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About "kurtislarson"

Sun Media's leading soccer columnist, Larson has been following Major League Soccer since '96 and reports on the Canadian men's national team and Toronto FC. Follow him every week on Sun sites across Canada, Slam sports and in the Toronto Sun.

Nelsen, Bloom on Major League Soccer’s salary structure

- April 11th, 2014

Call it Major League Soccer’s version of Ontario’s Sunshine List, the annual release that reveals the number of public sector employees earning more than $100,000 per year.

Tax-payers are typically outraged, demanding answers as to how and why some public sector employees are pulling in six figures.

The MLS Players’ Union acts in a similar manner.

On Thursday, it released all 555 of its players’ salaries, an initiative that gives players, fans and media the ammunition they need to rail against the league’s unbalanced pay structure.

“Obviously you can see the difference in pay,” Toronto FC fullback Mark Bloom said. “There’s a wide gap. You can see every player is underpaid. Hopefully that will get fixed and that will be addressed.”

More accurately, most MLSers are underpaid.

While TFC Designated Player Michael Bradley is set to make $6.5 million this season, Bloom is on a near-entry level deal making around $50,000.

“Those figures, you can’t read too much into them,” Bloom said. “You get worried about the business side of it and your head is going to be out of the game. I’m just focusing on what’s (on the field).”

That said, he acknowledged — with a smile — that he glanced at the MLSPU’s salary list.

“The business model is brilliant for MLS,” TFC head coach Ryan Nelsen said. “(The league) has grown so well. But, yeah, I think they’ll address (the pay gap). It’s a big question mark on everybody’s lips. As a coach, I agree with you. Those players deserve as much as they can get.”

Major League Soccer’s collective bargaining agreement expires after this season. Further to that point, the expectation is that the league’s salary cap ($3.1 million) will receive a significant bump so bottom-end players won’t have to eat rice and beans.

“The one thing I’d say is I’ve been in both camps,” Nelsen added. “I was on $24,000 when I joined the league (in 2001). You’ve got to earn it.

“Me, personally, I always believe the market determines what you get. If those guys at the lower end perform better, they get paid better.”

How much better remains to be seen, especially in Bloom’s case.

After joining TFC late last season, Bloom has started all four of TFC’s matches in 2014. He’s a key contributor among a host of players who are paid more to provide much less — something a former MLSer mentioned on Twitter this week.

“So MLS salaries were published,” said Herculez Gomez, who last played in MLS in 2009. “Never an easy day for anyone, very uncomfortable.”

Nelsen said the league’s annual salary release won’t disrupt his dressing room.

“It does if you’ve got bad characters,” Nelsen said. “If you’ve got guys who are insecure about themselves or are a wee bit jealous, yeah. A lot of teams have problems with that.”

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The skinny on Toronto FC’s 2014 salary structure

- April 11th, 2014

At $6.5 million per year, Toronto FC’s Michael Bradley makes the same amount of money as Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf, the NHL club’s highest-paid player.

At close to $6.2 million per year, Jermain Defoe’s MLS paycheque is more substantial than Phil Kessel’s yearly haul.
Major League Soccer’s Players’ Union released the salaries of all 555 of its players on Thursday.

Seattle Sounders striker Clint Dempsey is the highest-paid MLSer, bringing in $6,695,189 this season.

Bradley and Defoe sit second and third respectively in terms of biggest annual salaries.

Twelve MLSers earn seven figures: Toronto’s Gilberto ($1.2 million), L.A. Galaxy’s Robbie Keane ($4.5 million), L.A.’s Landon Donovan ($4.6 million), New York’s Thierry Henry ($4.35 million), New York’s Tim Cahill ($3.6 million), Montreal’s Marco Di Vaio ($2.6 million) and Vancouver’s Pedro Morales ($1.4 million).

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After making a massive splash this offseason, Toronto FC has the league’s highest payroll at just under $17 million this season, close to $3 million more than the L.A. Galaxy.

After TFC’s aforementioned three Designated Players, club captain Steven Caldwell ($364,166.67) and winger Alvaro Rey ($204,450.00) round out Toronto’s top-five highest-paid players.

Toronto FC’s lowest-paid player is late-round draft pick Daniel Lovitz ($36,504), who the Reds immediately sent to their USL-affiliate in Wilmington shortly after the start of the season.

