Friday, March 27, 2015

Big Week for the Soccer Information Network

We made some big moves this week at the Soccer Information Network. First, we are about to announce a photographer who will start working with us for Saturday's game between FC Dallas and the Seattle Sounders and then also work the Dallas Cup on Sunday.

That is the second thing - we were able to roll out our coverage of both the Dallas Cup and FC Dallas' affiliate, Arizona United, beats that we think people will want to know about and we feel we can deliver quality coverage.

Third is the help of David Chaffin. He has been working with our software to find the right template and images and doing a very good job. Throw in real photographs from the shoots on Saturday and Sunday (and beyond) and we will start to turn the corner in terms of overall image.

And I cannot say enough about Clay Massey and Fletcher Whiteley, our writers. They have been turning out quality work at a high level on a regular basis. That, frankly, is what is allowing us to get the kind of steam we have been building - there is no way we have this kind of coverage without their professionalism.

And we have also had some movement on the hit-front as well. It is not growing at monster levels by any means, but it is growing nonetheless. And every time Fletcher gets something at practice like his work on the International Absences this weekend or Clay does something like his Is FC Dallas The Best in MLS - The Argument For, the more the water level rises a touch. Frankly, Clay's Match Previews have been getting really good hits, too, and Fletcher's Conversation with the Captain is also a regular success. As for me, I am just excited that I am finally able to do the MLS Power Rankings again.

This is nearing the end of our first phase of build-out, and I must say it feels we are on schedule. I feel confident at this point that Phase II will happen, and I am excited to begin working on it. How many phases might there be? One step at a time. Pencil sketches on napkins do not a plan make. But there is a bit of a vision, and I am excited to see every little step taken.

We are eventually hoping to expand coverage. If you have any interest in contributing, don't hesitate to email me at Otherwise, please continue to enjoy and hopefully more and better as time goes along.

I will leave you with this - our Top Clicks of the Week. Definitely some content worth reading there.

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Soccer Information Network - What do you think?

So we are a little over a week into the Soccer Information Network. We have focused on getting the content up and running, leaving the graphic design, some of the imagery and other bells and whistles to later.

We are very happy to have Clay Massey as our regular FC Dallas match writer, and the addition of Fletcher Whiteley as a mid-week FC Dallas writer is also exciting, especially considering Fletcher's experience writing for Yahoo sports covering Texas Aggie football and basketball recruiting. Not only is that an experienced hand from a writing perspective, but also is an asset in following players as they prepare for a higher level. This is great timing as FC Dallas is now for the first time going to have a direct affiliate in the USL via Arizona United.

So if you have taken the time to check out some of the articles, we'd love to hear from you. If not, here are some of the key articles we produced this last week.

You can send us feedback at You can also follow us on Twitter at @SoccerInfoNwrk.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Starting Something New

After my experience working for, I have to admit that it got my journalistic blood flowing pretty strong. Considering those of you who followed me there and here in 2014, as well as the work I did for 3rd Degree over the years, I feel like I have something to bring to the table.

As such, I am moving forward with something I had been incubating over the last few years - the Soccer Information Network. Our main focus right now will be FC Dallas, but hope to add coverage of the Sidekicks back to the rotation as soon as we can, as well as ideally the Dallas Cup. We do also (clearly) need graphic design help and a photographer. If you have any interest in either writing or helping with the design, feel free to email me at

I have also put together a Twitter handle - @SoccerInfoNwrk. We'd love a follow!

Right now, the goal is pretty basic - get complete coverage of FC Dallas and start growing beyond that. I do have a beat writer for FC Dallas right now, and I will also be writing as well, but if you have a soccer topic you want covered, especially if you are interested in it enough to write about it, please reach out to me.

Bottom line - please work the Soccer Information Network into your FC Dallas information consumption rotation, along with 3rd Degree, the FC Dallas official page, Big D Soccer and, and as you can, let us know what you think we can do to improve your experience!

We have an Agreement - what does it mean?

As a follow up to my article yesterday on the MLS labor negotiations, now that we have at least the preliminary indications about the agreement that was apparently reached yesterday, we can make an initial evaluation.

