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The Salary Cap Needs to Go Up

Hold on while I make a really controversial and self-serving statement...

Yeah, what the hell?
Yeah, what the hell?
Paul Frederiksen-US PRESSWIRE

It's unlikely this falls into "trivia," as it's neither a small detail nor is it particularly unimportant, but the salary cap has increased less than $1 million since 2008.

That year, the cap was $2.3 million. This past season, 2013, the cap was $2.95 million. That's a $650,000 difference. Accounting for inflation, it's only a $460,212.58 difference.

Details, sure, but the salary cap has not only kept MLS alive and kicking, it's the single most important force when talking about the driving force behind the league's quality.

Major League Soccer was founded with an eye on the books and maybe not so much on the field. You know the drill: Teams are partially owned by the league and salaries are paid by them, too. Players are subject to the league's pay restrictions, that keep salaries below $368,750, except up to three designated players, whose salaries above that max are paid by the team.

So a player thinks he's worth more, like Aurelien Collin, the 2013 MLS Cup MVP, he's got to go elsewhere. And he might just. When a player makes more than a team thinks he's worth? He's thrown into the league's weird waiver and re-entry process, during which players are drafted and traded and swapped from team to team. Or they're just dumped, like Markus Holgersson, a very good MLS player, whose "mutual contract termination" looks more one-sided upon further review.

The Red Bulls really should have been able to hold onto Holgersson, a hard working, competent, leave-it-all-out-on-the-field type player. Instead, he's free to go...wherever. He doesn't really know.

And that's where it hurts MLS. The $2.95 million cap, as well-intentioned as it may be, hurts the product on the field. Without keeping talent, without having tenured players to help develop a style, the quality of play suffers.

Just look at the 2013 MLS Cup final. The Sporting Kansas City-Real Salt Lake match-up was befit of any mass appeal, save the stylistic clash. Both teams had developed a way of playing in the years they were together. And they've all been "together." Virtually RSL's entire line-up had been with the team two or more years. Sporting's roster lacked the longevity, but still had several players with several years in a Kansas City shirt. Neither team played overly-physical hoofball, either. And while tenure isn't the only factor in dictating style, it helps.

Now imagine what those teams could have done with a little more financial breathing room. RSL had to jettison Jamison Olave and Fabian Espindola to the Red Bulls and Will Johnson to the Portland Timbers last winter. Their loss was the gain of the East and West regular season champions, but RSL, with that talent and a cogent philosophy, could have potentially be dominant.

The $2.95 million cap, as well-intentioned as it may be, hurts the product on the field. Without keeping talent, without having tenured players to help develop a style, the quality of play suffers.

Not that MLS fans, save the ones in Utah, want one team to be dominant (which is likely why many fans would prefer to keep it around), but more money means more talent, and not just in the three designated player slots. There are, it should be noted, are eight other players on the field, plus seven guys on the bench.

If MLS is going to achieve Commissioner Don Garber's fever dream of ascending the the upper echelons of world soccer by 2022, they're going to have to pay up. Just compare the MLS salary cap with the finances of CA Bastia, a French club superglued to the bottom of the Ligue 2 table with nine points in 18 games. According to TransferMarkt, the estimated value of their roster is $5.75 million. Even when you take into account off budget players, whose individual salaries are capped at either $46,500 and $35,125, that's still nearly double what MLS teams can pay, and no one but the most ardent Eurosnobs would rather watch the French second division than MLS.

And the league can pay. Another figure that's increased since 2008? The value of MLS teams. In 2008, according to Forbes, most teams were losing money. The LA Galaxy, the league's then-most valuable team, was worth $100 million.

Now? Ten of the league's 19 teams are making money and the Seattle Sounders have supplanted the Galaxy as the league's most valuable team. By Forbes' calculations the Sounders are valued at $175 million, a 483 percent jump from its 2009 sale price.

With more teams turning profits, controlling their revenue streams via soccer specific stadia and selling more tickets, it's time for Garber and company to put their money where their mouth is and raise the cap. Help teams keep useful players and let teams meet the salary requirements of better players.

Because MLS won't be a world soccer heavyweight with 24 teams and 72 late career David Beckhams.