In the latest quest by American youth clubs to get compensation, as is common in other nations, for their players who succeed at the pro level, the Dallas Texans, Crossfire Premier (Washington) and Sockers FC (Illinois) filed a class action lawsuit in a federal court in Texas against the MLS Players Union (MLSPU) and Clint Dempsey, DeAndre Yedlin and Michael Bradley, who played for those three youth teams, respectively.
The youth clubs charge that the MLSPU is threatening an anti-trust suit that would interfere with their negotiations with MLS and U.S. Soccer to implement a system of training compensation within the USA.
The complaint reads:
“This action arises from the threat by the MLSPU on behalf of, and along with the individual Defendants, to bring an antitrust suit against the US Youth Clubs for attempting to obtain solidarity fees and training compensation from professional soccer clubs arising from international player transactions in accordance with the Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players (“RSTP”) of the Federation Internationale de Football Association (“FIFA”) (Ex. A).”
As for the three players being named as defendants, the youth clubs released the following statement:
“The US Youth Clubs had to name the players, Dempsey, Yedlin and Bradley, as well as the defendant class of players, solely for a legal reason to maintain the Complaint. Our clubs have no desire to, in essence, sue their own kids and don’t really believe the players are needed here to resolve this, but the law is what it is. The US Youth Clubs have asked the MLSPU to stipulate that the players are not needed to maintain this action and if they agree, the US Youth Clubs will immediately drop the players.”
Dempsey, who played for the Texans before three years of college ball at Furman, went from MLS's New England Revolution to Fulham to Tottenham Hotspur to his present team, the Seattle Sounders. More than $20 million, none of which went to the Texans, in transfer fees exchanged hands during Dempsey’s moves.
Yedlin played for Crossfire Premier for 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 that was paid to MLS.
Michael Bradley, now with Toronto FC, began his pro career in MLS with the MetroStars after youth ball with the Sockers and attending U.S. Soccer’s U-17 residency in Bradenton, Florida. He then played in the Netherlands, Germany and Italy before returning to MLS.
While youth clubs are awaiting a decision from FIFA in regard to solidarity payments from international clubs, they are also seeking a training compensation arrangement with U.S. pro leagues. It is the latter quest that prompted the class action lawsuit against the MLSPU.
On Saturday, the MLSPU released the following statements from Dan Kennedy, a member of the Players Union’s Executive Board, and Bob Foose, Executive Director of the Players Union:
Kennedy: “It is unfortunate and sad that these supposedly non-profit organizations have chosen to sue us. The Players Union is the players’ organization, and this lawsuit is frivolous and untimely.”
Foose: “The FIFA system that these clubs are seeking to exploit would be immensely damaging to the development of soccer in the United States. By filing this lawsuit against all players even before FIFA or U.S. Soccer has acted, these youth clubs have revealed their true colors. Their focus appears not to be on the development of players, but instead on ensuring themselves a piece of the action when a player makes it professionally. Parents should take notice. We will aggressively defend ourselves, our members and all players against this baseless suit.”
In a July 3 ESPNFC.com article by Jeff Carlisle, Foose said, "The U.S. Soccer Federation's attorneys have concluded and informed everybody that those payments would create a significant anti-trust risk for the federation. So these are the conclusions reached by our federation, certainly the conclusions reached by [MLS]."
Foose added that the MLSPU is against training compensation and solidarity payments because they "take money and opportunity away from our players" and make it more difficult for players to land spots foreign clubs because they would "add a tax on [their transfer]."
Following the MLSPU's response to the lawsuit, plaintiffs issued a statement that said: “The MLSPU has now launched a litany of arguments and attacks against the US Youth Clubs regarding the Texas lawsuit, all of which fail to address the basic points of the lawsuit and mispresent the intent of the US Youth Clubs. …
“The training compensation and solidarity fees sought here by US Youth Clubs is paying for past fee scholarships to create more fee scholarships, and lower fees for existing soccer players. Everyone in US Soccer but MLSPU views adherence to the FIFA RSTP [Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players] as a method to bring revenue into the US youth soccer system, both amateur and professional, to open up soccer to all potential players from all economic backgrounds. The US Youth Clubs do not believe that these rules violate US antitrust laws. The MLSPU simply disagrees with this specific rule of the FIFA RSTP and policies behind it, and holds its antitrust sword over the heads of anyone who would seek to enforce the international FIFA RSTP or implement some form of it within the US. The MLSPU position here is isolationist, regressive and limits the progress of US soccer for both women and men.”
MLSPU board member Ethan Finlay described the youth clubs' quest for compensation as a “shakedown.”
“The youth clubs that filed this suit against us are well compensated for the services that they provide to children under the terms that the clubs themselves set and agree upon. It’s absurd that they would try to shake down the very few players who come through their ranks and go on to play professionally.”
The plaintiffs responded that the players for which the clubs are seeking compensation for were scholarshipped by their clubs:
“This is not ‘double-dipping’ by the clubs here, this is not a ‘shakedown.’ Almost all players at any US youth soccer club that would be involved with a claim of training compensation or solidarity fees would have had fee scholarships in place as the player necessarily would be playing at a very high level. … We want to move away from elitist the ‘pay-to-play model’ and open up our soccer programs to all youth players regardless of the ability to pay. … How does the MLSPU expect the youth soccer clubs to cover both the highest end of development and lowest level of entry into our soccer system with adequate fee scholarships? The US Youth Clubs submit that there is an existing structure that was purposely designed to help in achieving these goals, it’s the FIFA RSTP.”
The plaintiffs also argue the USA not enforcing FIFA training compensation rules results in MLS academies and other U.S. Soccer Development Academy teams being "raided" Mexican clubs:
“The Mexican teams know they don’t have to pay training compensation for players signed from the MLS clubs or US youth soccer teams, yet the Mexican club would have to pay it within Mexico for a player signed from across the street. The lack of enforcement of the FIFA RSTP hurts the MLS, NASL, and USL Pro just as much as it hurts the US youth soccer clubs in losing their investments in quality US players.”