MLS transfer trade: Who holds the cards?
With the European transfer window in full swing, many much-anticipated moves are coming to fruition with the likes of Andy Carroll, Brazil’s Oscar and Robin Van Persie expected to leave for pastures new in the next three weeks. But things are really heating up on the other side of the pond too, with the MLS Trade closing late on Friday, reopening January 21.
The highlights of the window included Alessandro Nesta’s shock move to Montreal Impact, while other surprises included Tim Cahill leaving Everton for New York Red Bulls, Vancouver Whitecaps’ giant forward Eric Hassli switching to rivals Toronto FC with TFC losing Julian De Guzman to FC Dallas, while the ‘Caps also lost forward Sebastien Le Toux to the Red Bulls but gaining Scottish veteran Kenny Miller from Cardiff City. The window concluded with Seattle Sounders trading popular winger Alvaro Fernandez to Chicago Fire, replacing him with young Honduran Mario Martinez, and also bringing in experienced German midfielder Christian Tiffert.
All in all a pretty lively few weeks, with the aforementioned signings having one thing in common; they were all massive surprises.
The beauty of the MLS is that players are traded on the spot, so for the casual fan one cannot predict who their team will be bringing in or letting go, which could also be torturous to the fan, as in the case of Seattle’s Fernandez.
“El Flaco” as he’s affectionately known by the Sounders’ faithful, bagged 13 goals in 55 appearances during his two years with the club, and was part of the team’s high-octane attacking quartet of Osvaldo Alonso, Mauro Rosales and Fredy Montero. There were murmurs that he may be set-up for a move to South America, but now the Sounders have to contend with him foraging down their flanks with the Chicago Fire.
The reasoning behind this spontaneity is the rules behind trading in the MLS. Each team are allocated two designated players, with clubs having the option of purchasing a third designated player for a one-off fee of $250,000 that will be dispersed in the form of allocation money to all clubs that do not have three designated players. Sounds complicated, right? Basically, what it means is that money rules the roost in the MLS, and a team like the Sounders would rather lose one of their designated players (like El Flaco), in exchange for allocation money with which they can go out and purchase a player like Tiffert.
The league committee still has the option to ‘nix’ a particular deal that doesn’t benefit the the league economically, such as the ongoing debacle surrounding Olof Mellberg’s proposed move to Toronto. MLS Commissioner Don Garber faced a ‘grilling’ during a half-time Q & A sessions at last week's MLS All-Stars vs Chelsea game (which the All-Stars won 3-2).
Garber was asked about the the role the league played in the Mellberg saga, which the commissioner responded by claiming TFC had nixed the deal because it wouldn’t have made financial sense to sign Mellberg, with conflicting reports coming out of the TFC office that the league had in fact cancelled the deal. Garber also attempted to address the issue with certain players looking to return to their hometown clubs, and in some cases refusing to be traded to certain teams.
This was the case with Brian McBride, in which the striker was traded to TFC but then sent to his preferred team, Chicago Fire in return for allocation money as McBride refused to turn out for the Canadian team. Garber claimed that, “the system has created this, and I think what’s unique is that we have a system and that system is the one that we feel very strongly about, one that we're going to fight hard to protect.”
What this all means is that there is a conflict of interest within the MLS between the player and the league, with both holding a power play ultimately resulting in the club losing out, forking out more costs to keep players happy and remain within their budget.
When it comes to trading to teams in other countries it appears that the player could be the one in limbo with Geoff Cameron’s proposed move to Stoke City in limbo, with other teams such as Everton, sniffing around for the 27-year-old US international. Garber also addressed this issue at the All-Star game, claiming “at the end of the day, the league has gotta come in and make decisions that are in the best interest of everybody; the player, the club and the league. Now the good news is, Geoff is on his way to being transferred and that worked out, but we've gotta be sure that we're making the right decision, that the first offer that comes in we just don't accept.”
Cameron does indeed seem set for Stoke, but this issue is another example of how as the MLS expands and aims to compete with the European elite, so does the politics of the committee which could all end in one explosive mess.
Article by Sarshar Hosseinia