MLS’ Players Deserve Better

Real v Galaxy

For the last week we heard about the great 2009 for Major League Soccer. Please pardon me, while I take a step back from Don Garber’s rhetoric and raise the ugly side of 2009 in American soccer.

I will not dispute that this summer appeared to be the tipping point for the sport in the country. We saw the biggest non World Cup crowds over the summer since Cosmos mania swept the nation in the mid to late 1970s (when several NASL teams averaged over 25,000 fans per match) for several friendlies involving European club teams, and the national team reach its first ever FIFA final.

But as the year wore on, the increased mediocrity in MLS took hold, a dispute between the second/third/fourth tier USL and its club owners became public, and the US National Team struggled at times, ending the year with two loses in European soil to exactly the type of sides they will see next summer in South Africa.

The US beat Honduras for a nice win in San Pedro Sula, but needed a dramatic late goal to draw with a poor Costa Rican side in Washington, and then finished the year losing to a Danish “B+” side. The US was also missing several regulars for this match, but the game showed the lack of depth the US had when compared to the type of European side that will be in pot two of the World Cup draw.

Despite constant advertisements during College Football games on both ABC and ESPN this weekend, the MLS Cup Final still netted viewership in less than a million households on English language TV. To me this is a bitter disappointment, and perhaps evidence that I have been wrong to have bought into MLS’ recent hype after the “tipping point” this summer.

I’ve editorialized that MLS has now overtaken European club football in American interest based on recent TV numbers. Despite having David Beckham, and constant weekend ads on all ESPN affiliated networks, the MLS Cup netted less viewers on ESPN than each of the last four UEFA Champions League Finals on ESPN 2. This is despite the most obvious fact that the UEFA Final was on a Wednesday afternoon US time,  while the MLS Cup final took place in prime time on Sunday, traditionally the best TV night of the week. In other words, my recent posts have been off the mark on this subject.

MLS’ bluster and self congratulation has seldom ever been more intense than this past week. I’ve outlined several problems above, but none come anywhere close to the present policy of how MLS treats its players, most particularly the American player, the league was partly founded to promote and develop.

Eric Wynalda raised some excellent points in his interview with Yanks Abroad yesterday. These are the same points I have made for years on this and other websites. When I have brought these issues up in the past, I have almost always gotten nasty, rude and sometimes maniacal responses. I still cannot understand why a brand loyalty to MLS trumps some fans willingness to help the players of the league.

In today’s MLS, if you are an American player you face an almost incredible and unconscionable salary discrimination. Unlike those making a low wage in other football leagues, the MLS player cannot test himself on the open market, and has to submit to ridiculous standards to achieve a transfer.

This season, it was revealed the MLS has compelled players sought by European clubs to sign over to the league the 10% of the transfer fee owed to the player by FIFA regulations. This is done despite the fact MLS’ bluster would make you believe the league is healthier than ever and has more investment than ever, and despite years of underpaying and taking advantage of the very American player whose backs the league was built on, MLS still tries to grab as the player is on his way to Europe.

These practices are from the vantage point of this particular fan and writer, completely unacceptable. As we shift from self congratulation mode, to Collective Bargaining Agreement discussion mode, it is imperative that the American player be recognized for his sacrifice to build this league. This league is now fourteen years old, and in that time players around the globe have seen a large increase in market value. Yet, MLS’ salary structure has remained largely the same.

MLS’ will possibly shift from “things have never been better” mode to “Recession has hit us hard” mode in order to try and put the screws to the players once again. I would urge any and all readers, whether you like me or not to remember the American player, some of which you may have yourself played with or against. When MLS’ ratchets it up its rhetoric, many an American soccer fan act as if they have been mesmerized by the pied piper: be that an MLS owner or the Soccer Don, himself.

To the American player, we owe our very being as fans of the sport. I know whose side I am on in the upcoming CBA negotiations, and I urge everyone reading this to consider the case made, whether you like my writing or not and also give support to your local players.

35 thoughts on “MLS’ Players Deserve Better”

  1. good article. it’s true — one must always keep an open eye for all sides to a story. a friend of mine recently told me that his bro (an American player), a few years ago, was offered a measly $12k to play for an MLS team. that’s beyond absurd.

    that being said, we still do not know everything there is to know about the internal business side to the mls. perhaps they are the way you point out b/c of a greater business model we simply aren’t privy to. nonetheless, they MUST find a better way to keep young American players here. it’s a slap in the face when they choose to go abroad and sit on a bench instead of playing here in the league in front of their fans, friends, families, and fellow Americans.

