TIM HOWARD US soccer only has five years to capitalize

TIM HOWARD: US soccer only has five years to capitalize on globetrotting Lionel Messi and Inter Miami… MLS needs to loosen its purse strings NOW to allow more superclubs to grow

In sports I like the hunted against the hunters. The dynasties. The Big Six in the Premier League – that’s something special.

People would argue that parity is fun because you don't know what you're going to get, year after year. But ultimately we like villains and heroes. The haves and the have-nots.

Is there a way to bring this to Major League Soccer? Two, three or four super teams all playing at the same time? Marquee teams with top players who can lure former teammates to join. Inter Miami has done it with Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba and now Luis Suarez. I think that's the way.

I started playing Major League Soccer in 1998, and back then you could hardly have imagined the scenes a few weeks ago in El Salvador, where the Miami bus was ambushed at the start of its month-long world tour.

When David Beckham came over in 2007, all eyes were on LA Galaxy – and they were actually traveling. But this is huge. During the pre-season, Miami will collect 23,000 miles, with further friendlies taking place in Saudi Arabia, Japan and Hong Kong.

Lionel Messi and Inter Miami will travel 23,000 miles for games in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere

Messi has brought his former teammates Jordi Alba, Luis Suarez and Sergio Busquets to Florida

Messi has brought his former teammates Jordi Alba, Luis Suarez and Sergio Busquets to Florida

 sports columnist Tim Howard wants MLS to help clubs become global brands

sports columnist Tim Howard wants MLS to help clubs become global brands

MLS SALARY RULES: A BRIEF EXPLANATION

MLS clubs are bound by a complex set of rules regarding player salaries.

Here is a short summary:

The “active squad” of a team consists of a maximum of 30 players. Up to 20 of these count towards a salary budget of $5.47 million for 2024, with no single player allowed to use more than $683,750.

However, clubs can pay players more using other levers, including a league-wide allocation pool ($2.58 million per club).

Players occupying the final 10 spots in their squad will not have their salaries counted toward the cap. Some of them have to be home grown.

Each club can also have up to three “designated players” – such as Lionel Messi – who are not bound by spending rules.

Yes, it was a terrible sight last Monday when Messi and Co. played against FC Dallas in front of almost empty stands. There's no way around it. It underlines how much further we still have to go.

But Miami can pull the rest of the MLS up – the league will thrive thanks to Messi, commercial success and branding. While you have that, you simply need to drill it from all sides.

But Messi is 36 – if he leaves in a few years and Busquets, Alba and Suárez leave with him, what happens next? We have to forge while the iron is hot. We have Messi, then the 2026 World Cup, then the consequences. We're talking about a five-year period where you can really capitalize.

They will have the best people in the world, the biggest television rights, the biggest sponsors, the best players – all in America. Then, afterwards, an opportunity to sign the three or four best players in the world. That has to be the next goal. And that means relaxing the salary cap.

For the 2024 season, MLS clubs' budget is expected to be $5.47 million, with the average player earning no more than $683,750 per year. Cristiano Ronaldo does it in almost a DAY in Saudi Arabia. $220 million a year…that's crazy money. And over in England, Premier League champions Manchester City spent more than $500 million on player salaries last season.

If I'm the owner of an MLS team and I'm in it for half a billion dollars, I should be able to spend money on creating a superpower. Chicago, New York, Washington DC, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Seattle – there are major cities with everything you need.

It was a terrible sight when Messi and Co. faced FC Dallas in front of almost empty stands

It was a terrible sight when Messi and Co. faced FC Dallas in front of almost empty stands

The Cotton Bowl in Dallas was largely empty following Inter Miami's 1-0 loss in their preseason friendly

The Cotton Bowl in Dallas was largely empty following Inter Miami's 1-0 loss in their preseason friendly

When I started playing there were huge financial constraints. They had to protect the structure of the league or they would go bankrupt. I completely understand that.

But now the United States finds itself in a battle with Saudi Arabia to become the next big tourist destination outside Europe. The Saudi Pro League has done some really good things – big names have moved on and many are thriving. If MLS teams want to compete, they have to be allowed to sign bigger and better players. More money, more eyes.

