Menus Subscribe Search

World Cup Week

los-angeles-galaxy

(Photo: Photo Works/Shutterstock)

Why This Is the Most Important World Cup Ever for American Soccer’s 99 Percent

• June 11, 2014 • 3:45 PM

(Photo: Photo Works/Shutterstock)

Most domestic American players don’t make that much money, but with new collective bargaining negotiations coming up, a good performance from the U.S. National Team could help to change that.

Over the past few summers, American soccer fans have flocked to stadiums, watching Major League Soccer teams play out the middle of their 10-month-long seasons. This year, though, for two weeks these stadiums will be empty as the league takes a self-imposed break to accommodate the biggest soccer event in the world. All eyes, both here and across the globe, will temporarily shift to Brazil. After all, it’s the World Cup. And for MLS players, it just might be the most important one ever.

While it seems like every major athletic competition gets draped in the hyperbole of “Most Important Event in History (Since the Last One),” for MLS, that language may be accurate this time around. Of course, MLS is not fielding a team in Brazil, but the symbiotic relationship between the still-developing domestic league and the still-developing U.S. National Team means the results of each are inevitably linked. They’re the two most visible parts of the larger, vague idea of “American soccer.” Ten out of 23 players (one short of a full line-up) on the American roster ply their trade in MLS, which just further cements the relationship.

The build-up to these most important of matches has focused on the absence of the The Greatest American Player Ever, Landon Donovan, and the States’ opponents in The Group of Death. (For a game filled with so many gray areas, the headlines tend to be more absolute.) Lost in the pre-tournament frenzy, though, has been what these matches mean to MLS.

If you want to beat the income-inequality drum, look no further than MLS, where the top earner makes 190 times more than the lowest earner.

At the end of January 2015, the five-year collective bargaining agreement between Major League Soccer and its Player’s Union expires. During the last five years, MLS has exploded. Select players have been awarded multi-million dollar contracts that mirror what many earn in Europe. Attendance at stadiums has increased by about 2,000 over that span, now sitting comfortably above 18,000 fans per game. Team values have climbed to the nine-figure mark, and expansion fees have approached the same levels. (MLS has sold seven expansion franchises in the last five years. New York City FC, the most expensive franchise, paid $100 million.) And most recently, a landmark television deal signed last month has ESPN, Fox, and Univision reportedly paying a combined $90 million a year to televise MLS matches. In addition, two years ago MLS received an investment of between $125 million and $150 million, reportedly, through its Soccer United Marketing arm from Providence Equity Partners. All told, the figures look healthy for a league that had to contract two of its franchises just 13 years ago.

However, these gains have not made it back to the players. (Full disclosure: I am a Player’s Union member and player rep for my club, the Colorado Rapids.) The minimum salary, which I and 62 other players earned last year, still remains at $35,120, and many of those contracts are only semi-guaranteed, meaning teams can cut players before the July 1 roster freeze date. The average salary is a respectable $207,831, but this is largely due to outliers like Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley, who make over $6.5 million per year. If you want to beat the income-inequality drum, look no further than MLS, where the top earner makes 190 times more than the lowest earner. (For reference, in the NBA, the highest earner, Kobe Bryant, earns 64 times that of the lowest earner.) Even more telling: The top seven highest salaries in MLS combine to make up 31 percent of all player salaries, while the top five percent of earners make up 45 percent of all player salaries. (Salary figures via Empire of Soccer and NBA Draft Express.)

Significant increases in salaries will surely be at stake during the next negotations, as well as expanded freedom of player movement. MLS’ economic model was successful for MLS as a whole when the league was struggling for survival. However, now that the league is thriving and desires to reach its stated goal of being one of the top leagues in the world, changes are needed to ensure MLS can compete internationally, both in the player market and with the product on the field.

This is where the World Cup comes back in view. As a showcase for 10 MLS players, the National Team’s performance in Brazil will double as a way to show the world how far MLS has come, and how far it has to go. Whatever happens with the U.S. this summer, one thing is certain: MLS and soccer will continue to explode in popularity in North America. And on the heels of a good, excitement-inducing American performance, any sort of hitch in the 2015 MLS season would be difficult to stomach. Starting on June 16, we’ll all be watching.

