, post-Beckham era.

Which brings us to the awful chasm between could and will.

Gray seems to make a common mistake - that without single entity, there would be no salary cap. In the global association football market, sure, a salary cap is laughable. On the American sports market, it isn't. People get touchy when it gets phrased as "the Cosmos factor," since there are so many Cosmos partisans who claim that their spending didn't kill the league, since after all they drew big crowds. Fine. We still need some way to convey the possibilty of have-nots in denial spending themselves into oblivion trying to compete with haves. Let's officially rename it "the LA Aztecs factor," in honor of the team that brought in George Best, Teofilo Cubillas, and Johan Cruyff (oh, and Thomas Rongen), and drew numbers that Chivas USA would scoff at.

Yes, it's silly that league rules are necessary to force successful businessmen to adhere to a budget. But businessmen stop being businessmen when they get into sports ownership, for some reason. Fan pressure, ignorance, mendacity, vanity, pure evil - there are as many reasons bad owners become bad owners as there are bad owners. A lemonade stand run by the standards of major league baseball would be shut down and converted into a Superfund site. MLS is more fortunate, for the moment. But if arbitrary and patronizing league rules are all that stood between the Red Bulls signing Ronaldo, then hurray for arbitrary and patronizing league rules.

Besides, the clubs are already competing against each other. Dave Checketts hates him some Rapids. The Fire and Red Bulls are already in a slapfight. And you could power Southern California with the fury that Chivas USA and the Galaxy brain trusts have for each other. It's not all one big happy single entity anymore.

But they agree on some things, and paying as little as possible for players is at the top of the list. Ending single entity isn't going to make the newly independent owners any more charitable than they are today. If their stars are filling seats independent of wins and losses, then there's absolutely no difference between negotiating with the league and negotiating with the club.

Which brings us to the problem of marketing less well-known players.

Ever see Sting's "Bring on the Night" movie? Yeah, the one where Trudie gives birth at the end. Before that, there's a part where Sting talks about how the Blue Turtles are a band, and it's not just his solo project, and blah blah blah. And then his manager - I believe it was Miles Copeland - is saying about bass player Darryl Jones (I think), "Darryl, you're great and we love you. And if you don't show up, not a single person is going to ask for a refund. If Sting doesn't show up, every single person in the audience is going to ask for a refund."

Well, no one's going to ask for a refund if Kelly Gray isn't playing this week.

Again, from the safety of my keyboard, out of punching range of MLS players - only a teeny percentage of MLS players are worth marketing. The fan clubs for most American players could meet on a loveseat. It's not actually as simple as throwing money into advertising and making something popular - if it were, we'd be drinking New Coke and watching "Emily's Reasons Why Not."

This isn't limited to the American game, by any means. Claude Makelele wasn't paid or publicized anything resembling the way Zidane, Ronaldo or Beckham were. And when Makelele was dumped, for some reason Chelsea started winning things, and Real Madrid stopped (for a while). Even the very biggest teams pay more for sizzle than steak.

You and I know that without Gray, and players like him, there wouldn't be any sizzle - just Beckham and Blanco running around by themselves. (Which, now that I picture it, I would totally pay to see. That would be hysterical.) You and I know that Gray isn't asking for Beckham money, or anything like it. You and I know and believe that Gray, and the MLS rank and file, deserve a little slice. You know, just let them wet their beaks a little. Problem is, you and I aren't even a majority of MLS fans, let alone American sports fans.

And the other problem is, I only see two ways of achieving what Gray wants - a shocking reversal involving the goodness of the MLS owners' hearts, or a labor stoppage.

But let's burn that bridge when we come to it.