Fri | Sep 22, 2017

Boyz taking a hit with MLS salaries

Published:Wednesday | August 19, 2015 | 8:00 AMGordon Williams
Lawrence
Barnes (left) and Watson
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On the field, Jamaica was better than the United States (US) during Gold Cup 2015. At the bank, however, US internationals are cashing in more than Reggae Boyz in North America's top professional football competition.

According to figures released recently by the union representing players in Major League Soccer (MLS), Jamaicans generally make far less than their American counterparts, which has left some Boyz claiming lack of respect.

The disparity was glaring in the Gold Cup semi-final clash. According to MLS Players Union, the 2015 total guaranteed compensation for the five Americans who play in MLS, and who started against Jamaica, was US$12.3 million, averaging US$2.4 million per player. Captain Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey are guaranteed US$6.5 million and US$4.6 million, respectively. The lowest compensation will go to Gyasi Zardes, with US$223,000.

Meanwhile, four Boyz who started against the US are guaranteed a combined US$787,658.33 in MLS compensation this year, an average of US$196,914.58 each.

Darren Mattocks of Vancouver Whitecaps and Houston Dynamo's Giles Barnes, goalscorers in the historic 2-1 win, are Jamaica's projected top earners, with US$272,000 and US$275,658.33, respectively.

Midfielder Je-Vaughn Watson of FC Dallas will get at least US$180,000, while fullback Kemar Lawrence of New York Red Bulls, arguably the tournament's best defender, is guaranteed US$60,000, close to MLS minimum.

Combined, 20 Jamaica representatives scattered across MLS will make some US$2.4 million in guaranteed compensation in 2015. Half will make less than US$100,000 and nine will earn below US$80,000.

Current Jamaican players in MLS interviewed for this story requested anonymity, fearing backlash from their clubs. None suggested American players didn't deserve their compensation, but some believe the Boyz are being overlooked.

"(MLS clubs) do not respect Jamaicans at all," declared one veteran. "They think Jamaicans are not used to money, so they can offer any kind of money and we'll take it."

Boyz also claim MLS players from North America who make near-minimum are often inferior to Jamaicans making a similar amount.

"Other players from Canada and US get low wages, but they are not the same quality as Jamaicans," said a Reggae Boy.

Jamaicans have a proven record of significant MLS contribution, with several being key members of championship-winning teams. Yet top salaries have not followed club success.

"For the players coming from the smaller countries, like in the Caribbean, it's gonna be difficult because ... they're not seen as being world-class players yet," explained ex-Jamaica international, Tyrone Marshall, who won multiple MLS titles and is currently an assistant coach with Real Salt Lake.

Meanwhile, MLS clubs spend heavily on big names, limiting what they can offer unheralded talent, including Jamaicans.

"The MLS makes one mistake," said Winfried Sch‰fer, head coach of Jamaica's senior national team during the Gold Cup. "They take too many older players and pay them too much money. That is a problem for the development of the players. A big problem."

Brazilian Kaka is guaranteed most compensation in MLS this season - US$7.2 million. Ex-England internationals Steven Gerrard (US$6.3 million) and Frank Lampard (US$6 million), plus Spain's David Villa (US$5.6 million), also rake in big bucks.

Agents have been blamed for some disparity in compensation. Jamaican players believe they are occasionally caught in conflicts of interest.

"Representation is a problem," said a former Jamaican MLS All-Star. "... You're never sure what's going on behind closed doors.

Jamaicans are, therefore, starting to take keener interest in their contract negotiations.

"You have to put your foot down," one player said.

But Jamaican Damani Ralph, a former MLS player and current agent for several Boyz, doesn't believe Jamaicans in MLS are unfairly targeted with lower compensation.

Players' value, he explained, is tied to several elements, including quality, experience, and exposure. Jamaicans, especially those coming directly out of US colleges or the local Premier League, are viewed as unknown quantities.

"There is a structure," explained Ralph last month. "... People don't know what they will get out of (the players) at the beginning."

In national striker Deshorn Brown, however, MLS quickly found out. Brown scored 10 goals for Colorado Rapids in each of his first two MLS seasons after US college. This season, Brown plays in Europe after being guaranteed US$123,000 in 2014, according to the union. Ralph, Brown's agent, denied money was the reason the player left MLS.

"The aim was that Deshorn wanted to move to Europe," he said.

Colorado then signed Republic of Ireland striker Kevin Doyle, a former English Premier League (EPL) player. He is guaranteed US$1.2 million in 2015. Doyle had scored two goals in 12 appearances through August 16.

Lawrence, sources said, was brought to New York as a backup to a player earning more than three times his compensation. He won the starting job, but 'Taxi's' money metre is stuck on low.

"He has outperformed his contract," said Ralph, who represents Lawrence, "but it's a contract and he has to honour it."

Former US international Cory Gibbs, an agent with Wasserman Media Group (WMG), which represents some of the biggest names in MLS, including Jamaicans Barnes and Mattocks, doesn't believe Boyz are being deliberately underpaid either. Gibbs said players like Bradley and Dempsey earned big MLS paydays because of their accomplishments in top leagues and World Cup.

"US players have proven themselves at the highest level," said Gibbs. "... No disrespect, but they've built their names."

Slow development of professional football in Jamaica, some Boyz argue, has prevented them from doing the same, leaving little leverage to demand higher pay overseas, despite their talent.

"(MLS clubs) like to say we need to establish ourselves," said a player. "But still, they'd prefer to give big money to players who haven't produced."

Meanwhile, Jamaican talent is being embraced by MLS. The current batch is possibly the largest ever listed on team rosters for a single season. Five Boyz were selected in the first round of the last two MLS SuperDrafts.

But stigma remains. The decision by Alvas Powell (guaranteed US$68,700 in 2015 at Portland Timbers) to leave the national team during the Gold Cup is potentially one.

"They (clubs) can say that they can't invest heavily in players like Jamaicans because they don't know when they will flip out and walk out," a former MLS player said.

Compensation fortunes for Jamaicans in MLS, however, could soon turn dramatically, following strong performances at Copa AmÈrica and Gold Cup.

"The Jamaican player with athleticism, composure, discipline, there's definitely an upside," said Gibbs. "... Definitely there's an upswing (in interest)."

Options are opening outside MLS, too. Lawrence, for example, has attracted interest from clubs in top European leagues

"If players have quality, they don't have to play in MLS," said Ralph, recalling his own decision to move to Russia years ago.

Leagues like in Vietnam, for example, offer promising packages. Lower profiled Jamaican players in the "V League" have reportedly earned more than US$100,000 a season - after deductions. Ralph admitted Jamaicans' MLS value could improve.

"Market value of the Jamaican players is not what it needs to be," he said.

Barnes, whose club contract ends after this season, could be an early indicator if change is coming. Unconfirmed sources claim the striker is seeking more than $1 million next season.

Barnes declined to discuss the issue during Gold Cup.

Late last month, Gibbs didn't confirm or deny that figure but declared the striker "put himself in a good situation" with recent international performances.

So did other Boyz. If MLS doesn't pay, someone else just may.

"There are options out there; options that would surprise people," said Jamaican agent, Baron 'Mosiah' Marshall, who has represented several Boyz in Vietnam and listed China, India, Thailand, and Malaysia among possibilities.

"Everything," Gibbs said, "is about supply and demand."