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Is NASL a spot for MLS labour refugees?

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As that famous ball falls in New York’s Times Square on New Year’s Eve, there will only be a couple of weeks left in the collective bargaining agreement between Major League Soccer and its players’ union.

With two new member franchises kicking off in 2015 — New York City FC and Orlando City SC — it would take a massive cynic or maybe Donald Fehr to predict any sort of labour armageddon between the sides. But, in any year that a new labour deal has to be negotiated, there will always be some sort of uncertainty.

And, in 2010, the last time the parties were at an impasse, an arbitrator came in to save the season from being delayed.

For some of the players making less than $100,000 a season and who are currently out of contract, there’s the question: Do you wait out a negotiation process, or look for a sure thing — even a one-year contract — in another league? Could the North American Soccer League be a destination for players who might want contract certainty?

Yes and no.

FC Edmonton Coach Colin Miller, who signed a new three-year extension that begins in the 2015 season, thinks there is plenty of room in NASL for MLS expats. After all, players like keeper Matt Pickens, forward Pablo Campos, keeper Lance Parker, midfielder Darel Russell and defender Hunter Freeman are just a few examples of former MLS players who have made contributions to various NASL clubs.

But Miller says that he would only look at players who were committed to the NASL, not a player who saw it as a stop-gap solution or a step down from MLS.

“Some of the clubs in the NASL, from the middle level of salary or lower third, can compete with an MLS salary,” he says. “For sure, there will be one or two players who will interest every club in NASL. But, does a player from MLS see it as a major step down, coming to the NASL? And, secondly, does that MLS player want to play? Some guys want the track suit, they want all that stuff, but they’re not prepared to work at it in this game.”


And, the longer a player holds out and waits, the less likely he is to get a shot in the NASL. The NASL clubs have roster restrictions and their own budgets to meet — even though there is no salary cap. Many decisions for the season are made at training camps in February. Going into the season, FCE has already filled six of its seven international roster spots. So, if a player waits till March, he might find that many of the NASL teams have already made their roster decisions, and there is no room at the inn.

Says Miller: “It’s fact of the modern game that the loyalty that I grew up with in the game, where you were loyal to a club and a player would get a testimonial, those days are long gone. It’s where’s my next club. where’s my next job, where can I make more money? And I get it from the player’s point of view; he wants to make as much as he can or at least make a livelihood. I would say the longer a player waits, whether it’s an NASL player being released or an MLS player, the bigger risk they don’t get a club.”

Some teams will have more roster spots available than FCE would. The expansion Jacksonville Armada will kick off in the NASL’s spring season. An expansion team in Los Angeles will play in the fall season. And the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, under new Brazilian ownership that includes Ronaldo, have cleaned house despite getting to the NASL championship game in 2014; in November, pretty well the entire Strikers’ roster was released.

But, by the end of October, Miller and assistant coach Jeff Paulus had already received 110 e-mails from players and agents; these were inquiries about trials for the 2015 season. So, if an MLS player wants to give NASL a shot, he needs to know it’s an awfully crowded labour space.

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