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Clint Dempsey and MLS player development

Players on MLS development squads must really love playing soccer. At least, that's the implication from "Economics 101 for young MLS players", by Bob Holtzman:

These players might be considered cheapskates in some sports. But in Major League Soccer, they're more like poor college students who can't afford to pass up a freebie.

That's life as part of the Galaxy's developmental roster, where players can make as little as $11,700 per year on an non-guaranteed contract.

Developmental players for Chivas USA and the Galaxy consider their economic situation a serious challenge in the South Bay, where the cost of living is as high as anywhere in the country. Players room with teammates, clubs turn a cold shoulder to league rules to help and athletes still take handouts from relatives to keep alive their dream of being professional soccer players.

And these players have to do it in the South Bay, where so many of their peers are soaking up rays at the beach before hitting the nearby bars at night.

"Food before partying, you know?" said Galaxy defender Kyle Veris, a 23-year-old rookie earning $16,500 after being drafted in the second round. "Girls are another struggle. I have to ask Mom and Dad. I tell them I met a girl and need money to take her out."

Now, when you get good, seeing as you've been paid a pittance in the meantime, it would seem that you don't owe MLS that much. But that's not the way MLS is playing it with Clint Dempsey, who is attracting interest from England. Grant Wahl writes:

No American had a better World Cup than Dempsey, who brought much-needed pace and confidence to the right side of the U.S. midfield starting with the team's 1-1 tie against world champion Italy. Dempsey currently makes only slightly more than $80,000 a year in his deal with MLS, which runs through the end of 2007.

"Clint Dempsey is a valuable player, and we'd like to renegotiate his agreement and keep him in the league," MLS commissioner Don Garber told me last week. "Unless these clubs offer his real value and don't discount the value he has to MLS, we have no interest."

Wahl claims that MLS turned down an $1.5m offer from the EPL's Charlton Athletic for Dempsey. Perhaps that's because they expect a better offer from West Ham (see last paragraph), but that story is quite stale.

In Dempsey's case, MLS may be sending out a signal that they will be tough negotiators, and a deal may get done before the Aug. 31 transfer deadline. That's the most likely scenario, however much MLS would like to keep their hands on Dempsey.

The alternative - if Dempsey is indeed worth more than $1.5m to MLS - implies I'm missing something about the value of talent to the league. That's a big gap between the transfer price and Dempsey's $80,000 salary, and Dempsey wants to learn his trade in a top league. Moreover, that's where Dempsey belongs - he's surely more valuable in just about every dimension playing in a better league. If MLS plays hardball with the players in Dempsey's situation, they'll end up creating their own hard core union to deal with once the money starts flowing into US soccer.