A quick perusal of the current 2015 MLS Orlando City SC roster draws attention to one very interesting fun fact: 60% of the squad is born outside of the United States. Is this a coincidence, or does Orlando City think it has found the recipe for being successful in MLS?
The official MLS leagues stats for 2014 show that of the 543 players in the league, 208 of them were from outside of the US and Canada (Note: MLS makes no distinction regarding Canada for the purposes of "domestic" versus "international" for Canadian-based teams, which highlights the absurdity of the rules regarding Canadian players for U.S.-based teams) for an overall percentage of 38.3%.
If you compare this to the English Premier League, where in 2014, over 67% of the players were born outside of the Home Countries (England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland) -- the second highest percentage in Europe (Only the famed Greek league has a larger percentage) -- MLS is doing a pretty good job of making sure that homegrown players get a chance to play in their national league. However, are the rules favoring domestic talent actually hurting the league overall?
After all, soccer leagues are based upon the popularity and star power of the players that ply their trade in that league. Americans have been getting up early to watch the Premier League for many years, but I doubt it was to see Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, and Clint Dempsey play. No, it was to see Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney, and their compatriots.
Now that those players are starting to come over to MLS, even in their twilight years, the overall popularity of the league and the teams that they play for is increasing.
The Orlando City front office knows all of this and that is why they went and spent the money on Kaká. However, with the single-entity structure that exists in MLS, the only way for the league overall and all the clubs to be successful is if the overall play of the league, and the caliber of player that plies their trade there, go up.
Overall this has been a good offseason, with four USMNT players having returned to MLS (Jozy Altidore, Mix Diskerud, Juan Agudelo and Orlando's Brek Shea), however, only two of them garnered DP contracts, whereas the rest of the DP contracts given out this season have gone to foreign players.
With the correlation between increasing foreign players and the popularity of the league rising, the only thing that can happen to continue this curve is to increase the number of foreign players to be allowed to play in the league.
Now this isn't an article saying that all player restrictions should be lifted. Of course, a person born in this country has the right to play in their national league, however, if it is done at the expense of the league, is it worth doing?
Of course not. The entire league, in its current format, exists to make money. Orlando is just ahead of the curve in realizing that it needs foreign players to be successful in Major League Soccer for two reasons.
- Foreign players increasing the potential fan base of a club.
- Foreign players improve the quality of the league and make a team competitive.
With Orlando City being a new franchise, the willingness to invest heavily in international players is a direct result of the fact that the club can't afford to just take risks on young domestic players, because of these two reasons. They can't afford to become the next casualty of the growth of soccer in the United States, and to stop that happening and to allow the league and Orlando to grow at the levels that the front offices want, then the talent on the field has to be the same level that is available elsewhere .
If it isn't, fans will go and find their soccer elsewhere. Orlando is determined to not let that happen.