Dan Kennedy's Impossible Position
Thankfully this situation - if not annoyingly, that I'd wrote this just the day before - has been resolved, but I think it still serves to illustrate a point within Major League Soccer...And no, the title isn't referrring to keeping goal for Chivas USA.
At a little after noon, Pacific Standard Time, on Wednesday November 19th, Chivas USA's Dan Kennedy became the first pick of the 2014 MLS dispersal draft.
The Goats' keeper, and often saviour, was selected by FC Dallas as one of only seven CUSA players to be offered a new home. Hoops fans have always given the 32-year-old stopper a tough time, possibly with all the Kennedy/Dallas material available and just for being the good player on a terrible team, but those jeers immediately turned to messages welcoming Kennedy to Toyota Stadium.
Four weeks later and there was no acknowledgement of being selected, or message of thanks to the fans. Some of the fans in Texas began to feel like a jilted lover. This was not helped by an awkward segment with Kennedy on ESPNFC, where he was promoting the What'cha Got series presented by league sponsor, Continental Tires. Kennedy was referred to an MLS goalkeeper rather than FC Dallas or Chivas USA. Max Bretos then made a rather callous statement that the California native could be bouncing around the league. The comment drew a nervous smile and "We'll see", having been put on the spot in such a way.
Many took this as a sign of Kennedy rejecting FC Dallas, and the whispers then began. There is then further feeling of being scorned when Dan Kennedy Tweeted about meeting some of the Chivas USA fans at the pre-MLS Cup meet and greet. Clear your minds, he's in LA at MLS Cup and the fans who adore him are there to watch the game in the city where they also happen to live. Dom Dwyer also met up with some folk from his Orlando City days at the same event, not that he's about to jump ship from Sporting Kansas City.
It's very easy to look at these public displays and take any number of implications from them, but people often fail to consider what is not made public. For anyone who plies their trade 30 miles from where they grew up, the prospect of relocation is tough. You have your social circle, your lifestyle, your family, even something as trivial as the weather. What Chivas players have had to deal with is months of speculation whether the club would adopt a new brand and carry on, or simply cease operations. There was no set plan for how players would find new teams, or if they even had a future in MLS.
Then there is the emotional connection. This is the team that first drafted Dan Kennedy in 2005, the team he returned to in 2008, whose fans regarded him as a hero and whose players saw him as a leader. In an interview with Sports Illustrated, Kennedy mentioned that the bond was strong, in part, because Chivas gave him an opportunity when the likes of LA, New York, Dallas and Real Salt Lake turned him down. He grew with Chivas USA and anywhere else just isn't the same.
The collective bargaining agreement has put a number of players off signing with MLS, because they want to have control over their career. They want to sign for who they feel is best suited, and to talk to the teams they are interested in. Between discovery, contracts that can be cut well before the finish date without compensation, and the nature of drafts, players simply do not have the freedom we enjoy when shopping around for different jobs.
Giving up these freedoms is fine if you have a DP-level salary, but when there are somewhere in the region of 200 MLS players who earn under $50,000, you still have to balance the bills at home. Dan Kennedy was one of a number of players who spoke out about the CBA negotiations, again, as a leader of the club with the lowest average salary in Major League Soccer.
The reality is that Kennedy only settled his future four weeks after being picked. He couldn't even look at homes in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, because there was precious little to say he would be an FC Dallas player in March. He was picked by a team with two of the league's better keepers. As a result, many felt that Kennedy was signed as trade-bait initially. Raul Fernandez had his option declined, leaving Kennedy to battle with fellow Californian, and huge fan-favorite, Chris Seitz. Seitz impressed last year and is a known quantity for FC Dallas, after serving as back-up for the previous three seasons. Both Seitz and Kennedy were protected for the expansion draft, but a trade is still a possibility for either if it could help towards fixing one of the problem areas, such as center of midfield.
There must be a degree of difficulty to emotionally commit yourself without knowing if you'll ever represent your new team, or even last until pre-season begins. It must also be tough to be excited at the prospect of going from team captain, MVP and generally a hero, to possibly filling another team's bench or just signed in order to make an attractive trade package elsewhere.
The line I had originally wrote was that If Kennedy does have a locker with his name at Toyota Stadium in March, fans will almost certainly see an engaging Dan Kennedy as the Union Ultras have enjoyed for several years. On Thursday morning, the contract extension was made public and we did indeed see the supporters, Kennedy and his agent, Ron Waxman, interacting in such a way.
Welcome to your new home Dan!