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Carlos Ruiz

Grandfathering In Designated Players Smacks of Favortism


Landon Donovan/AP

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.

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  1. Soccer Guru

    December 6, 2007 at 5:55 pm

    The Galaxy have been getting special treatment since day one of the league because LA has always been seen as a potentially the biggest market for the league. So since the get go the league has bent their own rules for LA. Whether that is a good thing or bad thing is debatable. But that LA has gotten special treatment is without question.

  2. Nathanhj

    December 6, 2007 at 3:45 pm

    First, NYRB paid almost none of Mathis’ salary because most of it was being paid both by RSL and Colorado. RSL agreed to pay a portion when they traded him to CR and CR agreed to do the same thing when they traded to NYRB. So that example is wrong.

    There is another way to look at this ruling and that is that it is simply making up for being short-sighted when they implemented the DP in not permanently grandfathering the three players making more than the DP cap amount.

    From a league perspective it makes no sense to split up what promises to be an entertaining team of Becks and Donovan, nor does it pay to hamstring FC Dallas and the Wizards with DP’s when they don’t get to actually chose their DP. They lose a slot without gaining a player. Not cool.

    There are plenty of reasons to rail against the MLS rulebook and against the Galaxy, but this is just small potatoes.

  3. Harvey

    December 5, 2007 at 10:29 pm

    Why everyone feels the Galaxy gets special treatment I have no clue. From my vantage point year`after year the Galaxy have had a limited almost skeleton group of role players because of the big cap figures of the top players on the club. The Galaxy don’t forget had to let Carlos Ruiz go when they acquired Landon Donovan. Yet when Dallas acquired Ruiz they were allowed to keep Eddie Johnson as well. The Red Bulls were this year allowed Clint Mathis’ monster salary by MLS standards at the same time as keeping two DPs. It’s all a matter of bitterness and sour grapes that people say the Galaxy get all the breaks.

  4. eplnfl

    December 5, 2007 at 8:50 pm

    I would think that what went on in the past was a necessary evil. Almost ever major American sport had it’s early sideshow days and the MLS was no exception.

    The league has expanded in size and interest and it maybe too early to let everyone go it alone so to speak ala the NFL. Still there is a common perception that the NBA has a lot to do with where certain players land, especially with free agents, who play for the “salary cap” exception for certain teams who need help to win. Is MLB becoming anything else but a collection of big clubs who get the players` they want. Is that really fair to fans in Kansas City?

    So, I’ll give the MLS some room to bend the rules, until the tv money gets so big that all teams can get on a equal footing.

  5. football detective

    December 5, 2007 at 8:00 pm

    Equally troubling is the bias the Galaxy receives by getting a spot in tournaments like the SuperLiga and newly created Pacific Cup. Clearly, they have done nothing to earn those berths except be owned by Anshutz and have David Beckham.

    Soccer United Marketing (w/ Anshutz) basically has all MLS teams available for their money-making purposes and chooses teams that will maximize that end. That strikes at the integrity of these events.

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