Photo by ISIphotos.com
The 2008 SuperLiga Tournament came to a close in dramatic fashion on Tuesday night as New England defeated the Houston Dynamo on penalty kicks. Matt Reis played the hero, stopping a pair of shots, including the final shot by Houston’s Corey Ashe to give the Revs a second trophy to go with last year’s U.S. Open Cup title.
The match ended a very entertaining, though controversial second installment of the SuperLiga tournament. From shaky officiating to some heated confrontations among players from MLS and Mexican teams, the tournament was fun to watch, but also ugly at times.
If one storyline stood out though, it was the conflict between MLS and its players of the bonuses players received in the tournament. Players expressed their anger over not being given larger shares of winning prize money while MLS called the complaints a ploy ahead of the next Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations.
SBI correspondent Carl Setterlund was at Gillette Stadium last night and discussed the SuperLiga bonus money issue with several of the game’s participants. Here is his report:
By CARL SETTERLUND
It truly was a stunning finish to the 2008 SuperLiga, as New England won 2-2 (6-5) on penalty kicks, and it almost makes you forget that there was such a sensitive story on the backburner. The issue at hand, of course, is the winner’s take, advertised to be a cool $1 million purse. The reality was that players for a winning MLS team were only due to earn $150,000 as a group.
Houston and New England agreed before the game to split their winnings (first-place take $150,000 and second-place takes $100,000) with each team getting $125,000. The move was made as a show of solidarity, a message to MLS to show their displeasure with the winner’s take, but also that MLS had been advertising the $1 million figure more than anything.
MLS commissioner Don Garber has already stated his opinion on the agreement saying: "That’s not something that is permitted in the CBA, it’s not something we are going to allow and something, should they decide to do, we will have to manage it the way we would manage any other violation of the collective bargaining agreement."
If there was any worry that the issue would compromise the competitiveness of the match, it was quickly dispelled watching the intensity of the play. However, it was obviously still on the players’ minds as, after the game, every player took part in exchanging jerseys with the other team to show that they stood together on this front.
I was there covering the game for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, and after such an entertaining 120 minutes, I almost felt bad bringing up the money issues at hand to the players, but thankfully goalies Pat Onstad and Matt Reis obliged to respond to the subject.
Onstad elaborating on the exchange of jerseys:
“I think it was a show of unity. I think we felt that the CBA (collective bargaining agreement) had been violated in terms of our rights and negotiating with our clubs an extra bonus for this tournament. We also felt that it had been set up as if a million dollars was going to the winner and that’s not the case. We were a little disappointed in the way the tournament had been handled, but on the same token, it’s a great tournament and there are great teams in the tournament.”
On the grievance filed by Houston against MLS’ rule that players may only receive up to 15 percent of prize money earned in competitions. The players union says that the CBA allows them to negotiate other bonuses for competitions.
“We’ll see how (the grievance) goes, that’ll be in the fall. We’ll see where we go from there. You know, I think the fact that we shared the money was to show that we’re unified as a group. It seemed the comments made about the fact that we were splitting the prize showed that the line is drawn in the sand and there’s going to be conflict, but I think the players are ready for that.”
Matt Reis’ take on the situation and the Mexican teams’ potentially larger take:
“As players we’re very disappointed and the fact that we weren’t allowed to negotiate the prize, and although we’re happy with the money, at the same time if they’re saying that the (Mexican) teams get twice as much as we do, we don’t feel that’s fair. If you’re going to add this tournament, give us a chance to negotiate prize money that’s fair and equal to every team.”
Reis on why an agreement was reached between Houston and New England to split the purse and his mentality on the game:
“We didn’t want it to be a situation where we’re kicking the crap out of each other. We know that there’s bigger things in this year and if the league are going to add these extra games on, at least make it fair for us to have a chance to play for the same thing that the other teams in the tournament are playing for. (It was) a sign of solidarity between both teams and all the MLS teams that were in it.”
“We wanted to make sure that everybody is playing for the rest of the games this season and not getting any injuries in this game where we’re a little disappointed in the prize money.”
Reis on the SuperLiga:
“Every player feels that this tournament is a great tournament and we’re excited to play in these games and you could see, even though we’re making half of what other teams are making, we still fought just as hard.”
While Reis was a little less reserved than Onstad, he let it be known that all parties involved still put forth their best effort. The interesting thing is that it seems like the players are ready for a fight, and why shouldn’t they be? The Revolution and Dynamo were put in a position to play five extra games and the prize money they receive really is insufficient compensation for their efforts in the tournament. Next up is to see how far the MLS and the players union are willing to take this battle. Who knows how this one will end.
Think the players are right to stand up to Don Garber? Are their efforts too little, too late? If you were the arbitrator, how would you rule on the Dynamo’s grievance? Share your thoughts below.