TAM, GAM and trades: why MLS is the world’s most overcomplicated league


For many fans, football’s beauty lies in its simplicity. So do MLS’s sometimes arcane rules and regulations put people off?

For the past four years, ESPN has conducted an anonymous survey of MLS players. There are always angles and headlines: this time around Giovani dos Santos was voted the most overrated player in the league by his peers. But in amongst the whimsy and trivia a more troublesome statement was served on how MLS is seen even by those on the league’s payroll.

Players were asked whether they truly understand how General Allocation Money (GAM) and Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) works. Only 50% answered that they do. That is likely reflective of the wider (lack of) understanding of the trade rules, too. In fact, so convoluted are the regulations they have become a source of comedy over the years, although some fans fail to see the funny side when their team is overlooked in the allocation order, sending a big name signing to a more illustrious, glamorous franchise. Look at how Clint Dempsey ended up at Seattle despite Portland apparently holding the rights to have the first shot at signing the US international. Fairly or not, the impression is that MLS sometimes makes up the rules as they go along.

It could be argued that MLS doesn’t do a good enough job of providing transparency on its own rules, that they have failed to sufficiently explain the process that results in the trading and signing of players. But one has sympathy for the corner they have forced themselves into. Even if they wanted to explain everything, how could they?

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