Note, though, that we are still working off of indirect information, and the actual document has not been drafted. These details discussed below are probably what will end up being the real numbers, but read Jeff Carlisle's article critically first, as that is where most of the information used in this article comes from.

Also, bear in mind a few disclaimers. First, I am doing this in my spare time. As luck would have it, we have been under some winter weather lately in Dallas, freeing my schedule a bit. I am not a full-time journalist. Second, and as a result of that, all of the underlying facts come from other reporters. I am using them because from what I have seen, these are the best, most accurate reports available - so to that extent, I am clearly responsible for choosing them. But at the end of the day, the full agreement is not public, so no information is 100% at this point.

On the other hand, hopefully my background as a journalist and attorney, as well as being a follower of the game and the league since 1996, can bring some insight to all this. So here goes.

Basic details. Five Year Agreement. Limited Free Agency. Raise in minimum salary. Overall salary cap increase. Again, read Jeff Carlisle's article critically for background.

Five Year Agreement

This, to me, was a surprising point of contention. Unless I missed it in previous years, I thought a 5 year agreement was what most people expected. Did ownership start at 8 years to create another negotiation point? Either way, this is probably the right thing for both parties.

Limited Free Agency

Here we have the 28/8/%. A player who is 28 years of age with 8 years of service in MLS can get a limited form of free agency, albeit with a percentage cap on their potential increase in salary. For more detail, read this article by Steven Bank of ASN. (Credit to him for predicting the exact model that the agreement apparently contains. That article is definitely worth your time to read.) This is, in fact, a way businesses currently allow for subdivision/sub-units to compete for employees under their overall umbrella. As such, it apparently does not threaten the Single Entity structure but allows some of the kind of freedom of movement the players want.

For perspective on the 28/8 - in Major League Baseball, a similar provision allows for free agency after 6 years of service in the Majors, but does not have an age limit. Other leagues have similar age or years of service limits.

I am of a few minds on this issue. First, as you will see below, I think the players put more effort into this than maybe they should have as it cost them time to negotiate on other issues that would impact more players over the life of the agreement. On the other hand, it does make sense that if you take a macro look at things, this was another big step that needed to happen at some point, and they found a way to make it happen. Future agreements can refine this negotiating point to make it more favorable to the players.

The ultimate solution for this agreement on free agency was what many predicted - a creative version of free agency that did not in fact jeopardize the Single Entity structure - although credit again for Steven Bank for nailing its exact nature.

Minimum Salary

Here, I think you can say that the players were successful. The minimum salary went from $36,500 to $60,000 - close to a 50% increase. For a number of players, this is probably a significant change and one that will benefit them throughout their careers considering that they start at a higher level.

But some have raised the question is does this price out some players? Are there players who would have been playing in MLS in the $36,500-$40,000 range that will not be signed at $60,000? Most likely. On the other hand, with most MLS clubs having USL teams to sign players to at lower salaries then loan them to the MLS club if/when they establish their worth at that level, a lot of those players - certainly the ones that have MLS-potential - ought to have an option there.

Salary Cap

There have been a variety of reports on this. Carlisle is reporting that it is a 7% increase. Others on Twitter have mentioned 15%. It will be interesting to see what the final actual number is. If Carlisle is right, and since he has consistently been ahead of the curve on reporting much of this, and considering that the new television deal brings an additional $1-2 million per club, a $250,000 increase in the salary cap seems shallow. All things considered, while I don't think the players had a right to ask for all of the television money to go to increasing the salary cap, it seems that they could have pushed harder on this issue, especially considering here is where it likely would have had a larger impact on membership as a whole.


The devil is in the details, and so this will need revisiting once the details are known. But for now, there is credit due to both sides. All told, the players got a new wrinkle to the overall structure regarding the limited free agency issue, significantly impacted the minimum salary, got the owners off of their initial demand of an 8 year CBA and made at least some progress on increasing the salary cap - all without a work stoppage - you have to give them credit for moving the needle. Owners should get credit for finding creative ways to do what they could to work with the players while clearly not jeopardizing either the Single Entity structure or their overall salary system.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

MLS Labor Negotiations - Wednesday, March 4

On Thursday, I wrote a follow up piece that works off of Jeff Carlisle's report on the agreement details and evaluates it.

