Eddie Johnson (left) celebrates with his USMNT team mate Clint Dempsey. Who knows where Johnson will end up after signing with MLS, something Dempsey would have to contend with as well were he to ever return.
This year has seen the return of many U.S. Men's National Team players to MLS. It's great for the league as these guys represent the pinnacle of what most soccer fans care about most: international glory. So when one returns to play in our home league it's a great boost to the fans of whichever team they happen to land in.
For those that don't quite member, the Portland Timbers acquired their own USA international player, Kenny Cooper, earlier this year before the season had kicked off. Since then the Vancouver Whitecaps, DC United, New England Revolution and Philadelphia Union have each secured their own little slice of American talent.
This is all well and good, of course. These players looked to MLS to return to form or find a new avenue of success and, as a loyal USMNT fan, I'm more than happy to oblige. The only problem is that the way MLS doles out these players is, to be blunt, stupid.The current system to recruit current or former USMNT players is done through what's called an Allocation Order. Essentially, each MLS team (American or Canadian) is on a list that says whether you're next in line for an incoming USMNT player. Here's the current list as reported by WVHooligan.com (not including today's announcement of Eddie Johnson):
- Chivas USA
Sporting Kansas City
New York Red Bulls
Real Salt Lake
San Jose Earthquakes
Los Angeles Galaxy
- Vancouver Whitecaps (Jay DeMerit)
- Portland Timbers (Kenny Cooper)
- D.C. United (Charlie Davies)
- New England Revolution (Benny Feilhaber)
- Philadelphia Union (Freddy Adu)
According to this list Chivas USA will have first rights to Eddie Johnson. If they decline then Houston gets the rights. If they refuse then Toronto and so on in that fashion.
This is a system used to ensure that some of the most popular American stars get spread around sufficiently to ensure a modicum of popularity for each team. In a sense, it's to create more parity in the league. Unfortunately, there are a few key problems with it that just don't make sense anymore in this day and age of stability throughout the league.
First, it creates an artificial limited resource where there is none. The current system encourages the top team to take the next player available in the allocation. It plays on the fear of uncertainty. They know who Eddie Johnson is and they could take him, but what about the next one. Maybe he's even better, maybe he's worse. It essentially pigeonholes a club into taking a player right away for fear that the next one would be a worse trade. And with months in between player transfers it strongly encourages said club to just take the next one coming up.
Second, why can't the appropriate team just trade for said players by themselves? It's pretty much a known fact right now that Eddie Johnson is not going to be signed by Chivas USA or Houston or Toronto... that means that realistically the Chicago Fire are the most likely to take him. But why couldn't Chicago just trade for him themselves if he was who they really wanted? Why bother with all these teams "passing." If Chicago or Houston or Chivas USA want a player they should each be able to bid for them with the team that currently holds the contract and the player involved. Everything else is just convoluted bullcrap.
Third, the player gets absolutely no say in where he ends up. Because of the list he could end up in any of the 18 locations. But what if he wanted to play for Portland and Portland wanted to trade for him, but instead Columbus acquired him? Well tough luck to both because unless Columbus wants to trade him away that player is stuck in Columbus. Such is the folly when signing with MLS.
Fourth, what's the stipulation on being a USMNT player these days? When was the last time Eddie Johnson played a meaningful game for the USA? If a player gets called up a single time, five years ago does it make sense for them to be included in the allocation order? What about a loaned player? Currently Charlie Davies is playing for DC United and yet they used their spot to "acquire" him. Does that make any sense?
Finally, and not to pick on our northern neighbors, but why do Canadian internationals (of which there are quite a few good ones!) not get lumped into some sort of allocation order and yet Canadian teams still get a place on the allocation order list for USMNT players? It makes no sense. Granted most American international players are more marketable, but wouldn't it make more sense to market a player like Jay DeMerit in the USA?
All in all it just doesn't make any sense. It's convoluted nonsense that really doesn't help grow the league in any meaningful manner. In fact, I'd be surprised if there weren't any former USMNT players who turned down an MLS deal for the simple fact that they didn't want their hat to be thrown into a ring to be selected by various teams they had no interest in playing for. Where as had they decided to return under normal circumstances they could play wherever they chose.
But this is the way the system works and will work for the foreseeable future. Eddie Johnson is likely to get passed around quite a bit in the next few days. Where he lands could be anyone's guess...