Lance Laing staying in Edmonton is great news, and it’s no mystery why such a talent would want to.
It’s Laing I want to talk about today. He is the rare player who everybody loves. Casual fans have a speedy, hard-working left-footer with a bit of flash who takes set pieces well and scores goals: he stands out to even the most uninformed eye. The diehards adore him: his first year in Edmonton got him 2013 FC Edmonton Supporters Group MVP and he’s a dead cinch to repeat in 2014. He has a decent league-wide reputation, NASL Best XI in 2011 with buzz for this year, plus a Player of the Week on August 25. 26 years old, Laing is the perfect age to be a major building block for Miller, and his move up to left midfield is widely credited with reviving Edmonton’s playoff hopes. And, despite being a Jamaican who played in Fort Lauderdale before joining the Eddies, Laing is crazy enough to spend his winters in Edmonton. He ticks all the boxes and reaction to his extension has been universal pleasure.
I’m not convinced Laing isn’t a better left back than a left mid. Yes, I know that Laing played left back in the spring season, it wasn’t great, he moved forward in the middle of the fall, and the rest has been history. But the spring season was nine games: it was self-evident as soon as they announced that schedule that drawing conclusions from it would be a fool’s errand. Laing’s ball-striking skills show up very well in mid, but we miss his ability to jockey attackers off the ball and his composure, particularly when we compare him to his erratic LB stand-in Kareem Moses. Combining with Eddie Edward at right back, also a good player but a “throwback” with strength and a focus on defensive fundamentals, made a good combination. I’m not saying move Laing back now; the team’s playing the best soccer in its history and you don’t fuck with results. But longterm I personally see Laing on the back line. Anyhow, doesn’t matter if I’m wrong again. He can play.
With the quality Laing’s demonstrated over five NASL seasons, naturally a few observers are saying he deserves a chance at MLS. If you’re one of those people you might be surprised to see Laing committing his future to the NASL before the season has even ended, rather than chasing trials next spring.
MLS seldom pays for second division players. Toronto FC gave then-USL-1 Montreal a transfer fee for Greg Sutton eight and a half years ago; that’s the only example I know of a Canadian team getting cash from MLS or a Canadian MLS team paying the second division. Even Carolina fetishist Martin Rennie signed Etienne Barbara, Floyd Franks, Jun Marques Davidson, Matt Watson, and Brad Knighton on free transfers, but paid a fee for ex-Railhawk and Danish league player Brad Rusin. Therefore, for all intents and purposes, Laing’s extension is an iron-clad commitment to the second division until either his contract expires or (unlikely!) the Eddies dispose of his services.
Fans are always surprised how many core second division players make more money than they would in MLS. Remember, MLS salaries may be generous for designated players and into six figures for proven core players, but a player moving up from a lower North American division will in all probability make less than $60,000. Barbara, fresh off a league-leading goalscoring campaign and courted by his former manager who wanted him badly, made $87,500 in his one season as an MLS player. More typical, but still on the high end, was Knighton’s $55,000 that season. For something more in line with coaches picking on the open market rather than grabbing their favourite players, look at Jeff Attinella’s $46,500 at Real Salt Lake, Evan Bush’s $46,500 at the Montreal Impact, Kyle Porter’s $54,992.45 total compensation at DC United, and Jonny Steele’s $47,562.50 total compensation during his first year in 2012.
The Whitecaps had to pay for Barbara because he was being so well-compensated in the second division: he’d already declined an approach from the Montreal Impact. More than one prominent Canadian, and even a few FC Edmonton players, have also made more in the second division than they would have in MLS, a couple making more than MLS Barbara. In 2010 it was all-but-official that USSF D2 Whitecaps outbid MLS for Jonny Steele. Mozzi Gyorio, then fresh out of the Tampa Bay Rowdies, declined a contract offer from Sporting Kansas City over money. Minnesota United’s Miguel Ibarra, recently called up to the American senior team, has been all over the news, and on American Soccer Now Brooke Tunstall quoted a coach saying Ibarra is also making more in the NASL than he would in MLS. Chat to some well-established NASL stars and you’ll hear the same thing.
Of course the average MLS player makes more than the average NASLer, but FC Edmonton, and any other NASL team, can outbid MLS for players the Eddies want to keep and MLS wants to try out. And under the circumstances the players might be wise to accept. If you go to MLS you might become Jonny Steele, putting in a quality season that proves your quality and earns you six figures. Or you might become Etienne Barbara, blowing out your knee and falling off the face of the Earth. The playing level isn’t enough of an improvement to prove anything. If your ambitions are in Europe then NASL is almost as good a choice as MLS; just ask Hanson Boakai, already drawing interest from across the Atlantic. Sure, if Lance Laing signed with an MLS team for $50,000 he might get a Jordan Harvey sort of career… or he might be benched behind some designated player or other flavour of the month as so many quality players have been (waves to Phil Davies and Bryce Alderson).