Other notable TFC salaries include No. 2 ‘keeper Joe Bendik ($147,375.00), who received a large raise following a standout 2013.

On loan Brazilian international Julio Cesar is making $202,000.00 in MLS, despite earning considerably more at his home club, Queens Park Rangers.

No longer an MLS DP, Dwayne De Rosario’s salary dropped to $173,000.00 from $600,000 last season.

It should also be noted that Toronto FC Academy product Jonathan Osorio received a significant salary bump to $142,599.00 following his first season in the league.

Major League Soccer’s average player salary is just under $210,000.

While the league’s salary cap is $3.1 million per team, clubs are permitted to spend over and above that on three “Designated Players.”

MLS TO ATLANTA

Major League Soccer’s ambitious attempt to expand into the U.S. southeast took another step forward this week.

Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank confirmed reports that he is in close talks to bring an MLS club to Georgia.

“The answer is yes,” Blank told 680 The Fan in Atlanta. “We’re in the very final stages of doing our agreement.”

The league’s expansion fee is said to be nearing $100 million.

The Atlanta club is expected to play in a new $1.2 billion venue that should be ready by 2017.

Atlanta would become the league’s 22nd franchise. A David Beckham-owned Miami franchise is expected to be the league’s 23rd team.

Orlando City and New York City FC are slated to join MLS in 2015, bringing the league’s total to 21 teams.

MLS commissioner Don Garber has stated his intention is for MLS to expand to 24 teams by 2020.

Toronto FC would be interested in Brek Shea: GM

- April 10th, 2014

COLUMBUS — Little has been said about Toronto FC currently occupying top spot in the league’s allocation order.

In a nutshell, TFC has first right of refusal to sign or decline any U.S. international or returning MLSer looking for an MLS club.

If TFC’s top brass doesn’t want the player, they can pass and wait for the next one.

If another team wants the player, they can trade TFC an asset for top spot in the order.

Toronto FC general manager Tim Bezbatchenko told the Toronto Sun he’s aware of multiple players who might be looking to come to MLS.

We threw out a name: Brek Shea.

The former FC Dallas winger, and off-and-on U.S. international, is struggling for playing time at Stoke City.

“Yeah, 100% (we’d be interested),” Bezbatchenko told me. “I mean, Brek Shea is a dynamic U.S. international. I think you’d take any of these guys seriously.”

Better news for the Reds is that pre- and post-World Cup is an active time in the transfer market.

5 reasons to believe Toronto FC has turned corner

- April 10th, 2014

The Reds enter the weekend atop the Eastern Conference, with their fans full of hope

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DECISIONS, DECISIONS

The Reds still lack MLS Cup-worthy depth. But the fact head coach Ryan Nelsen will have some difficult decisions to make in the coming weeks is a testament to the strides this club made during the offseason. When was the last time TFC had an abundance of wealth at the back? Sure, Steven Caldwell, Doneil Henry and Bradley Orr aren’t world beaters, but it’s safe to say Nelsen will have at least three serviceable central defenders to choose from in the coming weeks. Throw Justin Morrow and Nick Hagglund — both versatile defenders — into that mix and things are fairly settled in front of Julio Cesar. Moving up field, the Reds now employ multiple versatile attackers who can fill in on the right, left or up top. Issey Nakajima-Farran, Dwayne De Rosario and Jackson are all capable of slotting in wherever needed, which has made short-term injuries to Jermain Defoe and Gilberto much more manageable this season. Looking forward, the most pressing concern is finding a two-way midfielder to step in during Michael Bradley’s World Cup absence, one of the few noticeable voids in a fairly solid – when healthy — roster.

READ THE REST OF MY PIECE HERE

TFC GM Bezbatchenko says he wants more consistency

- April 6th, 2014

COLUMBUS — Hurry up and wait is Toronto FC’s position regarding further roster movement through the first few months of the season.

In an exclusive sit-down with the Toronto Sun prior to Saturday’s 2-0 win here in Ohio, Toronto FC general manager Tim Bezbatchenko said the Reds are still taking stock of their roster before addressing needs.

“This team will evolve through the course of the year,” Bezbatchenko said. “People were saying we’re the team to beat. We love that target, but that’s a little far-fetched.”

A lopsided loss at Real Salt Lake last week exposed the Reds for what they are.

They were never as good as their 2-0 record to start the season.

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Last week’s effort in a 3-0 loss to RSL wasn’t indicative of anything, either.

