During the pre-game show for the United States' Gold Cup game against Panama last night, MLS announced the MLS All-Star Game Fan XI and the two MLS All-Stars picked by Commissioner Don Garber. The fan vote, as is typical in these sorts of games, leaned towards popular players regardless of their their play this season. Garber, on the other hand, picked two players who have yet to step on an MLS field: Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard.
This is obviously a calculated move to try and boost the audience for the game, trying to bring in viewers who may watch the Premier League but have yet to give MLS a chance. Now, there is no sanctity to an all-star game, no inherant mandate that it be the best players in MLS so far that season; it is an exhibition to showcase the league. But Garber's move highlights the class problem that has existed in the league for some time, and which was essentially codified in the new collective bargaining agreement.
32 players will be named MLS All-Stars, with a corresponding bonus to be paid to each of them. This includes infamous "inactive All-Stars," chosen by their fellow players, who will receive said bonus but not even travel to the game. Hilariously enough, there are still two "inactive All-Stars" from last season whose identities were never made public.
Ethan Finlay is the league leader in assists, and made $51,000 last season; Fabian Castillo is one of the best players for FC Dallas; Matt Miazga is a young talent already garnering attention from overseas; Alvas Powell is having a breakout year for the Portland Timbers; Steve Birnbaum has been lights out recently. And the list of young players who deserve All-Star consideration goes on and on after that.
Some of these players will make the final roster for the All-Star game, but some of them - most of them - eventually won't. What do all of these players have in common? They're all young, all under the age of 25, and now two more of them will not be getting a bonus payout for making the All-Star team. And while putting Lampard and Gerrard on the field might bring in a couple extra bucks for the league, it takes money out of the pockets of its young players and puts it into the wallets of two guys who won't even notice it.
The player representatives for each MLS team negotiated the new collective bargaining agreement and brought it back to their teams. Their ranks were primarily filled with MLS veterans, like Dan Gargan, Brad Evans, and Steven Caldwell. The veterans have served the league well and deserve their chance at free agency, the major concession that they wrought from the hands of the owners. But everything comes at a price in negotiations, and the young players lost there too.
In the end, is a benefit to the league also the benefit of the players? For most of the history of MLS, that answer has been yes. However, MLS is on a run of new TV deals and endorsement contracts, and they "won" the CBA negotiations against the players this spring. They are out for their piece, and that's their right in the current adversarial bargaining environment.
In hindsight, the most important concession that they extracted may just end up being shortening the length of the deal from seven to five years. Combining the increase in base salaries with the small increase in cap size squeezes the young crop of MLS players, who don't have the free agency leverage to sign elsewhere. And some young players won't have the age or MLS service requirements to participate in the Re-Entry Process, even after their first contract expires. Michael Seaton, for example, has no chance at all to be eligible for the Re-Entry Process for at least four more years.
See you in five years.