The MLS commentariat woke up on Saturday morning in a mood for hot takes.
The Chicago Fire traded Harry Shipp to the Montreal Impact in exchange for (as usual) an undisclosed amount of targeted and general allocation money.
The reaction across MLS Twitter was not at all flattering for Nelson Rodriguez and the Fire. Shipp, a Fire homegrown player and consistent starter in both 2014 and 2015, has been a significant contributor for Chicago, registering a solid but not-quite-stellar 10 goals and 14 assists over his first two seasons.
So Shipp’s trade came as something of a surprise, and, from the Fire’s perspective, was largely panned.
But, in reality, we have no idea whether this is a good, bad, or otherwise deal for the Fire. The reason is simple: We have no idea what is going the other way. Yes, we know it’s targeted and general allocation money. But we have no idea how much. And every trade is a bad one when you only consider one side of the equation.
Allocation money is the dark matter of MLS. We know it exists. We know it’s significant. But that’s about it. We don’t know how much of it each team currently possesses. We don’t know where it goes once a team gets it.
So, based on the information available right now, the Shipp trade was either a terrible deal, a great deal, or somewhere in between for the Fire. At this point, therefore, to stake out a position about whether this trade is a good idea for Chicago is a hot take.
The lack of information, of course, isn’t the fault of the hot-take purveyors, and MLS insiders certainly lack standing to protest the takes that arise from the league’s secrecy. But an opinion based on bad information is still a bad opinion even if the league causes the informational deficiency. And in this case we have virtually no information about one side of the trade.
But that, more than anything, is a problem for MLS. The Shipp trade is certainly significant. This is the kind of thing that should generate considerable discussion, analysis, and commentary from MLS watchers across the country, just as similarly significant trades do in every other major sport.
In other words, trades like the Fire and Impact’s deal for Shipp should generate free advertising for MLS.
Instead the Shipp trade generates uninformed hot takes from one camp and shoulder shrugs with upturned palms from the other.
Secrecy is in MLS’s DNA. Despite the league’s protestations of reform, progress continues to be slow even if it is not altogether absent. And it’s highly unlikely that MLS will suddenly change direction and shine the light on salary-cap considerations any time soon.
But even if a transparent salary cap is a longer-term aspiration for MLS media and fans, disclosing the amount of allocation money involved in intra-MLS trades should be low-hanging fruit. Indeed, in his interview on Soccer Made in Portland a few weeks back, Timbers owner Merritt Paulson suggested as much.
Unlike larger views into teams’ salary-cap structure, disclosing allocation money amounts involved in trades would only provide a snapshot of light into the allocation-money dark matter that would allow MLS followers to meaningfully assess trades, yet keep MLS's closely guarded financial secrets from being discovered by overseas competitors and frustrated fans alike. Ultimately what happens to that money and how much of it a team retains to spend on impending signings would remain a mystery.
But an object at rest will stay at rest until acted upon by an outside force. And MLS is very much an object at rest when it comes to financial transparency.
Rather than settle for uninformed hot takes and shoulder shrugging, therefore, it's up to the media that cover MLS and interested fans to provide the outside force that sets this change in motion and prod MLS into casting at least a flash of light on the dark matter that is allocation money.