New England wins SuperLiga Final as bonus squabble looms


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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:


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.

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52 Responses to New England wins SuperLiga Final as bonus squabble looms

  1. ccfc0123 says:

    They are getting paid to play soccer!!! what a bunch of f***ing babies!!! They should be embarassed!! Wearing the Dynamo jerseys and not getting the trophy was complete bulls***

  2. wyo fan says:

    I think you put a finger on the main issue: Why Mexican players would have gotten a larger cut from the same pot of money.

    And with MLS players making so little (some as low as 20k), the bonus has a major financial impact on the players’ personal solvency. Some of these guys are likely going into debt to play in the league.

  3. ego says:

    agreed f****ng idiots not a soccer players.

  4. A.S. says:

    I completely forgot that the SuperLiga Final was last night. Watched both semifinals – great matches. But the SuperLiga just doesn’t hold any appeal if it isn’t a US team against a Mexican team.

  5. STX81 says:

    I think “ccfc0123″ is Don Garber’s screen name.

  6. Tony in Quakeland says:

    Without question, the players have the right to negotiate over the prize money. The league and the teams get a “bonus” in terms of the television coverage and the attendance – it’s bs that they announce a prize and then only give the players 15%. They need to man up and bargain with the players fairly on things like this.

    As i always say, I’ve never gone to a sporting event to watch an owner…

  7. Mr. Fishkin says:

    The match was terrific to watch…

    Based on the recent success of the league (more revenue, larger expansion fees, jersey sponsorships, more stadiums, more competitions, more teams in the black), expect the MLSPU to push for an appropriate piece of the larger pie when the CBA expires after next season.

    The players’ union is right to make a stink about MLS/SUM’s million-dollar cliam, but the CBA was written when the league was in a much different place financially.

    Can’t wait to watch the fireworks when it’s time for the players to negotiate again.

  8. James says:

    “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.”

    Oh please. First – the bonus structure for SuperLiga is THE SAME AS MLS CUP. Ya know, the one they spend THE WHOLE YEAR working towards, and they can win the same amount IN FIVE GAMES.

    And don’t tell me they don’t look at playing the Mexican teams as an opportunity to prove themselves. Arturo Alvarez doubled his salary last year after a Mexican club liked what they saw from him in the SuperLiga. That interest gave Alvarez the bargaining position to get the salary he is currently making.

    And if you take a moment to hear Garber out, he specifically discussed that MLS teams have to incur the expenses of the Mexican teams. So what, the owners shouldn’t recoup their investment?

    I get that the players deserve a better CBA, but this isn’t a winning issue for them. Not when you look at the actual numbers.

  9. Chris says:

    It was a very compelling match. Whatever ill-will the players might have felt about to prize money, it didn’t impact their play. I was glued to the set throughout. I guess NE was due for a win against Houston in a game that counts.

    One thing I wanted to say [and this is from a die-hard Dynamo supporter]: Sharlie Joseph is the man. I think Rico Clark is a very good d-mid, but Joseph is a class above him.

  10. Steve says:

    If its posturing ahead of the CBA fine.

    If not, I’m just not agreeing with the players on this one. It was alwasys my impression that the teams, not the plyers, would be awarded 1 million.

    As for the Mexicans gettign more money from their clubs as a result: Its a different league! Do you think the UEFA Cup bonuses were identical for Rangers and Zenit last year? No! Different countries different leagues, different bonuses.

    This is however starting to give me a bad feelign about engotiationof the labor contract. Don Garber better spend a little less tiem worrying about expansion teams for and a little more time ensuring that the labor agreement will be negotiated with out any work stoppage.

  11. Steve says:

    As i always say, I’ve never gone to a sporting event to watch an owner…

    Posted by: Tony in Quakeland | August 06, 2008 at 10:31 AM

    Yet, without them you would have never gone to a sporting event. Especially in this sport.

    If you always say that then you are always expressing something very naive.

  12. gerald says:

    So what happened to the other $750,000?

  13. RK says:

    Am I reading this right? Reis took a PK?

