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Discovery Claims are an Embarrassment to MLS

We have seen the issue crop up every now and then, but recent moves, trials and potential trades have shown just how embarrassing "Discovery Claims" are to this league.

Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Imagine this. You're a player coming from somewhere not the United States or Canada. You have held talks with a number of MLS clubs and have begun negotiations with one in particular, let's say the Chicago Fire (just to keep this hypothetical out of our back yard).You're about to sign a contract with them when everything is put on hold. Apparently DC United has a "discovery claim" on you and wants something from Chicago for your rights, even though you never had any intention of joining DC United.

Welcome to the world of Major Leaugue Soccer.

There are quite a few reasons to smash your head against the wall when it comes to MLS rules and regulations, but one of the worst offenders is absolutely the discovery claim rule. It's already well known that MLS controls its teams and players in a cartel sort of manner (players sign with the league, for instance), but the use of discovery claims seems to add on an extra layer of convoluted mess, as well as an insult to players who might want to ply their trade here.

Here's how it works:

Clubs may make discovery claims on players not yet under MLS contract who are not subject to the allocation ranking or lottery mechanisms.

Each club has the opportunity to make six discovery signings per season (expansion teams may make 10 discovery signings in their inaugural season). A club may have up to 10 discovery claims on unsigned players at any time and may remove or add players at any time. The last day for discovery player signings is September 15, 2012 - coinciding with the roster freeze date and trade deadline.

The six discovery signings can be used to fill senior roster spots only. If multiple clubs claim the same player using a discovery, the club that filed the claim first will have first rights to the player. Discovery claims expire following each season. If the League and player are unable to reach an agreement during the season, the club that first filed the discovery retains the right of first refusal in the event the player is later signed by the League.

Now enter the Portland Timbers, Seattle Sounders, Vancouver Whitecaps, two players and MLS's inane rules.

Over the last couple days it was revealed that the Portland Timbers did, in fact, own the discovery rights to Nigel Reo-Coker, a player who was rumored to be joining either the Portland Timbers or the New York Red Bulls. After a deal between the Timbers and Reo-Coker was scuppered, however, we all thought that that would be it. Far from it.

Nigel wants to become a Whitecaps player.

Apparently, Reo-Coker is now set to sign with the Vancouver Whitecaps. There's only one thing standing in the way: the Portland Timbers. The Timbers own the rights to Reo-Coker and are apparently hesitant to give those rights up, according to his agent:

"Vancouver have been above and beyond patient," Reo-Coker's agent, Richard Trafford, told Prost Amerika. "MLS are fully aware of this. I personally think rule changes should be implemented as soon as possible to stop this happening again. Nigel wants to become a Whitecaps player."

The Whitecaps, for their part, left this comment with

"We have had discussions with Portland, MLS, and Reo-Coker. If there is something to announce, we will do so."

Cue facepalm.

But before you get angry at the Portland Timbers over this, they're just playing the hand they've been dealt to play with according to MLS and are currently being victimized as well by this stupid rule.

Throughout the preseason, Mikael Silvestre was trialing with the Portland Timbers. Fans were rightfully excited by him as he brought a wealth of veteran centerback experience with some of the best clubs in the world. After impressing in pretty much every game he played in, most thought he would be signed so long as the Timbers could afford him.

And then one day he was gone... trialing with the Seattle Sounders apparently (who he had scored against a few days earlier).

According to a teleconferenced interview with Sigi Schmid on Prost Amerika, the Seattle Sounders own Mikael Silvestre's rights despite the Portland Timbers trialing him first. Here was Sigi's exact comment with regards to the player:

"It's something that we worked out. We have the discovery [rights] on him, but [Portland] had brought him in. We felt that since he was here we should get a look at him, as well. They really didn't talk to us before they had decided to bring him in. In deference to the player, we didn't want to cause an issue with his trial with them, but we wanted to have a look at him. We saw him in that game [against Portland] and we were able to have him in and train with us, as well, and he played in the game for us [against New England]."

We have the discovery [rights] on him, but [Portland] had brought him in.

So now if the Portland Timbers did want to bring him in, not only would they have to pay his probable high salary, but they would have to give the Seattle Sounders something just for the right to sign a player who is a FREE AGENT.

So why would MLS keep up with this rule even if it makes no sense? Simple: it gives them control over players who might want to play in MLS, even if they're not signed players. Think about it a little bit:

A player who comes to MLS and isn't signed by any club would be a free agent in every other league in the world. Free agents naturally have more bargaining power and control over their future because there's nobody else tugging at the strings. They are simply negotiating for themselves. If one team doesn't put up a good enough offer they can go elsewhere.

In MLS, however, when a player comes to begin negotiating with a club you can almost be guaranteed that his rights now belong to a club. This now limits his bargaining power if, let's say Sporting Kansas City, doesn't want to pay so much for his salary. Does he go to another MLS club to negotiate? Sure, but he's now at a disadvantage because any other club will now have to pay something extra to Sporting KC for his rights.

I understand that MLS needs to have some control over large parts of the league. It's what has helped them grow during an economic recession, in an inhospitable sports climate and against the growing influence of foreign leagues. However, the discovery claim rule is fast becoming a deterrent to players who wish the play their trade here and that's something I am absolutely against.

What do you think of MLS's discovery claim rule? Does it work fine or does it need to be abolished?