Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment & Technology Law


Omar H. Ayad

First Page



Currently in its eleventh season, Major League Soccer (MLS) is struggling to establish its identity and niche in the international soccer community. In particular, issues of player control and transfer regulations continue to distinguish and alienate the league from the elite soccer associations of Europe, as well as the overall global soccer community. Since Fraser v. Major League Soccer, the league has been defined as a single entity and, thus, is free to wield substantial control over player contracting and placement, while avoiding charges of monopolistic behavior. MLS has taken advantage of this freedom when executing international transfers of MLS players. However, these mechanisms of player control were explicitly outlawed in Europe in the landmark European Court of Justice decision in Union Royale Belgedes Societes de Football Ass'n v. Bosman.

The Bosman case forced a complete overhaul of the international player transfer system. While the use of transfer fees and other methods of player control were specifically outlawed in Europe, the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the international governing body of association soccer, responded by establishing a new set of regulations, generally granting players more rights and freedoms in the international transfer market. However, MLS's current transfer policies both directly and indirectly conflict with the international transfer system. League officials defend the MLS system, arguing that such player controls and restrictions are necessary to develop the relatively young American soccer league. However, this justification is countered with evidence that MLS policies alienate it from the international soccer community, effectively hindering American players from reaching their full potential and impeding the progression of MLS and American soccer overall. Considering this reality, the only practical solution to MLS's current conflict with the international soccer community is to loosen its control over player contracting and transfer policies. The author argues that the league has the power to loosen its control over player contracting and transfer policies without a decline in league talent, level of play, attraction, or overall development. The author then concludes that MLS must take the training wheels off the league and reconcile its policies with those of the international soccer community in order to take the next step in becoming an elite national soccer association.