Globally recognized teams are built on the basis of individuals. The face might change every five years, but you're still attracted to players. Miami is building this now. The question is: can we get more of these players? If you can, start building that brand.

Let's take Barcelona. When someone leaves, you're not going to say, “I'm not watching them anymore.” Because you already know they're going to launch the next product. This is the only way you can be recognized worldwide. Can Miami do it if Messi leaves? Because it won't be long before he does. Can they already have a sustainable model where they know who they are targeting? Erling Haaland, Kylian Mbappe, someone in that range – the next best thing.

MLS needs to find a way to help its teams become global powerhouses. And they have to do it now.

1706620723 133 TIM HOWARD US soccer only has five years to capitalize

Messi, now 36, is preparing for his first full season in Major League Soccer at Inter Miami

Messi receives his eighth Ballon d'Or alongside Inter Miami co-owner David Beckham in Paris

Messi receives his eighth Ballon d'Or alongside Inter Miami co-owner David Beckham in Paris

Don't worry, Messi and Miami won't suffer from jet lag

I would be shocked if Inter Miami weren't at the top of MLS this year.

There are fears that the hangover from all this travel and all these games will have an impact on Messi and Co. I think that's a convenient excuse.

I don't buy it because pre-season is about building fitness and at these clubs, sports science is king. They monitor every single heartbeat of these players.

The preseason is of course tough. It's a strain on your body, you're separated from your family. It is exhausting. During my time in the Premier League I traveled to the USA, Hong Kong and Singapore. A year later we were supposed to travel to Australia, but the organizer never paid the money. So we didn't go and the players were happy not to have to travel around the world.

Managers are no different – they hate the commercial demands of touring, even if they appreciate the financial benefits these trips bring to their club.

But spending more time together – having a coffee in the hotel lobby, playing some cards – is priceless. Trust could never be built on the pitch. It's always built on that. So the more time you spend together, the more trust you build, the more you support each other and the more late goals you score.

Tata Martino's Inter Miami will enter the 2024 MLS season as one of the favorites to win

Tata Martino's Inter Miami will enter the 2024 MLS season as one of the favorites to win

Why I support FIFA's World Cup decisions

I was surprised to read that the 2026 World Cup final will likely take place in Dallas. Like everyone else, I assumed it would be in New York or Los Angeles – those are the capitals and that's where the main games have always been held.

But I played at Cowboys Stadium. It's absolutely brilliant and in Dallas they do it great. They made it big in Texas. So the world will show up, America will show up, Texas will show up. It's a great choice.

There were also complaints about FIFA's decision to expand the World Cup to 48 teams. It's incredible to see minnows qualify, but every World Cup misses out on a few great soccer countries.

You could say: These are the breaks. But if Italy, Holland or Chile miss out, I want to see them there. I like the expansion because I am in favor of as many of the best teams as possible taking part in a World Cup.

AT&T Stadium in Texas is scheduled to host the 2026 World Cup final ahead of MetLife Stadium

AT&T Stadium in Texas is scheduled to host the 2026 World Cup final ahead of MetLife Stadium

It would be catastrophic for Liverpool's communities if Everton went under

Everton fans are extremely proud and the fact that my former team have never been relegated from the Premier League is something they hold on to.

Aston Villa, Newcastle and Leeds all went down, but this would be the highest relegation in history: Everton is one of the few founding clubs never to have dropped out of the Premier League. They haven't been outside the top flight since the 1950s.

The Evertonians obviously don't want to think about the end of this series – even if they face a second possible point deduction. Sean Dyche and his players have already recovered from being penalized 10 points for breaking financial rules once. Another 10 would certainly be fatal.

Everton's work around Goodison Park is second to none in the Premier League

Everton's work around Goodison Park is second to none in the Premier League

The decline would have an impact on the people who work there. This would impact the reach you can achieve in the community – and Everton's community program is second to none in the Premier League. It's such a caring club. Every manager I've had has said, 'This is important.' 'They're going to do the work that Everton want in the community.'

But with relegation, budgets are reduced – not cut. People are losing jobs. This affects the entire community ecosystem – there is no doubt about it. We understand the financial gain of the Premier League and how it supports these communities.

If Everton were to go under, it would be catastrophic.