Los Angeles tore down a few barriers when it handed its U.S. international defender a bumper new deal, but the new pact may prove difficult for other players to replicate.
The extent of the move, however, creates a little bit of history. Gonzalez did not receive the typical salary bump – think maximum salary or lower to mid- to high-six figures – to extend his contract by another three years. He received a so-called market value deal – the sort of pact he could have procured from a suitor in Europe or Mexico to leave MLS in his rear-view mirror ahead of next summer's World Cup – to stay with the Galaxy.
The prospect of competing in the global marketplace for American talent does constitute a fairly significant shift. Most players take a pay cut to come home or stay here. Landon Donovan – even at $2.5 million a year, per MLS Players Union documents, and even with the increased sponsorship opportunities on home soil – did it. Many, many more followed suit.
Clint Dempsey's expensive arrival and Gonzalez's prolonged stay provide the latest salvos to contradict the trend. The recent introduction of the retention fund – a mechanism designed to retain potential core players – created another means to keep the top players in the league without burdening teams on their salary budgets. The porous nature of the salary budget creates opportunities for teams to use their resources creativity to acquire young talent (through the Homegrown procedures) and retain top players (through the DP rule, the retention fund and the usual allocation money).
Other members of the rank and file will hope that the Gonzalez deal creates an opportunity for them to climb the ladder and secure a lucrative contract at some point in the future. Los Angeles manager Bruce Arena noted Gonzalez's progression from touted rookie to trusted mainstay in the wake of his deal. More than a few of his colleagues harbor similar ambitions somewhere down the line, but the particular circumstances here might render their goals a bit misplaced.
Gonzalez possessed a series of peculiar factors in his favor when he went to the negotiating table. He carried significant cachet at home (the best defender on the league's two-time defending champions) and abroad (interest from other teams after breaking into the U.S. starting lineup). He ticked down his contract to the final six months of his deal to place additional pressure on the Galaxy and MLS to match potential offers from overseas. And he played for a club that knew his value on the open market and wanted to compensate him accordingly.
Those circumstances do not arise on a regular basis, nor do they necessarily set a precedent for the future. Gonzalez benefited from a specific set of circumstances and wisely used them to his advantage. MLS will undoubtedly point the unique nature of his situation out to any ambitious agents or players seeking similar compensation. The prospect of allowing Juan Agudelo – a comparably situated player with a higher ceiling and a slighter body of work – to join Stoke City on a free transfer reinforced the notion that matching European offers remains selective, not standard, practice.
Gonzalez's extended stay in southern California may not inspire a wave of similar deals at similar figures, but it does reinforce the increasing trend of top MLS players receiving decent wage packets to stay in the league. The continued work on that front represents significant progress for a league that will need to retain more of its best players in the coming years to absorb four more teams and maintain the current standard of play. It also provides plenty of hope for a group of players still trying to break down barriers and pave the way for more and more stars to secure the sort of contract Gonzalez just received at some point in the future.
Five Points – Week 25
1. Some players are always worth the money, part one: Gonzalez's Galaxy teammate Robbie Keane once again proved his worth to the MLS Cup holders in the 4-2 victory over Real Salt Lake. Keane struck three times – and Gonzalez headed home the other goal after some spirited repartee with RSL defender Nat Borchers – to reignite the questions about where exactly he stands in the MLS MVP race at the moment.
2. Some players are always worth the money, part two: Montreal striker Marco Di Vaio once again spared the Impact's blushes with a pair of precise finishes in the 2-1 victory over D.C. United on Saturday night. Di Vaio continues to impress with his work along the line and his ability to separate from defenders inside the penalty area (poor Dejan Jakovic will have nightmares this week about his torrid evening at Stade Saputo). The former Italian international will need more service like the clever ball Patrice Bernier supplied for his second in order to lead the Impact to the playoffs.
3. Tensions running high on the sidelines: Di Vaio and his teammates must cope without the direction of Marco Schällibaum once again after the Swiss manager managed to procure his third dismissal of the season for a touchline spat with United boss Ben Olsen (also ejected for his part in the technical area scrape). Chicago coach Frank Klopas made it a trio of early departures after he expressed his strident displeasure with an incident involving perceived time wasting in front of the Fire bench in the waning stages of a 2-0 defeat at New England.
4. Pick a goal, any goal: Juan Agudelo notched the match winner at Gillette Stadium with an audacious flick with the outside of his right foot. In any other week, he would coast to Goal of the Week honors. Not this time. Columbus schemer Federico Higuain chipped yet another poor, unsuspecting goalkeeper in the 2-0 victory over Toronto FC. Houston forward Giles Barnes completed the trio of stunning strikes when he uncorked a drive from distance to help the Dynamo collect a 3-1 home victory over Seattle on Saturday.
5. Look elsewhere for clarity: The stretch run looks primed to deliver ample drama and plenty of uncertainty over the next couple of months. New York (0-0 home draw with Philadelphia) and Sporting Kansas City (1-0 defeat at San Jose) ensured the Eastern Conference table remained an indecipherable muddle with just six points separating the top six sides. RSL's defeat in Carson left the margin between the top six teams in the Western Conference at a comparably roomy seven points.