MLS is on the rise. Average attendance was at an all-time high in 2014, and a new eight-year TV deal with ESPN, FOX Sports and Univision Deportes will begin this season. This is all great news, but the league's single-entity structure is still restricting growth.
MLS defines its system on the Press Box page as "a single, limited liability company (single-entity). In the single-entity business structure, club operators own a financial stake in the League, not just their individual team." It sounds, and actually is, very confusing.
Commissioner Don Garber said that the league wanted to be more transparent beginning this year. However, Garber also indicated that the single-entity system wouldn’t change in order to accomplish that goal.
Jonathan Tannenwald @thegoalkeeper
The MLSPU has said it's not against free agency within single entity.2015-1-24 03:29:26
Also, it appears that Garber will have a serious fight on his hands during the CBA negotiations. According to Brian Straus of Sports Illustrated, the players are willing to go through a work stoppage in order to gain free agency.
It's understandable that the players are pushing for free agency. Their contracts are owned by MLS and they want to have freedom to choose their team. However, the league doesn't want to go down this road.
This isn't the only issue in a single-entity league. The ridiculous and confusing player acquisition rules are hurting MLS' reputation. Regulations dictate that a U.S. international who wants to sign with a team has to go through the allocation ranking.
However, when Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley returned to MLS, they immediately signed with the Seattle Sounders and Toronto FC, respectively.
The MLS regulations page states that "designated players of a certain threshold—as determined by the league—are not subject to allocation ranking." However, according to Adam Jardy of The Columbus Dispatch, this was a recently created rule.
The Jermaine Jones saga was even more frustrating. The Chicago Fire and New England Revolution were pursuing Jones, who wanted to join MLS in August. The league decided to stage a blind draw to determine which team the American international would join. The Revs ended up with his signature.
Dan Dickinson @GothamistDan
Have long said single entity (not pro/rel) is biggest challenge to long-term viability of US pro soccer. Kudos to the MLSPU for fighting it.2015-1-24 03:21:08
On the bright side, Toronto FC's acquisition of Jozy Altidore was more black and white. TFC was sixth in the allocation order, but the two other clubs interested in Altidore (Portland Timbers and the New York Red Bulls) were lower in the ranking. The Reds ended up signing the ex-Sunderland striker after completing a swap for Jermain Defoe.
Timbers owner Merritt Paulson told Jamie Goldberg of The Oregonian that the Altidore deal is the beginning of a more transparent MLS. It's a significant statement from Paulson after the Dempsey debacle. Portland was first in the allocation but didn't end up signing the current Sounder.
MLS is a very secretive league. Terms of contracts and player deals are undisclosed, which makes it hard for fans to determine whether their team won the negotiations. The supporters are educated enough to form their own opinions.
MLS insults the intelligence of its fans by not releasing the details of a deal. Supporters cannot fully analyze a trade or signing unless they know what clauses were involved.
The Matias Laba trade involving Toronto FC and the Vancouver Whitecaps last year is a prime example. Laba was sent to Vancouver in exchange for "future considerations," which were not disclosed.
TFC supporters were left in the dark on the deal. The future considerations could have included cash, draft picks or players, but no one knew for sure. Once Laba was permanently acquired by the Whitecaps, MLSSoccer.com revealed that Vancouver had to pay money.
It's evident that the single-entity has to change in order for MLS to take the next step. Garber claims that the current structure has been successful and has brought the league to this point in its development.
However, the executives can't rely on the system forever, especially if they aspire to be one of the top leagues in the world.
Peter Galindo covers MLS and U.S. soccer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @pgalindo16.