Bob Foose, executive director of the MLS Players Union, called a class action lawsuit that was filed in a federal court on Friday in Texas by three youth soccer clubs against the union and three prominent players, Clint Dempsey, DeAndre Yedlin and Michael Bradley, "frivolous" and "baseless". The three teams—the Dallas Texans; Crossfire Premiere of Redmond, Washington; and Sockers FC of Chicago—are seeking to recoup solidarity and training fees from the three players and the union as part of FIFA mandated development fees that could amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
"This is simply a shakedown for money," Foose said in an interview on Saturday.
"What this amounts to, regardless of how it's being couched by the clubs, is the clubs are just seeking a piece of pay from former players," Foose said. "For high profile players who are lucky enough to get abroad it just means they are going to make less. And for most of our players in the U.S. this is going to mean they are not going to have opportunities to go [overseas] because clubs won't sign them because the cost of signing them will go up substantially. So they just won't bother. That's going to have a horrible effect on our players."
Essentially, what Foose argued is that the cost of these fees, which are paid by teams, may be passed onto the players. Any additional costs tacked on to a player transfer—such as solidarity payments—would obviously raise the overall cost of the deal. In turn, foreign teams buying American players may decide to offset this cost by offering a player less salary. Or they could simply choose not to purchase American players, thereby denying them a chance at a higher salary in a better league overseas. Solidarity fees, according to Foose, could negatively affect salaries even if these fees don't directly come out of player's paycheck.
Article 21, Section VII of the FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players states, regarding solidarity compensation: "If a professional is transferred before the expiry of his contract, any club that has contributed to his education and training shall receive a proportion of the compensation paid to his former club (solidarity contribution). "
The percentage of what a youth club can collect is calculated by the amount of time the player spent at the youth club, and the age of the player during the time he spent at the club. Crossfire, for example, believes it could be owed as much as $100,000 for the three years Yedlin spent training with the club from 2008-10.
But U.S. Soccer has previously claimed the 1998 Fraser vs. MLS antitrust lawsuit prevents any American based team from collecting these fees. Additionally, they have required all member professional leagues, including MLS, to follow these guidelines.
DeAndre Yedlin trained with Crossfire Premiere from 2008-10. Photo by Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Last summer, Crossfire petitioned FIFA for the right to have a hearing about the issue with the organization's Dispute Resolution Chamber, an independent arbitration tribunal set up by FIFA to settle private legal disputes. FIFA agreed to hear the claim, and a decision is expected soon.
And recently, both U.S. Soccer and MLS, in meetings in October and May with representatives of the youth clubs in question, according to the complaint, appeared to have softened their stance on these fees. The only impediment to any compromise appears to be the MLSPU, who according to the complaint, has threatened an antitrust lawsuit against any parties—whether it's the youth clubs, MLS or the U.S. Soccer Federation—who imposes rules to collect these fees.
At this point, Foose said the union will await word from FIFA before taking any action.
"There is no ripe—that's the legal term—legal dispute here at the moment," Foose said. "We don't know what FIFA is going to do. We don't know what U.S. Soccer is going to do. Any comment on that would be pure speculation."
A spokesman for the three youth clubs said that several other youth clubs that have training compensation and solidarity fee claims but have not petitioned FIFA could be added to the plaintiff class should the union file an antitrust lawsuit.
Foose disputed that the spirit of the FIFA solidarity compensation rule should apply to pay for play teams in the U.S.
"There are lots of FIFA regulations that are not enforced in lots of jurisdictions including the United States," he said. "The reality is that this system was designed to compensate smaller professional clubs when bigger professional clubs sign their players. So within the FIFA ranks in Europe, for example, the regulations specifically say that the clubs seeking it has to have made an offer to the player. In this case, if you think about, the clubs that are pursuing this action they didn't even have anywhere [else] for those players to play. They didn't lose anything. They were fully compensated for the training for those three players. And they had no professional team for them to offer them a contract on. They're simply now going back and asking for money on top of the deal that they struck at the time when they agreed to train the kids."
Additionally, Foose said the union was willing to talk about a compromise in which these fees are paid out—as long as the money comes from either MLS or U.S. Soccer and doesn't come from the players.
"There's nothing objectionable to us about that," Foose said. "If they really think that it's an investment worth making, that's fine. You can debate it. These clubs, many of them, are doing a very good job. I understand their role. It's fine if the industry thinks there should be more money for these clubs because it would be better for the industry then there's nothing wrong with that. But what this is saying is we're going to go back and take money and opportunities for individual players on a random basis, or fairly random basis, to just give a windfall for certain clubs so they can have more money."