6:30 p.m. CT UPDATE: We have a report of an agreement. Tunstall's compatriot, Simon Evans (@sgevans) is reporting that there is an agreement in place. Carlisle confirmed.

Goff has a link to an article with a lot of details on the agreement in principle.

Ives is reporting that a number of MLS clubs voted against the agreement. He also asks a good question.

5:45 p.m. CT UPDATE: According to Brooke Tunstall (@YesThatBrooke) there is a player vote happening. He said despite his best efforts, he cannot ascertain whether it is a vote on a deal or a vote to play this weekend without an agreement, or some other vote.

But consistent reporting from Brooke, Goff and Carlisle have made it appear that things are moving in the direction of a deal rather than broken talks. Goff even went so far as to tweet he expects a deal to close late today or Thursday, with the caveat that it was a hunch of his.

As I stated below in my analysis, this is consistent with what I expected, although developments on the free agency issue have been surprising. The latest appeared to be a 28 years old/8 years of service offer with a 10% cap on salary raise. Again, considering it is a form of free agency, I am surprised the owners are offering it as it erodes the SE structure. The 10% is something that I imagine is very unpalatable to the players.

12:30 p.m. CT UPDATE: Steven Goff (@SoccerInsider) recently tweeted: "Reliable sources describes state of talks as 'desperation but still talking." Jeff Carlisle (@Jeffery Carlisle) reported that there has been "some movement" on both the free agency offer. Again, those two have been the most involved in getting the "raw" out.

Neither change my opinion of the information below, although clearly, time is running short and there remains work to be done. It does appear that both sides are tightening up leaks and information, which is also usually a sign that it is getting down to the nitty gritty.

For what it is worth, ESPN is regularly updating the situation on SportsCenter as well.

Labor negotiations. They have a life and flow of their own. But it appears this round of MLS negotiations have started to take shape and I think we can make some reasonable predictions.

Granted, the situation is incredibly fluid – probably more fluid than I have ever seen in 20 years of following the league. And a lot of the information used in this piece is based on reporting that usually does not name sources, so bring your salt shaker. But again, I think we have enough tea leaves to read, even though we may be the drunken monkeys with the Ouija board, that we can discuss a general landscape.

First, the issues. Free agency, length of the CBA itself and the salary cap increase seem to be the biggest topics of discussion. The parties seem far enough apart that there is real work to be done, but there does appear to be enough definition to the points of view that they have a fair chance at negotiating a middle ground. The fact that numerous sources have stated that the sides negotiated until 6 am ET Wednesday supports this assertion.

Free Agency

Something that has been an issue from the beginning from the players’ perspective has been the Single Entity nature of the league, and the fact that all contracts are with the league rather than individual teams. The bubble of protection that this provided to players by not having to worry about a team folding has long been outweighed by the restrictive nature it has on movement between clubs and the effect it has on salary negotiations.

Without going into the details as to why this is an integral part of the league structure – a structure that every MLS owner bought into as a major selling point of their multi-million dollar investment – which is a whole different discussion, just know that this Single Entity structure is something that is as much a part of what the owners purchased as that it is a soccer league. To really understand the nature of these negotiations, you have to let that sink in. The league structure is as important to the owners as is the fact that the league plays soccer. That might be a moderate over-statement, but I don’t think by much. And I definitely can say this – the vast majority of owners would not have bought into MLS had it not been for the SE structure. Simply look at the explosion of ownership that happened after the original players’ lawsuit (Frazer v. MLS) was finally resolved.

So you have a very real problem. The SE structure was implemented specifically to disallow free agency(*). And there are legal reasons for ownership not agreeing to it as the original Frazer ruling was not a 100% endorsement that MLS was a true single entity, and the league has done things to erode even that status. Adding any significant Free Agency would possibly be the straw that broke the camel’s back, opening the league up to another players’ lawsuit that would have a much better chance of succeeding.

The good news, for those wanting games this weekend, is both sides seem to have given enough on this point that a middle ground is at least possible. Word from the Washington Post and ESPN is that the owners have offered a severely restricted form of free agency, and by a variety of actions, the players have shown that they know true free agency is not possible at this point. Or, at least they are willing to acknowledge that what it would take to force free agency on the league would be too costly to all parties.

