Q&A with the SA Editors: Feb. 26, 1999

Clint Nurnberg Springfield, Mo. Would you please explain what the MLS "discovery" periods are (international and domestic), the definition of a discovery player and how it all affects a team's roster and salary cap concerns? Pete Bailey: Each MLS team is allowed to designate two discovery players per year. A player qualifies as a discovery player if he is not currently under contract to MLS and is generally not on the league's active scouting, projected player or draft lists. There is a specific dollar amount that teams cannot exceed in order to obtain their discovery players. Discovery players have ranged from local stars like "Pepe" Smith, recently signed by Miami after playing for the Lauderdale Lions, to foreign players such as Polish midfielder Robert Warzycha, a 1996 discovery player for Columbus. There are domestic and international "discovery periods" -- i.e. windows of time when teams are allowed to sign discovery players. The international period runs from Jan. 1 to May 15, while the domestic one runs from Feb. 8 until May 15. Discovery players count on a team's roster the same as any other player -- only current Project-40 players do not count. Salaries count against the cap, as well. Wallace Maass Toledo, Ohio What do you think Landon Donovan will do? Is he better off signing with a European Club as opposed to MLS? Also, what prevents Bruce Arena from calling him up? Is there an age limitation? Scott French: Landon Donovan signed Feb. 20 with Bayer Leverkusen -- probably his wisest choice. Although MLS is improving in its ability to develop players, it can't compare with Europe's top clubs, and Leverkusen is one of the best. Landon will benefit from superior coaching, from the daily competition for jobs, from the soccer atmosphere and from the competition he'll face. He seems mature enough to handle the more difficult aspects -- being away from home, learning a new language, etc. -- and by all accounts he should do well on the field. Nothing prevents Bruce Arena from calling Landon up, but I'd be surprised if he gets a look before the U-17 World Cup. Arena would like him to get more seasoning -- as he will at Bayer -- and his U.S. focus will be on New Zealand, assuming the U.S. qualifies. Harold Chen Salt Lake City Many of the U.S. players who do end up playing in Europe most recently seem to have ended up in Germany. I know we have some players in the Dutch leagues and John Harkes recently is on loan in the English Premier league, but in recent times Germany seems to be the primary European destination. Is there any reason for this? Is the Bundesliga more "desperate" or is the American "style" more suited for German league play? Mike Woitalla: There are several reasons why American players are attracted to Germany. It is much easier to acquire a work permit in Germany than in Britain, where restrictions prevented Jovan Kirovski from signing with Manchester United and prompted his move to Germany. Brad Friedel, before he finally signed with Liverpool after accumulating more national team appearances -- one factor in work-permit acquisition -- failed to get a work permit for Nottingham Forest and Newcastle. John Harkes has a United Kingdom passport thanks to his Scottish heritage, thus does not count as a foreign player. Work permit requirements in the Netherlands fall somewhere in between Germany and Great Britain. Also, Americans have a bit of a tradition in Germany. National team players Paul Caligiuri, Brent Goulet, Eric Wynalda, Chad Deering, Claudio Reyna, Dario Brose -- and more recently Kirovski -- achieved various levels of success, which alerted German clubs to American potential while inspiring Americans to follow in their compatriots footsteps. And, various contacts have been created between the two nations. Horst Bertl, a former Bundesliga player who now resides in Texas, engineered Caligiuri's move to Germany in 1987, and has found teams for numerous other Americans, including Deering. Tom Dooley's arrival in the U.S. national team also helped create a bridge. His agent, Michael Becker, has been involved in several transfers to Germany. A final factor in making Germany an attractive destination for Americans is the nation's high standard of living, and Germany's 3-0 loss to the United States promises to further increase the reputation of American players. Jason Wilte Los Angeles Three years ago the MLS minimum salary was set at $24,000 and the maximum at $172,000. Since then, the max has been raised 3 times to about $250,000 while the minimum remains the same. I find this deplorable, dramatically unjust and embarrassing. How can a young player pay his rent and grocery bill, especially in places such as NY/NJ, Boston, Washington D.C., and Chicago? His non-soccer classmates in college will earn entry level salaries in the business community of around 35-40K. If these young players ask for a small increase they are told to take it or leave it. Yet, if a so-called superstar asks for a car, the response is, "what color would you like?" It's no secret that others are provided with luxury apartments and other perks and a player like Jorge Campos is allowed to train when he wants, play where he wants and even had the audacity to pack his bags and leave Chicago on the eve of the playoffs! He should have been fined and suspended but instead, his behavior was endorsed by the league. I certainly understand the necessity of proven foreign players and the higher salaries they command but too many are being paid for appearance rather than performance. Players drafted by the MLS, along with Project-40 players, are considered to be America's best, yet they are offered a menial and embarrassing wage. In addition, the players have no rights, no arbitration, and in general, no say in anything. Can you comment on this justice, what the future holds and the status of the players' lawsuit? I am a soccer fan but I am a greater fan of American youth. It is our future. Ridge Mahoney: I agree the miniumum should be raised, and MLS's hardball negotiations are distasteful, but players do have other options, and those with the talent and guts do test foreign markets -- Reyna, Hejduk, Kirovski, Sanneh, Keller, Friedel, etc. Mike Burns tried it, didn't succeed, and came back. Ironically, their success may weaken the MLS players' position somewhat, since the league can point out that players can either pass up MLS contracts, or let them run out and use the league as a springboard to more lucrative deals elsewhere. Unless the league alters its procedures, top young players like Clint Mathis and Leo Cullen will let their contracts run out and seek better opportunities elsewhere. The players have a strong case in that they are not allowed to bargain amongst MLS clubs to assess their true market value. A lot of the rhetoric spouted by players association president John Kerr Sr. is rubbish, and any company is perfectly entitled to adopt a "take it or leave it'' policy with its employees, but the players anger is real, and it's rising. Again, I don't advocate the league's arbitrary methods, nor its paltry salaries for many players. And I agree, too many foreigners have not been worth their salaries, but that happens in every country to some extent. Still, the clubs need more responsibility to sign the foreigners they want, and perhaps the league should control salaries but permit teams to shell out for a high-priced player if it so desires. The preferential treatment of Campos isn't all that much different than the kid gloves used to handle box-office blockbusters in other sports like Dennis Rodman. We've slammed MLS several times on this, and my hope is that the league can grow and prosper so it doesn't need to do this. But statistics showed that he can attract between 5,000 and 10,000 fans a game, and like other box-office blockbusters like Rodman, Mike Tyson, etc., unless he robs a bank, he'll get every break. Thank God for men of principle like Bob Bradley. Rick Wilcox Alexandria, Va. I have been spending more time each year following the English Premier League and their various cup competitions. However, I have never seen a full explanation of their two domestic cup competitions. Could you briefly explain the histories and formats of the English League Cup and the FA Cup. How do teams qualify for these two competitions and at what stages do Premier league teams become involved? Pete Bailey: The League Cup, which Kasey Keller and Leicester won two years ago and may do again this year should they beat Tottenham in the final, is contested between the 92 professional clubs in England. The FA Cup is an open competition for professionals and amateurs alike. Entry into the FA Cup is staggered -- amateurs till November, then the Third Division clubs join in. December is when the Second Division begins play, and the first weekend of January is when the First Division and Premier League clubs join in. Of the two, the FA Cup is older by about 90 years and more prestigious, although both offer a Wembley final and a half share of an 80,000 gate and a place in Europe. The League Cup winner normally gets to play in the UEFA Cup, and next season it will also be joined by the FA Cup winner following the demise of the Cup Winners' Cup.
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