It's the story that simply won't die. A new report by Goal.com has it that the deal between Mix Diskerud and the Portland Timbers wasn't foiled by any sort of payment, contract, or designated player negotiations between the team and Diskerud, but rather that MLS and the league office shut down the deal.
"In MLS, you have a group of owners that collectively have ruled it unacceptable for example for people like me to join one specific MLS team only, and with a right to continue a career in Europe after let's say three years depending on the player's choice."
While nothing is mentioned with regard to the specific contract, it would appear that Diskerud would have preferred to spend a few years building his career here in Portland, but with an obvious eye to return to Europe. Whether he meant some sort of exit clause or non-negotiating deal that allowed him to leave prior to his full contract or what, we don't know.
Mix went on to say:
"I, for sure, want much more to belong to a team and a city than to be 'owned' by a league. Especially when the league puts so many restrictions on what kind of non-economic agreements the club and the player can make. The economic constraints I understand and accept, so it's not that."
That's certainly not a ringing endorsement of the league from one of the country's up and coming soccer stars. Mix, for his part, isn't necessarily the first to criticize MLS's rules regarding player contract and player movements. Both Herculez Gomez and Robbie Rogers have questioned why their respective rights are owned by clubs that they apparently want nothing to do with.
Indeed, MLS's rules are a little disconcerting when it comes to player's rights. Here's a couple points from the MLS Player's Union Collective Bargaining Agreement:
"Unless otherwise agreed to in an SPA [Standard Player Agreement] addendum, a Player may be required, without his consent, to relocate to any Team in the League as directed by MLS."
- MLS Players Union Collective Bargaining Agreement, section 15.1.
Thus the selling points of playing in a mild climate, in front of the Timbers Army, and under the direction of coach Caleb Porter, were negated entirely by the refusal of the league to guarantee that Diskerud would actually get to do all those things. Without his consent, and without warning, he could be required to play in a hot and humid climate, in front of an empty stadium, under a coach with whom he was completely unfamiliar.
To make matters worse...
"Where the Player's Category is Semi-Guaranteed, MLS may terminate an SPA [Standard Player Agreement] between January 1 and the Contract Guarantee Date of any given year, without further obligation on either party if the Player fails, in the sole and absolute discretion of MLS, to exhibit sufficient skill or competitive ability to qualify for or continue as a member of the Team's active roster."
- MLS Players Union Collective Bargaining Agreement, section 18.7(i)
According to the MLS Player's Union, the vast majority of player contracts are semi-guaranteed.
That bit about the "sole and absolute discretion of MLS" is probably how we saw players such as Steven Smith and Franck Songo'o depart without much hassle from the league, while Kris Boyd's guaranteed DP contract required a buy out.
It's no wonder that Mix Diskerud wanted no part of this when he was already being offered a contract at his current club Rosenborg. As he told goal.com:
"As far as I am concerned, I think the MLS policies of today are tailored to a little older players who accept to limit themselves to end their careers in the U.S./Canada and MLS."
And with MLS continuing to invest in players who have aged beyond their use in European leagues, who can blame him for drawing such a conclusion?
MLS and the Player's Union have fought over rights before. In 2010 a work stoppage nearly occurred when a new CBA couldn't be agreed upon. One sticking point was the inability for a player to be signed by a different club for free if his contract was terminated by his original club. While they didn't get any sort of free movement, they did get some sort of compromise by way of a new draft.
The current CBA runs until December 31st, 2014. That gives MLS just about a year and a half to get ready for another fight. My guess, with MLS getting more popular each year, players will be demanding more rights for themselves.
Whether MLS will acquiesce to player demands is debatable, but if the Diskerud dilemma was any sign, the world's most promising young players are likely to continue to spurn the league until significant changes are made.
Andy Wheeler contributed to this article.