With that in mind, the fine folks of SB Nation’s team communities wanted to present their own ideas to make the league better. Hopefully we’ll see MLS consider some of these ideas heading into next season.
Or they could just implement them now. They’ve done it before.
Scrap the roster rules and add a luxury tax
One of the difficulties in explaining MLS to non-US sports fans is the abundance of special roster rules. There are a full five ways to exceed the salary cap on a specific player — Designated Player, Special Discover Player, Discretionary Targeted Allocation Money (team funded), Targeted Allocation Money, and General Allocation Money. By simplifying the rules while also incentivizing individual owner-operators to grow their own revenue streams a shift to a luxury tax system would help MLS as a business, as well as the quality on most fields. Having the luxury tax go into the overall salary budget pool for the next season would be better in future seasons, even for those teams struggling with revenue.
The idea essentially mirrors the NBA, but would be more open. All transfer fees would be subject to the luxury tax, as would salaries for players over their cap hit. It would exist at two thresholds. The first would be at three times the max salary budget (as that is where a significant break point in spending currently exists) and the other at some number to moderate the biggest spenders. This streamlined system makes tracking roster moves simpler for fans while enabling more transfers onto teams. It also permits the Haves to spend, while supporting the success of the Nots in the future.
Reward teams that develop talent with more Allocation Money
I would like to see teams get allocation dollars based on the percentage of minutes played by Homegrown Players and U-23 college draftees. This way, teams that decide to play more of their young players consistently end up getting more money for the next season. For example, you could have a system where, if teams play their young players up to a maximum threshold, let’s say 10,000 minutes (about three full-starting positions), that team will receive perhaps $300,000 in allocation. If a team plays their HGP and draftees half as many minutes, they receive half as much money, and so on.
The goal is to encourage teams to play their developing players. Teams often have to choose between whether they are going to play someone who is more likely to get results now or someone who needs playing time to get to that level (or higher). And this proposal would help incentivize teams to choose the latter more often without completely sacrificing the quality of play. Teams know that they will receive something tangible for taking a gamble on a young player (maybe a more expensive veteran or two). However, there’s also a built-in age restriction which prevents teams from being able to claim the same players to get that allocation money in perpetuity. Because Homegrown players would age out of that program and draftees only apply until they are 23, teams have to find new players to qualify over time. This encourages clubs to make decisions on players who have already had the time and resources to develop, to either double down on those players as veterans, allow them to move, or be sold. This means there are spots for up-and-coming players and possibly even transfer fees to help invest in those academies.
Require homegrown players on gameday squads
To help incentive the youth movement in Major League Soccer, each team should carry at least three Homegrown-signed players on their game day rosters. Any team that cannot comply with this will be fined each game that they do not follow this gameday rule. In the event that a team cannot meet this requirement due to injuries, a fine will not be placed on the team.
Basically, if MLS wants to go the youth route and become a true selling league, this kind of rule will force teams to look at their academy systems closer, develop talent from within and actually use that talent. For most clubs, this shouldn’t be that big of a challenge as several teams tend to already meet this requirement game in and game out. But for those who struggle to develop from their academy system, this will put more pressure on them to find players that are MLS-caliber and it could give them the potential to see minutes on the field.
Refs should have to explain VAR decisions
All VAR reviews must include an “Ed Hochuli” style explanation — players, fans, and broadcasters should know the initial call, what/why the play is being reviewed, and then a conclusion (play stands/overturned) from the center referee before continuing play. For those of you not familiar with the now retired NFL referee, Hochuli’s rules explanations following reviewed plays are fairly legendary for being in-depth and at times quite entertaining.
Too often, broadcasters are unable to recognize why a play or foul is under review and fans inside the stadium have no access to the information besides the PA announcer or social media. Not having the referees communicate during the review process hurts the viewing experience of the game when for several minutes fans have to listen to broadcasters reviewing one part of the play only for something completely different to be what was actually called.
In particular, I remember a call in a Sounders-Impact game that caused just such confusion. Sounders defender Kelvin Leerdam undercut an Impact attacker and the play went to review. I remember hearing what the broadcast team analyzing why a review was needed for a yellow or red card for what seemed to be a hard, but likely routine foul. As it turns out, a field view angle showed Leerdam slapping Daniel Lovitz in the aftermath of the foul. It was a clear red card, but since no announcement was made before review or after, it took far too long for a simple matter to be cleared up.
Adding 10-15 seconds to a referee properly communicate about their review would clear up a lot about the process the referees are going through rather than trying to guess based on the information available and it would tremendously enhance viewing experience in my opinion.
Homegrowns should have no cap hit
My suggestion is that players signed via the Homegrown Player mechanism should not count toward a team’s overall salary cap numbers. This would further incentivize teams to develop players through their academy system and retain them, thus ideally having homegrown players stick with their hometown club throughout their careers. As Major League Soccer increasingly becomes a league of the haves and have-nots, this would be another tool to help those with smaller coffers compete against the clubs for which money is no object.
Force teams to engage in multiple languages
This isn’t an on-field or roster rule proposal, but I think teams should be required to offer sustained bilingual content. The only team in the league right now that truly offers a bilingual experience is the Montreal Impact, which makes a certain amount of sense, but frankly, the rest of the league all sit in locations where potential fans speak more than one language. I wouldn’t necessarily mandate Spanish-language coverage in all markets, although it would make the most sense in a substantial number of MLS cities, but teams need to commit to regularly using social media, webpage content and press releases in more than one language, and always having translators on hand to facilitate communication with reporters and players or coaches who speak other languages.
Bring back the 35-yard run-up
When MLS kicked off in 1996, it had a handful of strange variations from traditional soccer rules, and many jokes were made at the league’s expense. MLS went to normal rules in 2000, which has mostly been for the best. But y’all, I miss the 35-yard run-up penalties so much.
Soccer is a sport where fan conversations are dominated by people who hate change. Chelsea will always be a small club because they were perpetual chokers until 2004, it’s blasphemous to say that a dozen modern players are much better than Pele, and MLS will always be crap because it’s American. We’re never going to win the respect of the world anyway, so we might as well have some fun. And 35-yard run-up penalties kicked the holy hell out of regular penalties.