Tuesday was a wild day for the Philadelphia Union, which, up until this point, had been damn near comatose this offseason.
Tuesday night, things got even wilder.
— Jeff Carlisle (@JeffreyCarlisle) January 14, 2014
To explain briefly:
On Tuesday morning, the Union traded defender Jeff Parke to D.C. United for defender Ethan White and the top spot in Major League Soccer's "Allocation Order." A good trade in and of itself, at least in my opinion.
More interesting is the "Allocation Order" piece of the deal. The "Allocation Order" is a waiver wire of sorts. Any player in the United States National Team player pool looking to join MLS must go through the Allocation Order. If a player wants to come to MLS, the team at the top of the list has the first crack at him. If that team passes, the second team can sign him, and Team No. 1 stays atop the list. If you "use" your place to sign said player, then you go to the bottom of the list. Spots can be traded.
Now sitting atop the list, it appeared the trade was less about Ethan White and more about acquiring the next "big" American looking to return to MLS, and immediately a name made the rounds: Maurice Edu.
Edu (not related to Freddy Adu, so relax) is a 27-year-old defensive midfielder who has played 45 times for his country, most recently in 2012. He is perhaps best known for scoring the goal that didn't count in the 2010 World Cup, thanks to idiot official Koman Coulibaly.
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Edu has played in Scotland for Rangers and is currently under contract with Stoke City of the English Premier League. He has been on loan to Bursaspor of Turkey.
All afternoon, reports pointed to an offer from the Union, and it seemed like a deal would be done in time for a big announcement at Thursday's MLS SuperDraft at the Pennsylvania Convention Center (where the Union have eight picks, including No. 2 overall).
The Union were about to make a splash (maybe not Michael Bradley level, but a splash nonetheless), fans were about to get a name they recognized, and the team was going to instantly improve. I like Edu. I would love to see him play here, and it would give the Union a solid experienced presence on and off the field. Plus, it would possibly allow them to shop Brian Carroll (also a defensive midfielder) and possibly turn him into another piece they need.
Great. Good. Go Union.
Then the league decided -- according to that Jeff Carlisle report -- that $1.2 million was just too much for Edu.
How can MLS block the deal? Remember that all MLS players are technically owned by the league, not the team they play for. The league is a single corporation and every owner is an investor (some more than others). Profits are shared (to a point) and salaries are paid by the league (also to a point). To fans of other American sports, this whole setup seems strange. But the "single-entity" structure is why MLS has survived and thrived far longer than other American soccer leagues, since one team can't spend wildly while others flounder.
Whew, too much jargon. OK, now, a few quick thoughts on the potential move, which could be either done or dead by the time you read this.
Is $1.2 million too much for Maurice Edu? Almost definitely. By any standard, that's a ton of money. It's way more than Edu makes in England, and it's 400% more than Kyle Beckerman -- probably the league's best defensive midfielder -- makes with Real Salt Lake. So, since the league pays his salary, they should be able to block the Union move, right?
Five years ago, MLS would have a leg to stand on in this discussion. But just last week, the league not only allowed Toronto to overpay (roughly $50 million!) for two players, the league HELPED Toronto pay the bill. Do I have any problem with Toronto's signings, or the league helping out? Not at all. Bradley and Defoe are exciting players who bring credibility and quality to MLS.
But when you let Toronto overpay for the players it wants, you can't turn around and tell a team like the Union that it can't "overpay" for who it wants. MLS has always been criticized for making up the rules as it goes, and mocked for "favoring" certain teams over others. This only furthers the conspiracy theories (not to mention why Edu, a likely designated player, has to go through the Allocation Order at all ... but we won't even go there).
The Union, and most other teams in the league not located in New York, Los Angeles, Seattle or (apparently?) Toronto, will always have to overpay for "name" players. Always.
If the Kansas City Royals wanted to sign Mike Trout, he'd only consider it at a premium price. If the Milwaukee Bucks want LeBron, they better offer every penny the cap allows, plus the deed to the state and every luxury box at Lambeau Field.
In simpler terms: If you're the quiet dorky kid in school and you want to take the hottest cheerleader to the prom, then you better have a Corvette convertible to drive there, a beer-stocked lakehouse for the post-prom party, and a fistful of compliments for your date's shoes, hair and dress.
There are a lot of teams in this league that would love to have Maurice Edu, and most of them have much nicer training facilities (or training facilities at all), better talent already in-house or a trophy case full of silverware. The Union are in their fifth season and trying to get a foothold in a sports-mad city with four other major franchises. So if it costs a little more money to get your man, then so be it.
Hypothetically, what if Edu proves to be a dominant force in the midfield and gets on the radar for this summer's World Cup team? What if he gets a spot on the roster and scores a big goal in Brazil before returning to Philadelphia and leading the Union to the playoffs. Aren't those jersey sales alone worth $1.2 million?
If you're commissioner Don Garber, you're either interested in taking the next step as a league and bringing in any player who can help, or you're interested in letting a few teams grow while the others remain "small-market."
Yes, the league pays the players. And no, I don't think the league should dump its single-entity structure. But it's time to let teams sink or swim on their own signings. Trust me, there will be plenty of fans ready to yell at John Hackworth and Nick Sakiewicz if Edu is a $1.2 million flop. It would likely cost one or both of them their jobs.
But if MLS blocks this deal, then there will still be plenty of Union fans ready to yell. Except they'll direct their anger at Garber, who, it just so happens, will stand behind a podium at Thursday's draft right here in Philadelphia.
Good luck with that one, Don.
Coming later today: A preview of Thursday's draft, with a few names to look out for.