In the last throes of a potentially record-breaking season, San Jose striker Chris Wondolowski voiced a reasonable opinion to ESPN's Alexi Lalas over the weekend.
He would like a new contract, preferably one that makes him a Designated Player and pays him seven figures.
Wondolowski joins a long list of MLS standouts to search for greater compensation after a stellar season. Like most other players before him, he will probably deserve the extra money without finding a way to obtain it.
It isn't for want of trying. Wondolowski will win the MVP this season. He has scored 25 times this year. That output – just two shy of Roy Lassiter's single-season mark of 27 goals set back in 1996 after a hat trick in the 4-1 win at Colorado on Saturday night – isn't some outlier. He scored 16 times last year and 18 times in the year before that. No player influences his team more significantly than Wondolowski does.
For all of his efforts, Wondolowski has received new deals in each of the past two seasons. His breakthrough campaign in 2010 netted him an increase from $48,000 to $175,000 in guaranteed compensation for the 2011 season, according to MLS Players' Union documents. Another fine series of displays earned him a second bump to $300,000 prior to the 2012 season, according to those same documents.
Although San Jose general manager John Doyle has taken care of his former youth player during his rise to the top of MLS, Wondolowski isn't out of place in his demands for yet another new deal. He is an irreplaceable figure for his club. He possesses a significant amount of public support given his torrid form. And, at age 29, he must attempt to secure a massive deal now before the prospect disappears forever.
Similar gambits by other MLS players have failed in the past because the league does a fantastic job of managing expenditures in these sorts of situations. It isn't smart business for MLS to establish new benchmarks for its top domestic stars when every player negotiates within a single-entity structure and when the league hands out large deals to established international figures. One big contract to Wondolowski would increase the demands from fellow players in his category and push the overall wages for star players into a higher wage bracket. The progression is warranted from the players' perspective given their current levels of compensation and production on a global scale, but it presents a rather loathsome prospect for the league with the budgetary controls it has put in place.
(Note: It must be said that the idea of ripping up a player's contract in consecutive offseasons doesn't exactly adhere to the usual operating practice, either. Then again, Wondolowski isn't a typical player given his rapid ascent and staggering contributions.)
In these sorts of circumstances, the player must force the league into a corner where no option exists but to strike the deal. That type of leverage – rare as it is – usually emerges in one of three ways: the player excels at the international level, receives a significant offer from a foreign club or runs his contract down to its expiration date. None of those three factors – barring the rather surprising idea of a player without an agent drumming up a transfer proposal acceptable to the league – really apply to Wondolowski. Two other factors – Wondolowski's affinity for his hometown and his likely desire to stay there – actually hinder Wondolowski's argument.
This case will likely unfold like the other scenarios before it. Maybe Wondolowski can entice Doyle to hand him a third pay increase in three seasons. If he does, it won't be for a three-fold increase and it likely won't include a DP tag given MLS' reluctance to dole it out to domestic standouts. There are too many option years remaining on his deal to countenance that sort of largesse. MLS executives might consent to the revamped contract after establishing some precedent in this area with Dwayne De Rosario's new deal after his MVP season in 2011, but they do not necessarily need to do so.
(Note: San Jose must navigate these waters carefully if MLS does agree to permit a new deal here. Several players will merit pay hikes during the winter. If Wondolowski ends up with one of those budget-crippling max-plus deals [maximum salary plus an additional sum bought down by allocation money] in the final accounting, then Doyle will face an impossible task to keep his squad together as presently comprised.)
Several options still remain on the table to deal with the situation. Unfortunately for Wondolowski, none of them likely involves a solution that will fulfill all of his wishes.
Five Points – Week 29
1. San Jose coach Frank Yallop on Wondolowski's MVP chances: “There's no doubt,” Yallop told reporters after Wondolowski's hat trick in Commerce City. “He has scored 25 goals in a tough league to score goals in. To get that many is incredible and he has a chance of beating the record now. He played wide left and wide right today. It doesn't matter where he plays. He scores goals.”
2. New York defender Connor Lade on his side's performance in a 2-0 home defeat to Chicago: “It’s pretty crappy,” Lade told reporters. ”You have a big opportunity here to clinch a playoff berth, but we came out and just didn’t get what we were looking for. We’re pretty disappointed.”
3. Real Salt Lake forward Fabián Espíndola on his continued success at the Home Depot Center: “I like to play against LA,” Espíndola told reporters after he scored twice in RSL's 2-1 win over the Galaxy on Saturday night to increase his totals in Carson to five goals and three assists this year. “This is a huge field. It’s so difficult for defenders to mark and I think that’s good for us. We’re a team that’s good with the ball. It works because the other teams get so tired when they don’t get the ball in those spaces.”
4. Chivas USA goalkeeper Dan Kennedy on the end of the club-record seven-match losing streak: “It feels a helluva a lot better,” Kennedy told reporters after the 1-1 draw with FC Dallas on Sunday night. “But, definitely, it’s something positive out of this game. At this point of the season, it’s always tough to make sure [we] match those other teams who are fighting for a playoff spot. But we pretty much took the wind out of Dallas’ sails, so that was a big accomplishment for us.”
5. Seattle coach Sigi Schmid on the 66,452 fans that packed CenturyLink Field on Sunday night: “We're happy with the goals – they were helpful on a couple of them,” Schmid told the Seattle Times after Sounders FC registered a 3-0 win over Portland. “[Donovan] Ricketts' save on the one that Fredy [Montero] tried to beat him with far post could have been a 'Goal of the Year' type of thing. That was tremendous – the whole atmosphere and the feeling. When I walked on the field, as I said to [assistant coach Brian Schmetzer], 'This is what heaven must be like.' In my imagination of heaven, this is it – packed house, beat Portland by three, fans going crazy. It can't get better than that.”
Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for Goal.com. He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSsoccer.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.
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- Chris Wondolowski