MLS Archive

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Free agency lite: A small step forward in new Major League Soccer CBA

mls-primary_colorThe players went into the Collective Bargaining Agreement process looking for some form of free agency. Major League Soccer and its owners said that free agency would never happen in their single entity system.

The compromise that was reached on Wednesday will ensure that no labour stoppage will delay the 2015 MLS season. But it’s hard to judge just what this new agreement in principle will do to the North American player market. According to reports, free agency will be granted to players who have eight years of service in the league, and are 28 years of age or older. But, the salary increases these “free agents” can earn for themselves will be capped.

So, in terms of owners opening the door on free agency, it’s barely open a crack. The lock is off, though — and it will be up to the players to kick it down when this CBA expires five years from now.

1) If you go into free agency, and the raise you can potentially earn for yourself is capped — well, that’s not really free agency, is it? It’s a reasonable facsimile of free agency. The league already has a salary cap — which would prevent GMs from overspending on the free agent market; capping the potential increases only adds another barrier for the player.
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3

Atlanta, Georgia, Canada: Porter joins the Silverbacks

Kyle Porter

Kyle Porter

Kyle Porter has returned to the NASL.

The Atlanta Silverbacks announced Wednesday that they have signed the Canadian international. Porter will be reunited with fellow Canadian former FC Edmonton teammate Dominic Oppong, who signed with the Silverbacks last month.

Porter spent the previous two seasons with the DC United organization, but spent much of 2014 with the MLS team’s USL affiliate in Richmond. He was released at the end of the season.

Before that, he spent two seasons with FC Edmonton, scoring a total of 12 goals; the Eddies offered him a new contract, but he chose to pursue a what turned into a successful trial with DC United and the Eddies pulled the offer off the table.
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3

On a big night for soccer, we should celebrate Sadiki’s goal more vociferously than Porter’s

Kosovar Sadiki

Kosovar Sadiki

So, on a Tuesday night packed with action for the Canadian soccer supporter — what was the most important moment?

Was it a last-gasp goal from Cameron Porter, or a second-half marker from Kosovar Sadiki?

Porter’s injury time equalizer was what the Montreal Impact needed to advance in the CONCACAF Champions League at the expense of Mexican side, Pachuca. When it looked like the Impact would once again be foiled by a Mexican side at the quarter-final stage, the rookie-turned-super-sub notched the marker that turned the Big O into a big party.

Meanwhile, in front of about 37,995 fewer spectators in the stands in Honduras, Sadiki scored the goal to give his Canadian U-17 side a precious 3-2 win over Costa Rica. The win moved Canada to two wins in two matches at the CONCACAF U-17 Championships; to have any shot at the qualifying for the U-17 World Cup, the Canadians have to finish in the top three in their group. And that means the Canadians will need to finish ahead of either Mexico, Panama or Costa Rica. If the Canadians finish atop their group, then they get a direct route to the World Cup, with no worry of a crossover playoff.

Let’s face it; after the U-20 team flamed out at their age group’s CONCACAF playdowns — and with the overall malaise that has gripped Canadian men’s soccer for, well, at least five World Cup qualifying cycles, we’ve grown accustomed to not expecting much from our national teams. Sadiki’s goal might end up being fool’s gold; but, for one hopeful night, it’s a light at the end of dark, dreary tunnel.

Now, let’s get back to Porter’s goal. A wonderful moment in Montreal sports, but definitely not a milestone in Canadian sports. In 2009, when more than 55,000 jammed into the Big O to watch the then-second-division Impact play Santos Laguna in the CCL quarterfinals, there was a lot to admire about that group. On that day, four Canadians started. Sure, there were Americans and other foreigners on the team, but with John Limniatis coaching, and local players on the pitch, there was no shaking the Canadian — no, the Quebecois — heart of this team. You might have loved that team, you might have hated that team, but with the passion of Canadian players like Sandro Grande and Nevio Pizzolitto, you had to admit that the team had a soul.
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2

Sanna’s advice helped steer Sainey Nyassi towards FC Edmonton

Sainey Nyassi

Sainey Nyassi

Last year, Sanna Nyassi was a member of the Montreal Impact, and started both legs of the Amway Canadian Championship semifinal against FC Edmonton. A last-gasp Patrice Bernier penalty kick allowed Montreal to snatch that series from the Eddies.

