Sunday, July 3, 2016

MLSPU, Wrapped Around the Axle

After years of waiting for change to come from US Soccer and MLS, three youth clubs got together to sue the MLS Players Union (MLSPU) in attempt to get the ball rolling on training compensation and solidarity payments. Are they to win this suit, it would alter the face of youth development in the United States.

Vice Sports was first on the scene with the report. A good (and quick) summary of the suit can be found at Empire of Soccer. The key to including the names in the suit is at the bottom of the Empire report, but I'll repeat it here because it is important.

The three clubs released a joint statement regarding the players cited in the case: “The US Youth Clubs had to name the players, Dempsey, Yedlin and Bradley, as well as the defendant class of players, solely for a legal reason to maintain the Complaint. Our clubs have no desire to, in essence, sue their own kids and don’t really believe the players are needed here to resolve this, but the law is what it is. The US Youth Clubs have asked the MLSPU to stipulate that the players are not needed to maintain this action and if they agree, the US Youth Clubs will immediately drop the players.”

The reason that statement is important is because the MLSPU believes they are under attack from the very source of their players (and dues!). It'd be like the builders of the free spring the MLS drinks from deciding that they should be compensated for their free water.

The way payments in the US work now runs counter (surprise, surprise) to the way it's run in most of the rest of the world. The US is, in my opinion, backward in the way it handles youth development as a whole (ie. colleges and pay-to-play models).

Those smarter and more wise can explain why the suit is coming against the MLSPU and not the league itself. You could argue that they are two in the same, but my hunch is that taking on the union is the best way to make this happen.

A suit against MLS is a suit against the US Soccer Federation and they are entrenched with all the power of all the other pro leagues in this country. Secondly, and frankly, the MLSPU likely hasn't recovered from its last battle with MLS over the latest CBA. Dan Kennedy called it "untimely" in his statement responding to the suit.

The way training compensation and solidarity payments happen across the globe is simple. Team signs player --> clubs that had a hand in developing the player get a small cut of the fee. If you want to read more on it, head over HERE.

At the heart of the matter is MLS. Nobody gets anything in the US when a player signs with MLS. When a player winds up transferring overseas, MLS gets the compensation regardless of where the player learned how to play.

So, for example, when Tottenham Hotspur sign a player from the Seattle Sounders, training fees are paid but MLS keeps them. The clubs that built the player get nothing. On top of that, the league keeps most of the total actual transfer fee as well.

The growth of the NASL and USL are part of changing this conversation. Traditionally, at least for the last 20 years, MLS has had their hands on most players. That's changed a bit and large fees are being paid in leagues below them now - in some cases, like with Kwadwo Poku, away from MLS for more money (which demonstrates how mixed up this all is).

Bob Foose, Executive Director of the Players Union (and a name that many longtime watchers of the sport in the US recognize) offered a sharp response to the suit late yesterday, calling it a "shakedown for money." It sounds like something out of a kids movie, but it's how unions (sports or otherwise) talk. Their audience is the rank and file, not the offices of the NY Times or Washington Post.

Columbus Crew SC's own all-star Ethan Finlay, a spokesperson for the union, echoed Foose's words saying, "It’s absurd that they would try to shake down the very few players who come through their ranks and go on to play professionally. It is a shame that they have chosen to go this route."

I'm not sure if Finlay is playing the part of company man here or he is unaware how this would benefit future generations of player greatly. I'm hoping he is going with his heart. If it's with the MLSPU, that's okay, but I don't think he knows the potential impact of unblocking payments to developmental clubs in this country.

The lawsuit has the MLSPU all wrapped around the axle right now. I'm not sure they expected it, nor are they equipped to handle it, nor did they educate themselves before responding.

It might not come directly from this lawsuit, but this issue will eventually be resolved in favor of the youth clubs (and therefore, in favor of development in the US). The sport is too large and too rich to be completely controlled by one entity and a handful of people at the top.

We are seeing a change in the traditional thinking of player development in this country. Not just with soccer, but in the college and university system that other professional sports hold on to as well.

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