About those MLS retention funds: They have already been put to significant use

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KANSAS CITY – The MLS “retention fund” mechanism that wandered slowly into public awareness last month has already been put to significant use. It looks like MLS got this one right; just look at how many terrific players have already been tied up to longer deals using the fund established just this year.

So far, 14 MLS men are retention fund kids, including Sporting Kansas City’s Matt Besler (pictured) and Graham Zusi, FC Dallas center back George John, young New England livewire attacker Diego Fagundez and New York Red Bull midfielder Dax McCarty. (The full list is below.)

The mechanism was designed to allow clubs to re-sign key players to new deals without pricing them into Designated Player territory. It was an effort to avoid damaging attrition, losing players we might classify as “above-average,” or a few we would call “great” or perhaps “potentially great,” to European clubs that might not look glamorous but could offer substantially greater compensation.

Todd Durbin, the league’s VP of Player Relations and Competition, talked to a small group of journalists at Wednesday’s All-Star game on several topics, including the retention fund creation. He said it was a reaction to fears (somewhat unfounded in his mind) that MLS was losing a group of important players to leagues no better than MLS, such as the Scandinavian leagues.

“We decided we needed to come up with a program, or a way of managing that,” Durbin said.

Clubs in salary-capped sports consistently face a push and pull that pits long-term vs. short-term interests. When it comes to high-quality fan favorites, they can always renegotiate contracts in efforts to keep the player around for the long-term. That’s good, right?

Of course – unless it dents the short-term ability to sign additional talent, which can help the here and now of results. The retention fund established a tool that allowed clubs to marry those interests.

Clubs also sought greater personnel stability, talent that added quality on the field and helped keep familiar faces around for the fans.

Zusi and Besler were textbook cases, Durbin said, under contract but in jeopardy of gazing overseas. They were both MLS All-Stars but not, perhaps, quite into DP territory. (Some of that is about positions they play, especially in Besler’s case; center backs are typically not DPs.)

By using some of the retention funds (reported previously but not confirmed to be around $225,000 per club), Sporting Kansas City tied up the two U.S. internationals without hamstring themselves in terms of signing other players, potentially even DPs.

Apparently, this thing is working. From MLS, here is the list of players who have already been re-signed using the new Core Player mechanism, where a portion of the player’s salary does not count against the salary budget:

  • Tony Beltran (RSL)
  • Matt Besler (SKC)
  • Sam Cronin (SJ)
  • Diego Fagundez (NE)
  • Jhon Kennedy Hurtado (SEA)
  • George John (DAL)
  • Juninho (LA)
  • Gershon Koffie (VAN)
  • Dax McCarty (NY)
  • Drew Moor (COL)
  • Chris Pontius (DC)
  • Chris Schuler (RSL),
  • Marvell Wynne (COL)
  • Graham Zusi (SKC)