“We’re somewhere in the middle,” Bezbatchenko admitted.

“We’re not seeing a level of consistency that I’d like,” TFC’s GM continued. “That comes with time. You’re going to see glimpses … It’s a progression throughout the year.”

Toronto’s top brass caught a glimpse on Saturday of what head coach Ryan Nelsen refers to as his 12 through 20s, players who will be expected to contribute significantly throughout the season despite not starting regularly.

“It’s an opportunity to show their true colours and prove they belong in the team and this league.”

In his first MLS match, rookie draft pick Nick Hagglund showed he’s a competent replacement for Steven Caldwell and Doneil Henry.

The Xavier product was simple in possession while winning the 50-50s he had to in a solid debut.

In place of Jonathan Osorio, Canadian international Kyle Bekker had trouble completing passes in midfield. He was, however, extremely more active on the defensive end — something he has lacked through the early part of his career.

“We have to see how much depth we have,” Bezbatchenko said. “You’re going to see that over the first third of the season, up until the World Cup. Then we’ll know what we have. If we can get to the World Cup with a decent point total I think this team will grow after the World Cup, barring injuries.”

To their credit, the Reds survived those injuries Saturday.

Short-handed Toronto FC stuns Crew in C-Bus

- April 6th, 2014

COLUMBUS – A local radio crew reminded Toronto media about their predictions with just minutes left.

“Local press gave Toronto no chance,” one of the analyst said, the radio blasting throughout the press box.

A Toronto FC player reminded me again during post-game interviews, having a laugh after the Reds had proven everyone wrong.

Toronto FC, minus four key players, wasn’t supposed to beat the Crew 2-0 here Saturday.

Coming off a 3-0 shellacking in Salt Lake City seven days earlier, most expected the worst.

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“It’s just a statement,” rookie draft pick Nick Hagglund told the Toronto Sun. “It showed the winning mentality and the hardness we have. Yeah, we didn’t have some pieces, but we played great today.”

When most expected him to fail, Hagglund stood tallest. After all, a rookie, playing in his first MLS match, against an undefeated team, isn’t supposed to play with poise and confidence — never mind the fact he had 50 family members, friends and just about everyone else he knows in attendance at Crew Stadium.

No pressure, kid. “It feels great,” Hagglund said, attempting to hold back his smiles. “It couldn’t have gone better. I prepare the same way as if I wasn’t going to play. I made sure I was mentally ready. When I got put in today I was ready.”

You could argue the Reds, in general, were ready for the Eastern Conference leaders. Tactically, head coach Ryan Nelsen was superior to his counterpart — something supporters have been begging to see since his arrival last year.

CONTINUE READING AT TORONTOSUN.COM

Toronto FC, missing several key players, faces tough test against unbeaten Columbus

- April 5th, 2014

COLUMBUS - Things aren’t Rick Titus-bad here in Ohio, but it’s getting close.

In 2008, Toronto FC entered an MLS fixture missing, well, everyone.

Three of TFC’s starting backs — Marvell Wynne, Jim Brennan and Tyron Marshal — were away on national team duty at the time.

As were a handful of other key players ahead of an eventual home loss to Chivas USA.

Toronto’s roster became so bare back then that the Reds had to temporarily sign three semi-pro players, including Titus, who had been suiting up for the Premier Development League’s Toronto Lynx.

If things were grave back then, they’re nearing critical ahead of Saturday’s match against the Columbus Crew.

Coming into the evening tilt, everyone knew about Steven Caldwell (suspension) and Jermain Defoe (hamstring), both of whom will miss the game.

Those absences alone were a massive blow to the momentum TFC built through the first month of the season.

Head coach Ryan Nelsen waited until Friday to confirm most fans’ fears throughout this week: Doneil Henry, Ashtone Morgan and, probably, Jonathan Osorio are also firmly planted on the treatment table.

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Toronto’s spine — two starting centre-backs and Michael Bradley’s midfield partner — has been severed, a debilitating development that makes earning a road result over the undefeated Crew nearly impossible.

Nelsen, however, chose a slightly more optimistic stance.

“I’m excited to see these guys play,” he said of his squad’s depth, while admitting, full well, that it’s a concern.

CONTINUE READING AT TORONTOSUN.COM

Columbus Crew captain Parkhurst ‘disappointed’ Toronto FC’s Jermain Defoe left off trip

- April 4th, 2014

COLUMBUS, OH — It’s not often a massive underdog remains the main attraction in a North American sports league.

