Analysis

The monkey wrench signing

Photo: Courtesy of US Soccer

“For new [USMNT] players signed by an MLS club as a Designated Player, the allocation process does not apply.”

— Todd Durbin, MLS vice president of player relations and competition,¬†Aug. 3, 2013

So, about that.

MLS released that statement to justify the process that led to Seattle’s Clint Dempsey signing.

But if that statement was true, then Philadelphia would not have had to trade Jeff Parke for the top pick in the allocation process typically required for returning U.S. national team players. Instead, the Union could avoid the whole allocation process by signing Maurice Edu at the designated player level.

Someone at league headquarters must have recognized this. They must have seen that, if the Union secured Edu as a DP through the allocation process, it would have further proved just how far outside league rules the Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley acquisitions were. The DP exception to the allocation process would be just an exception when the league office decided it was, because here was Edu coming in as a DP and still being subject to the allocation process. This could have left enough egg on the league office’s collective face to provide a year’s supply of omelettes.

Naturally, the league is trying to block the Edu deal.

This all seems so very fair and transparent, really.

Edu is not merely a defensive midfielder

Many observers are zeroing in on the reported $1.2 million salary offered to Edu to justify the league office’s reluctance to approve the deal. They say a defensive midfielder is not worth that money and compare the league’s balking at the Edu signing to a similar block of a dysfunctional Toronto team’s attempted high-priced capture of Olof Mellberg, a center back in his mid-30s.

That is surely at least part of it.

But it doesn’t ring fully true.

Edu is no mere shield to a back line. He scored five goals in 38 games while playing for Toronto and another nine goals in 96 games for Rangers in Scotland. This former MLS rookie of the year and top overall draft pick in 2007 is not Ricardo Clark or Kyle Beckerman. He is a center midfielder you can build a team around.

Edu likely projects more as a box-to-box type for the Union than a straight defensive midfielder. If the Union sign Sochaux captain Vincent Nogueira, you could see Edu as the box-to-box, linking midfielder in a 4-3-3, with Nogueira as the more attacking player and Brian Carroll as a shield for the back line. Or, you could see Nogueira and Edu in a two-man center midfield in a 4-4-1-1, with Nogueira slightly more advanced but both playing box to box.

Until his ill-fated signing with Stoke City, Edu was the top backup at the U.S. national team’s deepest position and competing for a starting job beside Bradley. He is 27 years old, American, and in his prime. He has ties to the Union coaching staff, having played at Maryland while Union assistant Rob Vartughian was there and with the national team while Hackworth was an assistant there.

Is Edu worth it?

Is the reported $1.2 salary more than the Union should pay? Perhaps. Edu never cracked the regular rotation at Stoke, though he played so well on loan at Bursapor in Turkey that the team wanted to retain him. I’d have valued him at less.

But let’s wait and see if the salary actually is that high. The number was definitely a surprise.¬†Hackworth knows better than most what happens when you overpay for a player after spending 18 months digging out of the salary cap hell he inherited from his predecessor, Peter Nowak.

Even so, who is the better buy for a team: Michael Bradley at $6 million annually, or Edu at $1.2 million? I’d say Edu. Bradley may be the better player, but he is not five times as valuable to a team as Edu. (He might be to the league as a whole, however.) Did the league office think the Dempsey and Bradley signings would have no impact on the market for U.S. national teamers?

And even if Edu is overpaid, why can New York, Toronto, Los Angeles and Seattle wildly overpay for designated players, but the Union can’t?

Fairness would be nice. This is what can happen when you make the rules up as you go.

Closing notes

A few notes to close this one out:

  • Thanks for the shout-outs. I’m writing this in a hospital room as my wife and two-day-old baby sleep. If this column is full of stupid, blame it on the four hours sleep I had the past two days. (But how could I not write about this? This time of year is way too much fun for those who love the business of sports as much as the game itself.)
  • Name to watch in the draft for Philadelphia: Damion Lowe. When you look at the seven Generation adidas signings, Lowe stands out in a game of “Which one of us just doesn’t belong?” The other six have much stronger soccer resumes on paper. Lowe appeared out of nowhere. He wasn’t on most mock drafts before he signed with MLS. So how did he get to be Generation adidas? Something tells me that current Union assistant Brendan Burke saw this guy play like a beast for Reading United over the summer, decided he was a good project pick, and urged his team to request a GA contract for Lowe. Don’t be surprised if the Union trade down with one of their first round picks and try to grab Lowe.
  • Who replaces Parke? Danny Califf, I hope you’ve been staying in shape. Bakary Soumare, how ironic would it be if the Union traded to get you back, now that your new team just acquired two more center backs from Seattle? Be on the lookout for awesome. It may be actual awesome or it may be awesome unintentional tragicomedy. Either way, you get solid entertainment value.

