Major League Soccer needs homegrown players, not expensive aging stars

Los Angeles Galaxy manager Bruce Arena made some pretty blunt statements regarding Major League Soccer, its players, its current state and its future.

Arena said the league needs to slow down its expansion — which has doubled from 10 to 20 teams since the end of the 2004 season with four more expected to join by the end of the decade — and focus on developing domestic players.

“I think we need to slow down a bit,” Arena told ESPN FC. “What we’re not prepared for yet is the size of the league. As the league continues to grow and get bigger, there are issues with travel, there are issues with suitable facilities, things that don’t make it easier.”

The former United States men’s national team coach also said MLS should focus on developing domestic players and building up the academies.

“I happen to be of the belief that — and listen, [the Galaxy] don’t have any excuses here either, we have international players — this league should be focused on our domestic players, and we’re losing that,” he said. “We’re not the EPL, where you have these fabulous players from all around the world. I think we need to have the right balance there as well, domestic players to international.”

Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. The Galaxy were highlighted by midfielder Steven Gerrard (England) and forwards Robbie Keane (Ireland) and Giovani dos Santos (Mexico). They’re also on the verge of signing former England international left back Ashley Cole. The 35-year-old recently had his contract with AS Roma terminated by mutual consent Tuesday.

But that’s neither here nor there.

Arena’s second point about focusing on domestic players should be the main focus.

Yes, bringing in legends of the game like Orlando City SC’s Kaka ($6,660,000 base salary), New York FC’s trio of Frank Lampard ($6,000,000), David Villa ($5,610,000) and Andrea Pirlo ($2,000,004), Toronto FC’s Sebastian Giovinco ($5,600,000), Montreal Impact’s Didier Drogba ($1,666,668) and Galaxy’s Gerrard ($6,200,004) and many others will sell jerseys and put butts in the seats.

While those names are known across the globe, do they guarantee success? Not necessarily.

Neither of the expansion clubs qualified for the playoffs in their debut season. Orlando City SC finished seventh in the Eastern Conference with 44 points, while New York City FC were eighth with 37 points.

Toronto FC earned the sixth seed in the playoffs and were knocked out 3-0 by the Montreal Impact in the first round. The Impact lost 4-3 on aggregate to the Columbus Crew in the next round. Los Angeles was fifth in the Western Conference and was knocked out in the first round 3-2 by the Seattle Sounders.

The league’s biggest (and most expensive) names were merely onlookers for most, if not all, of the playoffs.

Let’s look at the conference finals:

Eastern Conference: New York Red Bulls vs. Columbus Crew

The highest paid player on the Red Bulls’ roster is forward Bradley Wright-Phillips, whose base salary in 2015 was $600,000. Midfielder Federico Higuain ($1,175,000) was the highest paid Crew player.

The Red Bulls, who won the Supporters’ Shield, were led by American players Matt Miazga (MLS Homegrown), Dax McCarty, Sacha Kljestan, Mike Grella and Luis Robles.

Yes, forward Kei Kamara ($400,000) garnered all of the headlines for the Crew with a league-leading 22 goals, but they wouldn’t have succeeded or advanced to the 2015 MLS Cup if it wasn’t for players like Ethan Finlay and Wil Trapp (MLS Homegrown).

Western Conference: FC Dallas vs. Portland Timbers

The highest paid player on FC Dallas was midfielder Mauro Diaz ($364,000). Portland’s was defender Liam Ridgewell ($1,000,000).

FC Dallas, which had 60 regular-season points, boasts the second-most homegrown players in MLS with seven, trailing Vancouver’s eight.

The Timbers, who beat the Columbus Crew 2-1 to win the 2015 MLS Cup on Dec. 6, were led by their youngsters – Dairon Asprilla, 23, Darlington Nagbe, 25, and Fanendo Adi, 25.

They say money can’t buy happiness and in Major League Soccer, it apparently can’t buy the MLS Cup either.

NOTE: All MLS player salaries are through Sept. 15, 2015

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