La Crisi Napolitana

As club struggles on the pitch, the chairman is embroiled in a dispute with players that has drawn the attention of the Italian and International Player Associations.

What is the limit of an owner’s authority over matters relating to players?

NAPOLI (December 10, 2019) —

Last week, Napoli chairman and owner Aurelio De Laurentiis told reporters he would sell his entire squad if given the chance, a sure sign the club’s civil war rumbles on. The chairman is reportedly considering cutting his losses and letting some of his best players leave in the winter transfer window.

De Laurentiis, 70, a prominent Italian film producer, has resurrected Napoli since buying them in 2004 after they had been declared bankrupt and relegated to Serie C (the Italian third division). The club basically had to start over again from scratch. The Partenopei have finished second in the race for the Scudetto, the Serie A title, three times in the last four seasons and have played entertaining football throughout that time.

However, he also has a tendency for making incendiary declarations, for falling out with his coaches, — for example Ancelotti’s predecessor Maurizio Sarri — and has a reputation for interfering with the coaching staff’s decisions and player selections. In short, a textbook lesson in what not to do when one owns a professional football club.

Aurelio De Laurentiis

Last month, De Laurentiis ordered a seven-day training camp for the players, during which they would not be allowed to go home to their families. Known as a “ritiro,” in Italian, they are used by clubs as a form of punishment for poor performance, and players view them as both demeaning and outdated. The ritiro was organised following Napoli’s defeat to Roma in Serie A on November 2. The players rebelled after the club’s 1-1 draw with Salzburg in the Champions League on the following Tuesday (November 5), going home rather than to the Castel Volturno training facility. De Laurentiis considered it an act of mutiny.

Napoli 1-1 Salzburg | Photo: Marca

This led to a furious stand-off between the playing staff and De Laurentiis. The club responded to the players’ absence from the retreat with a strongly-worded statement about protecting its rights which implied it would fine the players or even take legal action against them. Napoli’s vice-president, who just happens to be the owner’s son, Edo De Laurentiis, also took a swipe at the squad, claiming they lacked ‘balls’, and called for more ‘honour’ to be given to the ‘shirt and the city’. The fans are angry are both sides and protested in front of the Stadio San Paulo. Things are not harmonious in Napoli.

Napoli Vice-President, Edo De Laurentiis

Napoli head coach Carlo Ancelotti came close to being fired by De Laurentiis (see update below). He denied his squad have turned against him after the club’s winless streak extended to eight matches with a 2-1 defeat to Bologna at home. “I have an excellent relationship with the squad,” Ancelotti told reporters. “No one has ever failed to respect me. I don’t see any friction between the players and us.” That winless streak now stands at nine as Napoli drew 1-1 over the weekend away at Udine.

Carlo Ancelotti, Manager, Napoli | photo: Goal.com

The pressure continues to mount on Ancelotti as the Partenopei languish seventh in Serie A, 17 points behind leaders Inter and eight adrift of the Champions League places.

“We are all united, we are all suffering in this delicate moment and we all want to resolve these issues together,” Ancelotti said.

Napoli’s results on the pitch reflect the continued internal problems. De Laurentiis went ahead with his threats and imposed fines on the players who refused to report to the training retreat he unilaterally imposed on the players. De Laurentiis fined them up to 50% of their October salaries, with captain Lorenzo Insigne reportedly ordered to pay the most at 350,000 Euros (nearly $400,000), followed by Brazilian defensive midfielder Allan at 150,000 Euros ($165,000). The fines could total 2.5 million Euros ($2.7 million).

The players have also been barred from speaking to the press, with Ancelotti only talking to the media prior to the Champions’ League game against Liverpool because not doing so would have broken UEFA rules. After the earlier Champions League draw with Salzburg, Ancelotti skipped his media duties.

Pressure is mounting on the club externally as well. The Italian Players Association ( l’associazione italiana calciatori, “AIC”) is looking into the situation. Carlo Ancelotti has stated publicly that he was not in agreement with the training camp, and as a result AIC president Damiano Tomassi said “it needs to be understood if and how the request for the training camp was formalized.” Tommasi says “the Napoli situation is a strange one and very unusual.” He added, “We talked about it with the team and put ourselves at the disposal of the Napoli players who will ask for our consultation.”

Napoli’s decision to fine its players for abandoning the in-season training camp ordered by the club owner is also being contested by FIFPro, the Amsterdam-based world players union.

FIFPro released a statement November 30, 2019, outlining its position:

FIFPro said the fines contradicted provisions in Italy’s collective bargaining agreement. “The players of Napoli cannot be subjected to arbitrary decisions of a disenchanted club when the result of a match is unsatisfactory,” FIFPro said.

“Technical matters are not the responsibility of club directors and we support (coach Carlo) Ancelotti and the players of Napoli for their united stand in clearly difficult times,” it said.


The AIC‘s mission is to protect, improve and negotiate the conditions, rights and status of all professional players by collective bargaining agreements. The Accordo Collettivo, or Collective Bargaining Agreement (the “AC”) at issue here is between the FIGC (Federazione Italiana Gioco Calcio, the Lega Nazionale Professionisti Serie A and the AIC.

Clause 10 (Technical Instructions, Obligations and Rules of Behaviour) of the AC appears to place issues such as training within the sporting side of the club. The section states:

10.1. The Player must perform the sporting services within the organisation provided by the Club and in compliance with the technical instructions and other rules laid down for attainment of the competitive objectives.

The above clause, while likely open for interpretation, seems to uphold the argument if FIFPro that training falls under the authority of a club’s technical staff and not ownership or the commercial side of a club. Clause 10 goes on to state:

10.4. The rules pertaining to the Player’s private life are lawful and binding, following acceptance of same by the Player, acceptance which shall not be unreasonably withheld, only where justified by needs of the professional activities to be performed, without prejudice in any event to respect for human dignity.

The AC also has a clause dealing with a player’s contractual rights to a weekly rest day and vacation. (Clause 18). In addition to allowing players four weeks of continuous vacation each year, this section provides:

18.1. The Player is entitled to one rest day every week, normally in the first two days of the week.

At present, it is unclear if the AIC and/or FIFPro will be successful in having the fines overturned and the players paid in accordance with their contracts. The matter could be subject to arbitration if a formal complaint is made by the AIC. Beyond the issue of the authority of a club owner to order the players to a training retreat, it would be hard to argue that such a measure deprived the players of “human dignity.” A request by Russo Soccer for further comment from FIFPro is still pending as of the time of publishing. Further updates on this story will be provided as news becomes available.

EDITOR’S UPDATE: As this article was being finalised, Carlo Anceolotti was fired Tuesday evening, despite Napoli winning their final Champions League group stage match 4-0 over Genk and qualifying for the knockout stage of the competition. He is now a favourite to assume the managerial duties at Everton or Arsenal in the Premier League. Gennaro Gattuso, who was a candidate for the Inter Miami CF manager’s job, will take over at Napoli.