    1. $12,000 is pathetic. I had friends that played for Drake and/or the Menace that shared similar stories. I think Major League Lacrosse is not that far off from $12k and its players only practice once a week and play like 8 games.

  2. Do people flock to stadiums to watch Brad Evans or David Beckham?

    The American player should just be thankful the league exists and consider the consequences of the MLS going away if they strike and get big unions from Europe involve.

    Eddie Pope’s legacy as a player will be tarnsihed if he ends up being the man who destroyed MLS.

  3. Wynalda whined about Sasha not getting a chance, but Sasha’s response was to tuck his head and suck. He wouldn’t last a day in Europe with that attitude when things don’t go his way. MLS did the kid a favor by not subjecting him to the embarassment he would have suffered over there.

    MLS needs to continue improving, but too many people want everything right now instead of steady growth.

    1. It’s Sacha, for goodness’ sake. I know it’s pedantic, but my goodness, he has been on the radar for three or four years now. Why can’t people get his name right?

  4. The new NASL better move forward more quickly and also NOT adopt a single entity structure as I suspect they will. Having a strong, visible second division will help offset the onvious trouble of a work stoppage and force MLS to make changes since the second division could in theory poach players from MLS.

  5. Kartik, you are full of the same bluster as the Soccer Don more often than not, but this piece hits the spot.


    Write more columns like this and some of us may take you more seriously.

  6. I heard yesterday from a player agent that it would only cost MLS 2 million a year to get all the players to a minimum of 40,000 salary. That would be a start at least. Lots of things they could be doing differently.

  7. There has to be some kind of decent minimum salary.

    >We saw the biggest non World Cup crowds over the summer since Cosmos mania >swept the nation in the mid to late 1970s for several friendlies involving European >club teams.

    That is so naive, its painful.

    If the Rolling Stone, Eagles and some old farts sell out their concerts it does NOT mean that your city’s music scene is doing well. Yes, they are music but they live in totally different worlds.
    Same for the friendly money tours.
    Teams are there for the paychecks, players just worry about not getting hurt and people can pay idiotic prices to say they ‘were there’, in the same stadium as some of their worlds best known players.
    Throw in the poseurs, the dweebs clad in garb from head to toe and the false ethnics; “the italians and portuguese” whose only tie to their ‘homeland’ is that one of their parents or grandparents is from that country. (knowing the language of ‘your team’ is not necessary). If you are born in the US, you are an american.

    These meaningless games are events that have very little to do with soccer.
    You could have horrible games and people would still be thrilled because ‘they were there’. Being in presence of greatness is the goal.

    It raises the visibility of soccer because the media will pay lip service for a day or two but I think it hurts it even more because it allows comparisons and the usual BS about it not being as good. If you are a real fan, you go watch college, senior amateur league and so on… of course, many fans are really logo fans only.

    Your reasoning follows these lines: People will pay a lot of money to see top stars strut on the field for a half, if youre lucky, and then they will love it so much that they will say “Hey, there might not be a Barcelona playing this week but Columbus is playing so Im gonna check this MLS thing out!”
    Raising the visibility artificially that way doesnt work. Heck, it didnt work with the WC here. And the league is not even remotely close to the NASL of the 70-80s in terms of popularity.

    You are spot on about brand loyalty. That’s what soccer is really about to many people. The game itself is almost irrelevant.

  8. The NASL averaged over 25,000 fans a game in the 1970s in some cities. Yet that name will not be used by a league that averages a few hundred per game in some cities.

    To Traffic Sports and Jeff Cooper, if you cheapen the NASL name we will never forgive you.

    As for the MLS situation, I really am in the middle. The league is not financially stable and essentially survives on the revenue from SUM events including Interliga, Superliga, and FMF matches.

    Yet, the players do deserve more. The league should be further along financially after 14 years if things had been done right, like picking Seattle and Toronto for teams from the get go and not over spending early on some name foreign stars to build the brand.

    But, the truth is that the league is not as far along as it should be and thus we cannot yet give the players what they deserve. It is a sad reality, but this is not the time for a major CBA overhaul. Maybe in five years time we’ll be where we need to be to take the caps off, allow free agency and engage in the world market.