The Reds aren’t expected to win here Saturday. Historically, they haven’t.

In Columbus, however, that’s beside the point.

Similar to what David Beckham did in L.A. upon his arrival, Jermain Defoe has bolstered the intrigue surrounding Toronto FC so much this season that opposing players are bizarrely frustrated when he’s left off the travel squad.

Columbus Crew centre back Michael Parkhurst offered the Toronto Sun on Friday what he told Michael Bradley after the two suited up for the U.S. in a 2-2 draw with Mexico Wednesday night.

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“I told him I was disappointed Defoe wasn’t going to play, but that I’ll see him later in the year,” Parkhurst said. “(Bradley) said, ‘I’m a little more disappointed than you are.’”

It was funny, yet intriguing. How often does an MLS defender relish playing one of the world’s best finishers?

Defoe, who has scored all three of TFC’s goals this season, is set to miss Saturday’s match with a tight hamstring suffered in a 3-0 loss at Salt Lake last weekend.

Never mind the fact Toronto FC will trot out a U.S. hero — Bradley — here on the weekend, the rust belt was hoping to see the visiting club’s other multi-million dollar World Cup veteran.

As one local reporter told me Friday, Crew fans feel like they can’t catch a break. They missed seeing U.S. international Clint Dempsey (suspended) in a 2-1 win at Seattle last weekend. Now, Defoe.

Instead of viewing player absences as a blessing, it seems some MLS cities view it as a curse.

The only person who seems to be thinking straight through it all is Columbus head coach Greg Berhalter.

When informed he wouldn’t have to deal with Defoe this weekend, the home side’s bench boss seemed to be the only person interested in saying the obvious: avoiding an opposing club’s top player is preferred.

“Really? That’s great,” he said of Defoe’s absence.

Sounds like Berhalter and his captain need to get on the same page.

THROWBACK THURSDAY: The Aron Winter years at TFC

- April 2nd, 2014

(NOTE: This will appear in Thursday’s Toronto Sun. Hence, “Throwback Thursday”.)

We do our best to bring you snippets from inside MLS locker rooms.

So, when given the opportunity, we run with it.

Like at last year’s MLS Cup in Kansas City, where a former player told be about a dressing room dust-up between Alan Gordon and a TFC staffer that led to the target man’s trade to San Jose shortly thereafter.

Ahead of TFC’s 3-0 loss at RSL last weekend, a former TFC player told the Sun about a mind-blowing exchange he had with then head coach Aron Winter back in 2012.

At that point, the one-time player explained, Winter had nearly lost the entire dressing room and staff.

This doozy, however, was the final “nail in Aron’s coffin,” he said.

To set the scene, the Reds were 0-9-0, one of the worst starts in MLS history.

“Danny Koevermans was just coming back from injury,” the former TFCer added. “He ended up scoring the game-winning goal.”

Losing streak over!

But guess who dampened the mood?

“We had a reserve game after,” he explained. “We won the game, everyone was happy. All of a sudden I start hearing yelling and such.

“Aron had come in to congratulate the team and then list the reserve game lineup. Danny was playing in the reserve game.”

A big no-no for most million-dollar Designated Players around the league, who prefer to do their rehab away from the league’s bench-warmers.

“They were going back and forth and back and forth,” he said. “Danny wasn’t happy and that dustup was pretty much the last thing that happened with Aron.

“Danny tried to explain he was coming back from injury and he yelled in English, ‘I just saved your job!’”

Only he didn’t.

Winter was terminated within days.

Makes today’s TFC setup look like the Pentagon, doesn’t it?

Canada announces friendly against Bulgaria in Austria

- April 1st, 2014

The Canada Soccer Association announced Tuesday its men’s national team will travel to Ritzing, Austria for an international friendly against Bulgaria on May 23.

It will be the first time the two countries have met in a men’s “A” international match.

Canada hasn’t won in 14 matches dating back to a home World Cup qualifying win over Cuba in October 2012.

Canadian head coach Benito Floro will have the squad from May 18-28, breaking for the exhibition against the No. 67-ranked Bulgarians midway through camp.

Currently ranked 112th in the world, Canada has already announced friendlies later this year against Jamaica (Sept. 9) in Toronto and against Panama in Panama City Nov. 18.