We’re only a couple weeks into the new MLS season and the time-honored traditions surrounding it are already being fulfilled. Strange weather? Check. Overreacting to early results? Check. Fluky table positions? The Fire are in second place in the Eastern Conference, so, uh, definitely Check.
Unsolicited opinions on what MLS needs to do in order to be "successful?" Check.
The latest nugget of advice comes from Andrea Pirlo; NYCFC midfielder, Serie A and Italy legend, exquisite beard-haver, IRL Most Interesting Man In The World. In an interview with Italian press, Pirlo says that MLS should try to emulate the Chinese Super League in order to grow.
"Certainly I would get rid of the restrictions on the transfer market, though. Enough with the three exceptions to the salary cap, which is too little to convince other stars to come here. They need to develop a liberal system where you can buy and sell players without restrictions. Now there is even the competition from China. Especially if you want to compete with other leagues, at home and abroad, you have got to get rid of any restrictions."
Essentially, Pirlo thinks the league salary cap and Designated Player rule, among other things, are holding MLS back. For better or worse, the Chinese Super League has made a splash in world football by doling out huge contracts for top stars, several of whom— like Oscar and Hulk— are still in their primes. Pirlo, who is yet undecided on whether he’ll stay at New York beyond this season, believes that China is a model for how MLS should do business.
It’s a fair point, and Pirlo is certainly welcome to his opinion. As someone who plays in the league, his input is probably more valuable than some rando on Soccer Twitter who refuses to watch MLS. And while the American domestic league certainly has plenty of opportunities for improvement, it seems like a lot of this kind of (mostly well-intentioned) advice seems to boil down to expressing personal preferences regardless of whether it’s the right fit for MLS. Nowhere is this more true than in the Pro/Rel debate;, which at times seems to be more about aesthetics than anything else. Maybe someone should just make a version of Football Manager where you get to play as a league commissioner.
In a parallel debate, the Football Association is planning to implement a salary cap and other squad restrictions in women’s football;. Citing concerns that the women’s sides at the largest clubs— Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, and Liverpool— have enough financial clout to shut everyone else out, the FA believes that imposing more rules in the FAWSL will impose competitive balance. It’s curious that men’s football needs fewer restrictions in order to be competitive while women’s football needs more. It’s almost as if there are entrenched interests bent on privileging the men’s game at the expense of the women.