CBA Talks Between MLS and MLSPA: What Is At Stake?

MIAMI, Fla. (January 4, 2020) —

Part I: The biggest thing that will happen this off-season

Right now, fans of MLS clubs are getting ready for the coming season, the league’s 25th anniversary year. New teams like Inter Miami CF and Nashville SC are now less than 60 days away from their first real matches. The primary MLS transfer window opens on February 12th, and the European winter transfer window is now open and runs until January 31st in the UK, Spain, France, Italy and Germany, among other countries. There will be countless discussions about player signings and trades, and MLS will have its Superdraft along with other roster management as teams try to gear up for next season.

That said, the biggest story of this MLS off-season is one that soccer fans in the US and Canada are probably not paying attention to: the collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) between the MLSPA (the players union) and the league.

The CBA affects every player from every team in MLS. On January 31, the league’s existing collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) between MLS and the MLS Players Association will expire. The goal of course is to come to agreement on a new deal. In fact, both sides have been engaged in negotiations for months already. As with any negotiations between a union and management, if an agreement can’t be struck before the start of the season, the league faces the prospect of a work stoppage.

The fallout from whatever the new CBA looks like will have lasting implications for the league.

Back on December 5th, MLS commissioner Don Garber spoke to reporters following the third and final MLS Board of Governors meeting. As was the case at the SoccerEx USA 2019 Conference I attended in late November, the commissioner was questioned about the status of the negotiations.

Garber has declined to get into any specifics regarding CBA negotiations between the league and the MLS Players Association. He did, however, confirm on both occasions that the sides are currently engaged in talks and were meeting. Regarding the nature of those discussions, here’s what he had to say: 

“You know, I think there’s a desire from both parties to reach an agreement. I don’t think any league or players’ union goes into a negotiation without the hope and the expectation that you’re going to reach a deal and then start the season on time. All CBA negotiations are difficult, but with us, it’s not about taking things away, it’s how do we manage collectively as a league and as a player group to be able to provide more resources in a wide variety of areas that are manageable for ownership and acceptable to the players. I’ve been through it many times before. … It’s not the most fun part of the job, but I’ve got hope and confidence that we’ll be able to reach a new deal.”

What’s The Backdrop To The Discussions?

The negotiations for a new CBA are also set against the backdrop of the exponential growth MLS has experienced since the the last CBA was executed in 2015. At that time, the league had 20 teams. MLS will begin next season with 26, with another four (Austin, Charlotte, Sacramento and Saint Louis) set to join in the following two years. MLS expansion fees are now at least $200 million. Investor/Owners are making sizable commitments to build new soccer-specific stadiums. Off the field, they are also spending large sums to build state-of-the-art training facilities. Player salaries have also risen, in part due to the implementation of targeted allocation money (“TAM”) having the effect of increasing the salary budget for each team by $4 million a year. These factors have led to the average MLS team being worth around $313 million according to Forbes, an increase of 30 % since 2017 alone.

The league now has 24 partners, and signed new deals in 2019 with Captain Morgan, Headspace and MGM Resorts International. In addition, while the next CBA is in effect, MLS will be approving a new media rights deal that is expected to be worth substantially more than what the league recrives from its existing media rights partners. This commercial growth is a factor in the CBA negotiations – the MLSPA is given full transparency into the league’s business deals. “We have made detailed proposals to the league on how to deal with that [media rights] issue,” said MLSPA executive director Bob Foose.

With the league in growth mode, a failure to agree to a new CBA could result in a work stoppage. This scenario is one which both sides wish to avoid.

Here are the main issues for the league and its players to decide.

Issues For MLSPA

The core issues for the players association heading into the 2020 season include higher wages for players, a reworking of the current free agency system that creates a more open market free agency system consistent with other North American professional sports leagues, and more charter flights for teams. The MLSPA believes that the benefits of the league’s growth and the increased investment should naturally flow in part to the players.