MLS Expansion Draft 2019| Complete Player List Sorted By Team and Estimated Ranking

MIAMI, Fla. (November 17, 2019) —

This year’s MLS Expansion Draft kicks off at 5:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday, November 19, 2019.

A key point is that once a player has been claimed from a club’s list of eligible players, Nashville SC and Inter Miami may no longer select players from that club’s list. So if Inter Miami’s Sporting Director Paul McDonough is going to pick anyone from his former club, he will only be able to tap into his knowledge of Atlanta United once in the expansion draft.

While there aren’t really many big-time goal-scorers to be found in the pool of available players, there is a wealth of pricey veteran defenders. And both expansion teams are already building up strength in midfield/ defensive midfield, they appear to not have much need at those positions in Tuesday’s draft.

For those who want to watch live, MLSsoccer.com’s 2019 MLS Expansion Draft live studio show will bring fans all of the selections in real-time, providing expert analysis on each team’s picks.

With a pool of 220 players, no clear cut favourites and only ten being selected, any attempt to create a “mock draft” is highly speculative at best. Only 4.5 % of the pool is being chosen by Miami or Nashville. That, my friends, makes predictions a guessing game. Disclaimers provided (what else would you expect?), let’s dive into the player pool and highlight a few players to watch.

PLAYERS AVAILABLE FOR SELECTION IN 2019 MLS EXPANSION DRAFT

Available Player List – Sorted By Team

MLS ClubPlayer NamePos.Pts.*
 Atlanta UnitedJustin MeramM96
 Atlanta UnitedMichael ParkhurstD77
 Atlanta UnitedJeff LarentowiczM66
 Atlanta UnitedBrek SheaD52
 Atlanta UnitedFlorentin PogbaD50
 Atlanta UnitedBrandon VazquezF39
 Atlanta UnitedDion PereiraM33
 Atlanta UnitedMikey AmbroseD3
 Atlanta UnitedKevin KratzM1
 Atlanta UnitedJon GallagherD0
 Atlanta UnitedJose HernandezD0
 Atlanta UnitedAlec KannGK0
 Atlanta UnitedBrendan MooreGK0
 Atlanta UnitedLuiz FernandoM0
 Chicago FireBastian SchweinsteigerD161
 Chicago FireNicolas GaitanM145
 Chicago FireNemanja NikolicF120
 Chicago FireDavid OustedGK64
 Chicago FireMarceloD42
 Chicago FireDiego CamposD14
 Chicago FireAmando MorenoM8
 Chicago FireCristian MartinezM5
 Chicago FireStefan ClevelandGK0
 Chicago FireElliot CollierM0
 Chicago FireRichard SanchezGK0
 Colorado RapidsTim HowardGK99
 Colorado RapidsDanny WilsonM61
 Colorado RapidsAxel SjobergD8
 Colorado RapidsNiki JacksonF4
 Colorado RapidsKofi OpareD3
 Colorado RapidsAbdul RwatubyayeD2
 Columbus Crew SCHector JimenezD71
 Columbus Crew SCFederico HiguainM65
 Columbus Crew SCWaylon FrancisD63
 Columbus Crew SCLuis ArgudoM57
 Columbus Crew SCDavid GuzmanM55
 Columbus Crew SCConnor MaloneyD36
 Columbus Crew SCYouness MokhtarM28
 Columbus Crew SCRicardo ClarkM19
 Columbus Crew SCRomario WilliamsF16
 Columbus Crew SCEduardo SosaM14
 Columbus Crew SCJosh WilliamsF10
 Columbus Crew SCJon KempinGK8
 Columbus Crew SCBen LundgaardGK0
 Columbus Crew SCEdward OpokuM0
 FC CincinnatiEmmanuel LedesmaM117
 FC CincinnatiRoland LamahM81
 FC CincinnatiKekuta MannehF77
 FC CincinnatiDarren MattocksF72
 FC CincinnatiPrzemyslaw TytonGK57
 FC CincinnatiCaleb StankoM51
 FC CincinnatiJustin HoyteD35
 FC CincinnatiAlvas PowellD34
 FC CincinnatiFanendo AdiF24
 FC CincinnatiForrest LassoD19
 FC CincinnatiCorben BoneM8
 FC CincinnatiNazmi AlbadawiM1
 FC CincinnatiHassan NdamD0
 FC CincinnatiLogan GdulaD0
 FC CincinnatiJimmy HagueGK0
 FC CincinnatiBen LundtGK0
 FC CincinnatiJimmy McLaughlinM0
 Los Angeles Football ClubJordan HarveyD148
 Los Angeles Football ClubTyler MillerGK139
 Los Angeles Football ClubSteven BeitashourD114
 Los Angeles Football ClubLee NguyenM70
 Los Angeles Football ClubMohamed El-MunirD38
 Los Angeles Football ClubJosh PerezM28
 Los Angeles Football ClubAdrien PerezM17
 Los Angeles Football ClubPeter-Lee VassellM10
 Los Angeles Football ClubDanilo da SilvaD9
 Los Angeles Football ClubRodolfo ZelayaF9
 Los Angeles Football ClubDejan JakovicD6
 Los Angeles Football ClubJavier PerezM1
 Los Angeles Football ClubLamar BatistaD0
 Los Angeles Football ClubPhillip EjimaduGK0
 Los Angeles Football ClubAlejandro GuidoM0
 LA GalaxyZlatan IbrahimovicF272
 LA GalaxyUriel AntunaM129
 LA GalaxyFavio AlvarezM87
 LA GalaxyJorgen SkjelvikD85
 LA GalaxyChris PontiusM51
 LA GalaxyPerry KitchenM32
 LA GalaxyServando CarrascoM21
 LA GalaxyEmil CuelloM14
 LA GalaxyDiedie TraoreD13
 LA GalaxyMatt LampsonGK2
 LA GalaxyJuninho Vitor JuniorM2
 LA GalaxyTomas Hilliard-ArceD0
 LA GalaxyJoão PedroM0
 League Pool GKCharlie LyonGK0
 Minnesota United FCEthan FinlayM111
 Minnesota United FCAngelo RodriguezF93
 Minnesota United FCBrent KallmanD75
 Minnesota United FCMiguel IbarraM60
 Minnesota United FCAbu DanladiF45
 Minnesota United FCRasmus SchullerM45
 Minnesota United FCLawrence OlumM26
 Minnesota United FCWilfried Moimbe-TahratD22
 Minnesota United FCMarlon HairstonM18
 Minnesota United FCCarter ManleyD0
 Minnesota United FCAlly Ng’anziM0
 Minnesota United FCWyatt OmsbergD0
 Minnesota United FCBobby ShuttleworthGK0
 Montreal ImpactEvan BushGK128
 Montreal ImpactMaximiliano UrrutiF114
 Montreal ImpactBacary SagnaD87
 Montreal ImpactRudy CamachoD70
 Montreal ImpactJorge CorralesD56
 Montreal ImpactZachary Brault-GuillardD47
 Montreal ImpactAnthony Jackson-HamelF43
 Montreal ImpactOmar BrowneM38
 Montreal ImpactKen KrolickiM19
 Montreal ImpactRod FanniD17
 Montreal ImpactAmar SejdicM2
 Montreal ImpactJeisson VargasF0
 New England RevolutionJuan AgudeloM95
 New England RevolutionEdgar CastilloD83
 New England RevolutionJuan CaicedoF75
 New England RevolutionMichael MancienneD52
 New England RevolutionJalil AnibabaD28
 New England RevolutionCody CropperGK24
 New England RevolutionBrad KnightonGK21
 New England RevolutionBrian WrightF2
 New York City FCEbenezer OforiM71
 New York City FCSebastien IbeaghaD65
 New York City FCJesus MedinaM53
 New York City FCBen SweatD50
 New York City FCTony RochaD41
 New York City FCGary Mackay-StevenM34
 New York City FCEric MillerD28
 New York City FCBrad StuverGK20
 New York City FCDaniel BedoyaM1
 New York City FCJuan Pablo TorresM1
 New York City FCLuis BarrazaGK0
 New York City FCJeff CaldwellGK0
 New York City FCAbdi MohamedD0
 Orlando City SCBrian RoweGK143
 Orlando City SCLamine SaneD118
 Orlando City SCWill JohnsonM87
 Orlando City SCRobinhoM72
 Orlando City SCSacha KljestanM66
 Orlando City SCCarlos AscuesD63
 Orlando City SCKyle SmithD48
 Orlando City SCShane O’NeillD36
 Orlando City SCCristian HiguitaM33
 Orlando City SCDillon PowersM27
 Orlando City SCAlex De JohnD18
 Orlando City SCGreg RanjitsinghGK7
 Orlando City SCAdam GrinwisGK0
 Philadelphia UnionHaris MedunjaninM196
 Philadelphia UnionMarco FabianM91
 Philadelphia UnionAurelien CollinD21
 Philadelphia UnionWarren CreavalleM20
 Philadelphia UnionOlivier MbaizoD16
 Philadelphia UnionJoe BendikGK13
 Philadelphia UnionFabinhoD1
 Philadelphia UnionMichee NgalinaF1
 Philadelphia UnionRJ AllenD0
 Portland TimbersZarek ValentinD63
 Portland TimbersClaude DielnaD58
 Portland TimbersAndy PoloM49
 Portland TimbersAndres FloresM39
 Portland TimbersJeff AttinellaGK37
 Portland TimbersTomas ConechnyM34
 Portland TimbersRenzo ZambranoM34
 Portland TimbersDairon AsprillaM31
 Portland TimbersModou JadamaD2
 Portland TimbersAljaz IvacicGK0
 Portland TimbersKendall McIntoshGK0
 Real Salt LakeNick RimandoGK138
 Real Salt LakeKelyn RoweM38
 Real Salt LakeJoão PlataM25
 Real Salt LakeJustin PortilloM5
 Real Salt LakeLuke MulhollandM1
 Real Salt LakeTony BeltranD0
 Real Salt LakeAlex HorwathGK0
 Real Salt LakePablo RuizM0
 San Jose EarthquakesHarold CummingsD71
 San Jose EarthquakesMarcos LopezD61
 San Jose EarthquakesPaul MarieD15
 San Jose EarthquakesCarlos FierroM11
 San Jose EarthquakesFrancois AffolterD3
 San Jose EarthquakesEric CalvilloM2
 San Jose EarthquakesLuis FelipeM2
 San Jose EarthquakesKevin PartidaD1
 San Jose EarthquakesMatt BersanoGK0
 San Jose EarthquakesJimmy OckfordD0
 San Jose EarthquakesAndrew TarbellGK0
 Seattle Sounders FCHarry ShippM93
 Seattle Sounders FCVictor RodriguezM73
 Seattle Sounders FCRoman TorresD63
 Seattle Sounders FCSaad Abdul-SalaamD50
 Seattle Sounders FCChad MarshallD41
 Seattle Sounders FCWill BruinF27
 Seattle Sounders FCAlex RoldanM23
 Seattle Sounders FCJonathan CampbellD17
 Seattle Sounders FCJustin DhillonF9
 Seattle Sounders FCLuis SilvaF8
 Seattle Sounders FCEmanuel CecchiniM6
 Seattle Sounders FCBryan MeredithGK0
 Sporting Kansas CityBenny FeilhaberM102
 Sporting Kansas CityKrisztian NemethF89
 Sporting Kansas CityBotond BarathD85
 Sporting Kansas CitySeth SinovicD80
 Sporting Kansas CityAndreu FontasD38
 Sporting Kansas CityNicolas HaslerD28
 Sporting Kansas CityGedion ZelalemM16
 Sporting Kansas CityJimmy MedrandaD13
 Sporting Kansas CityEric DickGK1
 Sporting Kansas CityRodney WallaceD1
 Toronto FCJustin MorrowD100
 Toronto FCLaurent CimanD57
 Toronto FCTsubasa EndohM50
 Toronto FCDrew MoorD47
 Toronto FCEriq ZavaletaD41
 Toronto FCPatrick MullinsF31
 Toronto FCNicolas BenezetM28
 Toronto FCAshtone MorganD14
 Toronto FCRyan TelferD5
 Toronto FCJon BakeroM0
 Toronto FCCaleb Patterson-SewellGK0

