The MLS Players Association believes MLS is shortchanging the league's participants in the SuperLiga tournament.
Players from D.C. United and the Houston Dynamo attempted to negotiate a different payment plan with their investors, with the Anschutz Entertainment Group agreeing to give the Dynamo 50 percent of the take. But that proposal has been blocked by MLS and a grievance has been filed by Dynamo players. Only an arbitration ruling is expected to settle the issue.
Things could have been handled differently.
MLS could have consulted with the players on payments; legally, the league did not have to, since the SuperLiga did not exist when the CBA was signed.
And the MLSPA could have kept quiet on the matter, since it seemed to have no legal grounds for complaint.
But the players' dissatisfaction level was raised when they heard reports that Pachuca players received nearly all of the $1 million champion's purse for defeating the Los Angeles Galaxy in a penalty shootout in last year's SuperLiga. Had the Galaxy won, their players would have divided $150,000, about $5,300 each.
There are questions about Pachuca's take, though. An MLS source said Pachuca paid its players $300,000, about $12,000 per player. The MLSPA is convinced the club gave the entire $1 million sum to the players, though it has no official confirmation.
MLS' guide for payments was scaled to the money awarded for winning the MLS Cup ($165,000), U.S. Open Cup ($100,000) and Champions Cup ($77,000).
D.C. vs. Atlante
RFK Stadium, Washington, D.C.
8 p.m. ET
Houston vs. CD Guadalajara
Chivas USA vs. Santos
Atlante vs. CD Guadalajara
Santos vs. Pachuca
But, again, this is not a simple proposition.
MLS, which declined comment for this article, apparently reasoned that SuperLiga teams play three to five games, so players should not make more than the MLS Cup champion, which will play 34 games. Besides, this could devalue the MLS Cup. The MLSPA counters that there is a simple solution -- up the ante for the MLS Cup.
"We think the SuperLiga is a great tournament," said Bob Foose, director of the MLSPA. "The players love matching themselves against the Mexican League and seeing how they stack up.
"But these are hard games for the players and they feel the public is being misled. The league is saying it's a $1 million tournament, and it's not, for the MLS players. The players are not getting a fair shake because they are not on the same footing [as the Mexican teams] and that leaves a sour taste in their mouths."
MLS players believe there are further disincentives. Since their contracts are based on league games, they are actually being placed in a position to jeopardize incentives relating to MLS play. If an injury in a SuperLiga match keeps them out of MLS games, it could affect bonuses.
The MLS players accuse the league of not only giving them a raw deal, but also shooting itself in the foot. The MLS wants to demonstrate it can compete on the level of the Mexican league, yet seems to be working to demotivate its teams.
The SuperLiga provides a potentially valuable link between the MLS and the Federacion Mexicana de Futbol. The tournament is backed by Televisa SA, a Mexican media giant, and Mexican clubs are considered the main attraction, receiving guaranteed paydays.
SUM, the MLS' promotional arm, and the MLS teams are responsible for all expenses and assume the risks of putting on the event.
"That's not relevant to this," Foose said of the MLS assuming risks. "They are guaranteeing the prize money, regardless, besides the fact that there is not a whole lot of risk here. This is not a great big unknown for them."
Unfortunately, this dispute could be a preview of negotiations for the next CBA -- the current agreement expires in January 2010.
The Dynamo case could set a precedent. If an arbitrator rules in favor of Dynamo players, each MLS team could be allowed to determine payouts to players for tournaments.
This certainly challenges the single-entity system and could become a milestone decision. Until the Dynamo's grievance is ruled on, though, MLS players are going to have to settle for the current terms.
Frank Dell'Apa is a soccer columnist for The Boston Globe and ESPN.