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After a few days of pondering why exactly Freddy Adu, the great American hope was dealt from the marquee US domestic club DC United to expansion Real Salt Lake, I have come to the conclusion that it makes no sense whatsoever. But then again so little of MLS’ business model makes sense, so should this deal really surprise us?
Major League Soccer has a consistent policy of hurting itself in the marketing department through the years. The league also has taken an economic model which was developed specifically to ensure its survival initially and excessively applied it now that MLS is here to say. The model worked well at first, keeping the league afloat and allowing teams to keep a competitive balance. After DC United won the first two MLS Cups, and the Inter-America Cup versus Vasco De Gama in the league’s third season, the squad was essentially broken up. Tony Sanneh was sold to German club Hertha Berlin, John Harkes and Jeff Agoos were sent elsewhere in the league and Roy Lassiter was reassigned to Miami. The same year the league office decided in the middle of the season to reassign Carlos Valderrama from Miami to Tampa Bay, and Eric Wynalda from San Jose to Miami. All of this was done in the interest of maintaining a competitive balance and keeping top notch players happy. (Wynalda wanted out of San Jose and Valderamma wanted to play for someone other than inept Miami coach Ivo Wortman)
MLS was able to sell talent it developed overseas, realizing its role as a developmental league. Trinidad and Tobago International Stern John blossomed in MLS and was sold to an English side. The same for US Internationals, Marcus Hannehman, Eddie Lewis and Brian McBride. Since 2000, MLS has consistently shifted players from team to team while allowing star players like Landon Donovan to choose where they play. The system of allocations and partial allocations as compensation for unwanted player movement has become a total joke. Foreign players who are used to the transfer system in international leagues and may know something of the player exchange system in US pro sports leagues must find the MLS system a joke. Since a cap exists on each team’s roster for the number of Senior International players each squad can carry, it is often the foreign players that get tossed around mindlessly. Now anytime a team develops a cohesive group of players, the team gets broken up by the league, under the guise of a trade or the salary cap.
MLS also has a policy of being disingenuous with foreign clubs discussing transfers. Just this past summer the transfer of American Soccer player of the year Clint Dempsey to Charlton and Grenada International Sharlie Joseph to Celtic were killed by the league. The Joseph deal in particular stings because the prospect of getting a player developed in MLS to a Champions League side (even though he is not American) could have been a wonderful marketing tool for the league. Just a few years ago MLS rejected a transfer of Eddie Johnson to Benefica after reports surfaced they had basically agreed to the transfer. Johnson continues to languish in MLS and his game hasn’t improved since that time, which ultimately hurts MLS.
The deal that sent Freddy Adu to Real Salt Lake is an attempt to get Adu on the pitch in my humble opinion in order to raise MLS demanded price for a transfer to a European club when Adu turns 18 next year. But what MLS misses is by taking Adu from the most marketable club in the league, the signature franchise of MLS they are actually undermining his visibility and value to European clubs. The assumption is that Adu could not find regular playing time at DC United or worse he clashed with his coach Peter Nowak. Moreover, suspicion exists that Adu has been rented by Salt Lake to convince local politicians to fund a stadium and then when his work is done there he will either be sold to Europe or sent on a missionary task to another needy MLS club.
For many years fans like myself were patient with MLS and its quirky business practices. However, the time has come for the league to get with the program of International Soccer or risk being reduced to the status of a joke worldwide.