Clint Dempsey's professional career has taken him from MLS's New England Revolution to Fulham to Tottenham Hotspur to his present team, the Seattle Sounders.
More than $20 million in transfer fees exchanged hands during Dempsey’s moves. None of it went to Dallas Texans, the club he played for from age 10 until he went to college and played three seasons at Furman.
In other countries, Dempsey’s youth clubs would have received “training compensation” according to FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players, which include a small percentage of transfer fees.
U.S. youth clubs have long lamented being shut out of FIFA's so-called “solidarity mechanism” to reward successful player development.
The situation has become even more frustrating for non-MLS youth clubs with the advent of MLS youth programs. For example, a club has a player in its ranks from age 13 to 16. The player moves to an MLS club’s academy team and is signed as a homegrown player. If the MLS club sells the player to a foreign club, the MLS club and MLS receive the transfer fee. The player’s non-MLS youth club receives nothing, even though it played a significant role in that player's development.
Such a case is described in detail by Liviu Bird in his SI.com article, “Yedlin's youth club takes grievance vs. MLS, USSF over compensation to FIFA.”
Yedlin, reports Bird, played for Crossfire Premier for four years (2006-2010) before joining the Sounders’ academy team. The Sounders signed Yedlin as a homegrown player after he played two seasons (2011-12) of college ball at Akron.
After Yedlin appeared for the USA at the 2014 World Cup, he signed with Tottenham Hotspur on a transfer fee reportedly between $3.5 million and $4 million.
During its attempts to receive compensation from Tottenham, Bird reports that: “Spurs told Crossfire it made all payments regarding Yedlin’s transfer directly to MLS at the league’s instruction, including the 5% of the transfer fee normally designated for solidarity contributions.”
Tottenham director of football operations Rebecca Caplehorn wrote to Crossfire on May 15: “We have been advised by MLS to remit payment of the full transfer fee directly to MLS in accordance with the transfer agreement and that MLS will ensure the appropriate treatment of any and all onward payments.”
Bird included in his article an excerpt from Crossfire’s letter to FIFA:
"USSF and MLS appear to behave in a conspiratorial manner, acting side-by-side to deny U.S. youth soccer clubs any training compensation and solidarity fees because they are afraid that the dam will burst and MLS will have to pay training compensation. Although not specifically relevant to the relief that Crossfire and the U.S. youth soccer clubs are seeking here, the Executive Committee may wish to explore the seemingly improper relationship between USSF and MLS shown here. The facts are clear that the two are closely aligned in an anticompetitive manner in the U.S."
American youth clubs are right to feel short-changed because they’re not compensated for players who end up generating cash for the pro club. But they only have a legitimate beef if those players weren’t paying to play at their clubs.
Bird told me that to his knowledge Yedlin played cost-free at Crossfire.
Hassan Nazari, the founder and executive director Dallas Texans, said Dempsey, and other future Texans who sent pro, such as Omar Gonzalez and Alejandro Moreno did not pay to play with the Texans and the Texans’ Development Academy teams are cost-free to the players.
“We understand the USSF's position on transfer and training fees,” Nazari said, “and think that perhaps the best solution is for the USSF to come up with its own system for compensating the youth clubs that develop players who play in the MLS and on the national teams. This would meet FIFA's objectives, incentivize the youth clubs to do a good job, give them more resources, and provide a fairer result.”