SAN JOSE, Calif. – The arrival of New York Red Bulls and Toronto FC in the semifinals of the 2018 Concacaf Champions League – both having beaten Mexican foes to reach that point – can be seen as a turning point in the fortunes of MLS sides with regards to their continental battles against Liga MX competitors.
Is it the increased exposure of returning US national team stars such as TFC’s Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley that’s helping to close the gap? The addition of world-renowned talent such as new LA Galaxy forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic? The relentless march of expansion across the MLS landscape?
For Landon Donovan, there might be a simple equation at work: Increased expenditures leading to expanded success.
“I’ve said this, always: It’s just a matter of resources,” Donovan said Friday before his new Mexican side, Club Leon defeated the San Jose Earthquakes in an exhibition Saturday night with Donovan scoring the lone goal. “For many years, MLS clubs were paying $4 or $5 or $6 million in salary to players, and Mexican league teams were paying $10 or $12 or $15 million, net, in salaries to players. … As the resources have been spent in the academies, with salaries, player transfers, etc., Major League Soccer is getting better. That’s what it’s needed to be.”
Donovan, a former Designated Player for the Galaxy, lauded the injection of greater funds – most notably by the allocation money mechanisms – as helping to round out rosters. Where MLS teams could previously be considered top-heavy, with three Designated Players far outstripping the rest of the salary outlay, GAM and TAM have helped smooth that curve.
“A big change that the league made that a lot of us were pushing for years, was instead of paying three guys $15 million total, pay 15 guys $1 million a year and see what the product looks like,” Donovan said. “And that’s changed things in a lot of ways. When you look at Toronto, yes, they have three guys that make a lot of money, but they also now have the resources to spend significant money on other players.
"The same with New York. I mean, New York has decided to spend more of that money in their academy, but it’s proving very valuable.”