To sell or not to sell that is the question

In a wrong-headed effort to maintain the quality of the league, MLS has adopted a very conservative approach to selling its players. Unfortunately, MLS’s approach is only serving to worsen the league and is pushing young domestic talent abroad, depriving American audiences of seeing the best and brightest.

Frank Del’Apa’s column on Boston College star makes the point. Charlie Davies would have been the top pick in the MLS draft, yet MLS attempted to pressure him to sign a long term deal. Sounds great, but Davies ultimate goal is to be a world class striker and to make that happen he has to play in the top leagues in Europe. But MLS’s reluctance to sell playerabroad, even when they want to go (see Clint Dempsey, Eddie Johnson, etc…), led Davies to decide to sign with a Swedish club instead. While the Swedish league is by no means a top league in Europe, it is a league that profits off of developing and selling young talent to the top leagues in Europe.

The question for MLS has to be – Is it worse to lose talented players or to never have those players at all? The answer is clear.

The best way for MLS to develop as a league is to recognize that for at least the next decade, it will play second fiddle to the top European leagues. This does not mean that it should not try to put out a great product on the field. It should. But MLS will get no where if it expects highly talented players to want to stay in the league permenantly. Most athletes are not like Landon Donovan.

The way to grow MLS is therefore to grow young talent through its leagues. Promising players should never feel trapped in the league and the league should understand, that like the leagues in Argentina and Brazil it can prosper by developing talent. If MLS is seen as a spring board for not just American players, but for young players in Africa, or Latin America, or Asia, or even Europe, the quality of the league will improve immensely. Americans will watch MLS if they believe they are watching the future. Charlie Davies shouldn’t have to go to Sweden to get to the top European leagues.

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