When Danny Karbassiyoon was 19 years old and playing for the Roanoke (Va.) Stars, he accepted an offer from Arsenal FC. Karbassiyoon scored a goal for the Gunners in his first team debut during a Carling Cup match, but then was sent to Ipswich Town and Burnley. Now, after spending three years competing for a place with English clubs, Karbassiyoon hopes to return to the US, and his first choice of teams is the Revolution.
But Karbassiyoon, a former member of the US Under-18 national team, is a long shot to join Major League Soccer and his chances of playing for the Revolution are slim; he would be offered a contract at a severe salary reduction and would have to enter the MLS player combine and draft, lessening even further the chances of the Revolution being in position to select him.
The situation is similar to the one Taylor Twellman confronted when he wanted to return from Germany in 2002.
When Twellman was 20, he accepted a substantial offer from TSV 1860 Munich. But Twellman was mostly on the Bundesliga club's bench for a season and a half, then decided to leave. Twellman had been in a dispute with team management over his desire to display a black armband commemorating the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center buildings, after which his relationship with 1860 Munich soured.
But Twellman had little leverage in contract talks with MLS, which required him to accept the league minimum salary of $24,000, participate in the player combine with collegiate players, and enter the 2002 draft. Former Revolution coach Fernando Clavijo took Twellman with the No. 2 pick (after Dallas selected Chris Gbandi), and Twellman quickly became a marquee performer, scoring 23 goals in his first season. Twellman has struggled to procure raises and, since he started so low on the salary scale, is 28th on the salary list ($180,666 per year) even though he has a league-best 75 goals over the past five seasons.
Should Karbassiyoon elect to return, he will have almost no leverage in contract talks. Karbassiyoon, like Twellman, was on the verge of ``making it" in Europe. Last year, Karbassiyoon was negotiating with AZ Alkmaar, a UEFA Cup entrant from the Netherlands, and ended up at Burnley. But Karbassiyoon sustained a knee injury and was released by Burnley before the start of the season.
The Karbassiyoon-New England connection has been provided by Revolution assistant coach Paul Mariner.
``Paul talked to [Karbassiyoon] before he left to go to Arsenal," Revolution coach Steve Nicol said yesterday. ``Obviously, we would be very interested in him. It's nice people want to come and play for us.
``But it's a long way off from anything happening. I've never seen him play. He's had a knee operation and I don't know if he would be available to anybody or he would have to go through the draft. He's been gone three years."
Karbassiyoon was recruited to Arsenal as a forward and converted to left back. In Karbassiyoon's favor is that he is a free agent and can go to any team without a transfer fee being involved. But Karbassiyoon's value has gone down because of his injury and failure to establish himself.
Should Karbassiyoon return under MLS terms, he can be expected to become frustrated by the low pay. Even if Karbassiyoon recovers and performs well in MLS, he can expect to confront the same problems Twellman has had; and Karbassiyoon is unlikely to produce nearly as many goals as Twellman has.
The MLS message is clear. Players who do not sign their first professional contracts with the league will have no leverage should things not work out overseas.
The Revolution's Shalrie Joseph has been in that circumstance, also, passing up the 2002 MLS player combine to try out for European clubs, then returning to play two seasons at minimum salary. Recently, Joseph was the subject of a $1 million transfer offer from Celtic FC, a direct result of him gaining exposure in MLS.
Had Joseph not renegotiated his contract last year, he would be a free agent and have a chance to go to Europe in January; but that would have placed Joseph in an unrealistic situation, performing as the team's most valuable player while earning about $30,000 a season. By renegotiating, Joseph quintupled his salary but now is under contract through 2008, complicating his chances of a transfer to Europe.
Karbassiyoon is confronting a conundrum, an MLS catch-22, which has snared better players than him. Karbassiyoon, a Roanoke native of Iranian-Italian descent, could qualify for a European Union work permit, a major advantage in seeking a club overseas. He might find more opportunities abroad than at home.