Take the aforementioned media rights deal for example. The existing contracts that MLS has with its national broadcast partners ESPN, Fox Sports and Univision bring MLS $90 million a year. The current deal will expire at the end of 2022, meaning a new media rights deal will be approved in the middle of any new CBA. It is expected that the next media rights deal for the 2023 season will be worth significantly more. This is a complicated topic to factor into a new CBA, but something the union is eager to do.

Free Agency

The issue also came up at the last negotions prior to the current CBA. Simply stated, the union seeks more free agency. In the 2015 negotiations, the players won a small amount of free agency, and as a result, under the current CBA, players who are at least 28 years old and who have played in the league at least eight years can be free agents when their contracts expire. They can also receive raises of only between 15% and 25%, depending on their salary level.

Under the current free agency rules, many players in MLS never qualify for free agency. The union wants both the age and time of service requirements to be lowered and wants the cap on salary increases removed or at least raised considerably.

Salary Budget Rules

Anyone who has studied the salary budget rules would likely agree that they are complex; one practically needs a law degree to decipher them. The MLSPA aims to have MLS’ salary budget rules simplified.

While the owners have increased player salaries during the existing CBA, which is viewed by the union as a positive, the MLSPA has always been troubled by the introduction of targeted allocation money (“TAM”) in 2015.

Indeed, it seems that TAM may be the biggest issue, and perhaps the hardest one to agree on, in the current contract negotiations. This type of allocation money is given by the league to clubs and can only be used to help cover salaries for players making between $530,000 and $1.5 million. As a result, using TAM cannot be used for the majority of MLS players, who are categorised by MLS’ salary budget rules into senior, supplemental and reserve roster ‘slots’ that have specific limits on what those players can make. According to salary data made available by the MLSPA, 37.4% of the players make annual salaries under $100,000.

The union has a completely negative view of TAM and wants the league to allow its teams greater autonomy in terms of how they build their rosters, rather than have rules dictated by league headquarters. “We should stop being a league where you design a competitive football league in a boardroom. It should be done by the people who know the game,” said Foose.

”The impact of TAM, a made-up set of restrictions done from a central office to try and dictate to all of our franchises how they build their rosters, in my estimation didn’t really add anything to this league,” Foose said. ”And it’s certainly frustrated and angered both the players association and our players.”

“In the simplest terms, TAM is silly. It’s not necessary to try and tell our front offices how to sign players; they’re perfectly capable of doing that themselves. And frankly, if they’re not, then they should suffer the consequences, and that’s the kind of accountability that we want to see happen.”

Bob Foose, Executive Director, MLSPA

The union’s argument is that simplifying the rules would lead to more of a meritocracy: players’ earnings would be a reflection of how they have performed on the pitch.

Charter Flights

The union seeks increased spending on charter flights. At present, the vast majority of teams fly commercially, which can lead to long travel days, especially when teams are flying through multiple time zones. Teams are allowed only four discretionary charter flights a year, but there is no mandate that they have to use them. Take one case as an example:

The Philadelphia Union’s journey back and forth from Vancouver was an odyssey that lasted all day Thursday and Sunday. The Union took 10 hours to get out to Vancouver through commercial flights, while they woke up at 4:45 a.m. Pacific Time on Sunday to start a journey back to Philadelphia, via Toronto, that didn’t bring the team back home until 8 p.m. Eastern Time.

Alejandro Bedoya, who is captain and a winger on the Philadelphia Union, has been one of the players who has spoken out about the lack of charter flights in the league. Bedoya recalled how his team didn’t use a single charter flight during the regular season. According to the players association, at the end of 2018, only about half of the available charter flights were used.

Professional athletes place rigorous demands on their bodies. Being stuffed into an economy seat on a long flight can hamper a player’s physical recovery. With MLS spanning the continent across two countries, travel conditions can also increase the risk of a player being more susceptible to injury. Moreover, frequent flight delays and cancellations disrupt both training and post-game recovery.

