Major League Soccer has made several efforts in the past few seasons to eliminate the appearance of favoritism towards certain clubs that was often alleged in the early seasons of the league. Many fans of clubs in the league had what in my mind were legitimate gripes against clubs such as the Metrostars and LA Galaxy who seemed to be assigned the best players and biggest draws by the league which controlled all player contracts. The scouting networks of individual MLS clubs were not nearly as developed in the late 1990s so it appeared to be simple for the league to rearrange the deck ever so often and give teams like the Galaxy prized allocations while promising smaller clubs like the Columbus Crew or dearly departed Tampa Bay Mutiny the next “major” allocation.
MLS thankfully has moved past these days when club supporters would cringe when they’d hear the teams “partial allocation” or “major allocation.” However, the league has taken a step back in the wrong direction with its exemption of Landon Donovan, Carlos Ruiz and Eddie Johnson from the DP rule. While I am concerned about the cases of Ruiz and Johnson, I will admit it is the Donovan situation that really bugs me.
From the inception of the league until today allegations of bias towards the Los Angeles Galaxy franchise have existed from the fans of every other team in the league. I will admit that I sit on the fence in this debate. I for example thought it was terrible when the Galaxy were allocated Carlos Hermisillio in 1998 without having to give up another player and that they had jumped San Jose, Dallas, Columbus and Tampa Bay in line for the next allocation. (San Jose felt they were owed the allocation and were even angrier when they were not compensated following the season for the loss of Eric Wynalda and Eddie Lewis. Wynalda went on loan to Mexico where he was injured and then returned to MLS with Miami and Lewis went to England) However, in 2000 when Luis Hernandez signed with MLS with the condition he play in L.A., the Galaxy were forced to part with Clint Mathis who was assigned to New York and who then went on a scoring tear to match any in league history with his new club, I thought the Galaxy could feel hard done. In addition the Galaxy never seemed to benefit from the favoritism DC United got when signing youngsters: Ben Olsen, Bobby Convey, Chris Albright and Freddy Adu were all assigned to DC United simply because they wanted to play for DC. In the case of Albright, my favored club the Miami Fusion was assigned him with the understanding he would be traded to United for a “future allocation.” The Fusion were owed the allocation for losing Carlos Valderrama and instead the club ended up getting Welton, who had discarded by the Galaxy as belated compensation for Valderrama and an injured Eric Wynalda as compensation for Albright. San Jose was never compensated for losing Wynalda or Eddie Lewis as mentioned before. I believe something similar happened with Convey though I can not recall who was owed the allocation, but I do remember Olsen threatening to sign overseas if he wasn’t allocated to DC United.
MLS has a perception problem particularly when it comes to the Galaxy. It has been alleged that this favoritism is due to the large investment AEG has made in the league, but the reality is many of allegations and bitterness on the part of other clubs fans predate AEG’s purchase of the Galaxy. (At the inception of the league, AEG owned only the Colorado Rapids, which was sold to Stan Kroenke in 2005).
When it comes to the Galaxy, MLS has a problem. From a perception standpoint it would have been wise to somehow force Donovan to leave the Galaxy or force the club to dump David Beckham. While as I have admitted previously I see both sides of the argument no doubt fans of clubs like Chivas USA who find themselves with no current DP possibilities while sharing a stadium with a club known for clever book keeping and perceived to be a long term beneficiary of favors from the league will be screaming bloody murder about Donovan’s exemption. MLS needs to revisit this decision otherwise risk being accused of the same bias the league has worked so hard to distance itself from.