Major League Transfers, A Game In Itself

Created on Aug. 25, 2014 12:22 PM EST

Jermaine Jones’ transfer to New England Revolution has left many….Most….All scratching their heads. Is it because Robert Kraft isn’t known for his desire to spend money on the NFL Patriots’ red-headed step sibling - kind of. Is it because the MLS disciplinary committee may have some overtime pay in their future - not really. Perhaps it’s how Chicago Fire made their desperation to sign Jones very apparent - close, but no. The winning answer is that the method of dealing this designated player, and United States international, was to perform a blind draw.

For around $4.5m, Jermaine Jones will be making his home in Foxboro, MA until the end of 2015 (Yes, he looks devastated by the news in that photo). Reports would indicate that New England offered more money than the Fire, but MLS still opted for this unprecedented blind draw. Jones was deemed too important for the regular allocation order, which Columbus Crew sits on top of. The allocation order is the method of dealing US internationals, who come back to the league, without their rights being retained by a club a la Robbie Rogers. This was intended to exclude designated players, although DaMarcus Beasley somehow ended up on it with a DP tag. The LA Galaxy recently complained about the order, after Sacha Kljestan’s talks with MLS broke down. This was not due to the talks breaking down, but rather that FC Dallas had first option as second in the order, while the Crew attempted to sign Mix Diskerud. Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley proved to be the most notable players to avoid allocation, with Columbus recently letting slip of a secret additional allocation order for higher profile players. The standard allocation order is determined in reverse order of the previous season’s standings. If the Crew were correct and there is a second secretive order, how is that determined?

Another blind draw comes in the form of the weighted lottery. This is the system for players that have been draft eligible and gone to play abroad, or Generation adidas players that signed after the MLS SuperDraft. The weighted nature comes from, again, the order of the previous season’s results. When FC Dallas signed Brian Span, their chances were 41.1% with MLS Cup finalists, Real Salt Lake, having just a 0.9% chance - I just hope it’s done via computer and there isn’t someone writing FC Dallas on 411 pieces of paper!

The three Cascadia clubs became entangled in another semi-secretive and somewhat strange rule - discovery. When Portland tried to sign Mikaël Silvestre, as a free agent, they had to trade with Seattle as the Sounders had Silvestre’s MLS rights. The former Manchester United defender had never had talks with Seattle, but his name was on the discovery list that teams submit to MLS to claim rights. The other instance was Portland owning the rights to Nigel Reo-Coker before he signed for Vancouver. These lists are not made publicly available, like most things MLS, but do have mechanisms in place to avoid Chivas USA claiming Lionel Messi or several teams claiming the same player.

Back to the selective nature of the rules, and Clint Dempsey; there was a great deal of confusion over his move to Seattle. Houston were greatly interested in signing the man whose football skills were honed up I-45 in Dallas, and made no secret of being aggrieved that they were left in the dark about the Yanks’ captain. New York Red Bulls’ Andy Roxburgh had also spoken of his surprise in the secrecy behind the deal. Was Dempsey given a list to make a choice from? Was there another allocation order? Did Seattle win a blind draw?

Of course, there are the SuperDraft, Generation adidas, home grown players and trades. They’re all a bit straightforward and therefore boring!

The lack of transparency has put players off Major League Soccer. Mix Diskerud has twice called off talks, with many citing his hesitancy over the possibility of being traded against his will. Reo-Coker admitted second thoughts over being unable to speak to the team he wanted. Did the likes of Jones, Dempsey and Bradley require the rules to be bent in their negotiations? Which US internationals fall either side of the allocation, and what are the criteria for it?

So whilst we’re all completely baffled by these and all the other ever changing unwritten rules of transfers in Major League Soccer, why not suggest the next set of deciders for when future USMNT players come back to the States. The more outlandish the suggestion, the better. There are some fantastic suggestions on Twitter that are probably not suitable for younger readers, so I’ll leave you with my suggestion for Commissioner Garber:

You take a dart and spin a blindfolded intern as many times as Stephen Lenhart has been booked in his career. Not for any real reason other than to confuse the thrower, who takes some form of aim at the attached map. Please do not take offence to this harmless fun, and yes Chivas USA are on there. They take up all 25,332 sq mi of Sri Lanka, giving them a 0.013% chance of acquiring the next big MLS star! So what is your suggestion?
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