  9. Absolutely right! I love the MLS but there are more than a few things that need to change ASAP and one of them is definitely the poor treatment the players receive with regards to their low salaries, transfer embargoes and shortchanging on the bonuses when they win cup competitions.

    Good article.

  10. Kartik,

    I am so disgusted by this piece, I do not even know where to start.

    Ok, here is where I will start. If you are in anyway working with the Players Union or discussing strategy and information with the players union the time to disclose it is now. If you are being spun by the union to write favorable pieces, you also must disclose this now.

    Your piece is as offensive as the union release this morning. You claim MLS violates FIFA rules without any proof that the league has forcibly compelled a player to sign over the 10% transfer fee. Your readers ought to know it is an entirely voluntary decision by the player. If the player refuses, the league then has to consider whether a reduced fee is in the league’s interest. In some cases, the league has allowed the player to be transferred anyhow. In others, the league has nixed the deal because of the reduced profit. It’s a decision made on a case by case basis.

    For example, if player X who plays for FC Dallas is offered at a $5 million transfer fee, the MLS only gets $4.5 million unless the player signs over his 10%. The MLS must then decide whether the reduced fee is worth the sale of the player.

    Nobody is forcing anyone to do anything. It is simply conjecture on your part and negotiating ploy by the union which is why I strongly sense you are colluding with them.

    Secondly, how many of these players you claim would be paid better on the open market are actually good enough to get a real look from European clubs? Most would be doing day jobs and parking cars if not for MLS.

    You have written some things about the league in the past that have been negative and borderline destructive. But never have you before clearly embellished reality to make a point.

    This is a labor dispute. Writers should not take sides. What separates you, despite your tactical knowledge and ability analyze the game from proper journalists like Grant Wahl, Jeff Carlisle and others is that they will analyze both sides of this dispute and report accurately.

    They will seek both sides of the story as well. Here, you have only sought one side of the story and reported one as well.

    Think about the consequences if a work stoppage occurs. This is our league that everyone in the US Soccer community needs to give unconditional support to. Other blogs and writers do, but you do not.

    Along with some negative people like that trash, Ginge Talks the Footy who replaced you on CSRN you do nothing but rip the league and hurt the game.

    The ramifications of a work stoppage would be enormous. MLS has made the game in this country what it is. Your beloved USL has done nothing but bring a circus show and minor league soccer to small towns. US Soccer is MLS, and the players I trust will realize that the thrust of history is against them and do the right thing. The right thing would be to accept the league’s offer and get on with building the brand in a critical world cup year.

    Shame on you. Report both sides for a change.

    1. I usually find myself disagreeing with Kartik, but he’s nailed this one “MLS is our League”…I would venture a guess that “MLS is our league” is a MLS management flunky. He has an attitude that seems to indicate that the players should feel lucky to be playing for the MLS. Please, let’s be serious, some players in the MLS make about as much as I do. Nobody whinges and moans about the gross (pun intended) sums other sports stars make. As to the transfer scheme, the MLS should be ashamed of itself. Mandatory or not it’s wrong. If I were the players and wags I would file a class action suit against the league. The MLS is simply nicking money they can’t rightfully claim and saying “oh it’s your choice.” The MLS better grow up and start acting like a proper league or it will not be around much longer. MLS or USSR, not much difference, they both wanted central control of all things.

      1. It is not wrong. European clubs have a practice of giving 10% to the player, but MLS is not bound by this. Some of you Euro-snobs again have to get real. Simply because a transfer policy is followed by some big European clubs and rewarding big money players, does not mean MLS is compelled to follow such a scheme.

        Kartik, who I believe is working on concert with the MLSPA, new NASL and perhaps USL also is making an issue of a violation of FIFA rules that does not exist.

        Commissioner Don Garber and FIFA both today have made it clear. MLS is in full compliance with FIFA mandates. Gerber announced it and FIFA has revealed they will not intervene because it is a domestic labor dispute and MLS is following the rules.

        Kartik’s favorite league USL on the other hand has violated the rules of FIFA by allowing third party ownership of the league. Yet, this site has never editorialized that USL must comply with FIFA statutes, but makes up FIFA statutes coincidently at the same time as the union issues a similarly worded statement about FIFA statutes.

        In other words, Kartik is not working independently on this.

