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MLS clubs to seek training compensation, solidarity payments

Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber speaks at a news conference in Los Angeles, Thursday, April 18, 2019. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

Major League Soccer clubs will seek training compensation and solidarity payments when academy players are signed by teams outside of the United States and Canada.

Training compensation applies to academy players who have been offered an MLS contract with their club but have chosen to sign their first professional contract with a foreign team, the league said. Such compensation is covered by FIFA regulations for player transfers.

Solidarity payments apply to academy-developed players who are transferred for a fee between two teams from different international federations.

The move toward training compensation and solidarity payments comes as the league’s teams have increased their investment in player development. Last year, clubs collectively spent a record of more than $75 million on their academies, and the additional funds offer the potential to increase that investment.

It also comes as international interest in U.S. players has increased. Training compensation and solidarity payments are comment in professional leagues worldwide but MLS had not adopted similar policy until Thursday.

“We have been making a significant investment in youth development, and that investment has accelerated over the past few years. And we believe that by making this change we’ll not only be able to continue that investment, but increase it and provide more opportunities to young players,” Todd Durbin, MLS executive vice president of competition and player relations, told The Associated Press.

The MLS Players Association said the move is an attempt to force young players to sign with MLS by limiting opportunities elsewhere.

“It is an effort by the league to inhibit player choice, does nothing to address the development of youth soccer, and makes plain MLS’ selective application of international rules to suit its own agenda,” the union said in a statement.

The training compensation policy would impact future deals like the one made for midfielder Weston McKennie. It would have meant that FC Dallas could seek compensation for its role in developing McKennie, who did not sign a homegrown contract and instead opted for a deal with Schalke in 2016.

Solidarity payments, meanwhile, are at the heart of a claim by Crossfire Premier, a Redmond, Washington-based youth club which is seeking a percentage of the transfer fee between the Seattle Sounders and Tottenham when DeAndre Yedlin went overseas to play in 2014. FIFA is currently considering the case.

Lance Reich, the attorney for Crossfire Premier, endorsed MLS’s decision.

“We — the U.S. youth soccer clubs — do support MLS in seeking training compensation and solidarity fees. They spend valuable resources on their players just like we do. Unfortunately, we do view this issue differently than the MLSPA,” Reich said in an email.

The training compensation policy does not extend to players signed by other domestic leagues in the U.S. or Canada. It also does not extend to academies that aren’t fully funded by the MLS club. Because of this, it excludes players who pay to participate in academy programs, preventing teams from charging players and then also benefiting from training compensation and solidarity payments.

Commissioner Don Garber first addressed the issue at last year’s MLS Cup championship.

“Our view on this whole area is very, very different than it was two, three, four or five years ago. The product that we’re developing has become some of the more important assets, and we need to start finding ways of protecting or finding some ways to get compensated if we can’t protect them or can’t sign them,” Garber said.

The MLSPA is reviewing the new policy and will explore its options.

“The fact that training compensation and solidarity payments are paid elsewhere in the world under applicable FIFA regulations is an indefensible justification for MLS’s change in position on these issues. The league routinely ignores regulations that protect players under contract with MLS — like those requiring guaranteed contracts, prohibiting unilateral options and limiting the length of contracts — yet is now attempting to rely upon these same regulations to limit opportunities for players in youth academies,” the union’s statement said.

Thursday’s move by MLS could possibly pave the way for other prominent U.S. development clubs to seek compensation, for example Pennsylvania Classics’ role in the early training of Christian Pulisic. The 20-year-old midfielder was bought by Chelsea from Borussia Dortmund in January for 64 million euros (then $73 million), by far a record price for an American player, then loaned back to the German club for the rest of the 2018-19 season.

The MLS established its academy program in 2007. Academy players and their parents will be advised of the new policy in coming days and teams will hold informational sessions.
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