Bruce Arena urges MLS to reconsider player payment structure

CARSON, California -- LA Galaxy manager Bruce Arena says that MLS is too controlling when it comes to how individual teams spend their money.

MLS, with its single entity structure, owns all player contracts, and thus has final approval on every deal involving one of the league's players. Arena feels that needs to change.

"I think all player decisions should be made at the local level, period, and the clubs are responsible for what they do," said Arena in a wide-ranging interview. "I haven't seen anyone fired at the league lately, but I've seen a lot of people fired at clubs."

As to whether Arena sees this approach ever-changing, he said, "I think that's an ownership issue. I think the ownership has to dictate the direction that the league goes with regard to that."

MLS has become more transparent in recent years, but its rules relating to the salary cap are notoriously arcane.

This season teams will operate with $3.66 million cap, but Designated Players, allocation money (which can be used to buy down a player's salary cap hit) and targeted allocation money, or TAM (which is used to buy down the cap hit of players making between $457,500 and $1 million) are just some of the mechanisms teams can use to spend well in excess of the published maximum. It also makes estimating how much wiggle room a team has under the cap almost impossible.

After giving teams $500,000 in TAM last year, MLS increased the amount to $800,000 for each of the next two seasons.

"[TAM] is a mechanism, one that will probably, eventually be outdone by something else, I think in a good way," said Arena. "I think we'll learn from this experience, how it benefits the league and the clubs and decide perhaps to do something else.

When asked what he would change if he had the power to adjust the financial constraints on teams, Arena had a simple answer.

"There's not one person that would say less money is better," he said. "It's obviously more money and how you do it is always the big question. I think the simpler you can make things the easier it is for all involved, everybody."

Asked why he thinks the league does it that way, Arena said: "I don't know. It's bunch of smart people in a room trying to be smart."

The current offseason marked the league's initial foray into free agency. Free agency is currently limited to players who are either out of contract or didn't have their option exercised, and who are at least 28 years of age or and who have at least eight years of experience in the league.

While the salary increase that a player could receive is limited to a set percentage based on the player's previous salary level, those who are eligible do have the right to decide where they end up. The Galaxy announced its first free agent signing back on Jan. 6, former Chicago Fire defender/midfielder Jeff Larentowicz. For Arena, the process of recruiting free agents within MLS wasn't that much different than trying to obtain players on the international market.

"Down the road, free agency is going to be great for the players," he said. "You have a freedom of where you want to go. I don't think you necessarily are positioned where the next contract is the big one.

"We're not there yet as a league because the resources aren't there. Once the resources grow and there continues to be free agency, I think there will be more benefits for the players."