MLS players and youth clubs in war of words over lawsuit

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 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.”

25 comments about "MLS players and youth clubs in war of words over lawsuit".
  1. Wooden Ships, July 1, 2016 at 11:01 p.m.

    AA, perhaps this will change the game. Circumvent the USSF foot dragging.

  2. Richard Brown, July 2, 2016 at 2:41 a.m.

    You know what great. When lawyers start bringing law suits in soccer.

    In the old days not so old. In youth soccer the club owned the rights to a youth player. If a youth player wanted to leave a club and join another club after being with the club for three seasons he had to get a release from his club. Plus the new club had to pay a monetary compensation to the old club to get that player and he still had to wait for the season to end before he could play for the new club.

    Now lawyers stick their noses in everything.

    What I did not like was when a kid you taught how to play the game. Makes it in to the soccer hall of fame. Then doesn't even mention the youth club that he played for his whole life. That bothered me more then anything else.

  3. Walt Pericciuoli, July 2, 2016 at 8:25 a.m.

    This I something that is long overdue. Perhaps with the pro clubs compensating the youth clubs for their effort, time and expense developing players, the youth clubs will be able to offer more scholarships to young players who cannot afford the ever increasing costs. (paying it forward) I have advocated for this arrangement for many years. As well as incorporating the US clubs into the system as a scouting and feeder program to their local pro clubs.

  4. H Fontes, July 2, 2016 at 9:16 a.m.

    What everybody is either forgetting or just plainly leaving out of the conversation is that these kids/players PAY for playing at these clubs. The principle of Training Conpensation is based on "reimbursing" the clubs and making it fair for the uncovered expenses they incurred developing he players. That is NOT the case with these clubs -- they are a business and are making money with these kids.
    Make your teams free and you should be entitled to TC...

  5. R2 Dad replied, July 3, 2016 at 11:28 a.m.

    Clearly you are unfamiliar with the finances of youth clubs. No one is getting wealthy in youth soccer. Coaches make a modest living, but most adult participation is due to volunteers. How many volunteers are running US Soccer and MLS?

  6. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, July 4, 2016 at 10:42 a.m.

    He didn't say they're getting wealthy but in most instances parents are paying handsomely for this training. I'd have more sympathy for the youth clubs if they were providing this training for free.

  7. R2 Dad replied, July 4, 2016 at 3:26 p.m.

    AA is correct. And even though parents are paying for this coaching, the consensus is the quality of the coaching is not delivering value. The importance of TC is that coaching will be incentivized around development rather than winning. The kickball coaches will win but their players will stagnate. This migration will also make parents eye more critically the actual development vs the lip-service that is always promised.

  8. Greg Krauss replied, July 5, 2016 at 9:06 a.m.

    The clubs (actually the directors) in Texas ARE making money. I think the Texans club is not even a 503c anymore, and one of the other local clubs that is a non-profit was paying the DOC over $150k/year. It is true that there are tons of volunteer hours given by parents. Sometimes, registration fees are adjusted for a parent that serves as team manager, etc. The youth model in the states is flawed because there are so many different objectives (i.e. clubs wanting youth success, coaches wanting an income so they coach 4-5 teams and are stretched too thin, parents wanting wins, players wanting match success, organizers wanting to make money off tourneys every other weekend, US soccer wanting players to be developed). When was last time you heard an announcer say, "Dempsey finishing and displaying the creativity that was nurtured in his youth club of..." Even with some efforts (i.e. US Dev Academy) there are still way too many different things going on in youth soccer. Would be great if various paths were available so that players/parents could choose the one most appropriate (i.e. recreation, competitive, pre-college, professional ambitions). Note that academy is kind of like the professional ambitions path now, but we have a long way to go because there is sognificantly more money in other areas of soccer and that means at the youngest ages (before talent is identifiable), players are being exposed to some pretty terrible soccer experiences. I should never post...I just ramble...sorry.

  9. Richard Brown, July 2, 2016 at 9:23 a.m.

    Unions are interesting. I saw first hand how Union strikes were settled in the 60s. The heads of the unions make a deal with the business. Usually it not that good for the worker who was on strike. it done before the vote.The unions have some type A personality show stewards in their pockets.

    So to vote to take the deal goes to a meeting of the shop stewards. Even if the deal is bad those stewards will convert the other shop stewards to vote for it. The other will be shouted down Pp
    Then all the stewards take the deal to the workers they have in their pockets.

