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The proud Bostonian tells us what life is like behind-the-scenes in England’s top-flight with Q&A’s, first-person pieces and more. This week the former Houston Dynamo standout talks about the ongoing CBA negotiations between MLS and the MLS Players Union.
Have you been keeping up to date with the CBA negotiations?
Of course. Even though I am over here in England I still follow the league closely, it gave me my start in the pro game and I have so many good friends still playing in MLS. I think this is a really crucial moment in the history of the league and I hope that it all works out best for everyone involved because one day it would be great to head back to MLS.
You went through the CBA negotiations back in 2010, what was that like?
I remember it was preseason and we were all planning on striking. The vote was something ridiculous like 385-2 in favor, or something like that. The players were really unified and that’s something they really have going on this time, and even more so this time around because the league is now more popular and more money is involved.
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But I vividly remember the warning that we all had as players. We were told to save money and to prepare for a strike. Throughout the whole preseason we were planning on striking and preparing ourselves for the possibility of a lockout or a strike. Fortunately they agreed to a deal the day before the season started. It could come down to the wire this time but I think the players are fighting for even more than we did in 2010. It’s time that the core players who built this league need to be taken care of properly.
How important are the senior players in this process?
Players like Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley, they are the faces of the teams and the league and they have a lot of weight behind their names. A lot of players and people look up to them. All of these guys are for the players rights and everyone is together and believe in what they are fighting for. There’s a great unity around the league and the DPs and regular players are all in this together.
There’s serious talk of a player strike ahead of the 2015 season. What do you think about that and the message it would send out, if it happened?
Nobody wants to strike and nobody wants to stop doing something they love doing. But if the players are doing it for the right reasons, which they are, then it would obviously be detrimental to the league. The negative aspect of it would be damaging, due to the new TV deals the league signed, the new teams in Orlando and New York City joining, all of these new things the league has coming in 2015. If there was a strike it would be a major thing and it would not be great, at all.
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For people to say that a strike would look bad on the players, I think that’s completely false. Anybody can go online and look up the salaries and look up the situations where guys can get traded three of four times during a season. Is that fair for families to have to deal with that and not being taken care of properly? I believe the league now has a stable grounding, they have the stadiums and attendance figures are up. The wealth is there in the league. If MLS wants to be looked at as a major league around the world, and it’s getting there, then they need to respect the players the way other leagues around the world do.
What are your thoughts on free agency in MLS?
That’s the number one issue for the players this time. It is tough because the league and the teams are both involved and you are going through two different systems. Sometimes the player doesn’t have a choice where they go. Nothing. That’s obviously key and that’s the reason why players are fighting for free agency so hard this time around.
Having been a rookie in the league, can you understand why the MLS Players Union are fighting so hard to see the minimum wage rise?
These are the guys who are the core players who make up the majority of the league. It’s the same thing here in the Premier League where you have the superstars and you also have the guys who make up the team and are the hardworkers who have been consistent for years. To see the young guys not taken care of properly, that is a huge deal. Where would MLS be without these type of players? That is where something needs to be changed for the better.
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Over the past few years we have heard a lot about how successful MLS has been with plenty of investors and new franchises in New York, Miami, Atlanta and Orlando, then maybe teams in Minneapolis, Sacramento and Vegas. Why would people be putting in their money to start these new teams unless it was a prosperous opportunity? Players who have made MLS the great league it is today deserved to be rewarded and it is the main reason why players feels so strongly and are so unified this time around.
Any examples from yourself or others as to how difficult it is to stay focused as a first or second-year pro when finances are a big issue?
I remember my first year, I had a senior roster spot but I was making $30,000 a year and I was the lucky one. The guys who are on developmental deals were making $12,500 a year which was less than minimum wage. It has gone up after the talks in 2010 but there was also the requirements about how many years you had in the league and that determined how much you were paid. That makes a difference.
You have to bunk up with each other, players share a place. If you look at the minimum wage of the NFL, NHL and the other sports, there was no comparison. If you take the NFL for example, those guys on the minimum wages are getting way over $300,000. In some cities around the U.S., the soccer teams get higher attendances then some of the other sports franchises in those towns. Being a rookie back then, it was tough. It was not easy. You were living from paycheck to paycheck, you weren’t able to save because you were just trying to get to the next month. After coming out of college, you are not hitting the big bucks.
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During my rookie year, a lot of the older guys knew how much the rookies were making and that is why they always passed off player appearances for us. It would always be the rookies doing it because there would be a small fee involved but that made a huge difference to the rookies. The older guys, they knew we needed the extra cash.
How should the transfer system work in MLS going forward?
After being in England, I am used to this system now and I think it works great. It is a sticky situation because if the league is also involved in transfers, like it is in MLS, then that’s when deals break down for different reasons but the finances are a sticky situation. There has to be a boundary, some limit set and some more clarification when it comes to players transfers. For sure.
Finally, with the growth of MLS continuing do you think free player movement is the next step in helping the league progress and challenge the top league’s in the world?
One of the big things about all of this is that MLS is always trying to improve and compete with the biggest leagues in the world. I think the first thing to sort out is to get on the same wavelength as the rest of the soccer world.