Very rarely do I walk into my local chain sports bar with a happy look. I'm usually tired, hungry, depressed, or most likely a combination of all three.
So last week when my friend behind the bar asked "What's wrong?", I answered him with the usual scowl, or shake of the head, or that sideways look that clearly means I'm annoyed. He already knows the answer.
"It's about soccer isn't it?" he says as he pours me an adult beverage. Of course it is. It's usually about soccer. Occasionally it's about other things, like Connecticut Huskies basketball or football or the Philadelphia Eagles, but usually it's about soccer.
Soccer is a sport my friend behind the bar doesn't follow, but he knows that I am a huge fan, and has seen me do live streams of United States Men's National Team games with my laptop at the bar on more than one occasion. But this time, I can't tell him that it's as simple as the New England Revolution losing two weeks ago to the Philadelphia Union. I wish it was.
Because the Jose Goncalves saga reached new heights two weeks ago, when he did not make the trip to Philadelphia, was excluded from the game day squad, and failed to play his first minutes with the team since joining the club last season. And this, not the Revs current 0-2-1 record or goalless drought in 2014, bothers me more than anything the Revs can do on the field.
Essentially, if you believe Ives Galarcep, Jay Heaps told Jose Goncalves to put aside his contract dispute and focus on soccer or don't play. Goncalves chose not to play, which, as far as I'm concerned, effectively means that Jose was almost forced into a holdout over his contract. New England Soccer Today said that there wasn't an ultimatum to Jose, but at this point it doesn't matter why Jose didn't travel to Philly. It only matters that the situation about his contract went on too long.
I don't care that Jose and the Front Office kissed and made up in the week preceding the Vancouver Whitecaps game. I'm annoyed, because, for the better part of a week, many New England fans were left to think that our captain was about to hold out.
To be fair, I would have been okay with that. It's a player's only weapon in a contract dispute. He can brood, complain to the media, and be distant from his teammates in the locker room, but, at the end of the day a player unhappy with his contract can only hold out for a better situation. This is part of modern sports and it comes with the territory of players' unions and collective bargaining.
No one in this situation is blameless. Jose Goncalves and his representatives agreed to his current contract, regardless of any alleged assurances from the front office that terms could be modified later. The Revs front office and Mike Burns did little to address the issue when it came to light last month. And so Jay Heaps and his squad, along with the fans, sat and waited out a situation neither of them needed.
So now I'm left to believe that during the week leading up to the home opener against the Vancouver Whitecaps, suddenly the situation was reconciled. Mike Burns addressed the media in the press box before the game and apparently everything's fine between Goncalves and the Revolution.
Not with me it's not. Why did it take almost two months from Jose's now-infamous interview with A Minute in Sports! for this great conversation to take place? What's changed in those two months? The Revs haven't signed any DPs or added any significant salary and it doesn't appear that Goncalves has signed a new contract, so what has been going on for two months that allowed this situation to linger?
What conversation could Mike Burns have had with Jose last week that couldn't have taken place weeks ago when the issue came to light? I don't care if it's a superficial answer along the lines of "we're still finalizing the roster, when that's done we'll look at your contract." And that's true. Burns is said to be going out on an international scouting trip this week, and they've had a lot of solid trialists in preseason but none have been signed to the team.
But as I'm working out all the details in my head, something doesn't add up. And my friendly bartender, the only person I can explain this situation to at the time, has zero knowledge about MLS and single-entity. Which, as it turns out, actually helps my cause.
We don't know how much money Jose Goncalves made in 2013, we only know the New England Revolution paid him $104,000 in reported guaranteed compensation and the rest was covered by FC Sion, his parent club in the loan deal. But noted Revs beat writer Kyle McCarthy estimates that Jose will make $450,000 this year, a figure higher than his Revolution salary from 2013, but apparently less than his combined earnings from the Revs and FC Sion in 2013.
When explaining this quandary to my bartender friend, I used $600,000 as an example for Jose's possible salary. I wanted the number to be above the DP threshold of $500,000 but not significantly outrageous. I also explained that Jose played every minute of every game in 2013, the Revs made the playoffs for the first time in years, purchased his contract in full, and that his new contract makes him the second-highest-paid defender in the league.
My friend understood all of this despite his tremendous lack of MLS knowledge and was even surprised at what the league minimum wage was. Naturally, he was perplexed at how the 2013 MLS Defender of the Year could somehow take a pay cut between seasons. But I made it much, much worse.
As I was explaining the DP rule further, I had to explain to my friend that, thanks to the cap mechanics of the DP rule, paying Jose a $600,000 DP contract would actually save the Revs more cap space. And while I'm sure the Revs are using allocation money to limit Jose's cap impact (unconfirmed), why wouldn't the Revs bite the bullet and make Goncalves a DP?