        1. Umm idiot,

          FIFPro is right on the money with their allegations this morning. If you are honestly going to take FIFA at their word, you’re a bigger tool than I thought. The FIFA Guidelines (I assume you’ve read them) apply worldwide, not just in Europe. The only reason the issue was dropped by FIFA was because MLS finally conceded. They don’t want their affairs looked into, it’s pretty obvious.

          Consider yourself fortunate Kartik is a kind man and probably won’t sue you for the blatant defaming of his character. Where is your solid concrete evidence of your false accusations? Oh that’s right, you don’t have any nor will you ever have any.

          MLS is not OUR LEAGUE! I hate to be the bearer of some horrific news, but it’s not. When the nearest first division club to me is in Mexico, and not inside the United States, MLS ceases to be my first division, and for plenty of other people as well.

          But thanks for the good laugh. Your stupidity (and IQ of that equaling a fruit fly), has made my day!

    2. The idea that writers and journalists shouldn’t take sides in a debate is laughable. That’s why we have the fourth estate in this country, so they can report on what’s going on and be on the side of right.

      We may not have documentary proof of the ten percent claims, but Kenny Cooper claimed it in an interview this summer after he left Dallas.

      It’s not bad to report both sides, but it’s hard to report both sides of $24,000 salaries. That’s not really livable anywhere that MLS plays.

    3. MLS is OUR League – do you not understand that this site is primarily a commentary site? Like sports columnists in newspapers, most of the writers here are purposely and openly taking a “side” on the issue they are writing about. Do you ever listen to sports talk radio? When the morning guy at the station I work with says that he’s going to vomit blood in the driveway the next time the Astros pitch straight at Pujols do you think people call in saying that he is colluding with the Astros? That he should be more objective? NO – because it is commentary, and, as such, is opinion driven.

      If you disagree with Kartik fine, disagree with him and lay out your points, but don’t throw out false, groundless accusations in an effort to make him shut-up. Before you go making a comment here again, I highly recommend you buy a local paper and read the sports columnists. Then you’d get an understanding of what Kartik is doing and why it is okay for him to take a side in this issue. Heck, I know sports columnists here in Houston who will write stuff they really don’t believe, just to stir the pot.

      Remember, this is the sports end of the media spectrum, things are different down here, and that’s a good thing.

    4. This is probably one of the most asinine things I’ve ever read. If anyone sounds like PR, it is you… are you sure you aren’t performing some sort of guerilla PR work for the owner’s group? Nearly every independent account I’ve read completely blasts the MLS and its leadership… the MLS is nothing more than indentured servitutde… they are the only game in town and they are more abusive of their power than OPEC.

    5. As long as MLS continues to give fans in the US reasons to ignore it, like stiffing players out of a few hundred grand, they will always consider the league a joke, and rightfully so. There’s a big difference between defending the league and bending over for it. If I were a young player there’s no way I’d sign a two year deal which is basically a four year deal. And even if I did, what incentive do I have to perform if the league won’t let me maximize my revenue by doing well?

      We are going to lose Movsisyan (SP?), Rolfe, Clarke, Holden, maybe Donovan, and other good pros over a few hundred grand, or because the league jerked them around and they feel disrespected. Meanwhile, Beckham’s off to Italy, Blanco to Mexico’s second division, Schelotto has been slapped in the face by the Crew, McBride might retire. I’m much more pessimistic than the “summer of soccer, a corner has been turned, go MLS!” crowd is about the future of the league. Garber and the owners deserves all the crap they get, because they’re tarnishing the brand over relative chump change to billionaires and it will take years to undo the damage in the eyes of young US players looking forward to a pro soccer career.

      Don’t forget, a big reason single entity was allowed by the courts was the owners pledged we would be a SELLING league, but when it comes time to bite the bullet and sell them on, they’d rather pay the players peanuts and let them walk when their contracts are up. A $500,000 cut of the transfer fee of $5,000,000 is not unreasonable, and its cheaper to pay it out short term than it will be to rebuild the trust of young USA players long-term.