A note about the points used to rank the player pool: The points gathered come from this years’s MLS Fantasy Game. While that is obviously a less-than-ideal way to rank a player’s potential, it is an attempt to provide some guidance based on a player’s performance over the 2019 season. A player who has a ‘0’ for his score doesn’t mean that he is not worth a look. It simply reflects that he lacked playing time during the past season.

The Russo Soccer Top 50 Players in 2019 Expansion Draft

Peruvian International Winger Andy Polo of the Portland Timbers (left) is among the players available to Inter Miami CF or Nashville SC. | photo: Portland Timbers

Overview

With teams only being able to protect twelve senior roster slot players, most teams left second and/or third string goalkeepers unprotected. Also, players who have announced their retirement but who are under contract until the end of the year were also naturally left unprotected. Zlatan Ibrahimovitch of the LA Galaxy has announced his departure from MLS, and thus was a natural choice to make the Galaxy’s unprotected player list. The list also features more than a few high-priced older players.

Players To Watch

Forwards

Atlanta United’s Brandon Vasquez is a strong choice to be selected by Inter Miami CF. Vazquez signed with Atlanta United as a Discovery Signing via transfer from Club Tijuana on Dec. 2, 2016. He made eight appearances as a substitute as a forward/winger in MLS and two starts in US Open Cup in 2018. Vazquez scored just a minute into his MLS debut at Real Salt Lake on April 22, 2017 and added two goals and an assist in two US Open Cup starts in 2017. This past season saw him have limited time, appearing in 11 matches, scoring 2 goals and adding 1 assist across 637 minutes played. He was recently added to the US Under 23 Men’s National Team, coached by Inter Miami’s Jason Kreis, ahead of their 2-0 win in a friendly against Japan. Vasquez was in that squad and earned an appearance, coming on in the 72nd minute.