“We’re at a time where I think we need to take the training wheels off,” Bedoya said. “The league has moved on so far.”

Bedoya said the charter flight issue is one he’s going to voice his opinion on. “I’m going to be a part of it,” Bedoya said. “I’m going to voice my opinions and what I think. We’re united. We’re having meetings here and there so that’s good. For me, this is one of the crucial things we need to get to the next level.” 

The players feel very strongly about this issue. It’s difficult to imagine this being a “hill to die on” issue for the MLSPA, but Atlanta United midfielder Jeff Larentowicz said, “This is one piece of the pie for us, a very important piece, a commonsense piece, but one that we’re taking very seriously.”

Portland Timbers charter home from 2015 MLS Cup. | Photo: Craig Mitchelldyer/Portland Timbers

“It’s unfortunate that this is discussed in a CBA context, because this isn’t a CBA issue,” Bob Foose said. “It isn’t in other sports and shouldn’t be in ours. It is an infrastructure issue and is tied to player performance.”

MLSPA Executive Director Bob Foose delivered an end-of-the-season video message on November 9, 2019. He thanked fans for their support and talked about the coming off-season, highlighting the importance of the collective bargaining agreement negotiations with MLS and explaining players’ priorities. He said he hoped that a work stoppage would not happen, but left that as a possibility.

Issues For MLS

From the league’s perspective, their primary objective is a familiar one: a level of cost certainty as it pertains to player expenses. This is something the league has effectively managed through it single-entity limited liability company structure, whereby player contracts are actually entered into between the player and the league rather than with an individual club. Furthermore, in most instances teams retain the MLS rights of players even after that player has been transferred or his contract has expired.

In addition to maintaining cost certainty with respect to player expenses, MLS also wants control over where that money goes. The introduction of TAM is evidence of this, whereby teams may spend more on players only within a specific salary range. The league maintains TAM allows teams to attract new and retain current players. They feel that TAM has been successful, and MLS wants to retain that discretionary control as to where investments are made. Whether the league could have gotten to where it is without TAM is unknown, and the league doesn’t sound as if it is ready to find out.

In December 2017, Major League Soccer announced a substantial increase in TAM, touting the influx of millions of dollars into the league’s roster spending. What’s noteworthy is that the increase was unanimously approved by the MLS Board of Governors. There is genuine debate about whether a divide is growing between owners who want to increase spending and those who want to slow down. Owners now entering the league are doing so by undertaking a considerable investment – the Charlotte bid, headed by Carolina Panthers owner and billionaire David Tepper, paid a reported $325 million entry fee, by far the most of any team in league history. Sacramento paid $200 million. This is a considerable risk and in addition to the expansion fee itself come salaries and hundreds of millions to build a training facility and stadium. Miami’s planned Freedom Park and Soccer Village will be a billion dollar investment, on top of the millions being spent on its training facility and temporary stadium thirty-five miles to the north in Fort Lauderdale.

With owners committing what can be a half a billion dollars or more before their team so much as kicks a ball, there is the expectation of seeing a return on that investment, and some believe the league must increase expenditures in its on-field product in order to drive higher revenues. But other owners are more cautious – they believe there is no proof higher spending will lead to those higher revenues. Instead, these owners would prefer to pursue “strategic growth.” What the eventual CBA looks like will tell us something about which group of owners has more influence. 

“There are a variety of different areas that will be the subject of discussion as to where we should be making investments, whether it’s the senior team, whether it’s player development, whether it’s on other benefits,” MLS president and deputy commissioner Marc Abbott told ESPN. “And in the CBA what we’re seeking to do is within the limits of what we’re able to spend that we ensure that we’re allocating those expenditures in the areas that are most likely to have the most impact.”

