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Off-Contract compensation a talking point amidst Athletica debacle

After a dramatic end to last week with the collapse of Saint Louis Athletica, things looked a little different in round seven of Women’s Professional Soccer.  For the first time this season in WPS, the weekend’s round of fixtures featured just three official league games.

Athletica’s trip to Atlanta was obviously canceled, which left the Atlanta Beat to play the W-League’s Tampa Bay Hellenic.  Atlanta, winless in WPS with a record of 0-5-1, failed to even beat a supposedly inferior Tampa Bay side in Saturday’s exhibition.  Rachel Yepez put the visitors ahead in the 67th minute and Atlanta’s Rebecca Nolin saved the Beat from complete embarrassment with an 87th minute equalizer.  Next up for Atlanta is the Chicago Red Stars on the road.  Previously that may have been the best chance at a win for the Beat, but one has to wonder if even that is true after an inspired Red Stars performance Saturday.

With Emma Hayes out, Chicago was guided to a surprising 1-0 win over first place FC Gold Pride by now President and General Manager Marcia McDermott.  Kosovare Asllani tapped home the winner to bring Chicago (2-4-1) into a fifth-place tie with the Boston Breakers.

Former LA Sol General Manager Charlie Naimo has joined the Red Stars as technical advisor and McDermott added the president title to her role as general manager.  She would be a logical choice to take over as head coach, but to me it seems that would put too much on her plate.  She is already president and general manager of the Red Stars and is currently the president of the NSCAA.

Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Independence suffered just its second loss of the season at the hands of the Washington Freedom, fallin 2-1.  The Freedom, wearing camouflage jerseys in honor of Memorial Day, came out with a game plan that frustrated Philadelphia.

Rebecca Moros put Washington ahead in the 25th minute on a great individual run and Abby Wambach made it 2-0 on a penalty kick nine minutes later.  Lianne Sanderson would get one back for the visitors in second half stoppage time, but the true story of the second half was Caroline Seger’s red card.  Seger shoved Freedom midfielder Sarah Huffman in the face and was handed a red card for violent conduct.  Just my opinion here, but I would not be surprised to see Seger get further sanctioning from the league than just the one game suspension for her dismissal.

Finally, Sky Blue FC and the Boston Breakers played to a rather dull 0-0 draw Saturday in New Jersey.  There were a lot of shots and half-chances from both teams, but little came of them.  Perhaps the most interesting part of the game came in the post-match interviews.

With the subject of Athletica’s demise being a hot topic, Boston Head Coach Tony DiCicco enlightened the media on off contract compensation.  It is essentially a way for players to get paid in ways that do not count against the salary cap, such as making sponsor appearances or working camps.  It sounds pretty standard, but several team officials throughout WPS have expressed concern about such compensation allowing for overspending by some teams.

“It’s too hard to police it,” one team official said.  “No one ever knows if they do (the work) of not.  It’s supposed to be for extra work, but it probably is not done.”

If the extra work is not being done, then players would essentially be getting paid more money without having it count against the salary cap.  DiCicco said he is against the idea and he thinks that it played a part in the demise of Athletica.

“The bottom line is your spending money here or you are spending money here but you are still spending money and I think that got Saint Louis in trouble,” DiCicco said.  “They can use all the excuses they want but I think one of the things that got them in trouble was how they used their off contract.  You are spending money and it is players cost.  I know our ownership group is very good.  They are very committed to the league.  They are spending a lot of money but they are also asking us to be fiscally responsible so that the Boston Breakers can be around and the league can be around.”

Off contract compensation may allow some teams to give Athletica players, now free agents, more money than just what they can offer under normal salary cap restrictions.  It all depends on whether or not a given team is willing to dip into the rather dangerous waters of off contract compensation, but DiCicco suggested that Boston is not one of those teams.

“In this league there is a salary cap and then there is thing that is off contract, which is the worst thing.  I said it at the owners meeting.  I told them there is no way that you can police that, so what happens with off contract is that you can spend money off contract.  It’s still money being spent.  If you want the league to be around you have to hold down expenses, so we’ll compete.  I think players like the way we play.  I think players like Boston and training out of Harvard University.  I think you talk to our players and they like our training.  It’s varied and competitive, so the players that want to improve their game will come to us and the players that want to get the best financial situation they can will probably leave.”

There is reportedly a $250,000 cap on off contract compensation, though as mentioned, it is nearly impossible to police.

Tuesday should begin to answer many of the questions of where some of the best players – Shannon Boxx, Eniola Aluko, Lori Chalupny and more – will end up.  How they are compensated could play an interesting role in the process.

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