In U.S soccer, there are three professional leagues sanctioned by the United States Soccer Federation (USSF). National Independent Soccer Association (NISA), a new organization that recently announced its inaugural teams, is currently seeking sanctioning for the 2019 season. Each league operates differently - Major League Soccer (MLS) has a single-entity structure where everyone is a league employee; United Soccer League Championship (USLC), formerly known as USL, has implemented a closed league of individual owners; NISA's structure is intended to facilitate the implementation of promotion/relegation while retaining more control at the local level. With each style comes challenges, but one that risks being consistent is player wages.
Each year, the Major League Soccer Player Association releases how much each player earns. There are no similar organizations working to protect the interests of professional players in the lower divisions. U.S Soccer should be taking a lead on player wages throughout the pyramid, but since it does not it is all the more important that player representation proliferate and operate.
According to a player currently playing in a professional soccer league, "I think it’s a shame that we don’t get compensated a living wage. I believe our abilities as footballers are far better than what we are getting compensated for. We wake up and train just as hard as anyone else does, but we just get paid twenty thousand or less which is not a sustainable wage for any human".
All professional players dedicate their lives to the game and at the very least they deserve a living wage to support themselves and their families. In most industries there are laws regulating wages and employee rights, but in U.S Soccer there continues to be a failure by the federation and leaders in the domestic sport to support the best-practices that lead to capitalized and stable lower-division clubs. Instead, leagues and their member clubs can do whatever they want and no one holds them accountable. U.S Soccer when pressed claims its only role is to sanction professional leagues, but long-time observers know more is going on that protects the revenue streams and monopoly footprint of MLS stakeholders over making it easier for a thousand professional regional clubs to flourish.
Without U.S Soccer intervening and implementing rules and regulations, Leagues and their member clubs will get away with offering players wages that are not sustainable for the player and their family. "I could have been making more money in a fast food restaurant than playing in the United Soccer League" said Danny Szetela.
And while it's enough of a reason, it's not the only reason to want to see better compensation at the lower-division levels. While MLS' continued existence serves to fulfill a World Cup host compliance requirement, there is more to the sport than keeping MLS lurching forward. There will never be enough breadth of positions if we continue to depend on MLS as the sole means of supporting professional players' livelihoods. In other nations' divisions, some players can find a living wage throughout the pyramid. It is vital for the long-term health of the sport in this country that a development pipeline be expanded. There must be a means of players supporting themselves and even families as they develop and move up the divisions, as well as offering berths to veterans as they consider the merit of extending their careers. The zero-sum nature of the current configuration borders on brutality. Everyone, including the federation, should want to solve this problem. That the federation does not seem to even be willing to acknowledge the need speaks volumes for who will be at the core of a real solution.
If U.S Soccer can't or won't intervene, then a group of like-minded players needs to form a players union that fights for the interests of all players - professional, aspiring and the youth that weigh the value of continuing to devote their energy and love to a domestic game that curiously does not love them back. That's when U.S Soccer will take notice and change things. People joining together and speaking up for what's right is the only thing that ever does.
James Izurieta contributed to this report.