Is a strike over this still possible? Absolutely. If the owners stay on their current offer on free agency – which is so extreme that I am struggling to think of any player that might qualify for it – then that might be a piece of a puzzle that adds up to a strike for the players. But considering the legal risks the owners are taking by making the offer, I don’t see them taking that step without following through.

Length of the CBA

I will admit that I was surprised to read that the current offer from the owners is an eight year deal. For a variety of reasons, this seems a unique time to offer something different than the five year deals that the players and owners have entered into the last two times. With all of the new money coming into the league, including the massive upgrade in television money and handful of expansion teams paying the largest fees ever seen for an MLS club, it seems like both sides would want to at most do another five years so that the new financial landscape could be understood and not be stuck with it for too long if it is unfair to either side.

Is a strike over this issue alone possible? I think it unlikely. If they negotiate the other issues, I think it unlikely that the owners will stick to their guns on this lone issue. If they don’t negotiate the other issues, that is its own problem.

Salary Cap Increase

This, to me, is the most practical and most important issue on the table. While I am not necessarily a fan of paying a player making $100,000 a year $200,000 a year just because you have the money, part of the reason MLS player salaries are where they are have to do with the lower divisions not offering competitive contracts for middle and entry level players, which is not the players’ fault. (**)

With the new income coming to the league, there ought to be a more modest salary cap increase, and it sounds like they just are not there yet. Because this is what will affect the majority of the players the most, this is where the rubber meets the road – this is the issue that will lead to a strike, if anything will.

Again, Free Agency is a concept that might apply to some players at certain times. For the international players (both foreign players and US players good enough to warrant money outside MLS), they already have free agency – play out their contract. For the entry level players, the idea is remote and doesn’t directly affect them. So those willing to vote for a strike on Free Agency alone is not nearly as large as those who would be willing to strike because the salary cap increase is not large enough in respect to the cash influx that will happen over the next 4-8 years.

But it is also a question of negotiating numbers. I would be very surprised to see this become a large enough issue that the players strike over it, mostly because the league is in position to give what the players could accept.

Bottom Line

This is still labor negotiations – high stakes poker if there ever was such a thing. A lockout or a strike – both are possible. But with the issues defined as they are, it appears to me that a middle ground can be found on all three of the major issues, and with so much at stake this weekend, that middle ground is likely to be found.

So keep watching Jeff Carlisle (@Jeffery Carlisle) and Steven Goff (@SoccerInsider) as your main sources of raw intel, remember to breathe every once in a while, and let’s see how things play out, but that is how this Student of the Game sees things now.


(*) This was done, in part, because soccer players have a natural free agency because soccer is a global market. It was mostly done, though, because of the way the original North American Soccer League spent itself into non-existence. The perception was that no one was going to invest millions of dollars into a new sports league, for a new sport that as of 1993 not proven anything by way of longevity or interest. This “Super Salary Cap” idea was a way to ensure that something like that could not happen again. The question is at what point is that safety net no longer necessary?

Others have done a great job of detailing the legal ramifications of the league not being considered a Single Entity, so I would encourage you to look for them. The short version, though, is it would open the league to a lawsuit from the players the likes of which that forced free agency in the NFL, MLB, etc. It’s a big deal, especially if you look at how free agency has pushed up salaries for those leagues.

(**) The real problem the players face is that for the average US player, their value outside the US is not large enough to pressure MLS to pay more. That is simple economics. The nice thing, though, is as the US soccer population improves, it is simply a matter of time before that dynamic will change. We already see players go to play in Norway, etc., for more than they would get in the US – even for fringe US national team players. And at that point, MLS will have no choice but to pay to keep the US players they have worked so hard to develop.

Monday, March 2, 2015

So the NASL in its current form

I was asked on Twitter what I thought about the current state of the NASL and I thought it was a fair question that, like so many on that medium, can't really be answered in 140 characters.

So in fairness to the question and the league, here is a little more detail.

First off, I am a BIG proponent of multiple lower divisions and developing soccer markets to their fullest in large part to address the question that sparked the question - which was is MLS necessary. Right now, because the lower divisions are woefully under-developing a large number of markets, MLS is definitely necessary - specifically, the artificial constructs that MLS has put in place such as the Single Entity.

