MLS 2010 - Zombie Holocaust

Ever oppose an idea just because of the people who agree with it?

Well, something that will be good for MLS takes effect next year, and it will make sensible, rational, peace-loving folk tremble. And for once, I'm not talking about Philadelphia sports fans.

Ladies and gentlemen, MLS will play in a de facto single table league next year. It's a perfectly sensible idea, it benefits teams and fans that will otherwise lose players to the World Cup, and it makes me want to build a bunker.

In November 2010, either the Supporters Shield winner will be extremely excited about having won MLS Cup, or the Supporters Shield winner will be extremely disappointed about having lost MLS Cup. What then?

"How can this be? This legitimate league winner, the first in MLS history, being treated like the freaking Los Angeles Sol? Like some weak-ass Presidents Trophy winner? Like so many 18-0 New England Patriots? American soccer fans are accepting the playoffs as legitimate?

"Perhaps I've been wrong all this time," they won't say to themselves. "Perhaps as a fan it's my job to support the team and the sport, rather than tell other people how to do their jobs," they won't add, failing to achieve a sense of inner security, at peace at last with MLS.

The soccer Puritans have seen nearly all of their demands met over the years, with no corresponding increase in attendance. The countdown clock, the shootout, the raver-era nicknames, and now the conferences - all of which were claimed to hold back a nation of millions. The single table won't mollify them, either.

There are only so many things left that separate European leagues from MLS now. The salary cap, the single entity model, promotion and relegation. Let's look at these complaints with a little more hateful mockery, starting with the salary cap.

"I will stay at home and watch Burnley play Blackburn," runs the theory, "because Dane Richards is being paid $125,000 a year instead of $525,000. Besides, if we don't pay Jovan Kirovski more than $80,000, we risk losing him to a European team."

Look, I understand the premise that because the salaries are so low in MLS, we lose some of our favorite players to Scandinavia or wherever. But the salaries in MLS are so low because of the free market, not because of socialism. I wish more people would pay to watch Kenny Cooper, too, but they didn't. And now Dallas is...well, apparently they're doing better than ever.

The MLS salary cap has more holes in it than a Swiss cliche. There's a much better conversation going on about salary cap modification than the subject probably deserves, but suffice to say that "Raise the salary cap!" is the "Unleash Chiang Kai-shek!" for the MLS generation. From day one there have been ways around the cap - Jorge Campos might not have deserved the league maximum, but he was certainly making more than that.

MLS is in a weird place right now. There's not a correlation between salaries and winning, and there's not a correlation between winning and profitability. There isn't even much of a correlation between salaries and profitability - stadiums are a much more reliable indicator there. Down the road, that may happen - and then you'll see guys like Shalrie Joseph get paid ....oh, really? $450,000? And he's not a DP? Okay, bad example. How about Dwayne De Rosario, who gets...oh. Hm. Chad Marshall gets the league max. Stuart Holden's gonna get a big raise, and those pathetic rookie salaries are a CBA issue, not a salary cap issue, technically. Rico Clark gets nearly a quarter of a million.

I guess you can point to the Fire, who over the years have lost a bunch of guys to foreign climes - Bocanegra, Beasley, Ralph, and apparently this year Rolfe and Soumare are going. Except, they did open their hearts and wallets for Cootiemac Blanco, he with the soul of Riff Raff and the neck of the Criminologist.

And then there's the Red Bulls, who - you know what, you could have flown in Altidore and Michael Bradley to the HDC last year, and Osorio still would have found a way to lose. It's not like RBNY isn't willing to splash the cash. It's just they'd have been better off the past couple years taking that money and making it rain. By the way, there is no truth to the rumor that Alfredo Pacheco has already written his MLS Newcomer of the Year award speech.

And while I hate to kick a dog when he's bleeding, how's the unlimited salary cap working out for USL?

You say "salary cap," I say "budget." It's about keeping player salaries as low as possible without getting volunteers from the crowd. Which brings us to the alleged complaints about single entity.

"Because MLS is run on a single entity model, American fans prefer to watch foreign leagues."

"Cheering for laundry" is reductive enough, but at least there's some basis for that conclusion. "Cheering for the business model" is just contrary to experience. The most you'll get is Austin Powers going "Yay, capitalism." Unless every single international soccer fan is also a fully-paid member of the Cato Institute.

You know what a non-single entity MLS would look like at this point? Every other American sports league. What makes you think there's real competition in sports leagues? Are the Yankees and Mets trying to put each other out of business? Are USC and UCLA trying to get each other closed down?

Hell, you want to cut to the bone, football purist...why ARE there still fifteen teams in London? Why hasn't one member of the Old Firm crushed the other? What the hell's the difference between Inter and AC? Why would both Real Madrid and Barcelona, Manchester United and Liverpool, Juve and Bayern, all belong to the same G-14 coalition?

But Dan, the G-14 doesn't exist anymore. Sure it doesn't. One Champions League later. And watch how quickly it springs back to life if UEFA or FIFA tries anything funny with player eligibility.

Sports teams collude far more than they compete. Well, they compete all the time, but it's for TV ratings, and against other sports leagues for sponsorship bucks.

I hold out hope that people with objections to the business model - the salary cap and single entity - will see the carnage and havoc the recession is wreaking upon clubs worldwide, and hear the voice of the almighty god Reason.

On the other hand, I hold no such hope for those who demand MLS institute promotion and relegation.

If there's one thing I've learned over the years, you can't negotiate with terrorists, toddlers or zombies.

Or maybe I've learned three things that happen to be similar. That's not important right now.

What is important is, the only language promotion and relegation supporters understand is violence.

I'm as big a fan of free speech as the next guy, but it's time to take steps. People complain about guys like Bull Connor, but I say "Right idea - wrong target."

I mean, my tax dollars helped pay for all that perfectly good nerve gas, and it's just sitting there. Instead of fighting the good fight against terrorism, let's fight the FANTASTIC fight against promotion and relegation. Because you can't spell "promotion and relegation" without "pogrom."

But while the tree of American soccer must occasionally be watered with the blood of Eurosnobs, mass murder isn't something I yearn for. I might get someone's blood on my shirt, or something, and have to do an extra load of laundry. Or I might step in some zombie brain. Can't track zombie brain in the house. It weirds out the cat.

So I look on next year's single table with trepidation and dread. The only thing I fear more is if Bob Bradley leads the US team to one win, one loss, and one tie, but misses out on the next round because of goal differential.