Laing’s taken a couple cracks at MLS rosters, trialling with Real Salt Lake and Columbus in 2012 and getting good reviews. RSL Soapbox actually said “it pains me a bit to not have Laing.” But Laing’s MLS discovery rights were held by the Crew and Columbus, knowing no other MLS team could touch him, let him twist. The Crew decided to chase the flashy import for their backup left back and wound up with Nemanja Vuković (whoops!). This is part of what I mean when I say quality isn’t, in MLS, always the deciding factor, and no doubt part of the reason Laing is willing to remain an Eddie.
Edmonton won’t be able to fend off interest from MLS for every cherished player. The Eddies wanted to keep Kyle Porter, but after turning down a low offer from MLS in 2011 Porter bit the bullet in 2013 and signed with DC United. This will happen again: Major League Soccer has appeal to an NASL player that goes beyond money. An NASL player in his early twenties might want to emulate Andre Hainault, who after a short career in the USL First Division parlayed four seasons with the Houston Dynamo into what is now a regular role in the 2. Bundesliga. Porter’s MLS career hasn’t been an unalloyed success, but if he washes out he’ll have time to rebuild. If you’re Lance Laing, past the developmental stage of your career and enjoying a comfortable role on an ambitious team, the upside of a move like that is a lot smaller.
Christ, I’d take Edmonton’s money too.
 — “Long-term sustainability in mind with contract extensions for two FCE players.” FC Edmonton, October 14, 2014. Accessed October 15, 2014. http://www.fcedmonton.com/news/detail/uuid/cauadqtf6rtl11hqoqv4i0ifp#.VD6hcDYWYrc.
 — Massey, Benjamin. “Those FC Edmonton Preseason Games Against TWU and UBC, in Full.” Maple Leaf Forever!, March 30, 2014. Accessed October 15, 2014. http://www.maple-leaf-forever.com/2014/03/30/those-fc-edmonton-preseason-games-against-twu-and-ubc-in-full/.
 — FC Edmonton Supporters Group. “Congratulations to Lance Laing for winning our MVP award for the year 2013. Well deserved!” Via Facebook, October 28, 2013. Accessed October 15, 2014. https://www.facebook.com/FCESG/photos/a.195312337177912.39025.195308607178285/608873302488478/?type=1&permPage=1.
 — “FC Edmonton’s Lance Laing named NASL player of week.” North American Soccer League, August 25, 2014. Accessed October 15, 2014. http://www.nasl.com/article/uuid/gkt6wubgwq1r1df9upbd3hua1/fc-edmontons-lance-laing-named-nasl-player-of-the-week-7#.VD6kWzYWYrc.
 — Halpin, Jason. “Toronto FC add Canada ‘keeper.” MLSNet via Rocket Robin Soccer, December 1, 2006. Accessed October 15, 2014. http://rocketrobinsoccerintoronto.com/reports07/06tfc012.htm.
 — Major League Soccer Players Union. “2012 MLS Player Salaries: October 1, 2012: Alphabetical.” MLSPlayers.org, October 1, 2012. Accessed October 15, 2014. http://www.mlsplayers.org/files/October%201,%202012%20Salary%20Information%20-%20Alphabetical.pdf.
 — Major League Soccer Players Union. “2013 MLS Player Salaries: September 15, 2013: Alphabetical.” September 15, 2013. Accessed October 15, 2014. http://www.mlsplayers.org/files/September%2015,%202013%20Salary%20Information%20-%20Alphabetical.pdf.
 — Quarstad, Brian. “Etienne Barbara Frustrated with Montreal Impact and MLS Rules; Gets Called Back to Maltese National Team.” Inside Minnesota Soccer, January 1, 2012. Accessed October 15, 2014. http://www.insidemnsoccer.com/2012/01/10/etienne-barbara-frustrated-with-montreal-impact-and-mls-rules-gets-called-back-to-maltese-national-team/.
 — Sandor, Steven. “Gyorio says no to initial offer from Sporting Kansas City.” The11.ca, March 26, 2012. http://the11.ca/2012/03/26/gyorio-says-no-to-initial-offer-from-sporting-kansas-city/.
 — Tunstall, Brooke. “Here’s How Miguel Ibarra Slipped Past the Scouts.” October 14, 2014. Accessed October 15, 2015. http://americansoccernow.com/articles/here-s-how-miguel-ibarra-slipped-past-mls-scouts.
 — denz. “A Closer Look at the 2012 Real Salt Lake Roster Part 4 – The Roster.” RSL Soapbox, February 28, 2012. Accessed October 15, 2014. http://www.rslsoapbox.com/2012/2/28/2830678/a-closer-look-at-the-2012-real-salt-lake-roster-part-4-the-roster.
 — Merz, Craig. “Columbus search for depth behind Francis at left back.” MLSSoccer.com, February 20, 2012. Accessed October 15, 2014. http://www.mlssoccer.com/news/article/2012/02/20/columbus-search-depth-behind-francis-left-back.