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U.S. Can't Kick About Salaries

By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 11, 1998; Page E9




SAINT JEAN D'ARDIERES, France — The U.S. World Cup soccer team will be competing for more than victories and international respect when it begins competition next week. The U.S. players will be competing for cash.

The American players will earn more than $415,000 each if they have a wildly successful June and July that concludes with an implausible World Cup victory, according to the team's collective bargaining agreement with the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF).

At worst, if the U.S. team fails to win or even tie any of its three first-round matches, the 22 players will take home $35,000 each.

The United States' only unionized national team, the soccer team has grown into an increasingly powerful group — not only on the field but in terms of its bargaining position with the USSF, which has been able to command greater amounts of money from corporate sponsors as the team has become more successful.

Gone are the days when the U.S. players earned a mere cost-of-living stipend for major tournaments, as they did during the 1990 World Cup in Italy. "Guys like myself, Alexi [Lalas] and Tab [Ramos], we've fought very hard for the needs of the players," said U.S. forward Eric Wynalda, who also was on the 1990 and '94 World Cup teams. "I've been the guy making $18,000 a year before."

This time, a player who was on the roster for three-quarters of the team's 16 qualifying matches — as at least nine members of the final World Cup team were — earned about $50,000 for that work alone.

The 1998 World Cup team players earned $20,000 apiece for being named to the roster and each will be paid $5,000 per match. If the team advances from the first round, their earnings — paid by the USSF — can multiply significantly because of a series of progressively richer bonuses the USSF would pay to a pool that will be divided at the players' discretion. USSF President Alan Rothenberg estimates the U.S. players are among the three or four highest-compensated in the world for national team play. The potential bonuses are more substantial than those available to the players for at least one soccer power: Germany.

The German players would each earn the equivalent of about $86,000 for winning the World Cup, according to the German soccer federation. The numbers drop substantially for lesser results, down to about $26,000 each for advancing to the round of 16. The players each would earn an additional $3,400 per match played.

Many of those players, of course, earn more playing professionally than U.S. players do. Sixteen of the 22 players on the U.S. roster play for teams in Major League Soccer, where the average salary is slightly less than $80,000 per year, according to league spokesman Dan Courtemanche, who added that the salary of most the league's 16 U.S. team players is "significantly higher."

The fight over this pay scale and other financial issues disrupted the U.S. team's preparation for World Cup qualifying, which began in November 1996. "That was an enormous setback for this team, both in their relationship with the federation and the strife that took place behind the scenes," Coach Steve Sampson said recently. "... The worst preparation in all of [North/Central America and the Caribbean] for the World Cup qualifying occurred with the U.S. team."

"I think it made the team a little more cohesive," said goalie Brad Friedel, a player representative. "To be honest, I thought it helped our performance. Maybe we were playing out of anger and frustration, but we never played better, really."

Special correspondent Petra Krischok, in Berlin, contributed to this report.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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