The Spirit of '78

I should know better than to read Jamie Trecker's blog, when he's in a trolling mood. For one thing, it always makes me want to troll in an equal and opposite direction.

In other words, you've been warned. Enjoy this Great Wall of Text.

Jamie has come out against expansion to 20 teams absent serious restructuring in the league's salary structure. Here's the money paragraph:

I guess it was Ottawa that finally made people's heads explode. That, and the idea of MLS having almost as many Canadian teams as the NHL. That, and short-term expansion bringing up the spectre of the NASL.

Let's take out Jamie's irrelevant complaints right off the bat. Yes, importing some referees would be a good idea. (It failed before, but because Bob Bradley and Bruce Arena all but tarred and feathered Stuart Dougal.) Yes, it would be nice if we can magic up more talent. But quality of play and officiating is completely irrelevant to our purposes. The more spaces we make for players and officials (and coaches and fans and marketers and announcers and everything connected with the game), the more improvement we see. This isn't the NFL, where the potential talent pool for all those positions is pretty much fixed. Our talent pool can expand, theirs can't. Baseball, basketball, and especially hockey were able to import players and raise the quality of their leagues...but the ceiling for those sports is much lower, because those sports aren't nearly as popular internationally. Anyone worried about MLS watering down quality should go back and look at rosters from 1996 and 1997 (outside of DC United).

Nobody except Trecker and myself are seriously talking about paring teams - he has in mind the Crew, probably the Wizards as well, unless I badly miss my guess. Allow me to counter-troll. This deserves its own paragraph, so let me clear my throat. Ahem.

The Columbus Crew and the Kansas City Wizards are stronger, more viable, and more legitimate franchises than any NASL team ever was.

Boy, that felt good. Hey, remember stadiums? The Crew own theirs. The Wizards will. Even the team that invented "New York/New Jersey" was a mere renter, a boarder, a lodger. ("So are the Giants and Jets, dumbass, that's how it worked in the 70's.") Well, maybe it's unfair to condemn Warner Brothers for not building Cosmos Park, just like it's unfair to mock them for not inventing the replica jersey market, or for not getting on cable television. But fair has nothing to do with it.

(And I'm not sure the Cosmos shouldn't have invented the replica jersey market. Pele shirts would easily have sold in Beckham quantities, at least. Seems an obvious thing to exploit. Oh, well, it was a different time.)

In any case, when the Crew and Wizards (and the Revolution and the Galaxy and DC United and the Red Bulls and the Rapids and FC Dallas) have already played more than all but two NASL teams ever did. MLS has folded three teams in thirteen years, and brought one back to life.

The one team I want folded is Chivas USA, a subject on which I have been remarkably tedious - enough for this post to say that this opinion has nothing to do with expansion or contraction for its own sake.

As far as counter-trolling the Ottawa hate, let me come out in favor. First of all, it will kill the winter "FIFA" scheduling idea dead, dead, dead. Not that people won't go see games in Ottawa in February...just indoors. And played on skates.

But we've all forgotten something, when we worry about expanding MLS to as many as 20 or 22 teams. There should be no limit on MLS teams. None. Provided a locale has an owner and a stadium, welcome to the league. This was true in 1998, it'll be true in 2018 and 2028. Because American leagues are cartels, we're not going to get 100 teams like in England, but if there were a hundred owners in a hundred cities with a hundred stadiums, why not let them in?

Because the talent isn't up to your standards? The excitement and support from the new cities will more than balance that out - and in three years or so, that expansion team will become an acceptable team, just in time for the novelty to wear off. In theory MLS could keep doing that every two or three years until the sun explodes, but realistically the absolute maximum is thirty. If you can cram eighteen teams into nations with one pathetic little time zone, you can fit less than twice that in the United States of Whatever.

I'm also assuming that MLS will perform background checks on potential owners, so we're not stuck with a bunch of Las Vegas Quicksilvers. I assume, for example, that the checks on the expansion fees actually clear. I assume that plans for stadium control are included in the proposal. I assume that Don Garber doesn't want to relive the Miami Fusion debacle every three or four years. I assume that old NFL guy Garber also realizes that expansion fees lead to diminishing returns, as the value of existing franchises decrease (why do you think the NFL doesn't have 100 teams? It's not because they're concerned about diluting the talent pool, believe me).

The NASL example is a helpful reminder of what happens when a soccer league starts freebasing on expansion fees. But the NASL had no other revenue streams, especially after the TV deal went bust. That's absolutely not the case with MLS. The idea that MLS should restrain itself to twenty teams because of some fanciful talent standard is as laughable as the idea that FIFA cares how many teams play in the league. Let a thousand flowers bloom - or at least twenty-four.

FAKE EDIT - oh, yeah, Canada. Yeah, if it were my money, I'd rather develop American players than Canadian ones. This looks like a job for Captain False Dichotomy. A strong and profitable Canadian federation helps the USSF, just like a strong and profitable USSF helped the FMF. (Except to fans who have to watch their formerly dominant teams get slapped around for the odd decade, but them's the breaks.) Canadian teams do employ Americans. In fact, the best Canadian players play in Texas and England (or, based on Nutrilite Canadian Championship results, Quebec and British Columbia - but them's the breaks). Expanding to more Canadian cities is not going to hurt American development.

More to the point, if Vancouver, Montreal, and/or Ottawa have the best, most profitable proposals for expansion, it is the duty of MLS to grant those franchises for the good of the league.

Now, if someone says something like "Do you really think the Canadian dollar is always going to kick the American dollar's ass, because if not, something like 1/4 of the league's fans will be paying in Monopoly money," well, that's a significant potential long-term issue that I frankly don't understand. I assume that's a problem that UN Secretary Carpathia will solve with his one-world currency, though.