    Then they have a meeting of the rank and file. Same thing happens they wind up accepting the deal.

    Something similiar will happen here.

    do they will give a little money to the club very little.

  10. Richard Brown, July 2, 2016 at 9:29 a.m.

    I foresee the MLS will give a little to the clubs they played on. Then what will the club they played for before them want a cut.

    Hey I had John Harkes for one game. Maybe we were entitled to a few bucks.

  11. R2 Dad, July 3, 2016 at 3:43 p.m.

    So now we know how Gulati and Garber are able to perpetuate their fantasy--they've co-opted Bob Foose, Executive Director of the Players Union. Foose's trade-off is that we should care more about senior players trying to transfer to bigger leagues than our youth system:"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." What they mean is US Soccer Federation/MLS single entity. Foose gives a simile: "The push for compensation by youth clubs (is similar)to the University of Alabama suing the Houston Texans for reimbursement of training expenses because the Texans drafted one of their players." Of course, using a monopoly comparison like NCAA/NFL football is a red herring--total apples to oranges. Gulati/Garber's lacky goes further:"The rules for training compensation and solidarity payments were intended to compensate small professional clubs when big professional clubs took their players and signed their players". Obviously he doesn't see any conflict here that MLS is the only beneficiary. What about USL & NASL leagues? By stymieing professional development outside of MLS, I guess he can assert this without incurring a tic or twitch but I doubt it. Additionally, Foose continues, "What's going on is a fundamental attempt to build the youth sports industry, not to serve the youth or help develop our players. This is about developing more jobs for those people working in youth sports, and higher pay." I'd like to ask Mr. Foose this one question: "How many volunteers are there in MLS?" Because youth soccer has hundreds of thousands across this country so for him to to accuse youth soccer supporters of being money-grubbers is the height of hypocrisy.

  12. Brian Ashley, July 5, 2016 at 7:17 a.m.

    I guess the problem I see is that the clubs were already compensated for that training. Whether you believe clubs "aren't getting rich" or that parents pay many thousands, the principle is the same. If you were once compensated for something you can't go back later and demand more compensation. Do universities demand additional compensation for CEOs who make it big? And if clubs can demand additional compensation, as though they were the only influence on the player, then what can we say about the hundreds of thousands who they "fail" to develop? Should clubs return their money?

  13. R2 Dad replied, July 5, 2016 at 10:06 a.m.

    Think of this as public school vs private school. In private school, to get the same level of education parents spend a lot of money. In public school, they are subsidized and can therefore offer free education. That free education works for many, depending on many personal factors. Even though it's offered to everyone, not all students excel (fail to develop). We as taxpayers don't demand repayment of funds for all the dropouts, do we? Big picture, if the current process was working we would have been producing many world-class players by now and we're not. The MLS solution is not the answer. We parents have been living in this Wild West of youth soccer for so long, with so little to show for it. We have not, as MLS has been able to do, gone to our state authority and carved out a monopoly for ourselves. It's chaos, it's competition with low barriers to entry and this elbows aside the important focus on development. MLS is going to have to deal with this messy world(the way clubs in the rest of the world do), instead of hogging all the training compensation and pulling--for free--all the talent this country has to offer. Once incentives are properly aligned, this chaos will work together where coaches will funnel skilled players to the best professional coaching pools rather than mom & pop coaches trying to hold on to skilled players just to pay the bills, which is what we currently have.

  14. Brian Ashley replied, July 6, 2016 at 1:52 p.m.

    R2. I understand the utility of your point. But I still don't see how, as a point of law, the clubs, who have already received their compensation, can ask for more. Perhaps a better analogy would be if Juliard were to ask the Chicago Symphony to compensate them for having trained their first violinist. It may well be that there would be advantages in that, but I don't see the legal argument.

  15. Brian Ashley replied, July 6, 2016 at 7:24 p.m.

    Joe. I understand most of your point, but how is what you're advocating free market?

  16. Brian Ashley replied, July 6, 2016 at 7:29 p.m.

    R2, not arguing whether it should be done or not. Just asking what point of law is being addressed.
    But, as far as every other country doing something, I'm not all that sure that is much of a point. Other countries don't use colleges as training grounds. We do. Should we stop having the NCAA because other countries don't do it that way?
    Again, not arguing your point that this would create better players. But I don't necessarily see that we can't produce better players our own way. Maybe if US Soccer would stop interfering......