  14. Dominick says:

    I’m with the players on this one. To advertise the purse as $1 mill and then disperse $150,000 to the winner–shaddy.

    Also, if this incident prompts discussion between the union and players and helps to prevent a suicidal strike all the better.

    MLS has lost a lot of money over the years but considered it an ‘investment’. The tangible strides taken in the last few years demonstrate the wisdom of this investment (tv contracts, Soccer Specific Stadiums, expansion groups with solid ownership). The league needs to continue this strategy and invest in all players salaries. Hard to call it major league soccer when some on the roster are making minor league salaries. Reasonable salaries, say a floor of $60,000 and a cap that reflects that, are an investment, wish the league would see it that way.

  15. jmac says:

    give ’em hell, players union!

  16. Phillip says:

    Don Garber is communism personified.

    The league needs to get it’s head out of it’s ass and pay these players what they deserve.

    They payment these guys receive is absolutely pathetic.

  17. zoran says:

    It really is a shame, the players in this league do deserve a lot more money. It is unfortunate that many of the owners had to carry the entire league, but with more wealthy owners and SSS coming in, these salaries really have to increase.

  18. m@ says:

    The players are definitely in the right here. The Dynamo players had an agreement with their ownership and front office. After everyone was satisfied with the %, the MLS cabal stepped in to kill that insolent bit of self-sufficiency.

    The players are not asking for the million dollar purse; they’re asking for the right to let each team decide how to split that purse. The teams have different circumstances and different expenses, and they should be allowed to decide how to allocate the money that THEY’VE EARNED. It also can be a useful incentive for clubs trying to differentiate themselves from the other McClubs out there: “In our club we make sure players receive X% of the purse from any outside tourney.”

    Part of the MLS rationale is they don’t want a side tournament offering a bigger purse than the MLS Cup. Garber seems to think a few thousand more dollars earned in SuperLiga would make it more important than the MLS Cup, but then he says in the media call this week “I don’t know how all of a sudden this became, whether through the media or through the player, that the only thing that matters in this tournament is the prize money. I don’t ever hear that in MLS, I don’t hear that in the World Cup…”

    But it was Garber that made it about the money. The clubs had a resolution (or at least the Dynamo did) with its players, and Garber decided that the money issue was something that demanded he make a draconian decision. And it’s Garber that think the purse is what makes the MLS Cup more important. Spoken like a businessman who doesn’t know the soccer culture.

    What does it say about the importance of the MLS Cup if the MLS Commissioner thinks it is the only contest whose worth is based on the money bestowed? That the only way to keep it relevant is to quash the reward from any other tourney, including this tournament created by MLS/SUM to generate more revenue and expand the fanbase for itself?

  19. jmac says:

    excellent post m@

  20. George H says:

    The thing that bothers me about this is that while mgmt of the individual teams seem willing to give the players a bigger cut of the prize money, the league has clearly squashed those efforts. Not only this year, but last year as well.

    While the battle lines are clearly being drawn between the players and the league over what can & cannot be done thru the CBA, I wouldn’t be surprised if more owners push the league to give them more latitude to make these type of decisions on their own.

    If not, we may see some expansion candidates balk over paying the large fee to join the league while not having as much control as they think they do.

  21. doug says:

    Good solidarity between the Revs and Dynamo last night. Think about it. If someone offered you $3000 to paint their house, you painted it, but when you were halfway through, they decided to drop the price to $100 without negotiating another deal. Would you even finish the house? The Revs and Dynamo did OVER and ABOVE what they were required to do. If they were trying to make a huge stink they wouldve, one thinks they would have staged a sit-in before the start. In a league where most players are earning under 60k and in most case under 40k, are you telling me splitting 150k 22 ways better benefits the Corey Ashes, Nyassi’s, and Stuart Holden’s of the world. Starters on both teams all making less than 60k a season. Or split 1 million, 22 ways. The difference is about 40k.