Atlanta United’s Brandon Vasquez, a top choice in the expansion draft. | Photo: Atlanta United FC

New England Revolution forward Juan Caicedo is also a player to watch. The Colombian joined the Revs from Independiente Medellin and has experience playing in the Colombian first division. He has tallied 89 goals in nearly 300 appearances across all competitions through nine professional seasons in the top divisions of Colombia and Argentina and has experience in the Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana. He appeared in 27 games for New England, starting 13 and scoring five goals.

Juan Fernando Caicedo | Photo: New England Revolution

Montréal Impact forward Maximiliano Urruti would offer a combination of skill and MLS experience. The 28-year old Argentine originally came to MLS in 2013 as a high-profile signing by Toronto FC from Newell’s Old Boys of Argentina. The Impact acquired him via a trade with FC Dallas in December 2018. He made 31 appearances for the Les Montréalais during the 2019 season, starting 27 of those matches and netting 4 goals on a team that failed to create enough scoring chances and often struggled to find a rhythm under former coach Remi Garde.

Maximiliano Urruti, Impact de Montréal | Photo: TSN

Midfielders

LA Galaxy’s Uriel Antuna, already a Mexican international, is one of the top players in the expansion draft. The 22 year-old speedy winger who is on loan from Manchester City has drawn interest from both Chivas de Guadalajara and Portuguese giants Sport Lisboa e Benfica. Antuna is believed to have signed a contract extension with City through 2022. He remains on loan with the Galaxy through the end of the season but his future beyond that point has not been determined. He scored 6 goals and contributed 5 assists for the Galaxy during the 2019 season.

Uriel Antuna, 22, of the Los Angeles Galaxy, left, shown competing with LAFC’s Lee Nyugen, another player available in this year’s expansion draft. | Photo: USA Today

Seattle Sounders midfielder Victor Rodriguez is an experienced, versatile, attacking threat who can play on either wing or as an attacking midfielder. The veteran has over 127 appearances in LaLiga dating back to the 2012-13 season he spent with Real Zaragoza. Rumours in a Seattle say that Rodriguez wants to return to Spain for personal reasons. However he might be a gamble someone’s willing to take, because he might well be the best available player and has a low cost-to-skill ratio. He helped to seal the victory over Toronto in MLs Cup with a wonderful shot from the edge of the penalty box that eluded goalkeeper Quentin Westberg in the 76th minute. After winning the MLS Cup MVP, he’s no longer flying under the radar, either. I could see Miami selecting him and using TAM money to give him a raise, also making his trips home to Barcelona much easier.

Victor Rodriguez | Photo: Lindsey Wasson / Seattle Sounders FC

Haris Medunjanin isn’t typically mentioned in discussions about marquee players brought into MLS from overseas in recent years. But given the season he had in 2019 for the Philadelphia Union, perhaps he should be. A former Bosnia and Herzegovina national team player, at 34 years of age, is among a bunch of veterans left unprotected by their teams. Medunjanin has played a key role in the Union’s offense since arriving from Israeli club Maccabi Tel Aviv in 2017. Positionally, he has played as a deep-lying No. 10 given his wide range of passing. But when Philly adopted a new system in 2019, he took on more defensive responsibilities as a No. 6. He’s also very durable, starting all 34 of the Union’s games this past season. Off the pitch, he has embraced the role of being a veteran leader and role-model for younger players, providing advice and constructive criticism on their play. On this point, he told mlssoccer.com: “I know myself when I was younger, it was harder and you played with a lot of more-experienced players and they would be like cursing you out when you did something wrong,” Medunjanin said. “Like that you learn, and sometimes as a player we should be hard on the younger players to get better.” Medunjanin is out of contract, so the choosing team would have to strike a new deal with him.

Haris Medunjanin of the Philadelphia Union is near the top of our list of available players | Photo: The Athletic

Atlanta United FC’s Justin Meram, a veteran MLS winger who spent five seasons with the Columbus Crew, was traded to Atlanta and was a contributor to both the regular season and the U.S. Open Cup during the 2019 campaign. He also plays on the Iraq National Team. He quickly became a fan favourite in Atlanta. “I’m very thankful for the fans bringing me in as one of their own from the get go,” he said. “They didn’t really look back on the past year I had, a little bit of the struggles. They looked at me as, ‘This guy could help.’ That gave me a little bit of confidence coming in.”

Jun 29, 2019; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta United forward Justin Meram (14) reacts after scoring his second goal of the match against the Montreal Impact during the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Orlando City midfielder Robinho (Francisco Wellington Barbosa de Lisboa) at age 24, is still a player with potential. The native of Recife, PE, Brazil was acquired by Orlando from Columbus Crew during the summer transfer window. The Brazilian midfielder last played for Ceará Sporting Club in Brazil’s First Division during the second half of the 2018 season, where he made two appearances in the Brazilian First Division – Serie A – following a loan stint at Santa Cruz Futebol Clube of Brazil’s Third Division during the first half of the 2018 season. While at Santa Cruz, Robinho made 37 appearances across all competitions for Santa Cruz, scoring eight goals. Robinho shows signs of being a creative player who can help unlock defenses with his movement and pace. He can provide some speed and quality out on the edge of the pitch and is an affordable player.

Robinho | Foto: Divulgação

It’s worth noting that an Atlanta United veteran who has had an exemplary career in MLS is also on the list of available players. I would of course be referring to none other than midfielder Jeff Laurentowicz, 36, who studied and played at Brown University.

Defenders

Orlando City SC Lamine Sané is one of the top ranked defenders among available players. The 32-year-old French born Senegalese international just completed his second season with the Lions, after spending the previous two seasons with Bundesliga side Werder Bremen. Sané is the vocal leader of the back line, shouting out instructions from the first to the last whistle. He featured in 26 games this season at Orlando, starting all but one of those matches. Orlando City coach James O’Connor brought Sané to the forefront this past season, moving to a four-back defensive platform and placing him alongside the Swede Robin Jansson. Sané’s height, at 6 feet, 4 inches (1.72 m) is an asset, allowing him to cut down corners and crosses.

Aug 3, 2019; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando City defender Ludovic Lamine Sane (22) and FC Dallas midfielder Santiago Mosquera (11) fight for the ball during the second half at Exploria Stadium. Photo: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Olivier Mbaizo of the Philadelphia Union could be a good choice for either Miami or Nashville. The 22-year-old right back from Douala, Cameroon hasn’t seen much playing time with the Union, losing some time to injuries, and thus didn’t make the top 50 list above. However, he has much potential, is not overpriced, and already is a regular on the national teams of his native Cameroon. It came as a surprise to many followers of the Union to see him among the unprotected players. Mbaizo is also likely to have some significant sale value in the future. This month, he has played for Cameroon’s national team at the under-23 men’s Africa Cup of Nations. He was on the field for every minute of the group stage, and helped set up the lone goal in a 1-0 win over Mali. The team, however, ended up finishing third in the group stage and fell short of the semifinals.

