By Ridge Mahoney
He may be flush with a new contract, yet Revs' striker Taylor Twellman is thinking of how to reward the lowest-paid players in MLS and ratchet up the intensity of league competition.
Twellman signed a new four-year contract earlier this week that will pay him more than $300,000 per year. Yet Twellman hasn't forgotten that the league offered him only the then-minimum salary of $24,000 when he left German club 1860 Munich in 2002.
He wants those players on the lower end of the scale to be compensated, and believes the league would benefit in ways other than fairness.
"It's something that needs to come about in MLS," says Twellman, who earned approximately $175,000 last year under terms of a contract signed after he lit up the league with 23 goals in his first season. "It sounds very weird, but if there was a per-game, per-player bonus to dress, whatever that bonus is, the intensity and the level of play automatically is going to pick up.
"When you're playing those four o'clock games in July and August there's a reason to get up for those games."
In MLS, there simply isn't enough pressure on the starters to hold down those spots. Pressure comes from those players further down the depth chart, and from those developmental players scrapping for a few minutes of playing time. They should be pushing the starters every day in training and rewarded for doing so, with cash.
Many players have bonuses tied to their appearances as well as for goals and assists and other statistical thresholds, yet the thresholds are based on a season, not week by week. What can spark more intensity and competition in training is to reward developmental and minimum-salaried players with a bonus, of say $500, for making the 18-man game roster. Another $500 or $1,000 could be awarded for starting. The higher-salaried players would get bonuses for results, but not simply for making the game roster. They're supposed to be at least that good.
A similar system is used in Germany, and it has good points and bad points. Players can be motivated, yes, but resentment can also build among players for whom appearance and results bonuses can be as much as 50 percent of their income.
"You get guys worried about paying for their kids' tuition and other expenses, since so much of their income is tied to playing," says U.S. keeper Kasey Keller, who for the past two years has played in Germany for Borussia Moenchengladbach after playing in England and Spain, countries where most players have guaranteed deals. "It can create divisions within the team. Instead of concentrating on their game, they're thinking about other things."
That wouldn't be the case for most of the regulars on an 18-man MLS roster, since they wouldn't receive appearance bonuses.
Developmental players who perform well are often moved onto the 18-man roster with a raise of salary, yet per-game bonuses would keep everybody scrapping.
"It would change the quality of play in a heartbeat," says Twellman. "Along with the quality of play, it's the intensity, to be honest, that needs to get better.
"If it's $500 to make the roster, people are going to bust their ass. I don't know if the league will get mad but Jeff Larentowicz is a great example for me on our team. There's plenty of stories like that but that has to happen naturally."
Larentowicz was the 93rd player picked in the 2005 MLS drafts. He wasn't among the 48 players chosen in the SuperDraft and the Revs took him with their fourth-round pick (43rd overall) in the Supplemental Draft. He played one whole minute in 2005.
In 2006, his base salary as a developmental player was $16,500. He played in 29 games (16 starts) and contributed far more than his totals of one goal and one assist would indicate. The team announced last month he's been promoted to the 18-man roster, yet had a bonus structure been in place last year for appearances, he could have doubled his income.
"Those players need to be rewarded," says Twellman. "I don't think players would have a problem getting rid of individual bonuses if for each individual game there's something for you to dress and then win the game."