As a young, rapidly growing league that seeks to position itself among the world’s best, MLS often struggles reconciling its caviar dreams with its Big Mac realities. While world famous players like David Villa and Kaka make millions, the league’s minimum salary for players under 25 years old is still just $36,500.
Given the more “average Joe” wages of the lower end of the league’s talent and the minuscule salary cap of $3.49 million per team, it might make sense that MLS clubs fly commercial — something that LA Galaxy coach Bruce Arena finds embarrassing. So embarrassing that he tells his players not to wear team apparel in airports so as not to draw attention to their commoner status.
From the LA Times:
“I’m embarrassed that we travel that way. I don’t think it helps the reputation of our league,” said Arena, who, as coach, moved the U.S. national team from commercial to charter flights more than a decade ago. “I try to keep it as quiet as possible.”
The players have found their own ways to remain anonymous.
“When we get on airplanes people are like, ‘What are you guys?’ ” Murshedi said. “Some of the guys will be like, ‘We’re a boy band.’ ”
Except boybands don’t fly Southwest. Or have 28 members.
Making the situation even more awkward is the fact that some high-profile players have first-class travel written into their contracts. So the likes of Steven Gerrard, Robbie Keane, and Bruce Arena himself are up front flying in luxury while everyone else is amongst the peasants in the back.
MLS commissioner Don Garber doesn’t seem to think this is the problem that Arena does, though. The LA Times quotes him as saying “Charter travel is less of a priority than investing in academy programs.” But for leagues that truly are amongst the world’s biggest and best, this isn’t an either/or proposition.
That said, if MLS finds itself in a situation where it is either better travel or academy programs, maybe it’s more important to invest in making it so the players you expect people to pay to see aren’t too embarrassed to admit who they are in public.
Would investing in the projection of a higher level image help the league grow more than youth development? There’s a balance that must be struck and very limited resources to go around. While the league struggles to find that balance, don’t be surprised if the guy who claims to be in the world’s saddest boy band on your next flight is actually an MLS player.