American youth clubs' quest to get paid for their former players who go pro -- standard throughout the world under FIFA regulations -- led to a meeting on Oct. 16 hosted by U.S. Soccer.
“In a nutshell, they kind of moved the ball forward,” said attorney Lance Reich, who attended the meeting and represents youth clubs, including Crossfire Premier, Dallas Texans SC, Sockers FC Chicago and Real Colorado. "The meeting was in a positive direction. I think it was somewhat productive.
“U.S. Soccer said that in 30 days they’d give us something on how we can move forward. U.S. Soccer said they’d get us something on a possible way forward on domestic training compensation and solidarity fees.”
Others at the meeting in Chicago included U.S. Soccer CEO Dan Flynn, U.S. Soccer outside counsel, and representatives from MLS, the MLS Players Union, NASL, USL, youth clubs and the U.S. Soccer Development Academy.
U.S. youth clubs have long lamented being shut out of FIFA's so-called “solidarity mechanism” to reward successful player development. But the ball really got rolling earlier this year when Crossfire began its fight for a percentage of DeAndre Yedlin’s transfer fee when he was sold from the Seattle Sounders to Tottenham Hotspurs for a reported $4 million.
Crossfire claims it is entitled to $60,000. But Tottenham followed MLS’s instructions to send the full transfer fee to MLS. After U.S. Soccer failed to intervene, Crossfire filed a complaint with the FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber. Also filing complaints to collect solidarity payments were Texans SC (Clint Dempsey) and Sockers Chicago (Michael Bradley).
The combined sum sought by the three clubs is a combined $480,500.
FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players (RSTP) stipulate that youth clubs are entitled to a transfer fee percentage (so-called solidarity payments) and require pro clubs to pay training compensation to players’ former youth clubs -- reimbursing “costs that would have been incurred by the new club if it had trained the player itself,” according to FIFA.
U.S. Soccer told Crossfire’s representatives that the 1997 court order from the Fraser v. MLS antitrust lawsuit, in which the U.S. Soccer Federation was a defendant, prevented it from enforcing RSTP, according to a June 29 article by SI.com’s Liviu Bird.
At the Oct. 16 meeting, according to Reich: “U.S. Soccer said, right off the bat, that they're in the middle of this and sick of being in the middle of this. They want the parties to work through this. They said they will ultimately take some action here if they have to. But they want all of us on the same page with respect to the issue, hence the reason for the meeting.
“My first response was, you, USSF, are the parents. We all sit in front of you as children. You are in the middle of this. It’s like the ref saying ‘I’m going to stop blowing the whistle and you work it out amongst yourselves.’”
On Fraser v. MLS, Reich said: “Antitrust is one thing for MLS and one different thing for U.S. Soccer. The only way U.S. Soccer gets roped into antitrust is if they’re doing something they shouldn’t be."
Still, Reich came away from the meeting believing that American youth clubs are on course to getting compensation.
“There were some peaceful positions going back and forth,” Reich said. “What if we have training fees for domestic player signings? Where does the money come from? How much are we talking about?”
Reich also said that he was pleased to hear U.S. Soccer indicate it would not interfere with American youth clubs receiving payments (private transactions) from foreign clubs that they partner with for players they sign from the American clubs. And that attendees at the meeting were receptive to the youth clubs’ need for compensation to alleviate costs to players.
“Basically, most people in the room agreed that the current state of U.S. youth soccer is poor and the youth clubs need help to get away from pay-to-play model,” Reich said. “The youth clubs were very clear to articulate they view the world $2,000 at a time for money coming into the club, because every found $2,000 is giving some young kid a fee scholarship at the bottom level of the club. Getting someone in who otherwise can’t play. That’s the way we view things.
“U.S. Soccer wants us to move away from pay-to-play, an unfair model which our clubs don’t particularly care for. But all of us are non-profit. How do you want us to move away from pay-to-play? Millions of dollars of training compensation and solidarity fees could do that and change the game in the United States.”
A U.S. Soccer spokesman said, “It was a productive meeting and we look forward to continuing discussions.”
An MLS spokesman, via e-mail, confirmed that MLS representatives "attended the meeting with U.S. Soccer last week and learned more about the issues.”