  22. franco says:

    Um James,

    Arturo Alvarez doubled his salary because of interest from Bordeaux as well as his desire to leave FCD and pursue better opportunities with other MLS teams or in another league. FCD placated him with a higher salary.

    The Superliga didn’t make him.

  23. ccfc0123 says:

    Solidarity??!! Its a competition!!! These teams should hate each other!! Houston vs New England should be a rivalry!!! Imagine Real Madrid wearing the Barcelona jersey after they beat them…it would never happen!! it was a complete joke

  24. doug says:

    you cant imagine that ccfc0123 because those guys make as much in a week than a superliga purse. the money for those clubs is inconsequential.

  25. RK says:

    Imagine Barcelona forming a tunnel for La Liga Champions Real Madrid last year! Was that a joke, too?

  26. ur says:

    Players want more money I agree with them but they can’t act like idiots after the game.FUC* them all.

  27. ccfc0123 says:

    RK that’s a tradition! It happens every year…Learn something about the game

  28. RK says:

    I know its a tradition — I’m pointing out that, gasp, teams actually do respect one another occasionally.

  29. Sayerville FC says:

    Garber’s point about the winners getting 150k “for only 5 games” is a pretty silly one when you do the math.

    Divide 150,000 by 28, the max number of players on an MLS roster. It equals 5,357.

    Now, divide that by 5, the number of games played by the winning team. That equals 1,071.00 per game.

    That may seem like a lot to sum, but per game, it’s lower than what most MLS players already make. 1,071 x 30 = 32,130, or about the minimum for non developmental players.

    Most rostered players make more than that. So, their “reward” for winning SuperLiga is to make less per game than they already make in the MLS regular season.

    It’s not a lot if incentive and it makes Garber’s points look silly and it makes the players seem completely justified in their stance against MLS on this.

  30. Eric K says:

    ccfc0123 – you can be a rival with another team and not hate them. NE and Houston are really competitive but it’s clear they respect each other. I’m a Revs fan, the last two MLS Cup finals were frustrating but I respect the Dynamo.

  31. DM says:

    Very entertaining tournament. Fantastic game to watch. Revs survived the adventure of Igwe at centerback. As a Revs fan I was disappointed that they chose not to accept the trophy on the stage. I have to agree that that was classless even if they did have issues with MLS and the players shares.

    If Setterlund had spent as much time watching the match as he did worrying about how much the players were making maybe his T&G article would have gotten more of the facts right … game finished 2-2 not 3-2 and the Revs played 4-4-2 not 3-5-2. Backline was Tierney, Igwe, Larentowicz and Albright.

    link to

    compared with link to

    Time to find a new correspondent Ives!

  32. spencer says:

    What I see wrong with the whole issue is that MLS is unwilling to give a player a 15k bonus that only makes 17k in an entire year. And the winning bonus should be established through the team management, not the league.

  33. m@ says:

    Those who question the solidarity of the players, saying they should be competitive should fully support the players on this issue. The MLS is trying to make every club the same: a McClub. The players are saying the clubs should negotiate their own allocation percantages with the players. It would benefit the players, yes; but it would also make the clubs more competitive because they could use the club philosophy on player compensation as a bargaining chip for luring talent. It’s the MLS single-entity that wants uniformity at the expense of competition.

    An open market breeds competition, which is what the players want. The MLS’s preferred closed market breeds stagnation.

  34. Scott C says:

    I’m totally with the players on this one. There’s almost no incentive to win the tournament – $1,000 per game, what a joke. And that’s if you win the tournament! Go out for 5 games and risk a career ending injury for that little. Their career’s are short, many times cut even shorter by injuries, they need to make money while they can. If you are going to add games to their schedule, their needs to be an incentive to perform. The parity rules in this league are way too much. It’s much better to play for a team that doesn’t win much and gets to stay home and watch these games…

  35. garbaggio says:

    My sympathies are mostly with the players on the money issues. But I was worried the teams wouldn’t play competitively after some of the pre-game comments.

