Coach Steve Cherundolo offered his thoughts to Territorio on roster composition and how MLS rules and salary restrictions impact teams’ ability to compete in global tournaments like the FIFA Club World Cup in 2025.
Steve Cherundolo, LAFC’s second-year head coach, has not held back when discussing roster rules and MLS’s ability to compete on the world Football stage. In a recent statement following the defeat of Costa Rican side Alajuelense on aggregate 4-2, the LAFC head coach addressed the recent changes brought up by FIFA concerning how it will now conduct its Club World Championship, starting in 2025.
Among many changes, it was revealed that the tournament would happen every four years in addition to its current annual model. This model is intended to closely mirror the World Cup tourney and how it is played today at the International Soccer level. Except with one caveat: teams now have more than one season or the chance to qualify, a wrinkle not seen from FIFA in any tournament we could recall in recent history.
Celso Oliveira on location:
Steve, congratulations on moving on, despite the result. Just curious about your thoughts on the changes to the Club World Championship that FIFA announced, and obviously, this competition will berth it. Does it change the meaning (of the Concachampions) to you?
And what do you think of that new format over the four years and qualifying teams worldwide?
Steve Cherundolo, técnico do LAFC e ex-jogador da Seleção Americana oferecendo sua avaliação de como a política salarial da liga atrapalha as equipes da Major League Soccer diante do calendário extendido de torneios da FIFA e o novo Mundial de Clubes em 2025. pic.twitter.com/wkUqkgJ0AF
— Território MLS™️ (@territoriomls) March 17, 2023
“Look, we’d love to play that competition, we’d love to qualify for it, but the games in the calendar year keep growing, but as far as I know, the days of the calendar have not grown and have not been extended. So it will be difficult for us to field teams, especially from the MLS sides, with the roster constraints that we have to field competitive teams consistently.”
“So there are solutions out there. I cannot make those decisions. That is a league decision. So hopefully, if we do get to play in these great competitions and add games to our schedule, we will be able to add players, and I hope the CDA and the players union are doing their work as well.” said the MLS Cup winning coach and former USMNT fullback.
Keeping Up The Pressure
Today, LAFC Head Coach Steve Cherundolo once again added to the subject of MLS budget restrictions as he answered a question from The Athletic reporter Felipe Cardenas on the possibility of a free market model without Trade Allocation, more or less mirroring the NBA, but among different teams inside Major League Soccer. “Instead of opening up the trading market, I think it’s more useful to increase the budget, maybe raise the ceiling and the floor, and then rethink how those dollars are spent, how we spend the budget, and with what category of player. That would greatly benefit the league and, of course, LAFC.”
It is unclear whether this trade model would help incorporate outside leagues into the equation, so it’s to be seen if players currently in the USL, for example, would have to find another way to crack MLS rosters. Regardless, Cherundolo seems to favor a genuinely open market system, where teams with resources and caliber can maximize their spending and playing opportunities outside the already 30+ scheduled games each team has in MLS regular season alone.
For that very reason, Steve Cherundolo and most coaches in MLS know very well that the current rules put in place by Major League Soccer to protect its roster from the outside has the undesired effect of preventing well ran franchises from failing early vs. less proven teams from the rest of the globe during continental clashes. It was the case of Josh Wolff and young Austin FC earlier this week, who were defeated by a much lesser team from one of the poorest regions of the World. The Verdes featured a collective that included the coaches’ son and prodigy Owen Wolff, a former USMNT standout in Gyasi Zardes, and current league sensation Sebastian Driussi. It didn’t matter. The MLS side fell into the Concacaf trap and was engulfed by a team of newly signed amateurs and visa-challenged individuals. Only a few days early, coach Wolff offered the following on depth and his roster:
I know, and our staff knows, and many players know, it’s not easy. Especially combined with CONCACAF Champions League, Leagues Cup, Open Cup, and the regular season, we could be looking at 45 to 55 games easily. Building depth is a big part of it. I think we have OK depth. We’re still three years in. Other teams have constantly built and changed, brought in quality, and moved quality when necessary. We have to keep that in mind moving forward. – said the Austin coach during an interview with The Athletic.
It seems that’s one thing Wolff and the Verdes got right in 2023. They lacked major depth and preparation for this competition, which is no excuse. Still, it’s yet another indication that there’s work to be done for MLS teams to compete with UEFA and CONMEBOL truly. Until changes come, it’s hard to see progress from MLS franchises in trying to climb the world rankings. Earlier this year, it was the Sounders, which featured an aged, unprepared team vs a confident Al Ahly side who took care of business and moved on to play a tough game vs the UEFA representative, despite ending up with a loss. For the Sounders, the result prevented one of the most well ran and successful franchises in MLS history from moving on to play vs. Real Madrid, a game that would have turned some TVs on for many casual fans of the sport and Los Blancos, here in the States. Another missed opportunity for a league that seems poised for growth under the skeptical look of spectators worldwide.
Capa: Celso Oliveira / Territorio MLS