ISAAC HEATH - Monday, November 23, 2009
Every player at some point in their career has to make a difficult decision. These decisions can often be the difference between playing for a national team or not, becoming a recognizable world star or just another player, and of course, can be the difference between a lofty or lowly salary.

In 1996 Eric Wynalda made a decision that altered his career forever when he had to choose whether he would stay and play in Germany, or return to the United States for the start of MLS.

"I remember sitting with my coach and him telling me 'You're crazy to leave,' Wynalda recalled."I told him, 'It's the United States! We have always wanted our own league and I have to be a part of this.'"

Today Wynalda would not only give anything to go back in time and listen to the advice of his coach, but he would also share the same advice to top American talent. The two main factors contributing to this sentiment are problems with the way MLS deals with its player contracts, and the obvious disparity of the level of play between Europe and MLS.

While he laments his personal experience in MLS as a player, the larger issue for Wynalda now is that MLS has not progressed enough in terms of how they deal with their players.

"Things really haven't changed in terms of taking advantage of people. Where the money went back then and where it goes now, it is certainly not going into American players' pockets."

One particular area that perturbs the former striker is how MLS deals with transfer fees with the league reluctant to complete transfers, unless the player waives his FIFA-mandated ten percent cut of the transfer fee.

In addition to the transfer fee, the issues with MLS contract structure and the fact that many American soccer players play for very little money are well documented and have existed since the start of the league. Despite the growth of the league, these are problems that many, including Wynalda, feel continue to hold the league back today.

"The one thing that American players don't have is a transfer fee," Wynalda explained. "If you aren't transferring anywhere you aren't making any money."

"Players should be at the place where they are playing the highest level of soccer and making the most money," says Wynalda. "If you look at the players having success for our country now, where are they playing? Europe."

While there are a few anomalies within the current US national team camp including Landon Donovan and Stuart Holden, it is clear that players such as Michael Bradley, Charlie Davies, Benny Feilhaber, and Clint Dempsey have developed more than their MLS counterparts.

It is indisputable soccer is still a growing sport in the United States and changes cost money, but Wynalda feels that MLS is often hurting its own player's development.

There have been a number of cases where top MLS talent has had an opportunity to play in Europe only to see MLS turn down the transfer opportunity, with one of the more recent cases being that of current MLS midfielder Sacha Kljestan who had an offer from Scottish giants Celtic at the beginning of this season,

The league decided to decline their offer for the youngster and since that time, Kljestan struggled, causing him to fall off Bob Bradley's radar for the remainder of qualifying - a fall off that Wynalda believes is no coincidence.

"I know I get a lot of heat about this from the commissioner and from people who think I am saying bad stuff about the league, but I am just defending the players. We have players in our league that need that next level."

"He could have been a millionaire, but now he is going to come home and play for one tenth of what he could have made! Then we expect him to be happy and do his job?"

"When he got denied that opportunity, I don't blame him at all for falling off the face of the earth, and I feel bad, because his game suffered and his psyche suffered a great deal, and I didn't think he deserved that."

No one, including Wynalda, denies the growth of the MLS as a league, and the overall improvement of the quality of talent in the league. Despite this growth, Wynalda contends that the league needs to realize and embrace its role as a developmental league, and focus on creating opportunities for its best players.

"Every manager in MLS needs to understand that his job is to make the environment the best that he can possibly make for a player to get better for his club now and for the future, understanding the entire time that each one of those players have aspirations to take it to the next level and it is his job to make that happen."

After retiring from professional soccer in 2002, Wynalda stayed relatively quiet for a few years before joining ESPN as a soccer analyst where he covered World Cup 2006 as well as MLS. Although around soccer, the native of California did not feel comfortable working as an analyst.

"I wanted to get out of television," the one-time San Diego Nomad admitted. "ESPN was not my dream job. I don't like sitting in a booth throwing rocks at my friends. I don't like being away from my family and kids."

After the brief stint as a soccer analyst, Wynalda joined Fox Soccer Channel to be the co-host of Fox Football Fone-In this past year. Thus far he feels the job is perfect for him because he gets paid to watch soccer and share his opinion, something he has always done anyway.

While he describes his current position as a dream job, he did hint at the possibility of eventually trying his luck at coaching. However, do not expect to see him on the sidelines of an MLS team anytime soon.

"I am not comfortable with the way it is in MLS right now," he allowed. "I can't ask a guy to work for me and to believe that he can accomplish something and pay him peanuts.

"Then I'm going to give it all to David Beckham? I'm going to ask kids making forty thousand dollars a year to take a five thousand dollar pay cut just so I can give a millionaire a couple hundred grand more, no way!"

While he will undoubtedly continue to play a relevant role in the soccer world in some shape or form in the future, Wynalda's impact on US soccer has already been huge - to say the least.
Wednesday November 25, 2009 2:32 pm
Keep in mind there are two things at play here: The development of young American players and the development of a professional sports league that is trying to compete with the NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL. Wynalda's idealistic approach to the league is great in terms of developing young players, but its not much of a business model.

