Soccer America
Thursday July 3rd, 2008

The contract guarantee date has come and gone, yet not all MLS players still employed are assured of being paid in full for their 2008 services.

This is just one more topic for the MLS Players' Union to address as it bargains for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, to take effect for the 2010 season. To be sure, issues of minimum salary and some process of free agency within MLS will take priority, but MLS players deserve a bit more security, seeing as very few of them can negotiate guaranteed contracts. (That's another reason so many players head to Scandinavia and other smaller countries; not only is the pay better, but guaranteed contracts are much easier to secure.)

Most players are "semi-guaranteed," meaning they are guaranteed as of a specific date, in this case July 1. But there are exceptions.

Each team can leave a player or two hanging after the July 1 date, pending outcomes regarding other deals that may be in the works. Los Angeles is trying to trade players -- including Carlos Ruiz -- so it can clear salary-cap space to bring in a defender reported to be Eduardo Domínguez and perhaps one other player. New York has signed Venezuelan midfielder Jorge Rojas and Argentine defender Juan Pietravallo but needs to make other moves to officially register them.

For those unfortunates twisting in the wind, they may need to wait a week or two to find out if their contracts are indeed guaranteed, and can still be waived during that period. At best, they'll be traded and their contracts will still be in force; at worse, they're cut loose before the All-Star Game.

It's great for the teams, since it gives them wiggle room in case pending deals are hung up. It's great for the league, since it can save money if the players are waived and not picked up, since a team that wants them can always try to sign them at a lower salary once they clear waivers.

It's hell on the players, most of whom are, like the rest of us, day-to-day as far as security is concerned. Granted, not many will be in that situation each season, but still there's a better way.

The contract guarantee date should: (a) apply across the board and not permit teams and the league to jack around players more than they already do; and (b) be the same as the closing of the domestic transfer window, Aug. 15, which would increase salary costs to the league somewhat but makes much more sense so deals and decisions would have to be finalized at the same time.

Domestic transactions, i.e. trades and all other player acquisition mechanisms -- discoveries, etc. -- would have their own deadline, which in '08 is the roster freeze date of Sept. 15.

Another complication, one that MLS has no control over, is that the transfer window only applies to players who move from a club in one league to a team in another league, but there's also a rule that inhibits the registration of players out of contract.

MLS can sign an out-of-contract player at any time, but only if his previous club released him during the domestic transfer windows can he be registered immediately and be eligible to play. (This doesn't apply to a player who has been out of contract for longer than six months.)

Kansas City has signed Josh Wolff, whose contract with German club 1860 Munich had expired, but that expiration didn't take effect until last month, far beyond the closing of the primary U.S. transfer window on April 15. Had he been released prior to that date, he could have been signed and registered to play in MLS right away. Instead, he must wait until the secondary domestic window opens July 15.

(Scottish striker Paul Dickov and English forward Darren Huckerby, who are being assessed by several MLS teams, as well as former U.S. international Brian McBride, destined for Chicago, supposedly, are in the same situation.)

Wizards head coach Curt Onalfo reiterates that no roster moves are needed to clear salary-cap space so Wolff's salary can be accommodated, and regarding midfielders Sasha Victorine and Kerry Zavagnin, said, "In this league players' names come up all the time but, no, we're not looking to move either player."

That's good news for Victorine and Zavagnin, but a few of their colleagues elsewhere in the league have no such assurances.

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