Ever have a question about soccer or the Union but didn't want to ask for whatever reason? Well fear not. Send me your questions via email and once a week I'll answer a question here in the column. We'll only use first names and last initials, and your email address will remain confidential.
This week, reader Mike M. sent the following email:
On a spectrum from casual fan to die hard season ticket holder Son of Ben, I'd say I fall somewhere right in the middle when it comes to Union fandom (sp?) I go to a couple games a season and follow the games I can't watch on twitter as much as I can, but I have a question for someone with a greater knowledge of the team, the league, and the structure of international soccer.The last couple years especially I've seen a multitude of other MLS teams signing current or former international stars, with the Dynamo claiming the rights of Beasley as the latest example.I don't know if this is a simple question to answer or not but I can't help but wonder why the Union seem to never even be in the discussion for one of these players? Is it money? Availability? Management? Weird random MLS or intl. rules I'm unaware of? (there seem to be a lot of those)I just don't want to be one of those annoying fans who screams and shouts that we're not doing anything to grab big time players when I have no idea what the actual reason is so I'm trying to educate myself.Any help, whether personal email response or response via post or existing post or link w/ explanation is helpful.Keep up the good work on Brotherly Game!Regards,Mike M.
Excellent question Mike! I feel like the answer to this is quite complex. I'll start by saying that the Union seem to be following the model set by Real Salt Lake, where they'd much rather develop homegrown players and draft talent than going out (like the LA Galaxy or New York Red Bulls) and just throwing money at players. I feel like this is a much more sustainable model in the long run, and honestly aside from the David Beckham years in LA it hasn't yielded these teams much in the way of results.
There's also the issue of Allocation Rankings. When US international players return to MLS, they are subject to go through the allocation process if a transfer fee was paid for them leaving MLS - unless they're offered a Designated Player contract. This is one of MLS' most complicated rules, so don't feel bad if it seems confusing. Let's look at DaMarcus Beasley as an example. Beasley was with the Chicago Fire in 2000 when Dutch club PSV Eindhoven paid MLS a $2.5 million transfer fee for his services. Since there was a transfer fee paid, he was subject to the allocation process upon his return to MLS from Liga MX club Puebla.
At the beginning of each MLS season, each team is given an allocation ranking based on how they finished the previous season. So teams that finish at the bottom of the league will have a higher allocation ranking than those who finish at the top. These slots can be traded, so teams often use these to sweeten deals. If a team opts to select a returning player, they fall to the bottom of the ranking. The Union traded their allocation ranking with D.C. United as part of the Jeff Parke - Ethan White deal, so they had the number one slot in January. They then used that to select Maurice Edu, so they then dropped to the bottom. Since they were so low in the ranking, they were essentially out of the running for DMB. The Union currently lie seventeenth out of nineteen.
Now they can always bring in a Designated Player who doesn't fall into the allocation process. International players aren't subject to this - that's how the Union landed Cristian Maidana. The Union have used two of their three available Designated Player slots - on Maidana and Edu - so there's one available. Why not use it? Well, look at what the Union's main weaknesses are at the moment. The club needs help at center back. Goalkeeper is solid, full backs are solid, the midfield is solid, and the strikers are finally finding a rhythm and scoring. MLS teams have historically been loathe to spend DP money on the center back position, and the Union are waiting to see how the situation with Carlos Valdés plays out. If he comes back, the issues at center back will most likely be fixed, so a DP center back would be overkill. Or perhaps the Union are prepared to offer Valdés a DP contract - which I personally support.
As far as club finances go, MLS is notorious for muddying the waters regarding club finances. There's no good way to tell how a club is doing financially, however if you look at the Union - their ownership group, the home matches near or at capacity, the merchandise sold - one has to believe the club is very secure financially speaking. That being said, the reality of the situation is the Union are a club with a caretaker manager and a club who has a history of spending smart. They're not going to go throwing money at someone just because they can. My feeling is that they will wait to hire a full time manager (whether it's Jim Curtin or someone else) and then look to acquire players. No sense bringing in someone if they won't fit the new manager's system.
It's also important to note that MLS has a Player's Union, and just like the other pro sports in the US and Canada, the Player's Union and the league periodically negotiate a collective bargaining agreement. The last one, drafted in 2010, is set to expire at the end of this year. Since 2010, the league has added three teams (Portland, Vancouver, and Montreal) and has seen revenues increase dramatically. But as Biggie Smalls taught us, "Mo' money, mo' problems". The minimum salary for a player is $36,500 which is the lowest of any of the big professional leagues. This will most definitely need to be increased, and there has been talk of increasing the maximum wage a player can make before being considered a DP as well as adding another DP slot. With a possible work stoppage looming as well as all of the changes on the horizon, I think the Union are being very prudent with their resources.
I hope that answered your question. It's a very complicated issue, therefore the long answer. Thanks for reading!