Clint Irwin
Clint Irwin is a goalkeeper for the Colorado Rapids of Major League Soccer. Follow him on Twitter @ClintIrwin.

More From Clint Irwin

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

September 16 • 4:00 PM

Why Is LiveJournal Helping Russia Block a Prominent Critic of Vladimir Putin?

The U.S. blogging company is showing an error message to users inside Russia who try to read the blog of Alexei Navalny, a prominent politician and critic of the Russian government.


September 16 • 2:00 PM

Man Up, Ladies! … But Not Too Much

Too often, women are asked to display masculine traits in order to be successful in the workplace.



September 16 • 12:00 PM

What Makes You So Smart, Brilliant 12-Year-Old?

Charles Wang is going to rule the world.


September 16 • 10:09 AM

No Innovation Without Migration: The Harlem Renaissance

The Harlem Renaissance wasn’t a place, but an era of migration. It would have happened even without New York City.


September 16 • 10:00 AM

A Law Professor Walks Into a Creative Writing Workshop

One academic makes the case for learning how to write.



September 16 • 7:23 AM

Does Not Checking Your Buddy’s Facebook Updates Make You a Bad Friend?

An etiquette expert, a social scientist, and an old pal of mine ponder the ever-shifting rules of friendship.



September 16 • 6:12 AM

3-D Movies Aren’t That Special

Psychologists find that 3-D doesn’t have any extra emotional impact.


September 16 • 6:00 AM

What Color Is Your Pygmy Goat?

The fierce battle over genetic purity, writ small. Very small.



September 15 • 4:00 PM

The Average Prisoner Is Visited Only Twice While Incarcerated

And black prisoners receive even fewer visitors.


September 15 • 2:00 PM

Gambling With America’s Health

The public health costs of legal gambling.


September 15 • 12:23 PM

The Scent of a Conservative

We are attracted to the body odor of others with similar political beliefs, according to new research.


September 15 • 12:00 PM

2014: A Pretty Average Election

Don’t get too worked up over this year’s congressional mid-terms.


September 15 • 10:00 AM

Online Harassment of Women Isn’t Just a Gamer Problem

By blaming specific subcultures, we ignore a much larger and more troubling social pathology.


September 15 • 8:00 AM

Atheists Seen as a Threat to Moral Values

New research attempts to pinpoint why non-believers are widely disliked and distrusted.


September 15 • 6:12 AM

To Protect Against Meltdowns, Banks Must Map Financial Interconnections

A new model suggests looking beyond balance sheets, studying the network of investment as well.


September 15 • 6:00 AM

Interview With a Drug Dealer

What happens when the illicit product you’ve made your living off of finally becomes legal?


September 15 • 4:00 AM

A Feeling of Control: How America Can Finally Learn to Deal With Its Impulses

The ability to delay gratification has been held up as the one character trait to rule them all—the key to academic success, financial security, and social well-being. But willpower isn’t the answer. The new, emotional science of self-regulation.



September 15 • 2:04 AM

No Innovation Without Migration: Do Places Make People?

We know that people make places, but does it also work the other way?


September 12 • 4:00 PM

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Plastic Bags

California wants you to pay for your plastic bags. (FYI: That’s not an infringement on your constitutional rights.)


September 12 • 2:00 PM

Should We Trust the Hearts of White People?

On the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, revisiting a clip of James Baldwin on the Dick Cavett Show.


Follow us


3-D Movies Aren’t That Special

Psychologists find that 3-D doesn't have any extra emotional impact.

To Protect Against Meltdowns, Banks Must Map Financial Interconnections

A new model suggests looking beyond balance sheets, studying the network of investment as well.

Big Government, Happy Citizens?

You may like to talk about how much happier you'd be if the government didn't interfere with your life, but that's not what the research shows.

Give Yourself a Present for the Future

Psychologists discover that we underestimate the value of looking back.

In Soccer as in Art, Motifs Matter

A new study suggests a way to quantitatively measure a team’s style through its pass flow. It may become another metric used to evaluate potential recruits.

The Big One

One in three drivers in Brooklyn's Park Slope—at certain times of day—is just looking for parking. The same goes for drivers in Manhattan's SoHo. September/October 2014 new-big-one-3

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.