SBJ/20090316/SBJ In-Depth

MLS issues to watch

A proposed stadium is the centerpiece of
the new MLS team in Philadelphia.
Ivan Gazidis watches an Arsenal match
in December at Emirates Stadium.

Philadelphia 2010

MLS Philadelphia CEO Nick Sakiewicz insists the league’s future in the market is strong, but many are watching the ownership group in Philly to see how the economy’s unraveling will affect the club. One of the club’s investors, Jay Sugarman, has seen his 2.1 million shares of his iStar Financial company plummet over the last year, costing him more than $61 million. It hasn’t affected the club to date, but MLS observers wonder if it will as the recession continues.

Losing Ivan

Over his decade-plus service to MLS, Ivan Gazidis became the league’s go-to voice on soccer issues. He provided the league’s position on international soccer and defined its position on player development. In many ways, he became the league’s conscience for all things soccer. His departure to take over as CEO of Arsenal leaves the league with a void that it will try to fill with an array of people including Todd Durbin and Nelson Rodriguez.

Club services

The club services department the league established in 2007 will be leaned on heavily this year as the combination of the economy and waning interest in David Beckham threatens ticket sales across the league. Headed by Paul Mott, the division is looking to hire one more employee and increase its interaction with MLS teams.

Juan Pablo Angel

Designated player rule

The rule that brought David Beckham, Cuauhtemoc Blanco and Juan Pablo Angel to the league comes up for review after this season and extending it in its current form is no sure thing. Passed in 2006 to allow each club to sign one player outside the MLS salary cap restrictions, the rule has a spotty track record. Proponents might point to the tickets Beckham helped sell while detractors might point to the complete failure of Denilson with FC Dallas or the mixed results of Marcelo Gallardo with D.C. United.

Labor talks

For all the pain the economy could cause MLS at the gate, it definitely will help the league’s leverage as it sits down to negotiate a new collective-bargaining agreement with the MLS Players Union. The current agreement expires in January 2010, and the union will be challenged in its effort to increase the minimum salary, secure free agency for members, and improve licensing royalties.

— Tripp Mickle

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