It is not a surprise that the MLS league office passed on a hefty fine to Bruce Arena this week for his comments on the strange Sacha Kljestan transfer saga. What is a surprise is how it was handled, and the process by which Arena was told of the fine ironically justifies his comments.
As a refresher Arena and the Galaxy cleared roster space and cap room to acquire Sacha Kljestan from Anderlecht during the simmer transfer window, a move that undoubtedly would have made them favorites in the West. Despite the rampant speculation that the deal was done, the window closed and the American international remained with Anderlecht. It was probably not a coincidence that the Galaxy were third in the allocation order and Columbus, who was first, just had their deal for Mix Diskerud fall through.
As we know, when allocation rules are applied and when they are not have become a crapshoot, but Kljestan seemingly did not fit into the exception granted to higher-profile players. That is what peeved Arena and promoted this quote: “They are children, and there have to be adults in the process, and we didn’t have enough of them. I think we are back into the old days in the league where the rules are somewhat arbitrary.”
Obviously a fine was coming but what is surprisingly was the way it was delivered. According to Steve Goff of The Washington Post, Arena – the league’s most successful coach – was notified of the fine via an email and read more details online. Understandably he has refrained from commenting more on the situation, but Don Garber has not. When asked about the fine during the MLS rebranding press conference, the commissioner said this: “It pains me to have to fine [Arena] for making comments that he obviously feels strongly about, but which he is required by league rules to keep to himself.”
So what was Arena’s real crime, his unhappiness or the fact that he pinned the blame for the failure on the league? If he would have ranted generally but not blamed the league brass, would his punishment have been so severe?
When I first read the quote from Don Garber my mind immediately to the many mafia movies where secrecy about the family business is valued above everything. The fact is Arena is partly right – allocation applies except in instances where it doesn’t and only the front office can determine its application. The fact LA planned its roster to absorb Kljestan and his contract all for naught because the commissioner’s office changed the rules gives Arena every right to be mad, and for this I do not blame him for his outburst.
Actions have consequences, as he well knows since this is his third fine in the past few years for his comments. I do not blame the league for the response to the outburst and they are right to fine him. However, how they did it and the public comments on why send the exact same message Arena complained about in the first place – accept our rules and accept quietly. Sadly this makes the commissioner’s office more like a clubhouse than a professional place of business, further justifying what the coach said.
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