Sergio Campbell will reportedly sign a contract with Columbus Crew SC soon. A first round pick is usually signed by the team that drafts him. That's not unusual... usually. Campbell's situation was special as his youth club, Portmore United of Jamaica, wanted training compensation for when the player was with Portmore's youth academy. MLS doesn't usually pay these fees even though FIFA mandates them. Campbell was in limbo until a deal was struck between the league and Portmore Utd.
The issue started bubbling up last week with an article in the Jamaica Observer. The online magazine Vice upped the ante yesterday, calling the issue the "Labor Nightmare No One is Talking About". Overheated rhetoric aside, it is an issue that has crept up in the past and continues to be one as the league brings in international talent through the draft.
MLS often refuses paying them citing child-labor laws in the United States. That may be the league's reasoning, but they've often skirted around that in the past. They reportedly reached a deal for 2014 Philadelphia Union draft pick Andre Blake. They've now struck a deal for Campbell. Terms of the deal weren't disclosed, but Portmore wanted $7,500 in compensation.
While MLS has been shy at negotiating settlements in the past, they'll have more of these situations on the horizon. This year, Campbell isn't the only player that Jamaican club officials are seeking compensation for their time in local academies. Oniel Fisher, drafted by the Sounders, trained with St. George's SC. The Montreal Impact drafted Romario Williams who spent time with Cavalier FC. Local officials have said they'll press the issue with CONCACAF to ensure a fair deal.
MLS desperately wants to avoid setting a precedent on this issue. They don't want to run afoul of labor laws, but they want the talent. They surely would rather not pay the money if possible, but more likely they want to retain their ultimate weapon, a negotiated settlement. They can strong arm, cajole, and wheedle the other side of the table into a deal. In the case of Campbell, Portmore United gets compensated, Crew SC gets their player, and the league avoids a clear cut precedent of using FIFA fee schedules or other codified rules. MLS continues to show they are open to a deal, but only on a case by case basis. The downside is that the other side may get tired of being treated like a junior partner and dig in.
So far, the league has sidestepped any real conversation on the issue. When asked about the prospects of a deal, a Crew SC spokesman referred me to the league. The league didn't respond to a request for comment. It's certainly not the league's most endearing quality, but the MLS legal team defused another possible issue and now they are moving on to the next set of negotiations.
NOTE: Updated to add clarity regarding setting precedent with the Campbell deal.