Olivier Mbaizo, Philadelphia Union | Photo: Philadelphia Union

Los Angeles Football Club defender Mohamed El-Munir is fast and displays excellent control on the ball. The Libyan international has 19 caps for his country and made 15 appearances for LAFC this past season.

Mohamed El-Munir | Photo: Los Angeles Football Club

San Jose Earthquakes defender Marcos Lopez, who is only 20 years old, would be a choice based on potential future dividends. The native of Callao, Peru transferred to San Jose from Sporting Cristal Lima and signed a multi-year contract ahead of the 2019 season. Lopez is a young left back that has already made an international appearance with Peru in August 2018 at the age of 18 when he appeared in a game against Germany. He can also play further up the pitch as a left winger. Lopez has a very successful first season with Sporting Cristal Lima, helping the club have a +62 goal differential, the best in the Peruvian league, and helped them earn qualification to the Copa Libertadores group stage. He played in 18 games for the Quakes in 2019, starting 15. This month he was called to the Peru National Team for a pair of international friendlies against Colombia (played last Friday at Hard Rock Stadium) and Chile.

Marcos Lopez (right) | photo: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Goalkeepers

Among the numerous goalkeepers on the unprotected list, several have accumulated significant experience in MLS. Most teams. Among them are Orlando City’s Brian Rowe, who is 31, and longtime Impact de Montréal keeper Evan Bush, who is 33.

Evan Bush of the Impact de Montréal has been consistently good for several seasons. An MLS original with the Impact, Bush completed his eighth season with Montréal. In 2018, he had a career-high 10 clean sheets and was the MLS’ top goalkeeper according to the Audi Player Index. He had a breakout season in 2015, starting 31 games, after only starting 15 games across his first three MLS seasons. He was a finalist for the 2015 Concacaf Goalkeeper of the Year award, following an outstanding Concacaf Champions League campaign in 2015 that saw him win the CCL Golden Glove award.

Montreal Impact goalkeeper Evan Bush (1) blocks a shot on goal by the San Jose Earthquakes during the first half of an MLS soccer match in San Jose, Calif., on March 2, 2019. | Photo: THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Tony Avelar

Brian Rowe of Orlando City SC is another available keeper. The 31-year-old goalkeeper completed his eighth season in MLS in 2019, after beginning his career in Los Angeles with the Galaxy in 2012. He earned 7 clean sheets in 2019, playing in 32 games for Orlando City. Rowe was exceptional in 2016 with the Galaxy, where he recorded 31 appearances, earning nine clean sheets and earning a 1.07 goals-against average en route to the playoffs. During that 2016 season, Rowe allowed the fewest goals (33) in MLS by any goalkeeper that appeared in a minimum of 30 matches. Rowe also finished third in MLS with 113 saves.

A younger choice at goalkeeper would be Los Angeles Football Club’s Tyler Miller. The 26-year old keeper started 28 games for LAFC this past season. He posted nine clean sheets in the process. Miller was the number one choice at goalkeeper up until last summer’s Gold Cup.Thereafter, he split time with Pablo Sisniega, whom LAFC chose to protect in the expansion draft. A player of Miller’s calibre is a tempting choice for either Inter Miami or Nashville. By leaving him unprotected, LAFC might be hoping he is selected, thus ensuring that none of their other unprotected players can be taken. It would be one way of solving the debate at goal keeper, and not having to renegotiate a contract for Miller, who is out of contract in Los Angeles.

LAFC GK Tyler Miller | Photo: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Danish goalkeeper David Ousted of the Chicago Fire, 34, is also available. Ousted has been a starter for most of his six seasons in MLS, including five with the Vancouver Whitecaps. He is considered one of the more consistent keepers in the league, and holds numerous club records for Vancouver including wins, clean sheets and starts. He was finalist for goalkeeper of the year honours in 2015 with the Caps, who also won the Voyageur Cup (Canadian Championship) that year.

David Ousted | Photo: Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

Two 40 year-old goalkeepers were left unprotected, but both have already announced their retirements. Nick Raimondo of Real Salt Lake was one of the best goalkeepers in MLS history. The legendary Tim Howard has also announced his retirement from the game.

Conclusion

Whatever the results of this expansion draft, there are certainly some quality players that Inter Miami and Nashville can acquire to assist them in building their initial rosters. The players they select can of course also be used in trades for other players, draft choices, allocation money or international player slots, so it’s not necessarily the player you obtain, but what you could acquire in exchange for that player.

It’s an interesting time of the year in MLS.

Liverpool Set To Sign New Kit Supplier Deal

MIAMI, Fla. (October 29, 2019) —

European Champions Liverpool Football Club are set to sign a new kit supplier agreement with Nike that is reported to be worth £75 million (€84.8 $93.2).

This would match Manchester United’s 10-year deal with adidas and place the Reds among the top 5 clubs in the category of kit supplier deals. FC Barcelona currently has the largest kit supplier agreement at €113.5m with Nike. 

This after the London Commercial Court dismissed New Balance’s complaint for breach of contract in a dispute that centred over “matching rights” contained in the kit supplier agreement between New Balance and Liverpool which expires at the end of this season.

#soccerbusiness #commercial #russo #russosoccer #miami @lfcmiami  @the.liverpool.corner @anfield.times #nikesoccer #supplier


Russo Law and Soccer Briefs offers a quick glance on stories making news in the world of football.

Court Sides With Liverpool In Lawsuit Over Kit Supply Contract

Nike will be new kit supplier beginning with the 2020/21 season.

Liverpool join Chelsea and Tottenham as top tier EPL clubs with Nike kits

MIAMI, Fla. (October 28, 2019) —

Liverpool FC have won a legal battle with Boston (MA)-based New Balance in the London Commercial Court and are now free to sign a new deal with Nike.

Pending an appeal by New Balance, it brings to an end the ongoing dispute surrounding which apparel provider would outfit the Premier League side’s kit from the 2020/21 season, which has been unclear since the start of the year.

Liverpool home shirt | Photo: Liverpool FC

Liverpool had made clear their intentions to switch to Nike once their partnership with New Balance, which dates back to the 2015/16 season, expired and had held extensive talks with the brand. The club rejected New Balance’s offer of a matching clause proposed for the existing contract over the summer.

New Balance took the European Champions to court over their alleged refusal to honour a £45m-a-year deal (€50.9, $55.9 million), which expires in May 2020. They alleged that under the terms, the footwear firm is entitled to renew its sponsorship if it matches any competitor’s offer, and that Liverpool had breached the contract by not renewing the contract.

New Balance World Headquarters in Boston, MA

Opening the firm’s case last week, Daniel Oudkerk QC said the key issue was whether New Balance had matched “the material, measurable and matchable terms of a third-party offer.”