  17. Joe Soccer, July 5, 2016 at 9:28 a.m.

    I coached one of the kids named in the suit. I personally made it financially possible for him to train prior to the USYSA regional tournament by providing housing, meals and transportation. I also funded his Regional Tournament. He played for my club 4 years before moving to one of the clubs bringing the suit. I am confident all his fee's or the majority of them were scholarshiped as the top talent often is in this area. I would never want this player named in a suit but if we are going to develop players with quality we need this compensation. MLS or USSF does not deserve or need it. Our youth Select clubs need this. Allow the free market to work. It's the best way forward.

  18. Kris Spyrka, July 5, 2016 at 10:57 a.m.

    R2 Dad: Spot on, on all points. Talking about what 'value' clubs offer in development. Clubs are mostly concerned about labels: NPL, ECNL (for girls), Adacemy status, the list goes on. However, like you said still 'kick-ball coaching'. And although regional by-laws may mandate coaching credentials, most clubs are fudging. It usually used by clubs as a suggestion only, because they know most parents aren't knowledgeable about development and won't scrutinize the coaching staff. Nine times out of ten, they become dissatisfied, pick up their ball, and club hop. The teams and/or child don't stay together long enough for any meaningful development or soccer education to take place. I defy you to find a systematic roadmap as the German Federation (DFB) outlines it on the US Soccer site. Which you would think we'd have with Herr Klinsman at the helm. His big contribution was resetting the age groups to age pure, but even that does not exactly mirror what Germany has. Example, a pyramid in seven layers that goes from Bambini to Top Pro (1st Division or National Team status). Development continues as long as the player is touching the ball!

  19. Kris Spyrka, July 5, 2016 at 11:07 a.m.

    Greg Krauss (I wish this site had "LIKE" buttons. DOC's are making money, just look at the sheer number of camps (like sand on the beach). Their staff, not so much. We have one local club run by an ex MLS star, if you can call him that, where camp offers inundate my inbox daily. The parent feedback from these is always poor. Now these clubs have foreign competition with European top flight clubs competing for a share of the US market by becoming affiliates: Bayern (in my backyard), Arsenal, Real Madrid, Barca (a national traveling circus of trainers). Who am I missing?

  20. James e Chandler, July 5, 2016 at 11:33 a.m.

    It's all about the money.
    I saw a segment of a program chronicling Michael Palin's travels in Brazil about a tribe in a remote area of the Amazon basin. They still live as autonomously as the Brazilian government will allow on their tribal lands protected by the backlash from tragic consequences of modern exploitation.
    Even though they still live a traditional life, one thing they've embraced from the "civilized" world is soccer.
    I can't help but wonder how they fit into this equation.

  21. James e Chandler replied, July 5, 2016 at 11:39 a.m.

    " . . for the love of money is at the root of all sin."

  22. James e Chandler replied, July 5, 2016 at 11:49 a.m.

    Yes, I know some of you will think that what I posted is irrelevant, but I contend that it is the extreme of what's at the very heart of the issue.

    After seeing these people from a primitive culture playing the game for the fun of it,
    and after watching Dempsey tear up a referee's card, and Jermaine Jones'antics
    it becomes pretty obvious that society's perspective on sports is so unbalanced to have become a detriment, rather than the celebration of life it ought to be.

  23. Will G, July 5, 2016 at 12:20 p.m.

    This compensation is a necessity if we are going to move the game forward in this country. If the clubs can win this then the team is replaced by the individual as the most important asset of the club. We should begin to see more kids involved with teams a year, two or even three years older despite the fact that they might not make the team "better." Clubs may begin to attract players based on the number of kids they have put into Youth National Teams and professional teams instead of by the number of trophies they have won.

  24. Bob Ashpole, July 5, 2016 at 4:12 p.m.

    The factual situation is really simple. An intermediary to a payment from Person A to Person B has no right to keep the money if the intermediary is not legally allowed to participate in the transaction. Doesn't matter why Person A is paying the money to Person B. The money does not belong to the intermediary. Only the legal procedure is complicated.

  25. Sean Brasil, July 7, 2016 at 10:03 p.m.

    Just to clarify, Crossfire Academy teams have a significant amount of travel every year (at least 9 flights) due to being in the Northwest. Playing in the Development Academy is free for Crossfire players. In addition, Crossfire subsidizes travel for the ECNL teams. So every little bit helps. If they can get a some help with former players signing contracts, they will continue to be able to provide other players with development opportunities.

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