Dave van den Bergh's limbo
February 21, 2010

We fondly remember Dave van den Bergh here in Metro land, but we're not here to discuss the idiotic trade that sent him to Dallas a year ago. We're here to look at the current limbo that the Walking Dutchman is in, the limbo in the center of the current Collective Bargaining negotiations between MLS and its players union, the limbo which might cost us the 2010 season.

Van den Bergh played out his contract. Dallas has made it clear that he is not in their plans. In any other soccer league, he would be a free agent. Not in MLS. Oh sure, he is free to sign anywhere else in the world, but for someone who uprooted his family to come to America, how likely is that?

So if van den Bergh wants to play for another MLS team, that team must fork out a compensation package to Dallas. And Dallas is not likely to accept a token dowry; why make an opponent better at your expense? Let van den Bergh sit and rot, for all they care. It's an absurd, ridiculous situation that repeats itself time and time again in MLS (Kevin Hartman is in the same limbo with Kansas City).

So it's clear why the players want unrestricted free agency, the major stumbling block in the CBA discussions. And it's clear why the owners don't want it -- they don't want to compete against each other. Well, some owners might, but the Dallases, Kansas Cities, and Columbuses are afraid of being run over by the "big markets". All at the expense of players who have given years of service to their franchises.

The lack of free agency is absurd when you consider that MLS still has a hard salary cap, and a team that is foolish enough to overpay for a player will pay dearly when the cap is squeezed. No matter; the owners are firm.

But there is a clear, obvious solution here that should work for all parties. RESTRICTED free agency. Say Metro wants to sign van den Bergh, and offers him a 200K deal. Dallas has a chance to match that offer. If they think he is worth 200K, fine, he comes back to Dallas. If not, fine, he comes to New York. Done and done. It works in other American sports leagues. Why not in MLS?

What's more, why not create a stepping stone of free agency, where a player needs to play a certain number of years in the league or reach a certain age before free agency is granted? It will reward your loyal employees and give an incentive to stay in MLS.

Here's the answer why not: the owners must believe that once they give in to even a part of players demands, it's a slippery slope. Restricted free agency leads to unrestricted leads to escalating salaries leads to bankruptcy. All that with a miserly salary cap. All that in a league where the average player gets paid a pittance. Cry us a river, m(b)illionaires.

The owners have now said that they will not lock the players out, and would play under last year's CBA. Of course they would! They are pretty happy with the lack of freedom that currently exists.

So van den Bergh sits and waits. And we sit and wait, wondering if our long-awaited stadium debut will be quashed by the greediness of MLS bigwigs. Sigh.

Oh, and seriously, why the hell did the morons trade van den Bergh to Dallas in the first place?...

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