MLS is about to change the way it allocates returning American designated players again, and this time in the name of consistency.
According to a report by ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle, Toronto FC is the frontrunner to land Jozy Altidore. With two teams, the Portland Timbers and Toronto FC, prepared to meet Altidore’s salary demands, MLS is poised to deliver Altidore to the Reds on account of their higher ranking in the allocation order. Currently TFC sits seventh in the allocation order while the Timbers are ninth. Although the Timbers could trade up in the allocation order to preempt Toronto’s claim, doing so would require surrendering additional assets in a trade with a team ranked higher than TFC.
The use of the allocation order to determine the destination of a high-profile U.S. Men’s National Team player signing with MLS marks a significant shift from how MLS has allocated such players over the past two years.
Before Clint Dempsey signed with the Seattle Sounders in August 2013, the MLS Roster Rules provided that U.S. National Team and returning MLS players would be allocated pursuant to a pre-determined ranking of teams based on the previous year’s standings.
When Dempsey signed, the Portland Timbers sat atop the allocation order while the Seattle Sounders were second. Despite the Timbers’ willingness to sign Dempsey or negotiate fair-value compensation in return for the first bite at the apple, however, the league permitted the former Tottenham Hotspur forward to sign with Seattle. At that time the league explained that designated players were not subject to the allocation order despite such an exception not being included in the publicly-posted Roster Rules.
In the time since Dempsey’s return, MLS has allocated such players, including Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones, using a system based on teams’ willingness to cover the largest portion of the cost of acquiring the player and a blind draw in the event multiple teams were willing to cover the full cost.
Carlisle’s report on Sunday signaled a significant shift from this allocation system, with a return to the allocation-ranking system used pre-Dempsey. Ironically, in doing so MLS is poised to employ the same rule to allocate Altidore to TFC over the Timbers that the league skirted to the effect of denying the Timbers Dempsey’s signing.
In the ESPN report, Carlisle quoted a source with knowledge of the negotiations to explain the shift as promoting consistency and clarity in MLS’s rules.
This pledge of consistency, however, is made against the backdrop of MLS using a rule in a directly inconsistent manner, albeit with the same result - the Portland Timbers not having an opportunity to sign a player the previously-employed rules provided they should have.