When Tommy Heinemann appeared in the starting XI for Penn FC last Saturday, it seemed to bring an end to one of USL’s biggest offseason mysteries. He spent ninety minutes as Penn FC’s main striker and he was doing more than enough running and jumping to demonstrate that he was healthy and able to play. As far as we could tell, his issues with FC Cincinnati were over.
Well it turned out that it wasn’t as simple as all that. The controversy around Heinemann was reignited Tuesday afternoon when the MLS Players Association released a statement in support of Heinemann and his current contract situation.
We are extremely disappointed in FC Cincinnati's attempt to void a valid and enforceable contract with @TommyHeinemann. @USL @fccincinnati— MLSPA (@MLSPlayersUnion) April 3, 2018
Here is our statement: pic.twitter.com/sm44aYMnpU
I tried to give a brief recap on his situation in my article last week, but here’s the basic timeline for those who are unfamiliar.
- November 2017- Tommy Heinemann wins an NASL Championship with the San Francisco Deltas
- December 2017- He signs with FC Cincinnati
- January 2018- FC Cincinnati releases him over a “failed entry physical.” Heinemann says that he will dispute the release.
- February 2018- The USL finds in favor of Heinemann in his dispute with FC Cincinnati
- March 2018- He signs with Penn FC and plays for the team against Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC.
It was somewhat of a surprise to see the MLSPA getting involved with a player who’s currently signed to the USL, but they laid out their reasons pretty clearly in their statement. Heinemann is a former MLSPA member from when he had played for Columbus Crew and Vancouver Whitecaps, so they feel like they’re still protecting one of their own. In addition, FC Cincinnati is likely to enter MLS soon in a future expansion, so the union wouldn’t want them to feel like they can engage in behavior that the union calls “deplorable.”
The statement also brings to light a few new issues with this conflict. For starters, the statement indicates that the issue for FC Cincinnati was that Heinemann had a past knee injury. They apparently wanted him to accept a pay cut because of this, and when he wouldn’t accept the cut he was released. This is a bit of a surprise, because up until now it had been presented that Cincy thought that Heinemann was currently injured back in January.
So this appears to be the central issue with the case. Was Cincy trying to leverage a past injury in order to save some money? Were they trying to use failure to disclose a complete injury history as justification for terminating Heinemann’s contract? Did they just rush into his signing and then get cold feet? It’s still unclear, but Heinemann signing with and playing for another team less than two months after being released due to a knee injury certainly doesn’t help Cincy’s argument.
There’s another aside from later in the statement that’s of interest for Penn FC fans. The MLS Players Association specifically notes that Heinemann’s contract with Penn FC is, “at a significantly lower salary than what he is owed by FC Cincinnati.” Of course, it’s not surprising that Penn FC can’t offer the same level of money as a team that had an average attendance of over 21,000 last season. But it’s still kind of shocking to hear it laid out so bluntly. And since USL doesn’t announce salaries the same way that MLS does, the dollar values they’re talking about here are still unclear.
FC Cincinnati weighed in on the situation later in the afternoon.
Response from FC Cincinnati regarding MLSPA statement. pic.twitter.com/zZjXXzowLI— FC Cincinnati (@fccincinnati) April 3, 2018
So it appears that the case will be heading to arbitration soon. It’s likely that the full details won’t come out until much later, or possibly not at all. In the meantime, it’s good to know that Heinemann will be able to play in 2018 and that he doesn’t have to lose a season while this gets worked out.
And if Tommy Heinemann wants to score a bunch of goals for Penn FC this season in order to rub it in FC Cincinnati’s face for releasing him, I’m sure the fans in Harrisburg would support that.