Monday, July 09, 2007

Much Adu About Nothing

David Beckham is set to make his MLS debut shortly for the LA Galaxy. The collective yawn you hear is from most of the sports fans in America. The MLS is trying to play this up for all it's worth, but the truth of the matter is that this is a bigger story in England that it is here. Beckham and his imaginary $250 million contract is supposed to be the savior of the league. He is single handedly supposed to push the league from a niche sport into the big time. I have my doubts about exactly how a past-his-prime midfielder with limited scoring skills is going to do that, but I'll leave that to the marketing geniuses at MLS.

The last time the MLS paid big money for a savior was when they threw a then record salary of $1 million a year to a 14 year old soccer prodigy from Ghana named Freddy Adu. Freddy has scored a total of 12 goals and has amassed only 18 assists in his 3 plus years in the MLS. While it is clear that Freddy has amazing skills (check out his goal he scored in the Under-20 World Cup, http://youtube.com/watch?v=-i0IZZ-yaUU), it's also clear that he's not really physically ready to compete against men twice his age. The MLS was so desperate for a gate attraction that they rushed him into the league before he was ready. Freddy made his MLS debut with DC United as a 15 year old, but after three seasons in the nations capital, he was traded before the current season began to Real Salt Lake (not exactly the high profile market that the leagues signature player should be toiling in) . Freddy has been nothing short of amazing in the age group games, but has yet to be a consistent threat at the major league level. He may very well become the first real MLS star, but he's still a developing player. There is some interest from Manchester United in England and it may be best for all parties involved if Freddy were allowed to play in one of the European youth leagues for a couple of years.

The MLS was shortsighted in it's handling of the Adu affair and they are probably being shortsighted in the case of David Beckham as well. I guess adding a matinee idol was deemed more important than adding a player who would actually make a real impact on the field. I'm sure that the MLS is thinking that adding Beckham will probably give them a chance to lure some of the other aging starts in Europe as well. And while that may sound good in theory, I have doubts about the long term survival of the league if they continue to throw big money contracts at these players. I'm sure that Ronaldo would not come over to the MLS without a contract equal to or greater than the one that Beckham signed. I'm not sure that the league would be able to support more than one of these mega contracts at a time. The Beckham contract is not worth the initially reported $50 million a year, but it is worth somewhere in the $5-10 million a year range. The league doesn't have revenue to support that kind of outlay. They are clearly banking on a huge return on this investment.

The MLS would be better served by developing it's younger talent in the same way that most of the top leagues in the world do and in the way that baseball does. A minor league that funnels talent to the big leagues would be an ideal way to bring along young players and also build up some interest in first year players. Of course this would involve a significant investment from the MLS ownership, but I think their money would be better spent on development as opposed to aging, overpaid "stars", that will have little impact on general sports fans. There's nothing Americans love more than seeing Americans doing well. The goal of the league should be to find and develop home grown talent. That's really the only way the sport is going to flourish long term.

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