Can MLS survive the Chinese Super League?

Greg Sleter is a journalist, a New Yorker and a football fan who runs the fantastic On our recent podcasts we’ve discussed the long list of players who have recently joined clubs in the Chinese Super League. In this piece, Greg asks whether China’s financial clout may prove detrimental to MLS’s  ability to develop. Follow Greg on Twitter @GregSleter.

As Major League Soccer begins its 21st season, the foundation of the league is solid as attendances continues to grow and the clamour for expansion clubs from numerous cities across the U.S. is strong.

But MLS officials are now facing a new competitor in the form of the Chinese Super League, which in recent weeks has been splashing lots of cash to attract players from around the world.

The most recent example involves now former Seattle Sounder Obafemi Martins. One of the bigger, more charismatic MLS stars in recent years, the Nigerian left the Pacific Northwest and will now ply his trade in the Far East with Shanghai Greenland Shenhua. Seattle will take the $2 million transfer fee, but Martins is the big winner, with his new $6.6 million salary nearly double his annual take from Seattle.

And therein lies the problem. With the salary restrictions of MLS, the league’s stars — be they established or up-and-coming — will look outside the U.S. to get their biggest payday. Now, some of those stars may also look toward Asia as a destination to cash in.

Some may argue that a move such as the one Martins made to China, while positive from a monetary standpoint, may be like playing in the wilderness of world football. But that’s a discussion for another day.

The big issue for MLS is salary. In recent years, the league has benefitted from paying a decent wage to aging stars such as David Beckham and others to help drive interest in the league. While that tactic has worked to an extent, the ability to develop and retain young talent will be vital for the league going forward.

Take, for example, three young American stars; Jordan Morris, Matt Miazga and DeAndre Yedlin. Each has played for Jurgen Klinsmann on the U.S. Men’s National Team and will likely play a major role on the squad in the years ahead. But Miazga and Yedlin are now in the English Premier League after starting their careers in MLS.

Granted, Miazga and Yedlin may have been drawn to England for competitive reasons, but both will also enjoy the financial spoils that likely were not achievable for either in the States.

As for Morris, he has decided to stay home and could play a major role in helping Seattle fill the void left by Martins’ departure for China. Before joining the Sounders, Morris had a brief interlude with Werder Bremen in Germany’s Bundesliga. He will be an interesting case study to see if Seattle and MLS as a whole will be able to meet the budding star’s future salary demands.

The salary issue could also have an impact on MLS’ ability to attract aging stars as well. While the likes of Steven Gerrard, Andrea Pirlo and Frank Lampard are spending their twilight years in MLS, China may also be an option for others in the future.

Chelsea defensive legend John Terry has been rumored to be leaving Stamford Bridge at the end of the current Premier League season. Landing in MLS is possible, but the Chinese Super League is also an option and will likely offer Terry a larger annual salary.

Will the development of the Chinese Super League have a negative impact on MLS? Should MLS relax its financial restrictions to compete? Let us know in the comments, or on Twitter.

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