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Christian Pulisic’s transfer highlights how U.S. youth clubs are getting screwed

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A record transfer fee is resulting in nothing for the team that trained Chelsea’s new star.

Italy v USA - International Friendly Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images

On Wednesday morning U.S. Soccer phenom Christian Pulisic announced he would be moving from Borussia Dortmund to Chelsea in 2019 after he closes out the Bundesliga season.

It’s an exciting move for Chelsea fans, U.S. Soccer fans and represents one of the biggest moves by a U.S. player in recent memory, as Pulisic transitions to one of the best-known clubs in the world, at the height of his career, moving to a market where he will see even greater exposure to a global audience.

In the wake of the news there’s only one loser, PA Classics — the youth league that developed the Hersey, PA native and put him on the path to becoming the most-recognizable U.S. Soccer star in the world.

What are FIFA solidarity payments?

Instituted in 2001, the concept behind the solidarity payment structure was to ensure money trickled down and made its way to amateur and youth leagues who were responsible for developing players around the world. It essentially served as a safeguard to prop up small organizations who rely on member dues and fundraising to continue operations, in the event they managed to develop a player who went on to be a superstar.

The concept is fairly simple in practice: When a player is transferred while under contract a 5 percent fee is tacked onto the transfer and distributed to each club who developed the player starting from their 12th birthday.

In the Pulisic case this would represent a payment of $730,000 being made to PA Classics, the youth organization Pulisic played for from 2008-2015 when he joined as a 10-year-old, and played until he was 17 and joined Borussia Dortmund.

Instead they’re getting nothing.

Why is PA Classics losing out?

U.S. Soccer has bylaws in place that cause it to operate outside of FIFA stipulations when it comes to compensation and solidarity payments. Essentially any player can be poached from U.S.-based developmental leagues with no requirement to meet FIFA’s rule on compensating the clubs.

So Pulisic is able to move from Borussia Dortmund to Chelsea and the only organization being compensated is the massive club in the Bundesliga in Germany, and not the small grassroots operation in Pennsylvania responsible for molding Pulisic into the player he is today.

Why does U.S. Soccer not abide by FIFA rules?

The decision not to participate in compensation and solidarity payment rules stems from Fraser v. Major League Soccer, an antitrust lawsuit filed by eight MLS players against MLS and the USSF in 1997, claiming the two leagues conspired to keep league salaries down in an effort to monopolize top-flight soccer in the U.S.

The USSF played the biggest role in stopping solidarity payments today. The league was allowed to exit the lawsuit by reaching a settlement with the players, one provision of which was that they would not restrict the movement of players in-and-out of the U.S.

The byproduct of the decision not to abide by FIFA rules on player transfer was that compensation and solidarity payments were lumped in to player movement, essentially blanketing the U.S. from being effected by any parts of FIFA stipulation on player transfer.

So, a lawsuit designed to increase player salaries and bolster the viability of U.S. Soccer had the back-end result of creating an issue where U.S.-based developmental leagues are unable to reap any benefit when developing the biggest players in the world.

This isn’t the first time solidarity payments have been a contentious topic.

Crossfire Premier, the organization that trained DeAndre Yeldin before he made his move from the Seattle Sounders to Tottenham filed tried to recover solidarity payments following his transfer. After those requests were rebuffed they joined a 2017 class action lawsuit with two other youth leagues against MLS and stars Clint Dempsey, Yeldin and Michael Bradley. The suit pushed for compensation for the clubs, who claimed they were responsible for developing the three stars and saw no recuperation of funds used the train the trio.

The MLS Players Association has been vehemently against the idea of abiding by FIFA solidarity payments. MLSPU executive director Bob Foose slammed the notion of payments after the lawsuit failed.

“We have said consistently that training compensation and solidarity payments are bad for players, and would treat players differently than employees in any other industry, including sports. For example, it’s absurd to think that a business school could demand a fee from a company that hired one of its students. Yet, that’s the kind of payments the youth clubs seek. No player should have the market for his services adversely affected by these payments.”

The MLSPU’s position is that tacking solidarity fees onto U.S.-based players would negatively impact their ability to be signed by clubs. It’s unclear whether this is accurate, but it’s clear that the player’s best interest is to have as little friction in their transfer as possible — with solidarity fees being friction.

What happens now?

Nothing — and that’s what’s frustrating for youth clubs. Until there’s a major change in the culture of soccer development in the U.S. there is no motivation from any party to “pay it forward” and cut in youth leagues on player transfer fees.

Miki Turner, who outlined the issue last year on explained why resolving the issue was problematic.

“The term, “rock and a hard place,” comes to mind, but I think the thing to keep in mind is that it’s going to take an agreement of all parties to resolve this issue. Those wanting the USSF to send down a mandate, or enforce any awards that are given from FIFA are likely to be waiting for a long time.”