The charter flight issue comes down to money. Don Garber has previously indicated there is room for negotiation in this area. It won’t come cheap. The biggest reason why MLS doesn’t use more charter flights comes down to cost. It has been estimated that it would cost $20 million per year for the league, and roughly $1 million per team. The cost of flying an entire team on a charter flight, plus the price of fuel, can quickly add up. Each flight could cost a team upwards of $150,000 per charter.

Will an agreement be reached or will there be a work stoppage?

Historically, the union and the league have been able to avoid a work stoppage, although the last time Major League Soccer negotiated a collective bargaining agreement with its union, both sides braced for a work stoppage just 72 hours before the 2015 season was scheduled to begin. Professional mediators were also needed to help the two sides hash out an agreement. The league wouldn’t budge from its final offer, one the union insisted it would not accept. The players voted against the offer and a strike appeared imminent. It was averted only because the union surrendered.

“The league isn’t seeking to have a work stoppage, and based on the discussions we’ve been having with the union, we don’t think they are either,” said Mark Abbott. “I think both we and the union are working in good faith to reach an agreement to extend the CBA. That being said, we certainly recognize that you can’t eliminate entirely the possibility of work stoppage and we’ve been working with our teams over the course of the last year to ensure that they’re prepared and that we’re prepared in case that happened. Again, it’s not something that we’re seeking.”

”We and our players are focused on doing everything possible to reach an agreement that’ll make sense for ownership and makes sense for the players,” Garber told The Associated Press in November.

Despite the difficult CBA negotiations, the MLSPA is confident an agreement will be reached. There are 130 players now a part of the MLSPA, representing about 20% of the league.

The MLS Players Association leadership insists players are serious and ready to strike if demands aren’t met.

“We’ve been talking about and preparing for work stoppage for two and a half years now,” Foose said. “At this point, talking about the details of what that would look like and how we would proceed, and how we would all work together, the players are very serious when they say they’re ready to do what’s best for the full player pool and the future of the [players’ association] and the league.”

Resolving or at least improving the charter flights situation for players is but one piece of a larger equation, according to the MLSPA, and there will not be an agreement if other requests by the union are shoved aside.

A strike however obviously would harm the players more than owners. After all, MLS’ billionaire owners can withstand losing revenue to a much greater degree than players can cope with missing paychecks. According to the latest data available (2018) the MLSPA has total assets of $10.5 million, a figure considered low in comparison to the other major North American sports reflection of not only how relatively young the union is. Compared that figure to the National Basketball Players Association, which has total assets of more than $200 million.

If there was a work stoppage, that $10.5 million would disappear pretty quickly. Foose pointed out that union funds are not the only resource players can tap into should there be a work stoppage. He says the players have been preparing on their own as well. “We obviously don’t have the luxury that some of the other [players’ associations] have with an extra zero in [their] resources,” Foose told ESPN. “But we certainly have plenty of money to do what needs to be done on the [players’ association] side of things.”

The union has also had multiple conversations with other major sports leagues on a variety of topics to help prepare for this round of negotiations.

Foose had stated previously that the league has been fully transparent in terms of its financials at the league, team and SUM [Soccer United Marketing] level. He has no doubt that MLS is leveling with the union on this topic. He added, “We also have a common understanding with them on the cost of various proposals, so we’re clear on what the changes that we’re seeking are going to cost.”

Despite the very clear issues and differences, it is in both sides’ best interest to find workable solutions and a new CBA each side can live with. “We understand exactly where the business is, and I think we have a very good feel for where it’s going,” Foose said. “And we have no incentive to damage that.” With a 25th anniversary season approaching, there’s a lot at stake.

What’s the timeline?

The ideal time to reach agreement on a new CBA is this month.

Teams are putting their rosters together and training camps are opening soon. Sporting Directors and GMs need to know if there will be roster rules changes that will affect how they assemble their teams.