But the Eddies’ play over those 180 minutes made a lasting impression on the Gambian player, who has since moved on to the San Jose Earthquakes. So, when his twin brother, Sainey, was looking for a club, Sanna gave the Eddies a glowing review.

Sainey decided to take up the Eddies’ offer and joined the NASL side after spending the 2014 season with RoPS of the Finnish League. Before that, Sainey had played 118 MLS matches with New England and D.C. United.

“My brother played here in Edmonton with Montreal,” Sainey said after the Eddies’ training camp session on Wednesday. “He said he was impressed by their quality, that they were a good team. He said that they were very lucky to win the last time they played.”
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8

Midfielder Granitto had options in Serie A and MLS, but chose FC Edmonton

Tomas Granitto

Tomas Granitto

In the autumn of 2014, Tomas Granitto had options. He had a pre-contract offer from Palermo of Italy’s Serie A. He had just auditioned for FC Dallas of MLS, and had an offer to attend training camp with that team in 2015.

But he also had interest from FC Edmonton of NASL. And, he decided to go that route.

“I knew that this would be the best choice for me,” says the central midfielder after the Eddies wrap up their second-day of on-field training at the Commonwealth Recreation Centre. “I knew that I could come in here and help the team out right away, to be a great support for the team.”

In 2013, El Salvador beat Australia in the group stage of the U-20 World Cup. Granitto was named man of the match. And it was El Salvador’s first World Cup win at any age level — that game announced to the world that the young central midfielder had arrived.

“It was a great feeling to be part of that first win in an actual World Cup, and an honour to be the man of the match of that game,” he says.

So, how did FCE coach Colin Miller get in the offer that won Granitto over? The first thing he had to do was sift through the many audition videos he gets from player agents. Most of them get cursory looks. But he was struck when he saw Granitto in action.
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1

Ex-TFC and Bolton Wanderer Johann Smith begins trial with FC Edmonton

Johann Smith

Johann Smith

The New York Cosmos played friendlies in Hong Kong to help celebrate the Lunar New Year. The Jacksonville Armada played a much ballyhooed preseason friendly against Major League Soccer’s Philadelphia Union. Minnesota United is training. The Tampa Bay Rowdies are playing games.

It feels like every other team in NASL has been in camp for weeks, yet FC Edmonton just began its on-field sessions on Monday at Commonwealth Stadium.

So, are the Eddies behind the rest of the NASL when it comes to preparations for the 2015 season? Coach Colin Miller doesn’t think so. He says that his players came into camp in shape — and there’s a risk of starting camp too early and burning players out.

“In the past, we’ve had an eight-week preseason, and the players complained about it,” said Miller.

This year, the players and staff will have just over a month to get ready for the April 4 season opener at Jacksonville. The Eddies will travel to Florida in late March and play all three of that state’s NASL teams in a series of friendlies before the games begin for real.
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Why the MLS-USL affiliation makes the free-agency issue even more urgent

usl_logo_detailWhen the now-expired Collective Bargaining Agreement was signed between Major League Soccer and its Players’ Union in 2010, the league didn’t have an established farm- or minor- or developmental league system.

Sure, MLS teams could loan out players or sometimes make deals to have them spend time in NASL. But, in 2010, other than reserve-team games, there was no entrenched system that could see a team send an under-contract MLS player to an affiliated lower-league team.

But, in 2015, MLS has an agreement in place with USL; the final dominoes to fall were the Canadian teams, now that the Canadian Soccer Association has granted sanctions to USL franchises in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver — albeit with tough quotas on how many Canadians those teams must put on the field.

It really doesn’t matter if you call the USL a developmental league, a league that deserves to be recognized as second division across North America, a farm league or a minor league. The fact is, all MLS teams carry the power to assign at least some of their players to their USL affiliates, much like Canadian forward Kyle Porter spent most of the 2014 season in Richmond and after being sent there by D.C. United.

Down the road, it would be hard to imagine an MLS without two-way contracts, like we see in the National Hockey League. A two-way contract is a deal which calls for a player to make one salary figure if he plays at the major-league level, and another salary if he’s at the minor-league level.

And it’s at the USL level where the issue of free agency — the divide that separates the union and MLS brass — might be most important. If players can be “parked” in the lower division for the lives of their contracts, including team options, then it’s hard to call USL anything else but a farm system. But, if players who are with MLS teams but don’t get the chance at first-team MLS football are offered the chance to move on, then we can argue that truly, USL is a system that puts the development of the player, first.

