The CBA: Can MLS Wait Until…um…Till…um…Then?

…is it 2009 that Major League Soccer (MLS) keeps saying they’ll re-work the collective bargaining agreement with the MLS Players’ Union? 2010? Does it matter? It’s like Jon from the DC United Offside said in his post about DC-draftee Andrew Jacobson bypassing MLS to sign with France’s Lorient:

“Eddie Pope, take notice. Raise the salary floor or this league will get older, and worse.”

It’s not all on Eddie, of course. The idea that the league needs to stop shopping for answers up its own ass is becoming apparent to plenty of people. One almost has to wonder if Frank Dell’Appa got wind of Jacobson’s hop to France ahead of writing his piece for ESPN on MLS accidentally becoming an export league. Dell’Appa’s article mainly explores how MLS’s comparatively low salary cap inherently disadvantages it against the rest of the world – with an apt emphasis on the Taylor Twellman situation – but he ends with the list of solid, young-ish MLS pros who punched tickets to Europe during the current offseason:

“If Chris Gbandi is transfered from FC Dallas to Haugesund in Norway, as expected, this week, he will be the 10th MLS player to move to Europe this month, following Bryan Arguez (Hertha Berlin), Andy Dorman (St. Mirren), Clarence Goodson (IK Start), Nate Jaqua (SC Rheindorf Altach), Clint Mathis (Ergotelis FC), Joseph Ngwenya (SK Austria Karnten), Pat Noonan (Aalesund FK), Troy Perkins (Valerenga) and Johnson. Of those players, only Johnson produced a significant transfer fee, and Dorman, Goodson, Jaqua, Mathis, Ngwenya and Noonan departed on free transfers.”

The last point hits on something a little different – i.e. MLS failing to make money on the players it’s coughing up to Europe – but it goes back, if a little indirectly, to an increasingly fundamental problem: the difficulty MLS clubs have in keeping the decent players they select in the SuperDraft. Steve Goff hits on this in his post about Jacobson’s departure, but there are examples of clubs across MLS bracing for what happened to DC: New England with Mike Videira; Toronto FC with Joe Lapira; and, from last year, the Colorado Rapids with Greg Dalby and, again, DC with Jay Needham (who went to the USL for frick’s sake). The point is, sure it sucks to see some blossoming players leave just as they’re hitting their stride (OK, not so much Mathis and Jaqua, but stick with me), but MLS’s penny-pinching ways with new signings could mean these players will avoid MLS altogether.

(UPDATE: Goff actually dug a little deeper into this in a later post, adding some details about money and projecting Jacobson’s potential.)

If there’s a counter-argument to provide relief, it’s the very real possibility that a number of these players will go to Europe, fail to either perform or adjust, and then they’ll come back. The subsequent downside comes with the fact MLS will pay more for them then they would have initially…and that would apply if they paid the developmental players half-decently.

It’s not so much that I’m expecting MLS to compete for players with Europe. We are SO friggin’ far from that happening – even if Gregory Sica’s visions of a Latin boom elevating MLS come together. But I’d still like to see MLS get a looser with the purse-strings – or even adopt a more open structure for teams to acquire and trade players, as opposed to the current top-down model – instead of making a brazenly token effort to retain promising, young American players.


One Response

  1. You beat me to the punch here- I was hoping to blog on this as well! 3-D man jokingly refers to the Dynamo as an ‘feeder team’ for the Austrian League but it’s becoming less and less funny as quality MLS players are moving abroad.

    I also wonder if the other US sports’ players associations will fan the flames during the negotiations- a la the NFL Players Association financially sponsoring the MLS Players anti-trust suit to test the judical waters (kinda like sending your little ignorant brother into the DMZ to see if they’ve stopped firing rubber bullets). The MLS Players Association wisely backed down (to my recollection) as this could have dissolved the league in its early years. With Garber talking expansion and stability, will the Players Association be so generous this time? Think of the published bottom line salaries for the majority of players- especially reserve team players.

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