MLS union director condemns youth clubs' lawsuit as 'terrible for players'
One day after the MLS Players Union was hit with a class-action lawsuit by three youth clubs, the union's executive director said he was "surprised and disappointed" that the clubs resorted to litigation, while also reiterating his total opposition to training compensation and solidarity payments.
The lawsuit, brought by Crossfire Premiere of Redmond, Washington, the Dallas Texans and Sockers FC of Chicago aim "to recoup hundreds of thousands of dollars in training and solidarity fees," according to a report by Vice Sports.
Also named as defendants were Toronto FC midfielder Michael Bradley, Seattle Sounders forward Clint Dempsey and Tottenham Hotspur defender DeAndre Yedlin.
Citing a FIFA regulation, the teams claim they are owed money for transfer fees because of their role in player development for the three U.S. national team players.
However, the U.S. Soccer Federation maintains that U.S.-based youth teams are not eligible to collect such fees and have instructed domestic leagues including MLS and NASL to follow its guidelines, not the ones mandated by FIFA regulations.
"The U.S. Soccer Federation's attorneys have concluded and informed everybody that those payments would create a significant anti-trust risk for the federation," MLSPU executive director Bob Foose told ESPN FC.
"So these are the conclusions reached by our federation, certainly the conclusions reached by [MLS]."
But the Vice Sports report said that the USSF may be softening its stance, thus giving the youth clubs an opening. The MLSPU wants to maintain the status quo.
"In terms of our overall position on training compensation and solidarity payments, we've been pretty clear and transparent from the beginning. We're fundamentally opposed to them or anything like them," Foose said.
"The effect of those payments is to take money and opportunity away from our players. If you were to implement this system, it would make it even harder for those players to get jobs overseas because it would add a tax on [their transfer]. And when you add a tax, it primarily -- if not totally -- comes out of the players' pockets.
"In the case of lower-profile players, it makes it not worth it to sign an American player at all because for guys that aren't on the high end, you're talking about fees that are 300-400 percent of what the players would get paid or their transfer fee.
"It's terrible for players no matter how you do it."
Foose likened the push for compensation by youth clubs to the University of Alabama suing the Houston Texans for reimbursement of training expenses because the Texans drafted one of their players.
"These clubs have shown their true colors," he said. "What's going on is a fundamental attempt to build the youth sports industry, not to serve the youth or help develop our players. This is about developing more jobs for those people working in youth sports, and higher pay."
Foose added that the clubs have already been compensated in the form of dues paid by the families of the players involved, as well as other fundraising efforts. Even if some of the players were given scholarships, those costs were picked up by other dues-paying families.
"The rules for training compensation and solidarity payments were intended to compensate small professional clubs when big professional clubs took their players and signed their players," said Foose. "That's what the system is for. It's not for what this is, which is an attempt to double-dip by nonprofit U.S. youth clubs that don't even have professional teams.
"In other words, no one is taking these players away from these clubs. The clubs don't have anywhere for them to play, nor have they made them an offer. The club gets fully compensated for all the training they provide, but they see this as a way to grab some quick money."
Crossfire Premier director of coaching Bernie James insisted that the lawsuit isn't about money, but rather a way of clarifying what the rules are and how they'll be enforced in the United States.
Foose contends that such a position "doesn't pass the smell test."
"It's only about money. There isn't anything else involved," he said. "The rules are clear and have always been clear, both in Europe and as they are applied in the U.S. There's no lack of clarity.
"[The youth clubs] now want to change the way those rules are implemented and want to do that for only one reason, because they want money. And they want that money off the backs of players."