How so?
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4

Before you tweet about a Canadian player, read this first

10349900_1008071179208840_1372189140274955851_nSome days, writing about Canadian soccer is depressing. Some days, I swear to myself “this is the last article about Canadian soccer I’ll ever write.”

Of course, that would make some of my harshest critics very happy indeed.

I’ve been very public about Issue 5 of Plastic Pitch. A group of great writers are working on stories about our relationship with the American soccer system. Is having Canadian pro teams mixed into the American system good for the our country’s development in the game? Has it actually hurt us?

Through the last few weeks, I’ve been working to get Canadian players to tell their stories. Many Canadian soccer writers hear the tales about aborted contracts, bizarre under-the-table deals, broken promises, fly-by-night agents and the like. But players, understandably, are worried about coming forward. They don’t want to be seen as bad eggs, dressing-room malcontents or selfish players.

But, finally, slowly, some players are coming forward. Until the stories have faces, the system won’t change. But in the process of putting stories to paper, you can’t help but get snowed under by it all. You wonder if supporting Canadian soccer is like plunging into an endless pit of hopelessness. You understand how the cards are stacked against our players. Those stories will be (at least partially) told in the next issue. It will be by far the most important thing we’ve done.

There is something I want to address, though. Something I’ve thought hard about in the process of doing these interviews. We’re in that part of the NASL and MLS silly season (and right near the closing of the transfer window). So, the message boards and Twitter are filled with jokes about the number of Canadian players on Unattached FC. Many fans wonder “why doesn’t player A try to join NASL Team X or MLS Team Y? Why doesn’t he take a chance to play halfway across the world?”
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6

Is Sunday the worst sports day of the week? A fascinating Edmonton study

FC Edmonton plays almost all of its home games on Sunday afternoons.

FC Edmonton plays almost all of its home games on Sunday afternoons.

Major League Soccer plays some of its games on Sunday afternoons and evenings. FC Edmonton of the NASL plays all of its home games on Sunday afternoons.

But is Sunday a day that we, as in Canadians, actually want to watch sports? Or is it a day that we’d like to get away from the sporting universe? Even the most ardent fan reaches a critical mass, where he or she says “enough” and needs to do something else than follow scores and trades and watch game after game. You need to spend time with the kids, go to the lake, just get outside, talk to real people.

In the course of my editing duties at Avenue Edmonton, members of the Edmonton Eskimos brass — our city’s Canadian Football League team — sat down with me to go over an intense survey that they and Banister Research Consulting Inc. conducted. One of the key questions was: On what day do you prefer to watch Eskimos games? (You can find that full article HERE, BTW). The results were fascinating.

43 per cent said their first choice was Friday nights.
41 per cent said their first choice was Saturdays.
And — get this — only seven per cent said they’d most prefer to watch football on Sundays.
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Weak Canadian dollar is bad news for Canadian soccer franchises

loonFor some businesses — a weak Canadian dollar is a good thing.

Professional sports is definitely not one of them. The Canadian dollar flirted with the US 80-cent mark on Thursday. And, the currency plunge will soon be hurting the bottom lines of Canadian MLS and NASL teams.

MLS and NASL teams aren’t forthcoming about the terms of their contracts. But the MLS Players Union sheds some light on how the salaries are paid out. According to MLSPU Executive Director Bob Foose: “All contracts are calculated in U.S. Dollars, players can then choose to have them paid in either, or a combination.”

So, according to the union, it’s the player’s (or agent’s) call when it comes to determining if the cheques are paid in American or Canadian dollars. And, it’s hard to imagine a player not choosing to get paid in the more stable currency — the Yankee dollar. In the NHL, where there are seven teams out of 30 are Canadian, contracts are paid out in U.S. figures — including Canadian players on Canadian teams.

Toronto FC has confirmed that all MLS salaries are in US dollars.

The salaries we see published by the MLS Players Union are all in American dollars. So, if Toronto FC has Designated Player Michael Bradley on for an MLSPU-reported salary of $6.5 million, that’s American dollars. So, as of Thursday’s exchange rate, Bradley’s salary is now at nearly CDN$8.05 million, and going up (in Canadian currency) as the loonie plummets.

Try this as a comparison: At the start of the 2014 MLS season, the Canadian dollar was at 90.2 cents US. So, a year ago, Bradley’s contract was worth about $7.2 million in Canadian bucks. This year, it’s over $8 million. And that’s all because of the plunging dollar.
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