MLS looks to add new stars
Major League Soccer is looking to add stars and teams now that it has avoided a strike and agreed to a five-year labor contract.
"It's in all of our best interests to ensure that we have star players that can help drive interest in our league and grow attendance and ratings," commissioner Don Garber said Tuesday. "Now that we're past the CBA, we could sit down and we can tackle that issue."
Los Angeles midfielder David Beckham, the league's top attraction, will be sidelined for most if not all of this season with a torn Achilles' tendon.
MLS has just four other star "designated players," whose salaries don't fully count against a team's salary cap: New York forward Juan Pablo Angel, Seattle midfielder Freddie Ljungberg, Houston forward Luis Angel Landin and Toronto midfielder Julian de Guzman. The Galaxy's Landon Donovan isn't a DP but doesn't fully count against the cap, either.
Each team has a designated player slot and can trade it, with no team able to keep more than two DPs at once. Most of the DP slots are open. Barcelona's Thierry Henry and Real Madrid's Raul Gonzalez often are mentioned as possibilities for the Red Bulls.
MLS says Seattle and Toronto were the only profitable teams last year, when regular and postseason attendance averaged 16,391.
"Clearly you're looking for a player that can be breakthrough figure locally and nationally, somebody that can give the team relevance in the local market against all competition but also give us respect throughout the international soccer community that proves that Major League Soccer is serious about building a professional soccer league that at one point can be competitive with the other leagues around the world," Garber said.
"You're looking for somebody that can clearly move the needle on ticket sales and on sponsorship and on television ratings and get that buzz factor that we got with (Cuauhtemoc) Blanco and with David Beckham and a lesser extent but an important one with Juan Pablo Angel."
Philadelphia, which plays Thursday's MLS opener at Seattle, is the league's 16th team. Portland, Ore., and Vancouver, British Colombia, are set to join in 2011. Garber said he will reopen talks to add Montreal, possibly for 2012, and that Atlanta and owner Arthur Blank could join later.
"You can't be a national league unless you have teams in the South," he said.
Garber said this year's MLS title game could be played in Toronto and new Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J., which he said cost $250 million, was a top candidate to host in 2011 or beyond.
Under the labor deal agreed to Saturday, the minimum salary for the first 24 players on each team's roster will rise to $40,000 this season. If MLS expands rosters, there will be a class of players making $31,250.
Last year, 40 players among 323 listed by the MLS Players Union at the start of the season made the $34,000 minimum and 12 more made the developmental minimum of $20,100. The minimum will increase 5 percent annually.
As part of the deal, each team's salary budget will rise from $2.3 million last year to more than $2.5 million this season and then increase 5 percent a year.
Players who are at least 24 and have three or more years of MLS service will have guaranteed contracts - giving the league a majority of players with guaranteed deals for the first time. The league estimated the percentage of players with guaranteed deals will grow from under 40 percent to 55 percent.
Although players fell short of gaining free agency, the league is establishing a re-entry draft for players of certain ages and service time whose options are declined or contracts expire. The league will be limited to two or three options for players, depending on age and service.
Players also will get bonuses for wins and appearance fees for international exhibitions, and the league and union will have a joint committee study restarting the reserve division, eliminated after the 2008 season. Provisions will be made for team to retain homegrown youth players.