    I’m glad both teams played hard and congratulations to New England. Whether or not this SuperLiga is “contrived” (aren’t most professional sporting events?), winning a tournament featuring 4 of the top teams from the Mexican League and MLS is a worthy accomplishment.

  36. Danny says:

    The problem is that most of these guys get paid very little relative to other sports and other leagues. The way MLS treats its players is a disgrace in terms of salary and it needs to change. Salaries need to go up across the board, plain and simple.

  37. Brett says:

    ccfc0123- i wonder how many players on the Madrid and the Barca teams actually hate each other?? outside of a competitive rivalry, im not exactly sure how much “home grown” talent is on the roster… im thinking its more imported, thus the “hated rivalry” between the players is diluted…

    now the fans are a different story…

  38. NOLA soccer fan says:

    i really dislike the owners incur the cost of the mexican team part. The mexican teams make more money, pay more money to their players, and should be able to charter a flight to the states and get hotels and transport on their own dollar.

    So in essence, the MLS players got screwed because the mexican players came over and the owners in the MLS who are already multimillionaires need another couple of thousand to cover costs. I dont feel bad for owners because you bought a team and in most cases are getting a soccer specific stadium (which the bill mostly footed by the people)

    Im sorry i think this is crap. pay your players. stop complaining that you need to cover the costs of the mexican teams. either dont invite them or let them pay their own way. MAYBE next year we can play in mexico and let the mexican teams pay for the MLS teams.

  39. Ryan says:

    I understand the players issues with the CBA. This happens in every sport. There is chaos brewing in the NFL over the CBA when it runs out in ’10. The MLS needs an influx of cash to increase minimum salaries to avoid stagnation, but it is going to be very important that each team is gradually progressing. We do not want the MLS to turn into the SPL or MLB. Expansion is not the answer. I think bonuses provided directly by the owenership is the key. Maybe promoting the tournaments better would help. <10,000 people for a final in Mass. when the Red Sox are out of town is terrible. Its called ADVERTISING! MLS might want to go beyond the zealots and actually add to the fanbase so that they are not continuing to alienate the talent. This is something all the professional sports will be dealing with in years to come as the Euro continues to dominate the dollar.

    Lebron to Greece for $50 million may happen. Its a new sports landscape, and its time for MLS to recognize this.

  40. oh man says:

    those jeyseys must be all sweaty when they are exchanged.

    and then you put it on…


  41. John says:

    I don’t have a problem with what the league did with Superliga (as far as payouts) or that the players are bitching about it (perhaps they are bitching a bit too much, but whatever). The league did take under a pretty large financial burden in organzing the tournament to help build additional interst in MLS among Hispanic fans.

    The games overall were pretty good. I think the final was a bit anti-climatic for most b/c everyone wants to see a US-Mexico matchup in a meaninful (or micky mouse) way.

    It will be interesting to see if the CONCACAF Champions League later this month has much of an impact of how people perceive Superliga (will it eclipse it, make it less relevant, etc.).

    As a Rev’s fan I was excited by the fact that they beat three Mexican teams. Unlike DC and Houston they have not played a Mexican team before in a somewhat meaningful game before (I don’t think).

    I’m also hoping that the money that the players don’t get out of the $1M purse is a signficant enough ammount that the team may come close to breaking even this year (for the first time?). The Revs have had a lot of success while not having the largest payroll. I’d like to see the team try and build on this success by continuing to strengthen the team with even more talent from both the US and abroad. The team is good, but not that good that they can be assured of another good run in the playoffs.

  42. Marx says:

    Respectfully, the person who said Don barger is Communism personified may want to take a closer look at Communism. Understandably people got paid low wages in Communist countries and they had to deal with Authoritarian governments, but they all got paid the same low crappy wage.

    Don Garber is actually acting like a Capitalist without regulations. He is looking to get the lowest price from labor, player salaries, and maximize the owners’ share, capital.

    The players are unionizing and flexing their muscles as Karl Marx suggested as a way to get a greater share of the profits.

