I was at Swope Park a few years ago, doing my usual rounds of watching training and gossiping with other media. I took the unusual step of dropping in for the press conference. It was probably for the free pizza. I was chatting away happily when an intern came up to me and said "Do you drive a blue Toyota? With Bill and Hilary Clinton masks over the head rests in the rear?"
I responded with caution, some people had taken remarkable offense at what they perceived to be an anti-Democrat imagery, which was not my intent. I just liked Bill and Hill keeping an eye on the rear for me. They made me smile, but pictures of my car had been floating around social media and finally somebody was asking me directly about it …
"… yeah that one is mine …."
"Oh Okay .." … he said in a way to chipper kind of a way …".. Your car just got broken into and so did mine! So did some others."
The press conference attendees quickly cleared into the parking lot with staggering speed as folk went to check on their vehicles. Thad Bell, popped his truck quickly and checked out his photographic equipment while I scoped out the missing driver side window and registered the loss of Toby … my GPS. I was bummed but no biggie, I had insurance, it was a 2-3 year old $80 Garmin, I wasn't going to cry about it. I popped my own trunk and checked on my own cameras and was happy to find them there.
Parked next to me was an older vehicle. I can’t remember what exactly, an old Buick, a La Sabre maybe. Something that screamed first car, or maybe MLS beat writer. We knew it well. It belonged to new draft pick CJ Sapong. It looked to be in tact but CJ came out and inspected it tensely, before realizing that the driver side door had been forced open. He looked inside and indicated that everything seemed ok and then his demeanor changed and he rifled through his car frantically. His iPod was gone.
iPod. Remember those?
He wasn't happy, and we called the police and reported the things we’d lost. I didn't think I’d need a police report filed for anything but insurance, but CJ asked for a number so he could follow up in case they found his … iPod.
"No chance" was all I thought. He was never going to see it again.
CJ Sapong was the new up and coming star forward now that Teal Bunbury had damaged his elbow and this guy had personality, he was nice, fun. He said the right things, did the right things … people talked about how humble he was and here he was upset over a $300 iPod and I suddenly felt sorry for him.
Then it dawned on me.
I’d brought a Chicagoland IT wage to Kansas City with me when I arrived, I was earning more than twice his rookie contract. I was working from home and the cost of living for me had dropped into the floor. I was feeling very comfortable. I could shrug off my losses as inconvenient. But for CJ … it was a blow, it wasn't something he could just turn around and replace.
I actually felt bad for him.
The realities of MLS pay for many MLS players are staggering to many of us. We often think of players as stars but many professionals earn more than rookie players, my Nurse wife does except she won’t suddenly find herself transferred off to DC one day and have to dump everything and run off. This was the exact story for Adam Cristman in February of 2010, he’d never really made it in Kansas City and one afternoon got a call to say he’d been traded to DC United. The profile of the Wizards was a bit different back then, Adam Cristman’s wife had a blog. She wrote about the news that Adam had been traded. They suddenly had a house they’d bought nine months earlier to sell, and they were moving to DC, except he was going alone. She wondered if they’d lose money selling their home. She was 28 weeks pregnant. She'd need to find a new doctor, a new place to give birth. It all seemed like a nightmare to me, I had an 8 month old child, was just saving to buy my first home and I could imagine no worse scenario.
He was traded to the LA Galaxy a year later.
The Kansas City Wizards acquired him from the New England Revolution.
Even though these two story’s are 3-5 years old the situation is largely unchanged. MLS Rookies still room together to make ends meet. Players are uprooted and moved around the country without so much as a moment’s notice and I’m sure all of this plays into the recent news that Andy Grunembaum has opted to stay in Kansas City instead of signing with San Jose who picked him up in the Waiver Draft and looks to have retired so that he can concentrate on Sporting Kansas City broadcasts from the booth as well as raising a family. I don’t know if that was a fiscal decision or not but I do know that I would not be moving my family to the Bay Area and for the $85k the MLS Players Union reports he was earning.
For all the talk about progress and MLS becoming a top league, for every Dempsey and Bradley that we herald as improving the league there are entire squads of players earning minimums you can’t afford to live on in major MLS markets. I don’t know how you manage to live and work in the New York City metro area on $40k a year? It might seem like a lot of money to some people but that lifestyle doesn't include some of the creature comforts I enjoy like HBO, and I’m just not sure how you encourage kids to play when this is the case.
Something substantial has to change, we all know it and the CBA talk is really only beginning.