Liverpool countered that New Balance had not matched Nike’s offer, which includes a commitment to sell licensed products in at least “6,000 stores worldwide, 500 of which shall be Nike-owned”. Guy Morpuss QC, the lawyer representing the Premier League club, set out to show New Balance’s claim it could distribute the club’s kit to 40,000 stores was “a myth”, and that the company had “grossly overstated” the number of stores to which it could distribute. Moreover, Liverpool argued that Nike could deliver far greater total revenue than New Balance could, reflected by Nike reportedly agreeing to pay the Reds a 20 percent royalty on net sales of Liverpool products.

Nike reportedly agreed to pay the club UK£30 million (US$36 million) per year, compared to the UK£45 million (US$58 million) New Balance currently pays. However, it would also promote the team through other high-profile athletes and influencers, including tennis legend Serena Williams, basketball star LeBron James and the musician Drake. Nike would also distribute the new kit through an estimated 6,000 global stores, compared to New Balance’s 3,000.

Chris Davis, New Balance vice-president of global marketing and sports marketing, and Kenny McCallum, New Balance general manager of global football, were both cross-examined extensively during Friday’s proceedings.

Davis’ testimony Testifying in court basically admitted that the company had made “errors” on the number of retail outlets initially planned.

Liverpool’s legal team argued that this was evidence New Balance was unable to match the terms offered by Nike. New Balance would have to double their number of stores, especially in the Far East, where their actual outlets were much lower than planned. Other evidence presented by the club’s barristers was the fact that a large number of New Balance stores sold only the company’s footwear and not replica kits.

Giving his ruling in London, Mr. Justice Teare of the High Court ruled in Liverpool’s favour, finding that “the New Balance offer on marketing was less favourable to Liverpool FC than the Nike offer.” A full written statement from the judge will follow but he told the court: “For the reasons given in the judgment handed down, the claim from New Balance is dismissed.”

In his ruling, Mr Justice Teare said: “Liverpool FC is not obliged to enter into a new agreement with New Balance.”

The court also heard that Liverpool spent more than £555,000 on the case, with 20% to be paid by New Balance.

Liverpool will now move ahead to finalise a five-year deal they have agreed to in principle with Nike, who have apparently already spent nearly UK£6 million (US$7.7 million) on kit design. Liverpool and Nike have worked together for the past two months. [The Reds claim Nike’s offer to them, which they apparently had accepted in principle in August, amounted to a legally binding obligation to contract with Nike.] The two sides have already agreed on designs for the replica kits and training kits for the 2020-21 campaign, while Nike have reserved factory space to manufacture 2.9 million units over the course of next season and have already invested more than $5.8 million in fabric.

While the possibility of an appeal of the court’s dismissal is possible, the relationship between New Balance and Liverpool is irretrievably damaged, and even if New Balance won on appeal, forcing Liverpool to work with them for another five years is not going to happen. The only question would be damages owed by Liverpool for breach of contract. A New Balance spokeswoman said the firm was disappointed, adding: “We believe strongly that we matched the competing offer and would have delivered many more years of record-breaking kit sales.”

Jordan Henderson and Mo Salah celebrate in Liverpool’s 2-1 victory over Tottenham at Anfield on Sat. Oct 26, 2019.

Villarreal – Atlético In Miami ? The Latest

The round 16 game would be the first regular season match of LaLiga Santander to be presented outside of Spain.

MIAMI, Fla. (October 17, 2019) —

LaLiga is continuing its attempts to stage an official league game in the United States by proposing that the Villarreal-Atletico Madrid match scheduled for the weekend of December 7-8 be played at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens.

Having previously attempted to arrange a game in Miami last season between Barcelona and Girona, LaLiga seem determined to make the event happen.

Spanish newspaper El Confidencial first reported that an agreement is already in place between LaLiga and both clubs to play the match in Miami, which would be a designated home game for Villarreal:

Tal y como hiciera la temporada pasada, aunque finalmente sin éxito, LaLiga estudia llevarse un partido de Primera División fuera de España, y más concretamente a Estados Unidos. Tras el fiasco del Girona-Barça del curso anterior que tanta polémica suscitó, el presidente de la patronal, Javier Tebas, no ceja en su empeño de expandir “la industria del fútbol español” a otros continentes, especialmente el norteamericano.

Support From Both Clubs

Today, LaLiga Santander confirmed that both Atlético de Madrid and Villarreal have agreed to play their December 6 meeting in the United States. The game is set for Friday, December 6 at 22:00 CET (16:00 EST), but there is also talk of playing the match on Sunday, December 8, 2019, which from the standpoint of ticket sales in Miami makes more sense. They now hope that the Spanish FA, among other governing bodies, consents.

“Atletico Madrid work every season to promote our brand across all continents.”

Miguel Angel Gil, CEO, Atlético de Madrid
Miguel Angel Gil, CEO, Club Atlético de Madrid Photo: RTVE

“A match in the US would allow us to continue working on it,” Gil added. “Additionally, we’d bring Spanish football to fans outside our country. It’d be a great game that would mark the future.”

Villarreal president Fernando Roig joined with the sentiments. “Everything about exporting football and Spanish sport is good for everyone,” he said. “And, of course, for Villarreal. The US is a very important country where we have official club academies. It would be very special for us to play there.”

“It would be positive for everyone.” Fernando Roig, President, Villareal C.F.

The Villareal President went on to say: “I hope this time it comes to fruition. We’re starting to see if Villarreal-Atleti can be played in Miami,” Villarreal president Fernando Roig told El Transistor. “Both us and Atleti have agreed to play in Miami, but I would like this to be a consensual agreement from everyone. I would like there to be a consensual agreement because I think that taking LaLiga abroad would be good for everyone.”

The club also said it would work out a plan to reimburse ticket holders who would not be able to see the game played at the Estadio de la Cerámica, although the precise nature of the reimbursement has not yet been revealed.

Sanctioning Process

The next step in the process to bring the Round 16 match to Hard Rock Stadium is for LaLiga to make a formal application to the Real Federación Espanola de Fútbol (RFEF) which is the licensing body of spanish football. LaLiga intends to file this application today, October 17. The league has also informed the players on both sides prior to announcing the plan. In addition to the RFEF, LaLiga will once again seek the approval of UEFA, and the United States Soccer Federation.

Prior Plan Scrapped

In August 2018, LaLiga announced that it would play at least one match per season overseas as part of a new 15-year partnership with Relevent Sports Group to promote the league in North America. But a proposed game between FC Barcelona and Girona at Hard Rock Stadium for January 2019 was shelved after Barcelona’s board of directors backed out of the match, citing “a lack of consensus” among stakeholders.

While the Barça board cited a lack of consensus, the real reason was that the RFEF, along with UEFA, FIFA and the United States Soccer Federation, had not approved the game.

The fallout from the failure of these bodies to approve last season’s match continues. In September, LaLiga’s North American partner Relevent Sports Group filed an antitrust lawsuit against the USSF (ÜS Soccer”) in the United States District Court For The Southern District of New York, alleging that Us Soccer conspired with global governing body FIFA and Soccer United Marketing, the commercial arm of Major League Soccer, to block official matches from foreign clubs being held in the U.S. There is also a similar lawsuit between LaLiga and the RFEF over the right to stage games overseas.

