Transfer Battle With MLS Could Bring Windfall for Youth Clubs
It’s the dream of every club in youth soccer to have a player progress through the ranks and make it as a superstar with one of the world’s big teams.
But what if a standout player’s progression to the big time meant more than just bragging rights? What if it also brought money as well as prestige?
This is not a rhetorical question; it is the essence of a legal spat between at least 10 leading U.S. youth clubs and Major League Soccer and the outcome could transform the developmental game in this country.
The Beginning of Trouble For Youth Soccer?
The dispute was triggered by DeAndre Yedlin’s sale from the Seattle Sounders to Tottenham Hotspur in England in January.
When Washington-based Crossfire Premier learned about the $4 million transfer, the club where Yedlin spent four years as a boy between 2006 and 2010 applied for the 5% of the fee it believed it was entitled to under FIFA regulations, which are designed to reward successful player development through “solidarity” payments.
If a youth club plays a role in developing a pro player, FIFA says it stands to reason it should share in the spoils from any transfer.
As quoted in Sports Illustrated, Article 20 of FIFA's Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players dictates the following:
"Training compensation must be paid to all clubs that had a hand in a player’s development up to age 21 for first-time professionals and transfers between clubs in different national associations until he turns 23."
Article 21 states:
"Solidarity is due for non-free player transfers to every club that held his registration until age 23."
As Yedlin just turned 22 on July 9, Crossfire decided it was within its rights to make a claim for a share of the $4 million and instructed its London lawyers to make a direct approach to Tottenham.
MLS Flips the Script
Spurs initially had no problem in making the payment and even contacted the University of Akron, where Yedlin went to college, to offer a similar fee. The college, in turn, contacted MLS to ask for more information.
This is where Crossfire hit a roadblock. MLS intervened and demanded the entire transfer fee from the EPL club, claiming it owned the player’s contract and that FIFA's “solidarity” rule doesn’t apply to the U.S.
Rather than lie down and take it, as youth clubs have done in the past for fear of alienating the powers-that-be in U.S. Soccer, Crossfire decided to fight MLS by sending an official letter of complaint to FIFA.
Emboldened by the move, other clubs sided with Crossfire, including Clint Dempsey’s former youth team, Dallas Texans SC, which had tried and failed to get a “solidarity” fee following the well-traveled striker’s move to Fulham.
“Crossfire has had an overwhelmingly positive response from its sister U.S. youth soccer clubs,” Crossfire lawyer Lance Reich told SI.com. “Many clubs are joining us, and soon, we intend to have a public list of all clubs in our class, both U.S. Development Academy clubs and not, so that no individual club will fear to be singled out.”
Countering complaints that Crossfire was being greedy, the club has agreed to donate any money it receives in the Yedlin case to the U.S. Soccer foundation, but Reich told SI.com:
“We need to change our system, and the clubs are willing to work with USSF and MLS on how to accomplish that. We also need to make right what has been going wrong with the past treatment of U.S. youth clubs seeking training compensation and solidarity fees.”
Why Youth Clubs Need the Resources
In Europe, youth soccer clubs rely on the “solidarity” payments to open rosters up to be as diverse as possible. W Bedum in Holland, for example, has benefited from Arjen Robben’s big money transfers involving PSV, Chelsea, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich.
Agreeing to give the youth clubs 5% of transfer fees from the U.S. instead of swallowing them up in MLS coffers would enable the leading developmental teams to veer away from the trusted but elitist pay-for-play system and enable financial aid schemes and scholarships to provide access to the top coaching for kids who are currently excluded by the expense.
In addition, the focus of coaching could be more about developing the skills of individual players rather than the win-at-all-costs team mentality that can hurt the progress of some at this level.
After all, if there is a sizeable financial carrot dangled in front of clubs building exceptional players, that can only be good for the future of the U.S. game.
We have some good professional teams and some good professional players; we have no great players. But that could all change if Crossfire leads youth soccer to an important victory.
MLS and U.S. Soccer should listen to the youth clubs and give them their FIFA-mandated cut because everyone will benefit in the end.
This isn't about another quick fix to jump start soccer in the U.S. It's playing the long game and those who are willing to put the work in should be rewarded.
Watch this space.