17 Comments

  1. Congrats Dan!
    .
    Is it possible that this whole tweet about MLS being a roadblock to the deal is just a tactic to put pressure on negotiations? Wishful thinking?
    .
    I’ve been playing some pickup with Danny Califf if that tells you anything about his level of fitness. He could be doing a lot more for all I know, but I would surprised if he came back to a starting role.

  2. DO it! Screw Garber and the MLS! Sign Edu.

  3. The one thing that seems to keep slipping people’s mind about the Edu signing and the alleged block by MLS is who is paying the Transfer fee. If the player has DP status and MLS pays the fee on a returning USMNT player then the allocation process does not apply and the league must negotiate. If the club is paying the transfer fee on a returning USMNT player with DP status then allocation does apply. Since the league has made no official statement about the trade at all and I have heard no mention of transfer fee and who is paying it then it seems a bit premature to cry foul until the details are known. Perhaps this flow chart can help you.

    http://cdn3.sbnation.com/imported_assets/2010869/PlayerAcquisition1-14-14.jpg

    • Can someone explain to me why that isn’t backwards? If a team takes league money, the allocation process should apply. If a team spends all of its own money on a guy with no help, why in the world would he go through allocation?

      • this has been my exact thought for a couple days now. it would almost make sense the other way around but this makes no sense at all. 9 times out of 10 when an mls rule seems byzantine or overly complex it is entirely because it errs so far in the direction of parity or fairness but this is the total opposite

      • on the other hand, if the league pays for transfer, it has a right choose a team to get the most benefits for the league.

  4. The Realist Brian says:

    Why trade down to get a project with Lowe? They have players they can trade now (Carroll, Daniel and Lahoud are all deadweight if we get Edu) and picks to pick up Lowe and have a third pick in the top 10 to nab Lowe and get Dean.

    In fact, I would draft Blake, trade McMath (Blake is better), pick up Dean, Neumann and then trade to get Lowe. Young defense- yes. But defense wins championships.

  5. The Realist Brian says:

    And that would bring in three more GA’s for the team.

  6. Wilkerson McLaser says:

    Dan, congrats for 1) the new addition to your family and 2) for such a level-headed, well-thought analysis on the Edu situation. Agree completely. I’m not in any rush to sell the farm to get Edu, but his addition would be a very big upgrade, no doubt about it. I actually hadn’t thought about he and Nogueira (or Maidana, if some of the talk is to be believed) pairing in front of Carroll in his preferred pure no 6 role. Suddenly we have a scary midfield.

  7. As a Rangers fan who followed Edu for several years, I really hope the Union make this move. I’m not sure what it would mean for Carroll or our formation, but Maurice is a talented, sometimes-dangerous, box-to-box midfielder who provides way more cover for the back line than he’s ever given credit for. He also always seemed like a real stand-up guy, and was one of few Rangers players to leave the club in a dignified, professional way when they were triple-relegated. Coincidentally, Carlos Bocanegra was another. Now that Parke is gone, I wonder what Boca is up to?

    • Wilkerson McLaser says:

      Dang, Boca wouldn’t be bad at all. He’s lost a step but a move to Philly might just be what he needs for a little career revival. Having a veteran presence with good vision and positioning might make me a little less leery about putting a young CB next to him and moving Okugo up the field …

  8. There’s no reason signing Edu should be a monkey wrench in the league office. Getting top quality American players into the league should be a priority. However, in this case the league seems to be making it a priority to keep him out.

  9. Your points regarding Edu’s quality when he was last in good health really need to be acknowledged more by people commenting on this. I mean, in the run up to the 2010 World Cup, the gulf in class between Edu and Bradley was perceived to be so small that some people were suggesting that Bradley was starting ahead of Edu because of nepotism, not talent.

    While Bradley is certainly deserving of his spot with the USMNT, I bring up this example as an indication that the gulf in class between Edu and Bradley isn’t nearly as wide as people like to think it is. Remember, there was a time when Bradley was struggling for minutes at Aston Villa, a club whose fortunes at the time were very similar to Stokes now. 1.2 million is only an overpay in some senses, I mean, it’s more than half a million less than JdG got from Toronto and a whole lot less than Rafa Marquez got from New York.

    My hope is this issue gets resolved in the Union’s favor as soon as possible, but I’m not holding my breath. I think there’s still a resolution pending, I just have no idea how it is going to go.

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