The Concacaf Champions League round of 16 begins on February 18-19, and the MLS teams competing in that tournament (Atlanta United, Los Angeles Football Club, New York City FC, Seattle Sounders, and the Montréal Impact) could potentially have their games affected.

The hard deadline for a new CBA is the start of the MLS season, which will take place on the weekend of February 29-March 1st.

“If things don’t move more quickly and [the league] takes the same approach that was taken the last time through, the odds of a stoppage skyrocket, so hopefully that won’t be the case,” says Foose. “A strategy to run out the clock is not going to be looked upon favourably by the player pool or the [players’ association].”

What happens now?

Both sides are certainly being very hush about progress. The issues and the parties’ respective positions on them have been laid out. According to reports there have been proposals exchanged.

With January here, it’s time to get serious. Before a ball is even kicked, the next few weeks could be the most important ones of 2020.

The Miami FC To Join USL Championship For 2020 Season. How It Happened & Why It's A Positive Move

Club will begin season in March 2020

Home games will be at Riccardo Silva Stadium On The FIU Campus

MIAMI, Fla. (December 12, 2019) —

The Miami Football Club will once again be in the second division of U.S. Soccer. The fifth-year club, which began life in and became one of the flagship teams in the now-defunct NASL, has played the last two seasons in the NPSL and NISA, lower level leagues outside of the official division sanctioning of U.S. Soccer.

Statement Released by the Miami FC on December 11, 2019

The team will join the United Soccer Leagues and begin play in the USL Championship in March, 2020 with its home games to be played at Riccardo Silva Stadium on the campus of Florida International University (“FIU”) in the western part of Miami-Dade County. That venue was renamed in 2017 by FIU in recognition of Silva’s financial contributions to the college’s athletic programs. It marks a full time return to that venue for the first time since 2017.

The news was announced at last week’s USL 2019 Annual Winter Summit, held in Orlando. Miami FC sporting personnel and club employees were present, holding meetings and attending sessions.

The Mechanics

The pathway to the USL Championship bears the label “Made in Canada / Fait au Canada.” Here is the background: The Ottawa Fury was owned by Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (“OSEG”). The club joined the NASL in 2014, later moving from the NASL to the USL in 2017. The club has averaged nearly 5,000 fans over the past three seasons, and reached the USL Championship Playoffs in 2019. On November 8, 2019, The Fury announced a suspension of their operations. after receiving news that their sanctioning to play in USL would not be renewed. This was not entirely unexpected, as Ottawa had to fight to receive sanctioning from Concacaf prior to the 2019 season, and Concacaf had been clear that the licensing would be for 2019 only. The confederation has been accused of trying to force Fury FC into the Canadian Premier League, something the club’s owners did not wish to do.

Relocation of the franchise to the United States was one of the ways the franchise could continue in the USL Championship, since it eliminated the need for approval from Canada Soccer, U.S. Soccer and Concacaf. Moreover, a relocation clause was contained in the club’s franchise agreement with the USL.

Last Wednesday, OSEG announced that they had exercised those contractual rights to relocate. Under the arrangement, Ottawa Fury are officially relocating to Miami pursuant to their USL franchise agreement. They then will enter into a contract to sell the club to Riccardo Silva. Under the terms of the sale, the club will operate under the existing the Miami FC name, with Miami FC’s logo and iconic aqua, orange and blue colour scheme. The purchase by the Miami FC involves its same club and staff, which means the Miami FC will not field a team in either the NPSL or the NISA moving forward. The club will also maintain the same ownership and technical staff.

The amount the Miami FC are paying to purchase OSEG’s franchise was not disclosed. For context, the initial expansion fee for USL Championship was estimated to be $7 million in 2018. The likelihood is that the purchase price was less than that, given the desire/need of OSEG to sell its franchise, but probably still a significant amount given the level of interest around the country in obtaining a USL franchise.