Economic Benefit To Both Clubs

Both Atlético de Madrid and Villareal CF are looking to increase their presence in the North American market, Atletico Madrid toured the U.S. this summer, including participating in the MLS All-Star Game. Having a regular season match in Miami would be a boost to the marketing of both clubs.

Miami is the leading choice for holding LaLiga games in the United States, given the league is in a fifteen-year agreement with Relevant Sports, which is tied in to the ownership group of Hard Rock Stadium and the Miami Dolphins NFL franchise. Hard Rock Stadium, originally opened in 1987 and known as Joe Robbie Stadium, has undergone extensive upgrades in recent years, and is perfectly suited to host soccer matches. It even has the look of a modern European football arena. On top of that, Miami traditionally has among the highest support for soccer of any city in North America, given its large percentage of the population with ties to Latin America, and, to a lesser extent, Europe.

Photo: Hard Rock Stadium

Recapítulo En Castellano:

  • El organismo presidido por Javier Tebas cuenta con la aprobación de ambos clubes, que ven la propuesta como una oportunidad histórica. El encuentro se disputaría el domingo 8 de diciembre.
  • Por segundo año consecutivo, LaLiga estudia seriamente la posibilidad de llevarse un partido de la Primera División española a tierras estadounidenses.
  • Javier Tebas no ceja en su empeño de expandir más el mercado del fútbol nacional a otros continentes, especialmente el americano.
  • Ambos clubes implicados están de acuerdo con la iniciativa, asi lo aseguró Fernando Roig, presidente de Villarreal, más tarde en declaraciones al programa ‘El Transistor’ de Onda Cero: “Es bueno para que exportemos LaLiga a un país tan importante. No hay problemas por parte del Atleti. Esperamos que todo siga su curso”.
  • LaLiga presente que el enfrentamiento entre castellonenses y madrileños se juegue en Miami (Florida) en el Hard Rock Stadium, junto a la misma empresa promotora, Relevent.
  • Este pasado martes José Manuel Llaneza, vicepresidente del club amarillo, se reunió en Madrid con miembros de LaLiga para comprobar algunos detalles y dar su visto bueno a la operación.
  • El Villarreal compensará a sus aficionados, los grandes damnificados por esta medida, de alguna manera que todavía no se ha concretado. No se descarta que el club sufrage vuelos chárter para sus socios con la esperanza de que ningún abonado se quede sin disfrutar de un hecho que la junta directiva considera histórico. “Es posible. Estamos estudiando y viendo alternativas diferentes. No habrá problemas”, indicó Roig.
  • En su momento, la Federación (RFEF) se opuso por completo a que los partidos del campenato doméstico se celebraran fuera del país, pero se desconoce qué postura defenderá ahora una vez que ha maniobrado para organizar la próxima edición de la Supercopa de España en Arabia Saudí (del 8 al 12 de enero). Fue en septiembre de 2018 cuando la RFEF presidida por Luis Rubiales rechazó por completo la idea de un partido en Florida, que tampoco convenció a la FIFA ni a la AFE.

MLS Executives: There Is “No One Specific Way” To The Front Office

As The League Has Developed, The Range of Jobs Has Expanded And Continues To Provide New Career Opportunities.

MIAMI, Fla. (October 11, 2019) —

Today’s Major League Soccer clubs are a far cry from what they were in the beginning days of the league.

Teams are now managing full academies and some have USL squads (Inter Miami and New England are the two latest to announce USL teams for next season). With all of these additional components to an MLS team, millions of dollars in investment is required to run operations. Scouting has gone global as well. In addition to the financial undertaking, a full soccer operations staff is needed in order to do the job effectively.

The rapid expansion of Major League Soccer has increased the demand for employees to fill the various roles. With each new team, there is a full slate of front office jobs to fill, and that demand for talent has increased exponentially.

So who is going to fill this demand? As a starting point, it goes without saying (but I’ll mention it again) that no one is ever hired to work in the sports business because he or she is a ‘fan.’ If course you are a fan, that is the very minimum benchmark, but what matters is what do you bring to the organisation? In this sense, working in soccer, or any sports team, is not really that different from working for any company, law firm, PR firm, ad agency and so on.

The list of positions in front offices across MLS includes work in team administration, salary cap management, analytics, scouting, team operations, stadium operations, ticketing and sales, marketing, legal, sponsorships, communications, digital and media, community engagement, and more. The staff includes many different titles, for example, president, chief commercial officer, sporting director (or general manager) (usually charged with running scouting, player selection and other soccer operations) and team administrator (who handles things like travel and players’ adjustment to teams and cities, including housing, banking and other life needs). Generally speaking, job functions within a front office can be divided into two sides: Soccer Operations and Commercial.

“It’s a natural evolution,” said Dave Kasper, who is the general manager (since 2004) of D.C. United. “You’re expanding where there’s multiple departments on the soccer side, and we’re starting to see that because our league is growing so fast and there is more money being pumped in.”

Dave Kasper, General Manager, D.C. United

“When you think about everything a front office entails, it’s player development, it’s scouting, domestic and international, and it’s team administration,” said Will Kuntz, Vice-President of Soccer Operations at LAFC, “There is so much you have to touch and it’s so global in a way that few other sports are. You look at front offices in other sports, pick your sport, they have a whole number of people in a number of roles. It underscores the importance of myriad people in the job.”

The ability to scout and identify international talent is absolutely essential in today’s MLS, which has only increased since the introduction of targeted allocation money (TAM). This year’s example of how not to build a club was provided by FC Cincinnati. The team used a large portion of its TAM on trades to build its roster instead of bringing in more talented players and using the TAM to buy down their salaries. This was due to Cincinnati’s lack of having someone, a general manager or sporting director, in the office during the roster-building stages. They eventually added Gerard Nijkamp, who formerly led PEC Zwolle in the Netherlands, as GM.

The Cincinnati example should be a lesson for all future MLS teams; a properly staffed soccer operations staff will likely include one or more people with expertise on the league’s intricacies. MLS’s centralised, single-entity status and league-controlled salary cap mechanisms essentially have created a niche skill set that is vital to success.

Knowledge of the international market is very important. MLS front offices need to have an active presence internationally as MLS becomes both a buyer and a seller in the global football market.

As the dollar amount goes up, acquisitions become even more critical,” said U.S. men’s national team coach Gregg Berhalter, who was considered one of the top chief soccer officers in the league when he worked as coach/technical director with the Columbus Crew. “And as we realize that we can’t always be a buying league, we also need to be a selling league, the way we structure our clubs and the way we work to both bring players in and sell players is extremely important. Clubs are realizing that. So they’re putting more resources into scouting, which they should. They are putting more resources into player personnel; once you get the player here how do we integrate them into the team and how do we integrate them into the society? And then I think teams are now also putting more resources into…how do we export these players? What do the contacts look like?”

What Kind of Backgrounds Fit In?

“I do think as the league grows we all need to grow in the support staff. There is going to be a combination in every front office and it comes down to the individuals and their skill sets and where they can add value.

