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How Sunny, Nguyen and Larin highlight MLS contract issues

It’s a tricky world in MLS contracts, and RSL is one of three clubs in the thick of it.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Real Salt Lake Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

There’s a somewhat startling trend in MLS that’s rearing its head again this year: At least three players have failed to report to the first day of preseason training with their club: Lee Nguyen of New England Revolution, Sunny of Real Salt Lake, and Cyle Larin of Orlando City.

The three situations are all somewhat different, so let’s recap.

Nguyen, one of the top players in New England, didn’t report for preseason, and the Revs GM said he wasn’t honoring his contract. That’s startling, because as we know, the contract is sort of the thing that makes professional sports tick — any refusal there should be punishable through normal contract law channels. Now, we don’t know much more about this, but it sounds like he’s trying to force a trade. Maybe that’s within MLS, but maybe it isn’t. Our compatriots over at The Bent Musket broke the situation down well.

Sunny is in an interesting but slightly different situation. Real Salt Lake took the unilateral club option in his contract, which has widely been established as a valid contract claim, although there have been disputes around that — and we’ll get to more of that later, but if you’re curious, go back three years and read about Carlos Salcedo’s refusal to accept that a club option led to a binding contract. The last reports had Sunny training in Spain ahead of the MLS season, with quotes from one Nigerian outlet sounding innocuous enough (Jan. 2.)

What we need to know before making any assessment here is whether Sunny intended to honor his contract or didn’t — if we know that he was training with a club in Spain, it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility that a move was sought out in the last three weeks. Again, it may have had nothing to do with a potential move to another club, but the timing does not reflect well on his situation.

Finally, we have Cyle Larin, who it seems is more or less contesting his option year as part of a move to Turkish side Besiktas. This is not unlike Salcedo, Camilo Sanvezzo or Fabian Castillo, all of whom contested their option years. Larin was one of few bright spots for Orlando City, who now face a tricky situation: Fight this battle in court, or simply let it go. It sure looks like it might come to that.

All this brings to light a surprising fact: MLS contracts are not being respected in world football the way you might expect. That may simply be a reflection of how contracts are often treated in world football, but it’s notable because none of these players had playing contracts with their specific clubs. Instead, those contracts were signed with Major League Soccer, and all three teams merely control the rights of the players at hand. It’s one of those things that can be a real sticking point for players, particularly where it can lead to them being traded without consent or, really, notice — outside of no-trade clauses and the like.

All three situations will shed more light on how MLS plans to combat these issues moving forward, but certainly, we’ll be watching the Sunny situation closely. Will he report to camp in short order? Time will tell, but one thing’s certain: He’s under contract, one way or another.