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About those MLS retention funds: They have already been put to significant use

Aug 2, 2013, 11:55 AM EDT

Matt Besler

KANSAS CITY – The MLS “retention fund” mechanism that wandered slowly into public awareness last month has already been put to significant use. It looks like MLS got this one right; just look at how many terrific players have already been tied up to longer deals using the fund established just this year.

So far, 14 MLS men are retention fund kids, including Sporting Kansas City’s Matt Besler (pictured) and Graham Zusi, FC Dallas center back George John, young New England livewire attacker Diego Fagundez and New York Red Bull midfielder Dax McCarty. (The full list is below.)

The mechanism was designed to allow clubs to re-sign key players to new deals without pricing them into Designated Player territory. It was an effort to avoid damaging attrition, losing players we might classify as “above-average,” or a few we would call “great” or perhaps “potentially great,” to European clubs that might not look glamorous but could offer substantially greater compensation.

Todd Durbin, the league’s VP of Player Relations and Competition, talked to a small group of journalists at Wednesday’s All-Star game on several topics, including the retention fund creation. He said it was a reaction to fears (somewhat unfounded in his mind) that MLS was losing a group of important players to leagues no better than MLS, such as the Scandinavian leagues.

“We decided we needed to come up with a program, or a way of managing that,” Durbin said.

Clubs in salary-capped sports consistently face a push and pull that pits long-term vs. short-term interests. When it comes to high-quality fan favorites, they can always renegotiate contracts in efforts to keep the player around for the long-term. That’s good, right?

Of course – unless it dents the short-term ability to sign additional talent, which can help the here and now of results. The retention fund established a tool that allowed clubs to marry those interests.

Clubs also sought greater personnel stability, talent that added quality on the field and helped keep familiar faces around for the fans.

Zusi and Besler were textbook cases, Durbin said, under contract but in jeopardy of gazing overseas. They were both MLS All-Stars but not, perhaps, quite into DP territory. (Some of that is about positions they play, especially in Besler’s case; center backs are typically not DPs.)

By using some of the retention funds (reported previously but not confirmed to be around $225,000 per club), Sporting Kansas City tied up the two U.S. internationals without hamstring themselves in terms of signing other players, potentially even DPs.

Apparently, this thing is working. From MLS, here is the list of players who have already been re-signed using the new Core Player mechanism, where a portion of the player’s salary does not count against the salary budget:

  • Tony Beltran (RSL)
  • Matt Besler (SKC)
  • Sam Cronin (SJ)
  • Diego Fagundez (NE)
  • Jhon Kennedy Hurtado (SEA)
  • George John (DAL)
  • Juninho (LA)
  • Gershon Koffie (VAN)
  • Dax McCarty (NY)
  • Drew Moor (COL)
  • Chris Pontius (DC)
  • Chris Schuler (RSL),
  • Marvell Wynne (COL)
  • Graham Zusi (SKC)
  1. player169 - Aug 2, 2013 at 12:09 PM

    A nice mechanism to help retain talent. Looking specifically at Zusi and Besler, I can still see them going overseas to good leagues, but this ensures that if those leagues come calling, MLS still gets paid when/if that time comes…

    • midtec2005 - Aug 2, 2013 at 1:19 PM

      I kind of hope that time doesn’t come, we need established stars in this league. Landon Donovan has helped with that for a long time.

    • charliej11 - Aug 2, 2013 at 2:18 PM

      …to good leagues…

      Like MLS isn’t a good league. player169 doesn’t equal IQ169.

      I think the trend is the opposite for good players like Zusi. Is he good enough to play at Man U ? No. So does he want to finish, 50 points back of Man U ? No.

      Can he get paid in MLS ? Sort of…and they are sort of staying.

      Combine a Dempsey to Seattle deal and you have a full blown, MLS is keeping talent situation.

      For bloggers like playe169, it is probably a crisis, for me is what needs to happen for the US to be good at soccer.

  2. krazymunky - Aug 2, 2013 at 1:22 PM

    who decides who is considered viable for the retention fund?

    • krazymunky - Aug 2, 2013 at 1:25 PM

      nvm reread and saw it was around 225k per club (and not a individual case basis by the league itself)

  3. rphillish - Aug 2, 2013 at 1:49 PM

    I love this idea, good call by MLS. I just hope this doesn’t become some excuse down the road to limit raising the salary cap.

  4. nussdorferac - Aug 2, 2013 at 2:50 PM

    Why not just raise the salary cap by the $225k?

    • renhoekk2 - Aug 2, 2013 at 3:23 PM

      I think its premise is the idea of retaining players currently on your roster. If they raised the salary cap then the money could be spent on bringing other players in. Sort of like the NBA rule where you can spend over the cap to keep one of your existing players and not loose him to free agency. I guess it keeps spending down a little as well, as not all teams are using it. Where as a higher cap league wide would probably have teams spending more money.

      • nussdorferac - Aug 2, 2013 at 5:54 PM

        I don’t know about it bringing more players in. There are already complicated rules on how a roster is to be set up, including a cap on 30 players (in addition to only having the first 20 count towards the cap, or something close to that). Wouldn’t increasing the cap give an club the same flexibility to keep some of those core players? You answer that with your next point and I totally agree with your last point.

    • charliej11 - Aug 2, 2013 at 3:52 PM

      Because it isn’t the same thing ?

      • nussdorferac - Aug 2, 2013 at 5:48 PM

        Very astute. I enjoyed your analysis.

        The end goal, however, is the same. From the article, “the new Core Player mechanism, where a portion of the player’s salary does not count against the salary budget.” The idea is to have a pool of money for each team to allocate toward a player’s salary that would not be included in the salary cap. If the cap is raised by the same amount, then the same goal is reached.

        It seems MLS prefers the allocation method because raising the salary cap puts pressure on each FO to spend at least up to the cap. With a hidden allocation money system, there is no public pressure for an owner to spend more on the team.

  5. mvktr2 - Aug 2, 2013 at 3:52 PM

    Such efforts are a natural evolution as the league tries to advance it’s quality on the pitch and standing in world soccer.

    The league has diversified ownership, successfully courted multiple new billionaire owners, begun the process of taking player development/academies seriously, and is now bringing in more good players than ever. Upward trends in all these areas and more are signs that things are headed in the right direction and that there is a plan in place which is being vigorously executed! Good times however the league is more than 7 years away from it’s goal of being top 10 in the world especially in terms on product on the field and profitability …. the two which obviously go hand in hand.

  6. kuhjon - Aug 2, 2013 at 4:23 PM

    Ha, Marvell Wynne. Which category of “above-average”, “great” or “potentially great” does he fit into?

  7. drewvt6 - Aug 2, 2013 at 4:55 PM

    he has above-average speed…. :-P

  8. player169 - Aug 2, 2013 at 5:04 PM

    Charlie = Troll. Better leagues…happy now?

  9. hildezero - Aug 7, 2013 at 4:14 PM

    MLS should raise the salary cap.

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