In the U.S., a majority of professional sports leagues operate with some kind of salary cap and allow front offices to trade its players to other teams as they see fit.
While that system has worked well for leagues such as the NFL and NBA, former D.C. United star Wayne Rooney thinks the MLS needs to consider adopting European rules if it wants to reach its “full potential.”
Rooney joined D.C. United in 2018 following a decorated 16-year career in England that included stints with Everton and Manchester United.
He spent two years in Washington, leading the Black-and-Red to consecutive playoff appearances that each resulted in a first-round loss. But despite still having two years left on his contract with D.C. United, Rooney opted to return to his home country after the 2019 season and work as a player-coach for second-tier Championship team Derby County.
With the world pushed to a standstill amid the coronavirus pandemic, Rooney joined former D.C. United teammate Quincy Amarikwa's podcast, Perfect Soccer's “Ask A Pro Show,” on Friday. He talked about how he saw lots of potential in the MLS but that the trade system and salary cap it uses will hold it back from recruiting world-class players in their primes.
"I know it works that way in basketball and in the NFL, but those players get paid millions and millions of pounds,” Rooney said. “So, they can afford to actually do that, but MLS players can't. They probably get a small percentage of money which won't even cover the bills, won't even cover what they have to live on. It's wrong for that to happen.
"I think MLS needs to really look at that because, from seeing it, a lot of them owners are taking advantage of the league [structure], which is affecting American players…the American players are just the same as the South Americans, the English, the Spanish. The American players work just as hard, if not harder, and get taken advantage of."
A month before he played his final MLS match, Rooney told ESPN that the league’s players are “underpaid” and wage increases needed to be implemented in the next collective bargaining agreement. An agreement was reached last February one a new CBA that included an expanded salary cap, increased minimum salaries and the addition of player shares for the league’s media rights.
Even with the new CBA, Rooney doesn’t think MLS players are receiving the benefits they deserve for playing professional sports.
"There is so much potential there, so much potential, there is so much of a market,” Rooney said. I said it when I left D.C., [MLS] have to take on the rules that Europe and the rest of soccer are taking…although they might not want to, and I know the rest of U.S. sports don't do that, but if they don't, then they will never get there [level with European leagues].
"They get players like me and Zlatan [Ibrahimovic], but I can't give them Wayne Rooney from 10 years ago, Zlatan can't give himself from 10 years ago. We can give you ourselves from now, we can go there and earn a decent amount of money and give the fans some entertainment, but we can't give you our full potential…if [MLS] want players to reach their full potential, then they have to take the salary cap off."
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