MLS anonymous player poll on diving, relegation, salaries, concussion, more

Major League Soccer is celebrating its 20th season and, to commemorate the anniversary, 61 current players on the condition of anonymity gave their thoughts to ESPN FC on the state of the league and its place in the world game.

Promotion and relegation are staples globally, but fly in the face of Major League Soccer's single-entity structure. There's a clamor among some fans, and U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann has said that he's in favor of the system.

What the players said:

"It would hold teams accountable game in, game out throughout the season, if it was realistic. Right now, second-division teams are just not where they need to be in terms of quality. But down the road, it would be great. It would make the regular season more meaningful."

"I would favor it if it was realistic. MLS has come a long way but it still has a ways to go, and so do NASL teams."

"I don't think this league is ready for that."

According to the Professional Referee Organization, nine players were booked for simulation through the first 153 games of the 2015 season, matching the total at the same stage last year. By season's end in 2014, the number had risen to 13.

What the players said:

"I can't say I dove, but I have gone down with minimal contact. I've never had the mindset that I'm going down with the intention of getting a penalty."

"I think we all have."

According to the players' union, the average salary of an MLS player as of 2014 was $226,454, which includes Designated Player salaries that can climb as high as $7-plus million. (For comparison, the average is $3.6 million in the English Premier League and $1.5-$2.3 million in Europe's other top leagues.)

How do those figures compare to other jobs? According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, oral surgeons, gynecologists and obstetricians earn about the same amount as the MLS average. App developers, economists, nurse practitioners and physicians' assistants make about the same as MLS' median salary, which is $92,000.

What the players said:

"I couldn't make this much out of college but I'd like to think I could eventually."

"Maybe; I'm two classes away from my degree."

Klinsmann has butted heads with MLS in the past, most notably over his claims that Michael Bradley's return to the league would be bad for the midfielder's national team performances. More recently, Klinsmann said that his MLS-based players lacked fitness and appropriate off-season training plans.

What the players said:

"I think Jurgen Klinsmann is ridiculous. He s---- on the league of the country where he's the coach of the national team, but when the games really count he relies on the team's strength, which is the MLS players."

"I think most MLS players take care of themselves and are very fit. But the off-season is too long. No other league in the world has a two-and-a-half month break."

"Completely disagree. I think MLS players are as fit or more fit than players anywhere."

Concussion awareness is growing across sports, but soccer has been criticized for its attitude, such as during last year's World Cup final when German midfielder Christoph Kramer suffered an impact midway through the opening period but played until halftime. Referee Nicola Rizzoli revealed that Kramer approached him after the injury to ask if the match he was playing in was the final.

What the players said:

"I would as long as it wasn't my third or fourth and I didn't have a history of concussions."

"I might have in the past, but awareness of concussions has changed."

When asked if they have seen, or been subjected to, a racist incident during their careers, the vast majority said "no."

What the players said:

"I remember one on the field a couple of years ago, in Columbus. There have been a couple others as well."

"MLS fans are pretty respectful, and this league has a pretty progressive fan base."

Speaking in 2013, MLS commissioner Don Garber said on the record that he wanted the league to be among the world's best by 2022. Players are split as to whether such a goal is achievable.

What the players said:

"We have a long way to go in terms of spending. I think the CBA hinders this league when competing with other leagues around the world. Players leave this league to make great money somewhere else and then the league buys them back as Designated Players. It's kind of unfair for the players that stay."

"I don't think we'll be on par with the Premier League under the current structure. Things would have to change for that to be possible."

"That's too soon -- more like 15-20."

In many instances, the league plays through international dates, leaving clubs without some of their biggest and brightest stars, who are representing their countries.

What the players said:

"It's a great concept, but you can't play in places like New England in the winter. A lot of games would get cancelled. We're pretty much pushing it now in terms of when the season starts and finishes."

"I would prefer the Danish calendar. It's a break from December to March, and then a break from June to mid-July."

"It would be great not to have conflicts with the national team, but you can't play soccer in sub-zero temperatures."

Playoffs are what American sports are all about but, globally, are less common when it comes to soccer. The MLS postseason has been a staple of the league since its inception and the majority appear content with them continuing.

What the players said:

"A single table is more fair. Right now, the West is far stronger, so you almost expect an East team to win the Supporters' Shield because they're playing lesser teams."

"Nothing excites the American sports fan more than playoffs. But I wish the regular season was more important."

"I don't mind playoffs, but I don't like that six teams in each conference make it."

After MLS came within days of losing the open of the 2015 season, the players' union and owners finally came to an agreement. The major sticking points had been the length of a new CBA and free agency, which takes effect for players older than 28-years-old with at least eight years of service.

What the players said:

"We got our foot in the door of free agency. I consider that a success."

"I think we deserved more. We got scared."

While simulation and exaggeration remain issues, just one in five respondents admitted to ever faking an injury to influence a referee's decision.

Cynical observers of the sport will say that club loyalty no longer exists, regardless of how many badges are kissed in celebration. Based on this survey, they are right.

As soccer nears the 10-year anniversary of the Calciopoli scandal, match-fixing is still a major issue around the world. However, not a single respondent admitted to being approached to fix an MLS match.