Major League Soccer's latest spate of rule-tinkering will delight some, infuriate others and undoubtedly lead to claims of favoritism. Ultimately though, it will do little to change the league's overall landscape.
In theory, by increasing the number of foreigners allowed per team and permitting those spots to be traded, MLS clubs could field rosters entirely made up of overseas players. Such suggestions are bound to anger those who feel the only way forward for soccer in the United States is relentless promotion of home-grown talent, not importing players from elsewhere.
However, the reality will be somewhat different to the gloomy predictions of all-foreign rosters and fears that promising Americans will be held back.
MLS's more wealthy franchises, such as the Los Angeles Galaxy, would love to give themselves a boost by packing their lineups with as many talented players as they could lay their hands on. But the salary cap will prevent teams from doing so, ensuring that a reasonable competitive balance remains in place.
With eight foreign player spots per team instead of the previous seven, the number of imports will increase, but emerging Americans hoping to make a name for themselves won't be affected. The addition of expansion franchises (San Jose in 2008, Seattle in 2009 and more to follow) will increase the number of professional contracts available.
Most of the new foreign players are likely to come from Central and South America, as those regions are packed with quality performers who are far more affordable than their European counterparts. There is also a proven track record of skillful Latin players adapting quickly and successfully to soccer, and life, in the U.S.
That said, the impact of a deeper talent pool won't be particularly noticeable, as these new foreign players will be spread around a greater number of clubs.
Donovan (Galaxy), Johnson (Kansas City Wizards) and Ruiz (FC Dallas) will remain as protected designated players, meaning they will not count towards their clubs' DP allocation for either 2008 or 2009. That will allow the league to hold off for two years on deciding whether to permit each team an extra DP slot, but it is hardly an ideal situation, even if Johnson may alleviate part of the problem by moving to Europe within the next year.
MLS's other major announcement was that Toronto FC would be permitted a total of 10 foreign player slots – although spots nine and 10 will have to be made up of players from the U.S. This was done to reflect the lower level of overall talent in Canada and should not dramatically increase Toronto FC's chances of success.
In summary, while the changes to be brought in may look to be sweeping, in truth they are anything but. In this case, MLS is looking for stability, not the spectacular.
- Major League Soccer