    So Don Garber is the Capitalist in this situation and the players are the Communists. Its just that Communism while quite bad in reality, looks pretty good in theory. Those theories are aimed at doing exactly what the Houston and Revs players did, which is show solidarity and split profits evenly and thus more fairly amongst the laborers.

  43. Joamiq says:

    $150,000 for 18 players over five games works out to about $1,700 per player per game. That’s ridiculous. These are professional soccer players. I think it should go up to at least $2,500 per player per game, which would work out to (a still low figure of) $225,000 for the players.

  44. Joamiq says:

    I was assuming that it was distributed among the 18 man senior roster. If it’s the whole 28 man roster, then the low total is even more absurd.

  45. nicholas s. says:

    Go players! I agree fully with their actions.

  46. Chris says:

    If you advertise $1,000,000, you gotta give em $1,000,000. How the hell do you only give them 150K and even take yourself seriously? Where the hell does all the rest of the money go?!

  47. Sandro says:

    The winnings should be a lot higher for this tournament. The players are already getting paid very little. Only a few guys make a decent living in MLS. But we also have to understand that the league is growing and some teams haven’t even turn a profit yet. It is a tough issue, but hopefully as more teams get soccer specific stadium the cost will go down and the salaries of players will go up.

    Great job by Matt Reis. This is a fun tournament to watch.

  48. argi4 says:

    While there are posts that have made a few good points, many people forget that there is still a soccer league in teh US because of people like Garber and the MLS owners and the decisions they’ve had to make over the last 13 years… everyone is so quick to be critical, but there is no one on SBI or Big Soccer that knows enough about the league and soccer business to say they could do it all better. That’s probably the same about most if not all of the players in the league.

    I know defending the league isn’t want most want to hear, but sometimes you need to give the benefit of the doubt and let it unfold as it may.

    There are a lot of things that are right about SuperLiga and the things that aren’t probably won’t go unnoticed when they look to set it up in 2009.

  49. m@ says:


    There’s no doubt that Garber (and Gulati) has done a lot to build a viable soccer league. In the past two seasons he’s even gotten fairly innovative to boot. He certainly gets commended for that.

    But past successes don’t give you a pass when you make a bad move. Let the club owners decide how they want to allocate the money they’ve earned, if and when they earn it. Don’t unilaterally override not only the players, but the clubs’ front office.

  50. Seriously? says:

    I scanned down the comments, so I may have missed it if someone else mentioned this, but what right does Garber have to tell the players what they do with their money once they’ve gotten it. If the Revs players want to give some of their money to the Dynamo players, how can he tell them they can’t, isn’t it their money? Is there something in the CBA telling the players how they have to spend the money they win?

    As for ccfc0123, are you serious? The players should “hate” each other? What does that even mean? Did you even watch the game, and if so, did it appear they weren’t trying their hardest to win the game? Professional athletes, no matter what the sport, should still respect one another, otherwise players would be more likely to try to just maim opponents who are causing problems, and you also would see more situations like the ones we saw in the semis, where the Mexican teams, which don’t really respect American soccer, resort to reckless, petty fouling, and starting post game brawls. Is that the type of thing you like to see? As for players exchanging jerseys after a championship match (or any match), while it may have been a bit more uniform in how all the players were wearing the jersey they got, have you seriously never seen players do that before? If so, I guess this must be the first match you’ve ever watched.

  51. jake says:

    I’m with the players with this in general, but to Doug’s analogy of the house, its not like they are getting 1 thirtieth of what they were promised. They are getting about one seventh of what YOU thought they should get given the prize. The CBA was in place and although they may not have known exactly how much they’d make for winning going in, they surely knew they wouldn’t split $1 million. If they didn’t they need new union reps. In fairness, getting $10-20k per player on the winning team would be fair. More would be nice of course. Wondering what DCU and Chivas USA got out of it? Less that $1k per game I imagine.

  52. TOM TOM says:

    im an RBNY fan, and wanted the dynamo to win, but honestly, what was Nicol thinking letting Reis take a PK?? I thought i was dreaming when watching him step up to the ball