Woefully underdeveloped? Yes. Woefully. Outside of a very few outliers such as Orlando, San Antonio, Sacramento, Minnesota and Indianapolis, you have most teams in the USL and NASL well below numbers that should even be viable for their current iteration, let alone ready to move up to a First Division level.

Only three of ten teams in the NASL drew more than 5,000 a game. In what was known as the USL Pro last year, only one of fourteen teams drew significantly more than 5,000 and Rochester averaged 5,329. For more on where the numbers came from and why 5,000 is the water mark, see (*) below.

Based on a variety of public documents that have been put out there about what it takes to succeed at MLS and lower division levels, it is safe to assume that in 2014, only four teams out of 24 made anything close to a successful business year - and by successful, I don't mean "made money" - I mean, did not lose their butts. And certainly only those four plus Orlando were really ready to make the jump to a First Division level, whether inside MLS or not. And sorry, but it takes money - and people who have money - to operate teams, so if you can't put a moderately effective business together, and therefore can't involve people like that, you can't have your team, let alone your league.

And let's go back to the NASL for a moment. At least one of those teams is seeing an MLS team coming to town in the near future (Atlanta). At least one - if not two or even possibly three - are organizations that will move to MLS in the slightly less near future (Minnesota, San Antonio, Indianapolis). And Ft. Lauderdale is on the verge of seeing another MLS team come to town. And who really has confidence that the Cosmos can continue to be a factor now that you have not only one, but as of now, two MLS franchises in the market. New York is big, certainly, but not that big. So that is at least two but likely as many as six of your ten current NASL clubs gone or overshadowed by MLS in the next 5-7 years, including at least two of your best markets.

So where is the NASL trying to expand? Well, efforts in Oklahoma and Northern Virginia were at various points going concerns. Less so now. It does appear that Jacksonville is going to start a team this year so that is one in the "new" column. At best that offsets one of the 2-3 minimum that are going to be lost in the next five years.

That isn't to say there are not viable options for the NASL. The US has up to 60 potential slots for true professional soccer, and many large markets are wide open. Granted, between MLS, the NASL and the USL, a lot of them have been filled, and of the ones remaining, a good number have their own warts and issues, but not all. Not by a long shot. San Diego, Detroit, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Rhode Island, San Francisco, Memphis, Nashville, Birmingham (which might get Atlanta - would be a good move), New Orleans - just to name a few that are certainly large enough to support a sports organization at a 7,500 people a game level.

But the things needed to fill those markets are owners, experienced staff and players. And right now, one or more of those pieces are missing.

To restate - I am not saying MLS is perfect. The artificial constructs that have kept MLS going will eventually be more of a hindrance than a benefit - but not yet. Not now. Although with the recent television deal, I think we are seeing a transition from a "no way in hell" to a more "now we have some data to work with and see what possibilities there might be" kind of environment.

And as a potential alternative, the NASL does not have anywhere near enough teams effective enough now who would be ready to fill that void, even if some of the MLS teams survive as individual entities and fold in.  On top of that, the league has not shown the vision and ability to attract the right resources to grow in an effective way. (Where did they promise to be by now when they were approved by the USSF?)

I am sure there is more to it - this is purely me taking ten minutes over lunch to ramble on a blog. But there is your "more than 140 character response" to the question about the current state of the NASL.


(*) These numbers come via attendance guru Kenn Tomasch.

And if you sit down and figure the business model of a soccer team - player salary, staff salary, stadium rental, office space, practice space, equipment, insurance, marketing materials, day of game staff, etc., frankly, 5,000 a game is low for what would really be the core of a team that could then move up to MLS. Portland, Seattle, etc., were closer to 7,500 to 10,000 a game in the years when they were looking to move to MLS, and even then they were not making so much money that people were falling all over themselves to learn how they did it.

As for Kenn himself, you may not like his take on things, or his tone, but his documentation of soccer attendance over the years is top notch.On a side note, personally, I think he has a good handle on the realities of lower division soccer - in large part based on actual experience - probably in large part because I have similar experiences within the soccer industry as I have worked in the USL, WPSL and MLS. Even at an MLS level, it is hard work to put butts in seats and turn that into revenue from tickets, sponsorship, merchandise and concessions.