My friend the bartender, an average sports fan with average knowledge about the business looked at me point blank without missing a beat and said:
"So why doesn't your team do that?"
That's the hundred thousand dollar question. I have no idea, and probably got a little animated as I expressed my frustration. I left out a lot of the story: that the Revs are usually near the bottom of the league spending, and that many of their previous big money contracts have failed.
And my friend's reaction was perfect despite my probably flawed explination. In a league that has so many ways to spend against the salary cap, every dollar has to be spend wisely. Especially for a team that is usually so thrifty like the Revolution.
I would make the same indictment of any front office in MLS with a similar predicament. In my opinion, it makes no sense for an MLS team to pay a player between $378-500K if they have a DP spot available. Not with the salary cap structure the way it is. It's poor management of an already stringent salary cap budget, even with allocation money.
I get that the Revs going are not going to be one of the top spenders in MLS and that's not going to change anytime soon. They aren't going to go out and spend millions on someone like a Michael Bradley. I get it, I really do.
But the Jose thing, I don't get. And again, I blame everyone for this: Jose, the front office, the Krafts, everybody. They all let this get way too far. Last week, Jay Heaps and the rest of the team had to lay in a bed they didn't make. I don't want to hear about Jose's history with other clubs or that a player should always honor the contract that he signs. At the end of the day, sadly, this is a business and individuals in businesses will always have disputes.
If the Revolution are going to be the MLS version of the Tampa Bay Rays or Oakland Athletics and be the "Moneyball" team of MLS, then I can understand being hesitant when signing talent. We saw a lot of promising internationals trial with the team in preseason, yet the only moves the front office made were within MLS, trading for Daigo Kobayashi and Teal Bunbury, both good trades in my opinion. I can understand not wanting to sign players to big contracts after a fiasco like Kalifa Cisse, who the Revs basically bought out of a $445,000 contract last year.
So when you hit the proverbial home run with a player, as the Revs did last year bringing in Jose Goncalves on a fairly low-risk loan, you need to capitalize on that. And once that audio interview Jose did with A Minute In Sports! was posted, the problem should have been resolved within a matter of days. Not months.
Jose's getting paid above the DP cap hit and, you have more than one DP slot open. There's a promising young core of players who gave Jose the captain's armband last year, and he repaid their faith by leading them to the playoffs. He's asking to be compensated for doing his job exceptionally well, and I want my team to make a good business decision.
And I can't sit here and honestly tell myself that Jose should honor that contract, because it's inherently unfair. And I know MLS doesn't value players the same as in other international leagues as far as salary, but I believe Jose Goncalves deserves, at a minimum, to make as much as he did with Sion. And if that means making him a DP, then that's what it takes. It's not like the Revs are using all of their available DP slots anyway.
More importantly, I want this team to win. I look around the Eastern Conference and I see a lot of money being spent on players. New York shelled out for Tim Cahill and Thierry Henry, Toronto FC splurged on Michael Bradley and Jermaine Defoe and the Philadelphia Union opened the checkbook for Maurice Edu; all teams that went out and spent money on big-time impact players. All that I'm asking for is that the Revolution front office takes care of one of their own.
I am a realistic fan though. I can't change the team's spending philosophy, but I can only do my best to help them recognize where it needs to be spent.
The Revolution have assembled one of the strongest cores of young players in the league, and last year brought in what could be one of the greatest and most impactful players in team history in Jose Goncalves. I refuse to believe that the front office and ownership group are willing to throw away the prime of this young core over a few hundred thousand dollars.
Because that's likely all that it will take to wrap up the reigning Defender of the Year. He's already on a long term deal and he likes it in Boston, and said as much in this interview with Scotland's Edinburgh News. Of course there is always the chance he returns to Europe, but at a comparable salary, it will be that much hard for Jose to make that choice to return abroad.
I don't want to pile on Mike Burns, who arguably does more work with less resources than any other front office in MLS. I like giving him credit for bringing in players like Agudelo, Bunbury and Kobayashi and giving him credit for the value at which those players are signed. That's what is so mind boggling about this situation. Signing Jose from FC Sion after his loan deal was supposed to be a layup.
But somehow, Burns missed. He might have collected his own rebound and eventually scored, but he shouldn't have missed in the first place. Unless someone tells me there's a really good reason why Jose isn't a DP, I will continue to believe this.
I hope that this situation is behind everyone and that in the near future the Revs will unveil Goncalves as their 2nd DP on the roster. It makes sense financially and the fanbase would largely be behind such a move. Who wouldn't want their captain given a raise or extension in MLS?
Besides, Revs fans could use a little piece of good news. It's been a rocky start to the year, on and off the field.
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