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NASL Commissioner Bill Peterson backs ‘total free agency’ in wake of MLS labor deal



On the heels of the recent MLS CBA negotiations, free agency is a hot topic in the North American soccer landscape.

With the announcement of a limited form of free agency extended to MLS veteran players, the league has taken a step toward developing somewhat of a free market. However, that market has its disadvantages from a player standpoint, as free agency in the latest incarnation of MLS’ CBA is limited strictly for veterans, while even those eligible have a cap on salary increases.

Free agency is nothing new in NASL, where players have the freedom to play for any team they want once out of contract, much as is the case in the rest of the soccer world. NASL Commissioner Bill Peterson remains a believer in that system, and while he is glad MLS is set to take the field on time, he believes the league’s players are still at a major disadvantage.

“First of all, I’m glad that they reached an agreement,” Peterson told SBI on Thursday. “I think that that it’s important that both sides have agreed that these are terms that they accept. I don’t think what’s being called ‘free agency’ is very advantageous for the players. You look at our league where guys sign one or two-year deals and then are able to go back out and test the market with any team in the world. That’s free agency, in my opinion, but they agreed to it. That’s their business and we wish them well.

“It won’t effect anything we’re doing. I think you find that more and more of the agents and more and more of the players start to realize what free agency really looks like when they come into the NASL and that’s one of our advantages, one of our unique selling points, that a player can come in and prove himself at a very high level and, in a short period of time, go back out there onto the market.”

Despite some potential impacts the CBA may have on the NASL, Peterson remains upbeat. Although there has been a raise in MLS’ minimum salary, Peterson insists that the NASL’s teams still have the resources to compete and offer plenty to any players looking to ply their trade within the league.

“It wasn’t raised enough to affect the fundamentals of the game here. The cost of living has increased,” Peterson said. “I’ve seen that some people were concerned because we don’t have a minimum salary, but we have something even better, and it’s called total free agency. If a club makes an offer to a player and he doesn’t like it, he’s free to go somewhere else and get another offer. That’s the real advantage here.

“We’re comparing apples and oranges here. They have a system that they like with the CBA. We have a system that we love, and that’s a free market system.”

What do you think of Peterson’s comments? How do you see the recent MLS CBA affecting the NASL?

Share your thoughts below.


  1. Ah, but is it so wrong for NASL to have higher aspirations than their current status?

    MLS does the same thing, aiming to be “one of the world’s top leagues” by 2012 while being well under that level now.

    It’s the same thing to me.

    And Euro snobs could say the same thing about MLS.

  2. I enjoy seeing both RBNY and the Cosmos so I’m an outlier. I see the pros and cons of both models.

    That said, the hardcore MLS devotees who look down on NASL remind me of the sbobby Euro fans who look down upon MLS.

    Just be glad you have two leagues and enjoy it.

    • I’d be happy to ignore Hempstead Cosmos if it wasn’t for their annoying fans acting like they’re big time. Just watch your minor league team and enjoy it. But don’t pretend it’s as good as MLS or tell us how superior your business model is. Just like when I go to RBA, I don’t pretend it’s as good as the EPL or La Liga.

  3. “You look at our league where guys sign one or two-year deals and then are able to go back out and test the market with any team in the world.”

    And then look at mls, where guys sign one- or two-year deals and then are able to go back out and test the market with any team in the world (except the tiny fraction that are mls teams). yessir, totally apples and oranges.

  4. NASL is one step short of a joke. The fact that there were serious rumors about a Ronaldo comeback in Ft. Lauderdale last week, shows the depths of absurdity of their brilliant model. The only two reasons they exist are, first, to provide somebody to play against the Cosmos while they pursue their dreams of world domination or buffoonery (whichever comes first), and second, to allow rich people to buy franchises hoping they can backdoor their way into MLS without paying expansion fees. Go away please. USL is the only second division we need.

  5. If NASL is “paper free agency”, then MLS is “paper 1st Division.”

    USL, sans Sacramento, seems satisfied with being an MLS farm team league. But having two vibrant leagues in the United States can only be a good thing overall for U.S. soccer.

  6. A huge door is open for NASL
    They need to show some signs of longevity; stadiums, expansion, tv deals and player development and they could push for D1 status. they certainly have the better business model.

    • They need to show Who in reality they are…Who owns the Cosmos? and how they can afford to lose so much money without much of income?

    • In no way, shape, or form does the NASL have the better business model. Only a fanboy would say that.
      If what you say were actually the case, the Impact would not have jumped ship, and San Antonio, Minnesota, and Indy would not be talking about wanting to join MLS.

    • NASL needs to find steady income sources. They need to figure out a way to get on national tv and they need to find ways to get solid league sponsors.

      Without these it’s all on the owners to dump in all the funds and you end up with some very unbalanced teams. Some owners can back their team with solid money, and some just barely get their toes wet. You aren’t going to be able to fund a strong league if it’s all on the owners, and they are going to get lapped by USL at some point.

