These are anxious times for MLS, and there are sources of player anxiety besides the playersÆ lawsuit.
As it battles the players in a federal court in Boston, MLS is also working to keep the players it wants at prices it can afford to pay.
MLS refused to release an official list of players whose contracts are expiring. Through the help of agents, players and general managers, Soccer America has compiled a partial list of more than two dozen players, many of them prominent, who are nearing the ends of their contracts.
Eric Wynalda, Steve Ralston, Mike Petke, Greg Vanney, Dante Washington and Cobi Jones are just a few of those up for renewal. Players not signed to new MLS deals become free agents Jan. 1, but since players sign contracts with the league, not individual teams, MLS free agents arenÆt as free as their counterparts in other pro sports.
All are important to the future of the league. They may be helped by an expected reduction in the number of foreigners per team from four to three, as most foreigners earn more than the approximately $65,000 MLS reportedly pays to Vanney.
A æRUBIKÆS CUBE.Æ That money can thus, theoretically, be spread around. A player like Welton of the Fusion, for example, is on the bubble as one player likely to be moved, either to another team or out of the league entirely.
ôItÆs a real RubikÆs Cube,ö said Fusion coach Ray Hudson of matching up the proper elements. ôYou need those players of quality, but you also need about six or seven guys making between $35,000 and $55,000 a year to round out the squad. Those high-priced players eat up the salary cap pretty quickly.ö
The cap was an estimated $1.7 million this season and although raising it between 5 and 10 percent for 2001 has been discussed, no decision has been reached.
With the MLS waiver draft set for Nov. 3, coaches and general managers are being pressed into quick decisions regarding which players theyÆd like the league to re-sign and which ones they might decide to cut loose.
ôWeÆve started the discussions,ö said Vanney, who has been with the league since it started. ôWeÆre not there yet with the numbers, but we have some time.ö
Vanney re-negotiated his contract after the first MLS season. At age 26, he wants a generous contract if the league wants him to sign a long-term deal.
ôThat would take me to 30 or 31,ö he said, ôand I donÆt know how much longer IÆd be playing after that. The length of the contract is important.ö
Vanney is researching European options with England-based agent Paul Stretford and also retains Ron Waxman as his U.S. agent.
Vanney can expect a sizable increase, but a veteran like Wynalda can no longer demand the league maximum. He may well go the route of the MetrosÆ Tab Ramos, whose injury-marred career spurred him and MLS to work out an incentive-based contract last winter.
ôWeÆll see what the league offers,ö said agent Richard Motzkin, who represents Ralston as well as Wynalda. ôItÆs important for Eric to get healthy. He certainly has the talent and desire to play in this league for a few more years.
ôIÆve always thought the league was a little bit unfair [in salary negotiations] with players like Ralston, who has done great in MLS but hasnÆt broken through with the national team. He shouldnÆt be punished by the league because he hasnÆt had the national team career that other players have had.ö
Ramos received a base salary of approximately $100,000 this season, on top of which he was paid per the number of playing appearances.
ôIÆm willing to go that route,ö said Wynalda, who trained with the Galaxy in October in an effort to regain full fitness. Injuries limited him to just 11 games in 2000.
ôWeÆve yet to hear anything from MLS. A lot of people seem busy with the business in Boston.Æ
COBIÆS HIGH PRICE. Jones and his agent Cory Clemetson have already stated the Galaxy attacker should earn more than the league maximum of approximately $250,000. A figure of $1 million per season has been bandied about, with Clemetson repeatedly hinting Jones has attracted interest from teams in Europe and Mexico.
No one in the league office believes Jones can find a team that will pay him seven figures. Clemetson did not return phone calls.
Petke is one of the lowest-paid veteran starters in the league. He reportedly earned about $40,000, including bonuses, this season.
ôYes, I think I should be rewarded for what I did for this league in my first three years, playing for little more than the minimum salary,ö said Petke. ôI did a lot of appearances and I was glad to do them, because I know itÆs important to my team, the league and the sport.ö
Waxman believes MLS should increase PetkeÆs salary considerably ù certainly more than doubling it ù and espouses that belief in typically blunt terms.
ôHeÆs the most popular player on the team and heÆs one of the best defenders in the league,ö said Waxman. ôOf course, he should make a lot more.
ôHow much more? ThatÆs what we need to find out. We did receive an initial offer from the league and letÆs just say it fell short of our expectations.ö
Waxman hinted, as agents are wont to do, that Petke has drawn inquiries from foreign clubs. Petke said heÆs been contacted by teams in Asia and Europe.
ôIÆm not looking to bankrupt the league,ö said Petke. ôBut if it wants to keep me, itÆs going to take a little something. A lot of players who have done a lot less for the league than I have are being paid a lot more.ö
by Soccer America senior editor Ridge Mahoney