“We are extremely grateful to USL CEO Alec Papadakis and President Jake Edwards for their leadership and whole-hearted support during this difficult process,” said Ottawa Fury FC President John Pugh. “We’re also thankful to Paul Dalglish and his team for helping to facilitate this transaction and wish The Miami FC well.”

A Win For The Miami FC

The Miami FC have been highly successful from the start, winning nine trophies and becoming an established presence in the heart of the Miami soccer community. The club recently launched The Miami FC Youth Academy Program with the past year, as part of its commitment to growing the game not only at the professional level, but also at the youth level in Miami.

Miami FC in a Miami derby versus Miami United FC at Barry University on April 20, 2019. |

“We could not be more excited to bring The Miami FC to the USL Championship in 2020,” said The Miami FC General Manager Paul Dalglish. “We will build on the Fury’s success and honour their history, while also elevating our club and our community as part of the fastest growing professional soccer league in the United States. I want to thank Ottawa Sports Entertainment Group for putting this deal together, and to USL CEO Alec Papadakis for welcoming us to the league.”

Dalglish recently moved into the general manager role, after being the head coach. Replacing him on the touchline is Nelson Vargas, a former forward who played for the Miami Fusion. Vargas also was on the 1996 U.S. Olympic team. He has served as an assistant coach for Dalglish since 2018. Miami is expected to maintain most of the same roster, as many of the players on the current roster are signed for 2020. The squad was both NPSL and NISA champions this season.

Miami FC versus Stumptown Athletic in NISA. | Photo: Miami FC

Dalglish says the move to the USL Championship will help Miami FC further their ties in the community. “The decision to join USL … gives us a stable platform to further expand our academy program and community work, meaning accessible, inclusive and fun family events that bring all of Miami’s soccer community together,” he said.

What makes this turn of events particularly interesting is that it is set against the backdrop of how Miami FC owner Riccardo Silva has positioned the Miami FC since the club’s inception.

Silva has been a leading advocate of opening the system of US Soccer. He founded the club in 2015, along with former AC Milan defender and fellow Italian Paolo Maldini. This came after David Beckham’s initial announcement in February 2014 of his intent to exercise his option to bring an MLS expansion franchise to Miami. At that time, Beckham’s MLS club was only provisional, and initially it was thought the team could begin play in 2016 or maybe 2017 at the latest. However, it would take until January 29, 2018 for Miami Beckham United to even become a confirmed expansion club in MLS. During that interim Silva was able to insert the Miami FC into the market and get them launched for the 2016 NASL season.

Riccardo Silva, right, with Miami FC part owner Paulo Maldini, left, in 2015.

In 2017, Silva made a $4 billion media rights offer to Major League Soccer. That offer was summarily rejected by MLS, though in defence of that position it came at a time that MLS was contractually bound to its existing broadcast rights holders, which made any negotiations impossible without breaching the contracts it had in place. The offer was also conditioned upon MLS agreeing to implement promotion and relegation, something that has been a non-starter for MLS.

Returning to the present, it might seem surprising to some that a club whose owner has been such an advocate of change in the system would join USL, a league that cooperates with MLS, and in fact has clubs that are owned by MLS clubs operating within its very ranks. But USL continues its upward trajectory, gaining new markets and seeing more of its clubs moving to better facilities. The league has established itself as a solid second division league and fertile ground for investors interested in soccer. It has also been exploring a more open system. USL president Jake Edwards has been very open about his aim to add promotion and relegation in the USL between its second-division Championship and third-division League One. While that falls short of the completely open system Silva has been advocating, it would still be a significant step in that direction.

“We are evaluating what the landscape looks like in all of those divisions over the course of the next few seasons,” Edwards said when interviewed this summer. “But that work is happening now… I’m also well aware of the excitement and the drama, the reward for ambition, and the punishment for apathy.”