It may be a former player, it may not. It may be someone who has (a) law background or was an agent. It comes down to relationships, being able to work with the coaching staff and different people in the club and being able to manage up. Some is specific to personalities and some is understanding MLS and the landscape of U.S. Soccer, and that can be learned. I don’t think there is one specific way.”

Chris Henderson, Sporting Director, Seattle Sounders FC

Some of those hired by clubs have experience in the MLS office itself. Take Chicago Fire Senior Vice-President of Communications Sean Dennison, as one example. A graduate of prestigious McGill University in Montreal, he worked for fourteen years at MLS headquarters, the last two of which he served as Vice-President of Communications for the league, before joining Chicago in 2018. Other examples include general managers Ali Curtis of Toronto Football Club, Nelson Rodriguez of the Chicago Fire SC, the aforementioned Will Kuntz and Sporting Kansas City’s Assistant Director Of Player Personnel, Meghan Cameron, all of whom had previous experience in the league office.

Others have worked for other leagues or confederations. Inter Miami CF’s Chief Business Officer Jurgen Mainka, for example, served as the director of marketing and communications, and later the Deputy General Secretary and Chief Commercial Officer at Concacaf prior to being hired by the Inter Miami ownership group. Looking at the personnel across MLS teams also shows that not all front office employees even have prior experience in soccer, or even in sports in general.

Chris Henderson’s Insights On Front Offices

Seattle Sounders FC sporting director Chris Henderson Photo: (Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Chris Henderson is currently the sporting director of the Seattle Sounders. A former midfielder, he gave coaching a try post-career but thereafter transitioned into being a technical director. Henderson was hired by the Sounders as technical director in 2008. He has spent the last decade learning “on-the-job” and also interacting with foreign clubs when he travels the globe scouting for players.

“The ownership groups have their own companies and are used to running businesses and used to having people with a certain profile to run their business,” Henderson said. “Somebody with extensive soccer knowledge (can help) because in the position you are going to be in you have to have an understanding with the head coach and the coaching staff.”

While the hires around the league follow different strategies and come from different backgrounds, a common theme is also there: the investment teams are willing to make in order to be competitive. This is only going to increase, and the teams that do it best will continue to have the most success.

“Nobody knows if (a hire) is right or wrong until you look at it later,” Henderson said. “I do think as the league grows we all need to grow in the support staff. There is going to be a combination in every front office and it comes down to the individuals and their skillsets and where they can add value. It may be a former player, it may not. It may be someone who has (a) law background or was an agent. It comes down to relationships, being able to work with the coaching staff and different people in the club and being able to manage up. Some is specific to personalities and some is understanding MLS and the landscape of U.S. Soccer, and that can be learned. I don’t think there is one specific way.”

With regard to those with legal backgrounds, they have found places both within the league office and with its clubs. When asked about the changing roles of the legal department at Major League Soccer, for example, Dimitrios Efstathiou, Vice-President, Legal, said that the legal team today is being considered as more than just ‘scribes’ and ‘drafters.’ “We’re at the table, with our counterparts within the media department or the corporate partnerships department or the licensed products department. We are sitting down and helping drafting a strategy to approach a deal and issue spot early on so we’re viewed as, again, a business affairs member as opposed to the lawyer.”

Another example is Darren Eales, President of Atlanta United, who had played soccer while attending West Virginia University and Brown University, later returning to his native England and earning a law degree from Cambridge. After working as in-house counsel at West Bromwich Albion, he moved on to Tottenham in 2010, where his work touched on all major aspects of soccer operations. He helped to negotiate and execute player transfers, including playing a key role in the 2013 world record transfer fee sale of Gareth Bale to Real Madrid. Eales was the first person hired for the Atlanta team by owner Arthur Blank, co-founder of Home Depot and owner of the Atlanta Falcons.

Darren Eales and Atlanta United Owner Arthur Blank. Photo: Atlanta United FC

Lawyers are thus particularly good candidates for MLS front offices. Beyond the ‘obvious’ role of serving as an in-house counsel, someone with a legal background has a skill set that can be valuable in any business agenda. For example, most lawyers are very skilled at written and oral communications. Even with all the advances in technology, business is still won and lost based on personal relationships. People do business with whom they trust, with whom they find commonality and with whom they like. And these relationships are built on clear communication, exchanges of ideas and getting to know each other, skills that most lawyers have. Additionally, given the extensive use of contracts, from sponsorship agreements to media rights distribution to player contracts, having legal skills can assist with issue spotting and avoiding vagueness that often leads to disputes. Finally, despite the stories that make the news, most lawyers adhere to a high degree of ethical standards and can bring added professionalism to a business setting.

With new MLS teams beginning in Miami, Nashville, Austin, Saint Louis and at least one other city in the near future, there will be a need for many competent candidates to carry out the myriad of job functions in the front office. Some of these people may have a soccer background, while others may have other useful skills like foreign languages or an aptitude to work in an international environment. Whatever their skills and talent, they will also need passion and energy. Teams that have an open-minded approach to hiring and can assemble a front office with the right combination of talent, experience and dedication will be the winners.


Related:

MLS also has annual awards for front offices. Here’s a list of who and which teams won awards following the 2018 season:

2018 MLS Club and Executive Award Winners:

  • Doug Hamilton Executive of the Year – Darren Eales
  • Ticket Sales Team of the Year – Atlanta United
  • Public Relations Team of the Year – Atlanta United
  • Club Retailer of the Year – Atlanta United
  • Digital Team of the Year – Atlanta United
  • Operations Staff of the Year – Atlanta United
  • Supporter Management Team of the Year – Atlanta United

Additional award winners

  • Sporting Executive of the Year – Peter Vermes, Sporting Kansas City
  • Corporate Partnerships Team of the Year – Los Angeles Football Club
  • Corporate Partnerships Executive of the Year – Justin Compton (Sporting Kansas City)
  • Ticket Sales Executive of the Year – Sean Sittnick (Minnesota United FC)
  • Marketing Executive of the Year – Rich Orosco (Los Angeles Football Club)
  • Expansion Club Recognition Award – Los Angeles Football Club
  • Ticketing Sales Impact Award presented by the National Sales Center powered by SeatGeek – Colorado Rapids (Sales Combine)
  • Marketing Team of the Year – New York City FC (24-hour game)
  • Marisa Colaiano Community Relations Department of the Year presented by MLS WORKS – Chicago Fire
  • Business Analytics Team of the Year – Los Angeles Football Club
  • Social Media Activation of the Year – LA Galaxy (#Galaxy Social / Malea Emma)
  • Digital Content Experience of the Year – Portland Timbers (The Rivalry)
  • Equipment Manager of the Year – Chris Maxwell (Houston Dynamo)
  • Security Staff of the Year – Seattle Sounders FC
  • eMLS Team of the Year – Philadelphia Union
  • Team Administrator of the Year – Spencer Childs (Portland Timbers)
  • Athletic Training Staff of the Year – Sporting Kansas City
  • Academy of the Year – Sporting Kansas City
more