TUKWILA, Wash. – After the news from The Athletic that MLS had rejected TAM-level deals between the Seattle Sounders and several players, including former left back Joevin Jones and current keeper Stefan Frei, confusion reigned. Why were clubs unable to use the funds, as issued by the league, for their stated purpose: “to add or retain players that will make an immediate impact on the field”?
At training Friday, Frei offered his thoughts on the situation.
“Without really going too much into it, I have a good relationship with our front office,” Frei said. “I think the communication is there with Garth and the coaching staff. For me personally, as a player, I know how they value me and how they see how I’m important to the squad. It’s not the first contract where the league seems to have something to say when agents and teams have already agreed upon stuff.”
D.C. United keeper David Ousted was another such player. The former Whitecaps player reportedly had a deal set back in December with the LA Galaxy which would have used TAM to pay the final option year on his contract, but the move was denied by the league. In that case, though, there was contention about whether Ousted’s final-year salary was high enough to qualify as a TAM deal.
“I think in future negotiations with the union and the CBA, it’s not so much about money. It’s about relinquishing power,” Frei continued. “Obviously, the league is unwilling to do that because power is more important than money. For as long as they have all these special categories – whether it be DP or TAM or whatever – they’re all structured to give them the power to tell people how to use their money. I think we’re past that, where maybe they should be able to relinquish that little bit of power and trust in the teams. Trust in the GMs, trust in the organizations. They know they can’t just be throwing around money. It’s investments that they put into the players, making sure they have good characters, not just for the club and the guys on the field, but also for the communities. I think the best judge of that would be the GM and the organization and not necessarily MLS headquarters.”
On the whole, it seems that the league is disinclined to allow clubs to give currently rostered players raises above the DP threshold of $504,375 and then use TAM to buy them back below the DP level. Other players listed in the initial Athletic report included Philadelphia’s CJ Sapong and LAFC centerback Walker Zimmerman.
While the league does currently have the ultimate right of refusal on any and all player contracts (including DP and Homegrown Player deals), that level of centralized power may become a point of bitter debate when the current collective bargaining agreement expires at the end of the 2019 season.