Analysing the move to the USL Championship, by all accounts it is a smart business decision for Silva and the Miami FC. While they were advocating for change in the system, the collapse of the NASL left them without a viable second-tier league to play in. The NASL, now defunct, is still the subject of an existing lawsuit in Federal Court, one that it is likely to lose. The Miami FC, along with minor league side Kingston Stockade, also filed a case with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (“CAS”) in Switzerland, requesting that judicial body to rule that the United States Soccer Federation is in violation of Article 9 of FIFA, which requires promotion-relegation to be the method of determining what teams compete at what level within a country’s domestic league stricture. The CAS has yet to make a ruling, but it would be a real shock to see it intervene in the way the petitioners would like, one that would likely lead to more litigation. Finally, without any disrespect to leagues such as the NISA, the road to having the strength to be a real force for chance is a long and difficult one absent forces beyond them also wanting change.

There is also the benefit of national exposure through the USL’s broadcast agreement with ESPN. Last August, the USL announced a new three-year rights agreement with ESPN that features the USL Championship and League One matches through the 2022 season. Under that new agreement, 18 regular-season games from the Championship will air on ESPN2, ESPNEWS, ESPNU or ESPN Deportes annually in addition to the USL Championship Final. All other matches will be streamed live on ESPN+ subscription platform.

In conclusion, joining an ambitious league growing in quality and reputation each year, with a vision of where it wants to go can only be a benefit to the Miami FC. Being in a stable league that has a national television contract is something the club needs, given that MLS’ Inter Miami CF also begins its inaugural season in March, has an ownership group worth billions and will certainly be the primary focus of the soccer media’s attention. Competition though, even if indirect and on different levels at different budgets, is always good. Smart scheduling, a well-thought marketing plan, outstanding communications team, proper price points for tickets and merchandise and giving fans a reason to feel invested in the club will all be keys to success. Outsiders may call Miami a bad sports town, but history has proven that a winning sports team here will get attention. Miami and South Florida have enjoyed an explosion of fútbol at all levels in recent years. New clubs have sprung up everywhere from West Palm Beach and Boca Raton, south across Broward and Miami-Dade Counties. Some are even bringing the concept of having fans own a stake in the club to the region. The demographics are arguably the best in the nation for soccer. The game resonates with the population, and the city and region surrounding Miami are easily big enough for more than one club to not only survive, but thrive.

To sum up Miami FC’s decision, it’s a positive move by a club that is committed to change and has likely reached a conclusion that the best avenue to continue to push for that change is as a part of the established system instead of as an outsider.

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.

Ottawa Fury FC Suspend Operations

Club has been in dispute with Concacaf over sanctioning

Not Interested in Canadian Premier League at present time

Ottawa, Ont. (November 9, 2019) —

Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (“OSEG”) announced at a morning press conference on Friday, November 8, 2019 that the Ottawa Fury FC will suspend operations, effective immediately.

Ottawa Fury general manager Julian De Guzman (left) becomes emotional as the team announces they are suspending operations for the 2020 season. Team owners John Pugh (centre) and Mark Goudie (right) blamed politics for the decision. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

The Fury are one of three sports teams owned by OSEG, along with the CFL’s Ottawa Redblacks and the OHL’s Ottawa 67’s. Fury FC began as a North American Soccer League expansion franchise in 2014, then joined the United Soccer League in 2017. The NASL subsequently was denied sanctioning as a second division league by US Soccer and ceased operations.

A statement in English and French by club president John Pugh was released on the club’s website:

In a statement, Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG) Mark Goudie said he believes the U.S. Soccer Federation and Concacaf intentionally ran them out of time. “I think it’s apparent that soccer’s hierarchy is trying to force Fury FC out of the USL,” the statement said.

