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MLS Poised to Succeed, but Preparing to Fail

An odd headline right after the sides agree on the new CBA (details please!), but one thing that was clear during the ordeal is that Single-Entity is here to stay, now we get that confirmed for the next five years. This post is not about the new CBA, but instead is about how the lack of tradition should help MLS compete with global soccer leagues/clubs, or it could be titled

Soccernomics isn't about statistics

That trip I took to Cabo feels like a month ago, really only 1 week, and during the flights, the down time on a porch or pool I got to read the book that many claim is the reported entry of performance analysis (statistics of the sabermetric sort) into the realm of soccer. While the statistics on the business end of soccer, as well as on the national team side, they are kind of ignored in the transfer section.

That happened to be the section that intrigued me the most, as it would be the realm where a club in a minor soccer playing nation could learn, could adapt, could grow from being a nothing to a something. It is where a team in MLS could grab on conceptually and start to compete with its global opponents for talent.

But most of that section was about modern management techniques, 21st century leadership, it was about how being locked into tradition with an unwillingness to adapt to new global situations has damaged clubs, and leagues. This desire to stick to "how its always been done" meant that most clubs continue to make the same mistakes (overpaying for Brazilians).

This is complicated by the fact that in Europe (Premier League especially) managers, coaches and even owners were FROM soccer. They grew up in those traditions, and often weren't willing to challenge them.

MLS doesn't really have this problem at the ownership level. Its owners don't have decades within the professional game. Yes, most enjoyed the sport as children. But for the most part they haven't even come up through the ranks of American sports.

Owner Industry
Dave Checketts Basketball
Larry Tanenbaum Construction
Red Bull Energy Drinks
Joe Roth Hollywood
William HC Chang Investment
Andrew Hauptman Investment
Jorge  Vergara Nutrition Supplements
Phillip Anschutz Oil money, soccer
Clark Hunt Oil money, soccer
Robert Kraft Packaging, Real Estate
Stan Kroenke Real Estate
Buccini Family Real Estate
Lew Wolff Real Estate, Baseball
Neal Patterson Software

* in cases of group holdings I went with the individual who is most responsible for the group.

Those are the faces of ownership in MLS, with Hunt and Anschutz having over a dozen years in pro-soccer I had to list that as an industry for them, though they haven't made any money off of it. In all it looks like a typical spread of ownership to an American sports fan, but in England the ownerships are much more complex with many clubs having large shares held by Supporters Trusts, by former players and managers or owners that have been locked into the industry for decades.

Many of the MLS owners are younger than you would expect from a "major league" likely because the buy-in costs are low. Patterson, Checketts, Buccini and Hauptman bring this to light. But these are also people who made a lot of money in a short period of time in their lives. They are leaders and innovators, and either know or have people in higher leadership that are experts on, Lean Thinking, Six Sigma, Theory of Constraints and Performance Analysis.

Those aren't dirty words amongst the ownership of MLS, but methods to improvement in any industry, and these kinds of things can be used to improve the overall success of their soccer enterprise just as they have been in their other industries.

Let's look at the Soccernomics "secrets to the transfer market" and see if these are things that require a statistical basis, or if they look to you more like common sense and/or modern management;

-A new manager wastes money on transfers; don't let him
-Use the wisdom of crowds
-Stars of recent World Cups or European Championships are overvalued; ignore them
-Certain nationalities are overvalued
-Older players are overvalued
-Center Forwards are overvalued: goalkeepers are undervalued
-Identify and abandon "sight based prejudices"
-The best time to buy a player is in his early 20s
-Sell any player when a club offers more than he is worth
-Replace your best players before you sell them
-Buy players with personal problems, and then help them deal with their problems
-Help your players relocate

Those are "secrets" in modern football? Really? Most of those are what every business does these days. Now the tools to identifying each may be rooted in advanced mathematics, but statistics aren't necessarily the key.

Due to the nature of MLS and the Single Entity structure though the LEAGUE itself is the organization that makes signing decisions. This means that individual teams are only part of the committee that hires the people who make personnel decisions, and that each team competes on a weekly basis against the other members of that committee. A league that is competing with much richer leagues for more talent at lower prices, that then has to distribute that talent in unique ways to its member clubs.

This means that if any one club has a true innovator in talent discovery, it will only help said club in the short term. Since everything is controlled by the league, eventually that innovation is shared, distributed and thereby minimized in regular season competition. This also means that the best teams will not capture the necessary number of talents to compete with the much richer clubs in Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras in the CCL.

Single Entity, which is a necessary safety net to prevent the history of American soccer from rising up and biting us all in the ass, should not - must not - severly limit the minds of ownership and management from the innovations that are guiding world business. It can not be a crutch hobbling a well man. It must allow the freedom for an American Lyon or Canadian Arsenal.

The new CBA lasts five years, and changes the way things work, massively in the case of the re-entry draft, but it still will not allow for any player discovery innovation beyond what we have already seen in cases like Dario Sala's desire for safe living, or Landon Donovan's desire to play in America.

Someday the crutches will have to be replaced by a safety net, but today at least we have soccer starting Thusday 25 March.

Do Not Fear Greatness

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