'Recession Deal' the best MLS option?

BY foxsports • February 23, 2010

The fact that Major League Soccer blatantly violates FIFA players regulations is crystal clear.

FIFPro, the international organization working in conjunction with the MLS players’ union, accurately asserts that MLS refuses to abide by FIFA’s regulations on the status and transfer of players.

FIFPro correctly points out that player contracts are routinely terminated by the MLS League Office during its term, almost 80 percent of players in MLS do not have guaranteed contracts.

MLS operates as a cartel in that every player’s contract must be entered into with the league instead of his club; the contract of virtually every player in the league contains multiple, unilateral one-year options that may only be exercised by the league.

Virtually any player in the league can be transferred to another club within the league without his consent even if such transfer is international; and there is no freedom of movement for any MLS player to any other MLS clubs when his contract expires.

In fact, even if a player’s contract is unilaterally terminated by a club during its term, that club continues to hold such player’s rights and he is prohibited from signing with another club in the league.

With such blatant disregard for FIFA players regulations, why has FIFA failed to act? Why is FIFA sitting on the sidelines watching MLS breach its own regulations?

Presumably, FIFA, the world’s soccer governing body, is not eager to pressure the U.S. Soccer Federation, and in turn MLS, because it wants to do all it can to foster the growth of professional soccer in the United States and it believes that this will be achieved by siding with the league’s management group.

Is that the right assumption?

If one abides by the "slow-growth" concept espoused by the League which envisions a truly long-term plan (literally 100 years or more) whereby, among other things, each club will eventually own its home stadium, the answer is yes. In order to move forward on that plan the League needs to keep expenses down, invest on player development, organically grow its fan base and build stadiums.

Player salaries are the biggest expense and that is where the single-entity concept comes into play. The single-entity structure has been very successful in keeping players' salaries low.

But how long can the MLS management go on violating FIFA players regulations in order to achieve its "slow-growth" plan?

It depends on the players.

It depends on MLS fans, MLS sponsors, and other stakeholders.

So far, MLS players are fighting tough. They are giving it all they got.

MLS fans, by and large, remain quiet and apparently willing to endure the mediocre soccer MLS offers and will continue to offer until it achieves its long-term goals.

MLS sponsors have probably not fully recognize what is going on and continue to support the league.

Putting all of these legitimate concerns aside for a moment, given the global economic recession, MLS management could credibly assert that now is not the best time to make these significant changes.

That is why a short-term one or two-year "Recession Deal" would make sense. Let the players accept the few concessions MLS management is currently offering and resume talks next year. That agreement would probably be the best temporary solution for the good of the game in this country.

But, on the broader picture, it is clear that MLS needs to revisit its "slow-growth" strategy. MLS players are rebelling, MLS fans could get turned off, and MLS sponsors may also start to grumble.

Perhaps the single-entity scheme has run its course. Single-entity played an important and positive role helping the League to be on solid footing 14 years into its existence. It has been a good structure that served the League well. But now is the time to revisit it and to make some significant changes, or to scrap it altogether.

Freedom and innovation are two key values that make the U.S. the great country that it is.

Now is the time to add some freedom and innovation to the MLS structure. I trust that Mark Abbott and the other MLS leaders can plainly see that, and that they will do the right thing.

Ultimately, they should do it because MLS fans deserve it. They are the clients that they serve. Take care of the clients. Bring in more world class players, keep more American stars in MLS. In other words, spend more to improve the product on the field now.

MLS fans should not have to wait 100 years to enjoy a high-quality MLS soccer product.

Carlos G Giron is a contributor for Bleacher Report, the open source sports network.

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