The majority of North America is suffering from a cold snap, but the rhetoric around US Soccer is getting hotter everyday. Whether it is the ongoing NASL/USL dispute (which is being mediated today) or the MLS CBA, the temperature keeps rising.
Today FIFPro, which represents football players around the globe released a statement by US National Team legend and current Sounders GK Kasey Keller on the current situation.
“‘What we are looking for are the same basic rights that players enjoy in other leagues around the world’, said Kasey Keller, longtime U.S. international and veteran of the top leagues in England, Germany and Spain. We have made great strides in developing the game in the United States. But we can’t truly compete internationally, either for players or fans, with a system that is so radically different than other leagues around the world.”
Landon Donovan added:
‘the league shutting down MLS in February would do real damage to the development of the game in the United States and to our efforts to prepare for South Africa. It is difficult to understand why the owners would take this course, when all we are asking for are the same rights enjoyed by other players around the world, not just in the biggest leagues, but in leagues of all sizes.’
Additionally FIFAPro reasserted that MLS continues to be in violation of numerous FIFA statutes. FIFPro has a good relationship with both Sepp Blatter and Michael Platini, who have both come down often on the side of players in disputes with management.
MLS has responded via Mark Abbott with the following statement:
“The statement regarding MLS issued by the MLS players today contains many inaccuracies including the false assertion that MLS is not compliant with the FIFA regulations. MLS is in fact operating in compliance and the players are simply wrong on this point. Also, contrary to the Union’s claims, it has been proven in federal court that the MLS business structure is legal and does not operate as a cartel. Moreover, any discussion about a lockout, players strike or other work stoppage is premature and frankly counterproductive to our ongoing mutual commitment to reach an agreement between management and the players. During the last 50 years, there have been multiple failed efforts to launch professional soccer in the United States and Canada. In order to avoid this fate, the MLS owners created a structure that has provided stability and growth during the last 15 years while creating opportunity for the sport. We will continue to negotiate in good faith with the players regarding a new CBA.”
This statement is from my vantage point, quite disturbing. Despite the constant claims that the league has progressed beyond its initial troubles, the owners continue to cite the “failure” of the NASL as justification to keep a structure designed for initial survival, not long term success in place. (Keep in mind the NASL in 1980 had 10 times the TV viewers on national platforms than MLS did in 2008)
Additionally, the league gives no evidence as to how it is in compliance with the FIFA regulations which the players union has listed. Furthermore, it is not an issue of US court compliance, but compliance with the established regulations and laws of the game that FIFPro and the MLSPU have made a stand on. We still have no clear indication from MLS as to how exactly they comply with FIFA mandates beyond simple assurance from the ownership group that they are.
Until MLS refutes point by point the assertions of the players union, all which appear to be grounded factually, we must assume MLS is throwing up a smokescreen against its players.
It is the American player who has built MLS and brought this sport to the masses nationally. Yet, MLS maintains a structure which pays players attracted from second division sides in Argentina, England and France more money than successful five year, league veterans. We have a league structure that paid Pablo Vitti close to $400k in 2009 while compensating Stuart Holden, a star of the US National Team setup $35k.
I was hopeful the owners would negotiate in good faith on these matters, and that is why I have not blogged on the issue in sometime, on this site or the other websites, I contribute to. However, it is obvious MLS is playing hardball and is risking all the gains the league has made over what relatively speaking are pennies.