  11. If you want to know why American soccer is going nowhere, one needs to look no further than this thread. It is comical to see these apologists defend the ownership, who have done nothing for us (the consumers) or the players. I like the MLS, but it is disgraceful how they treat their players. Reading about how Kljestan was denied the opportunity to play in Scotland for over 10x his current salary just made me sick to my stomach. To the MLS defenders.. is this what you want “your” league to be? A league that treats its players as some sort of modern day indentured servants? Look at Schelotto’s contract negotiations and the ridiciulous rules preventing another MLS club from signing him. Look at the pathetic salaries that even some MLS All-Stars make. Oh, and by the way, if this is “our” league, when am I getting my paycheck? I would gladly defer my portion to the players, but I’ll be damned if I line the pockets of the owners at the players’ expense.

    Great piece, Kartik. It is sad that in this day and age when all this information is readily available that we still have people who will defend the dysfunctional leadership of this organization.

    The CBA negotiations will determine the future of this league, at least to me. If they continue to ignore FIFA’s rules and continue to treat their players in a poor manner (failing to recognize that MLS is a developmental league), I will just forget about this league. I’d rather just pay attention to the USL and NASL for domestic football (there is already enough foreign footy to fill up 24 hours a day anyways).

  12. Listen, you don’t want to pay us your 10%, no problemo amico, you are a free man, you make your choice.

    OK, if you don’t give us the 10% we won’t let you go and an earn a better living in Europe. And I guess you might get injured next year and never get a chance to earn the big money that was dangled right in front of you. That’s life buddy.

    But hey, we’re family right?

    I mean, you wouldn’t want to turn against your family would you?


  13. I don’t disagree with some of the salaries being pathetic, but if there wasn’t any money, there wasn’t any money.
    Now there seems to be some money coming in…Seattle, Toronto, etc.

    With Seattle, I believe they probably brought in close to $20 million on tickets. I read somewhere 1/2 of that is shared with the league ?
    IF so, that money ( and there will be quite a bit more Seattle money next year ) should be FORCED to be spent on the players salaries, it is the NUMBER 1 thing holding the MLS back.
    Getting the salaries moving to an average of $3-4 million/team with league min of $5 million (away from DPs ), if possible, would go a long way to progressing a league that lets face it really hasn’t progressed enough in fan interest over 14 years, while soccer interest over all has.

  14. A minor comment which doesn’t affect your overall point: the game didn’t get over until close to midnight on Sunday evening here. I’m sure that didn’t help viewership. Even a well-established sport like MLB can’t get away with games getting over that late anymore… as evidenced by declinding playoff and World Series ratings.

    1. While late game don’t help, it is not necessarily a killer. The World Series ratings were up big time this year.

      The fact is, soccer just isn’t a big TV sport in America right now. ESPN got 1.0 ratings from the freaking Little League World Series this year. Yes, 1.0…for baseball games involving 11 and 12 year old kids. That’s about where soccer stands in American TV viewing.

  15. That really is the type of player the MLS has to be able to keep, huh ?
    Not the $1 million dollar contract, but doesn’t deserve to be paid less than a teacher 😉 sorry bad joke.

  16. Now it’s time to focus on the Mexican League playoffs. The SL Gladiators shocked Toluca by taking a 1-nil lead in their series. Club America will have their work cut out for them in leg 2 of their series. The Cement Machine is looking good so far in their series. Many compelling stories Very entertaining football.

    The playoffs continue this weekend on Telemundo and Telefutura. The Grand Finale will be on December 13th. Don’t miss any of it!!!

  17. I get what you’re saying, but for a league less than 20 years old, I would say MLS is doing fine. Comparisons to Europe will always make the league look small, but right now the Mexican league is firmly in our sights (talent wise) and arguably MLS is on stronger financial ground than Argentina.

    Still, the point about wages is true – and I hate the “league option” years on contracts for young players

  18. If the league minimum was raised from 20k to 40k, and the Senior League Minimum from 35k to 50k, we’d not have to raise the cap, as a lot of players would become cap exempt league minimum players.

    Major League Soccer could then afford to raise the quality of players they keep on the bench and the big teams could afford to pay other players more. Would MLS have lost so many higher talented players to European 2nd and 3rd Divisions if the quality of play was better than it is now?

  19. From a personal point of view, how can some one possible defend multi-millionaires paying professional players $12,000 per year? My 17 years old son who is a senior in high school, makes about $500 more working at IN and Out Burgers. Shame on the MLS shame….shame…shame

    Giving players the option(??????) of keeping THEIR!! %10 and holding option on players contract long after you have terminate the services are straight out Mafia moves. I guess MLS stands for MAFIA LAEGUE SUCKERS……!

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