Splash Coach George Fernandez likes his team just the way it is, and has made that clear to Tim Orchard, player personnel director.
The two spoke after the Splash lost Game 3 of the Continental Indoor Soccer League semifinals to Sacramento, but Fernandez began dropping hints before the season ended that if this group of players is kept together, it can challenge for CISL championships for years to come.
And now, two days after Monterrey beat Sacramento for the title the Splash coveted, Fernandez and the rest of the indoor game see outdoor soccer--Major League Soccer--on the horizon, and that league's need for about 150 players.
The challenge facing the Splash is keeping certain bodies in the locker room.
That task falls on Orchard, who says he will try to re-sign every member of the Splash.
However, Orchard's not naive.
"I have recommended that all our players weigh their options carefully and don't rush into a decision," Orchard said. "They truly hold the cards because the MLS needs players. They'll never have this kind of leverage again. This is truly unique in professional sports, and we're not in position to expect long-term loyalty from these players because we don't pay them year-round. We're dealing with reality, not ideality."
Orchard is proposing the CISL and National Professional Soccer League form a year-round working agreement to share players, and a cost of living increase in the salary cap of "at least" $500 monthly.
CISL Commissioner Ron Weinstein said if Orchard can be an ambassador to the NPSL, more power to him, but that the rival indoor league has been uncooperative in the past--even filing an injunction to prevent two players from competing in the CISL within the past 60 days. Weinstein said a possible solution is to allow clubs to sign a minimum of two players to year-round personal services contracts, an idea he will recommend at the Board of Governors meeting in two weeks.
"Then we would be able to have the ability to control the top 30 indoor soccer players in the country," Weinstein said. "But the number of players we lose [under the status quo] should be minimal; I would be shocked if we lost more than 20 or 30."
Orchard is confident the Splash will remain competitive and retain its veteran core group--Sean Bowers, Denis Hamlett, Doug Neely and Raffaele Ruotolo.
But Fernandez has a more reserved, if cynical, outlook: "I'm sure we'll lose some players--that's inevitable."
Orchard conceded that even if the Splash does lose a couple players to MLS--Bowers has already been contacted--he and Fernandez have been able to find local talent: Paul McDonnell (Cal State Fullerton) and Armando Valdivia (Northridge) last year, John O'Brien (UCLA/UC Irvine) this year.
"I don't think it's a matter of money," said Hamlett, who's going to get in touch with the MLS this week. "It's what's in the best interest of the person."
Orchard agrees. Bernie Lilavois, acquired in a trade early in the season, also will check out the MLS. He wants to return, but he's also an expectant father, "so that changes everything," he said.
Bowers' goal is to play for the national team, and that would probably force him to quit the indoor game.
Another thing to keep in mind--MLS is pursuing the upper echelon of outdoor talent. The top indoor players aren't necessarily the best outdoor players.
Weinstein said other changes that could be forthcoming in the CISL include a schedule with as many as 32 games instead of 28, a season that runs July-November instead of June-October, and a five-game championship series instead of a three-game final.