If the MLS throws in the towel and says they are just a developmental league then the stands remain half empty for games. With easy cable and internet access to top leagues, Americans are not interested in shelling out money to watch soccer's equivalent of Arena Football. Look at attendances last summer when the big boys came to town and you see that the interest is there. As far as the notion that young players going abroaod is good long term for marketing the game to the average American sports fan, that's simply not turning out to be the case. Most casual sports fans have no idea who Jozy plays for and wouldn't recognize Dempsey or Howard if you showed them a picture, but they all know who Beckham and Blanco are.
Tuesday November 24, 2009 2:47 am
Finally someone tells the truth. Thank you Eric. The MLS need to pay there players. It is outrageous to pay DP a bunch of money while home grown players make a fraction. I hope Holden goes to the Rangers.
Monday November 23, 2009 7:19 pm
Eric, as he most always is, is spot on the mark. MLS must recognize the fact that it is a developmental league, and as such, it must facilitate in all possible ways, and not in any way obstruct, players transfer opportunities, wherever those may take any player.

The growth and development of US soccer as a whole, along with that of individual players such as Sacha, and many others, is being severely stunted in the immediate, as well as short, and long term future by MLS's myopic and unconscionable labor practices.

USA soccer, just like it is for other nation, is, and must be, essentially all about the players. Developing players abilities, talents, and skills to reach their highest possible levels, is the only way forward. That development can only reach its highest possible levels playing against the best possilblle competition day in, day out.

In terms of the overall best and number of most professional players in the world, Brazil far and away leads the world. Yet, the best, and majority of those players ply their trade in Europe, where the financial demand for their skills is greatest.

MLS gave Beckham an absolute gift of 250 million American dollars, which he has all too gladly taken with both hands. Given that MLS can access that kind of capital when they so choose, it would have been infinitely better and more wisely invested in the development of American talent.

Beckham is mainly a product of UK media hype. He never was anywhere near the level of a Zinedane or Edgar Davids, or any other true world class player. For an apt and truly accurate assessment of Beckham as a player, see George Best's appraisal.
Monday November 23, 2009 4:43 pm
Small minded and hubristic are adjectives I would use to describe the MLS. Sure, one or two famous players may sell tickets, but the game is an earthly game not a country game. Soccer and its growth in the United States is dependent on allowing players to make cash anywhere on earth, gain fame, and allow the media to bring that fame home for marketing.

Dempsey et al have grown so much overseas. The international game widens earth's belief that The U.S. has players approaching greatness. MLS actually improves as those players improve. Why don't they get that?

Wynalda bores me as a commentator, but this article makes sense.
jersey Mike
Monday November 23, 2009 2:47 pm
agree with above comment. Wynalda has guts, not only in his speech, but even back in the way he played. We need guys like that. Every great team needs guys like that. Come to think of it, Donovan is actually very similiar to wynalda in that respect. They dont really take crap from anyone. Looking forward to more interviews.. thanks
A. Pignataro
Monday November 23, 2009 1:28 pm
I could be mistaken, but I thought I read a comment from Donovan that seemed to indicate there is bad blood between the two. If so, what is the history on that?
Monday November 23, 2009 1:11 pm
Once again, Eric hits the nail on the head. The MLS should stand on its own and not in the player's way. So many young players are trying to go to Europe before they are ready because they don't want to get caught in transfer limbo in the MLS. IF the MLS let them go, more young players would go to the MLS before Europe. The Dutch League survives very well grooming its top players to move on.
Monday November 23, 2009 12:55 pm
Wynalda's comments on the money stuff seem a tad overcooked. Also, I'm not 100 percent buying that bit about him hating being an ESPN analyst but loving being a Fox analyst. What's the difference?

Here's to hoping that Wynalda gets over his compunctions about league structure, drinks the Kool Aid and emerges as the new head coach of DC United. That would be fantastic.
john iv
Monday November 23, 2009 12:28 pm
I TOTALLY disagree with the Sasha thing. If he "needs" Europe to be on the MNT then he doesn't deserve to be there. I'm sorry his feelings got hurt, but when his contract ends he can choose to play in Europe. Until then buck up and do your job!

As a counter-argument I'll point everyone to our beloved (or at least once once was) Freddy Adu. He was playing in MLS and was on the MNT. He transfered to Europe and now he doesn't play on the MNT. He was in very limited action during the summer "second team" months of this year. Which by the way were almost entirely MLS players.

I agree the pay structure needs to change some in MLS (15k min?!? Really?), but I think the league is getting better each year. And to tell players you can't play in MLS and be successful, that is so 1996.
Monday November 23, 2009 10:13 am
Thanks! Eric as always is not shy in discussing his thoughts on soccer in America. He speaks with a players perspective in mind and at some point the players salary structure does need to come to a head.

Sasha and Shalrie Joheph before him as well as Twellman to name a few are being denied the ability to earn a better living due to the negative cotract structure of the league. Twellman for example has suffered, as has MLS, due to his injury situation the past two seasons. If this happens while making excess of $1M, it allows a player to walk away from the game whole.

Now he gets denied a transfer to a better situation money wise, gets hurt and will be unlikely to get that chance again. MLS misses out on the fee that will never come again either. Greed kills it for all concerned.
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