As a Canadian club playing in a non-domestic league, they are required to get permission from each of the following governing bodies: The Canadian Soccer Association (CSA), the United States Soccer Federation (USSF), CONCACAF and ultimately FIFA. The Fury obtained the approval in 2014 when they joined the NASL and it rolled over each year. When they joined the USL they had to reapply. This was in accordance with FIFA Statute 73, which offers only limited guidance:

“Associations, leagues or clubs that are affiliated to a member association may only join another member association or take part in competitions on that member association’s territory under exceptional circumstances. In each case, authorisation must be given by both member associations, the respective confederation(s) and by FIFA.”  – FIFA Statute 73

The term ‘exceptional circumstances’ has not been defined, rendering the statute vague and open to interpretation. In the absence of defined terms, one is left with legal arguments as to what are exceptional circumstances. Some example might include: (1) clubs that are in close proximity to another member’s territory and have been long-standing members of the other league, (2) clubs that have moved because of political conflict or wars affecting their homes countries, (3) clubs located in member associations where there isn’t currently a professional league (ex. Monaco, Liechtenstein, Andorra, San Marino, etc.), and (4) clubs in disputed territories. The arrival of the Canadian Premier League (“CanPL”) for the 2019 season changed the landscape and possibly what would be viewed as ‘exceptional circumstances.’

Prior to the 2019 USL season, governing body Concacaf, the governing body of North American and Caribbean soccer, refused to sanction Fury FC, a Canadian team, to play in the US-based USL, instead trying to pressure them into joining the newly launched Canadian Premier League. The team from Canada’s capital filed a petition with the Court of Arbitration for Sport in a bid to fight that ruling from Concacaf.

On December 21st, 2018, the Fury announced that Concacaf had reversed its decision and would sanction Ottawa for the USL Championship. Concacaf later confirmed this in a letter critical of the action the Fury had taken.

Thus, Fury FC finally got the sanctioning it sought, but the bad blood with Concacaf lingered.

The USL was very cooperative with the Fury. At the time they joined USL, the possibility of them leaving for the CanPL was considered. USL consenting as part of the franchise agreement with the Fury to let the team leave with no exit fee if they decided joining the CPL would be in their best interests. Initially that agreement required twelve months’ notice, which was later shortened to six months.

OSEG decided not to apply for membership in the CanPL. This decision was likely based upon the uncertain viability of the new league. The club had paid a fee to join USL, after having already paid in the first instance to join the NASL. Reports suggest that the CanPL was at one point willing to waive its expansion fee to entice the Ottawa Fury to join.

Beyond the legal interpretations of FIFA statute 73, there does seem to be politics involved. Concacaf president Victor Montagliani, who is from Canada, was an advocate for the founding of Canada’s new first division. The CanPL viewed Ottawa as a critical market needed for the success of the league (Canada’s fourth largest with a metropolitan population of around 1.3 million) and approached the Fury about joining.

What happens to the franchise going forward is not decided at this point. The club apparently is not interested in joining the CanPL, and it is less than six months until next season begins. One possible scenario is that the club returns in one to two seasons after the CanPL shows some potential. Relocation to the U.S. is certainly an option and would end the need for sanctioning via the above mechanisms. The current ownership however is rooted in Ottawa and may not want to place the club elsewhere in a market they are not familiar with. A sale of the franchise is more likely, and there would likely be a number of cities and owners interested. USL is in a stage of rapid growth and there are at least a dozen or more markets in the U.S. that could obtain franchisees.

In the end, none of this makes much sense, which is a further reason to implicate politics. Ottawa has had a good track record in the USL and plays in a good facility in a sizeable market. It should not matter to Concacaf what league they choose to play in, especially given the fact that there are three very successful Canadian clubs already playing in MLS, and those clubs are not going to leave MLS anytime soon, if ever. Further, it is customary in other North American sports for there to be teams in both countries. While it may have the authority to deny sanctioning, it is a situation where exercising the discretion not to act should have been the order of the day.

Image result for lansdowne park ottawa
The Fury played home games at TD Place stadium at Ottawa’s Lansdowne Park. | Photo: Lansdowne Park

Ottawa finished in eighth place in the USL’s Eastern Conference in 2019 with a 14-10-10 record.


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.