  7. Some people are making it sound like there is even 1 player who would choose NASL over MLS simply due to free agency. Do people realize that if you are in MLS AND your contract ends AND you don’t want to play for the same team AND the team that wants you is not willing to trade for your rights with you old team THEN you are still free to sign with anyone in NASL or any other league in the world?!

  8. Shots fired! But I don’t think it was meant to be a jab at MLS. NASL is still very young, and MLS is significantly ahead, but I feel that in the next CBA the growth of NASL could really push MLS to take off the training wheels and start competing like top tier world leagues. I wish there was also a United States tournament between all leagues that was actually beneficial for the teams, instead of the $200k the winner of the Open Cup gets.

    • What they can really offer is not money but shorter contract terms the players can negotiate. You want a one year deal, here’s one, he suggests. The counter to the long term MLS deal.

      But it’s a big risk to drop down divisions to start a career on the hope that a shorter deal pays off.

      And look at Ibarra, he made his splash but he’s actually stuck there.

  9. As an American soccer fan – not a partisan of MLS or NASL, I would love to see NASL become a true, viable first division league. If they can keep MLS from plucking their best markets and ownership groups, I see some quality ownership groups emerging in the league to give me some excitement about the league. And as long as they don’t start an arms race by buying guys like Xavi and Kaka, and focus on good, solid players like what we’ve seen in Minnesota and San Antonio (among others), then I can see this league continuing to grow and push MLS. Their rosters won’t have the depth of MLS’s but they can provide a good alternative for fans.

  10. I think a lot of NASL teams would readily pay 80k to a talented domestic player if he was only being offered the 60k minimum by an MLS team.

    • Exactly. And as guys like Ibarra and others get exposure, and get scouted by Klinsmann and other national team coaches, those marginal players will see value in playing for NASL franchises, which in turn will help grow the league.

      Now I have never seen NASL salaries, so I wonder how many guys in the league are making $80k. Besides Raul and Ibarra, that is. I don’t know if there are a bunch of $15k guys filling most of the rosters. In places like Indy you would think they have good income from the ticket sales so they should be able to offer competitive salaries if they want to build a good side.

    • Or, if we wanted to talk reality, I think the reporting is that the average NASL player earns $20-30k with some as low as $15k, and that while a few players on teams like Cosmos make six figures, they are the foreign signings who sell tickets. The minors competes with MLS when that $20-30k overlapped with a MLS reserve salary and the minors could compete on salary and offer a player the chance to start rather than ride a bench. That’s when PR and Montreal went far in CCL, since they could buy MLS marginal talent and focus on the tournament.

      Now, MLS is supposedly raising a minimum that was $40k with rumors of $60k versus that $20-30k. That’s not even competitive, that’s if money is any determinant, they’re in MLS. You might be lended back to minors anyway, so sign for the higher contract. In theory someone on a mission to prove themselves, or with attitude issues running off MLS teams, might risk the minors. But your average player will take the money and prestige every time.

      I also think it’s a little mythic to suggest the teams would outbid MLS for “talent.” If they have talent they probably won’t be offered MLS minimum. And if we’re talking who gets the rare minor league big money, it’s probably not some kid marginal MLS level with no name to sell tickets. It’s Szetela or someone his level, or some foreigner who wants to play here. It’s not a second round pick in MLS who might make their team or not.

      It’s paper free agency, but the average college draft pick schlub showing up being offered $60k to ride a MLS bench is not getting a superior offer from NASL. He is probably worth $30-40k to NASL at best. They can’t assume what production will be and outbid. The people who have production history are under contract too.

      • There’s no reliable report of 20-30K NASL average, that may have been the case a few years ago but I’ve heard as of last season the average was 25-45K range. We don’t know for sure as its not published unfortunatly.

      • BUT, to IP’s point, you are arguing one league’s average vs. another’s minimum. Just to make it clearer, for your argument to be accurate, all of the low paid talent would be moving to NASL. It is not, because for any given talent level MLS pays more if they want that player. All of the “poor player” sob stories ignore the fact that they are getting the best that anyone will offer when playing in MLS. The players that could get more have left when their contract was up.

      • Oh Yeah? well then , something is wrong. I’ve been to the Cosmos games, couple of times and they didn’t have 1500 people in the stands, if so, in the Hofstra Stadium . Please explain that to me…..

      • You are not missing anything. The Cosmos are full of delusional executives who believe if they throw out enough bluster that somebody might believe it.

  11. In their context for the average player free agency is about no minimum salary or tenure increases, and effective top end limits posed by economic reality. Average player it’s freedom to pay you less than MLS as minor league realities dictate, and limited power to up the ante by going to the next town. If you really want to make money you earn your way right out of the league and its paper free agency.

    The reality is that every time MLS ups the minimum it hurts them in the battle for marginal personnel. An increased minimum salary is a competitive advantage.


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