MLS “Holden” on for Dear Life
The other night I was watching “The Jacksons: An American Dream” on VH1 and one scene involving Tito Jackson reminded me of Major League Soccer’s current courtship of Stuart Holden. In the movie, Joseph Jackson, father of the musical gods, is portrayed as a complete manipulative control freak. In the flick, Tito had been asking Joseph for his own camera equipment and dark room for years. Sorry Tito, Joe doesn’t play that game. That is until the floppy hat Jackson revealed he was getting married. Fearing that the marriage would hurt the Jackson 5’s image, Joseph promised Tito all the camera equipment in the world as long as he didn’t marry his girlfriend. Well, as of last week, Tito is Stuart, Europe is his girlfriend, and Joseph is the MLS. The talented Houston Dynamo midfielder’s contract with the MLS comes to end December 31 and there are several teams in Europe, most notably Scottish giants Glasgow Rangers, that are targeting the U.S. international for the winter transfer market. For that reason, MLS commissioner Don Garber met with Holden last week in hopes of keeping Tito with cleats, here at home, offering him ten times of what he made in 2009 which was $34,728.75, only $1,653.75 more then what he made in 2008. Unfortunately for the MLS, it appears as if it took only Holden’s stellar performance in the 2009 Gold Cup for them to realize just how good he really is. For that reason, it’s going to cost the MLS dearly to keep him on American soil. The Scotland born Holden becomes just another in a long list of current and former MLS players the league waited too long to court. It appears as if only now the MLS realizes that in order for it to continue its improvement and appeal to its domestic fan base, it has to take care of its core of talented young players that have dreams of European footie and the bigger paychecks that come with it. The Holden situation could’ve been avoided if only the MLS had shown the 24-year old more love a few years back, like when he was making supermarket bagboy money. Maybe they just didn’t realize or see his potential on the pitch because of the big shadow cast over him by his former teammate Dwayne DeRosario in his first 3 seasons in the MLS. So now the MLS has to act like the head cheerleader going after the school’s starting quarterback. If Stuart Holden doesn’t have January 31, 2010 circled on his calendar at this moment, then it means that the Houston Dynamo midfielder already has his mind set on Europe next year and the MLS shouldn’t even bother. So what happens on January 31, 2010? That’s the day the current collective bargaining agreement between Major League Soccer and the MLS Players’ Union will expire. It’s something that gives Holden a huge advantage in his negotiations with potential suitors and the MLS. The current CBA talks will mainly focus on guaranteed contracts, free agency and the salary cap. Holden can wait and see how the new CBA addresses the three big issues and make a decision then on whether he’ll return or he can use the date as bargaining tool in negotiation talks with European clubs such as Rangers and Aberdeen FC, which is the city where Holden was born. Thankfully for Holden, Landon Donovan helped him out this week by agreeing to a long-term lucrative deal with the MLS which also gave him the freedom to join Everton on a short term loan. There’s no way Holden will get Donovan cash, but at least it gives him a contractual framework from which he can negotiate with the MLS and potential European suitors. I’m sure Holden’s agent is thinking nothing less than guarantees and out clauses from the MLS if his client decides to stay. That said if I’m Stuart, I’m outta here. When Europe calls you have to jump at the chance because you never know if you’ll ever get the chance again. Keep in mind that close to 5 years ago, Holden signed with Sunderland, only to have his stay with the English Premier League outfit last only a few days after he was attacked outside a bar in Newcastle, which left him with a fractured left eye socket. Holden never got the chance to play for the Black Cats and I’m sure it eats him up inside till this day. Holden is apparently torn by the decision, but I believe that his sip of European soccer at the Stadium of Light was enough to push back across the big pond. Holden says he’s flattered that the MLS wants to keep him really bad. Well Stuart, unless you get the type of guarantees and out clauses Landon got, you’ve got to go and compete against the very best. Keep in mind that if you weren’t in the great position you’re at right now, the MLS would keep you from reaching your dreams and true potential, something that has happened to your fellow U.S. teammate, Taylor Twellman. Now is the time for Holden to take advantage of an opportunity that MLS players rarely get and that’s to dictate his own future and not let the league do it for him. It’s better for Holden to give Europe his best shot now, while he’s still young and his stock is high, then stay in the MLS where an injury can one day leave him crying and signing to European soccer, “I Want You Back”, alongside Tito and the rest of the Jackson 5.