1 Step Forward, 2 Steps Back For MLS

Offseason embarrassments hurt image of league
by Peter Muller   |   Friday, January 24, 2014

Major League Soccer (MLS) 2012 Season Preview

For all the progress Major League Soccer has made in recent years, we are reminded now and again that the league doesn’t always get things quite right.

At a time when MLS is rightly celebrating the return of U.S. Men’s National Team stalwart Michael Bradley and the signing of international stars like Jermain Defoe, they are getting caught up in the kinds of imbroglios that make it appear a second-level league.

The situation involving the Vancouver Whitecaps first round pick (seventh overall) in the SuperDraft, Andre Lewis, is a case in point.

While all the evidence is not in, it appears that the Whitecaps drafted Lewis despite the fact that he had already signed a professional contract with NASL side New York Cosmos.

Major League Soccer announced this week that Vancouver will acquire Lewis from the Cosmos on a loan deal, in what appears to be nothing more than a face-saving measure.

How is it possible that an MLS team would use a valuable first-round selection to pick a player who was already under contract with another team in another league?

Surely, the MLS front office should have done the research on Lewis and informed each of its 19 teams of his contractual status. Yet, it appears that did not happen.

Another developing story that calls into question the credibility of Major League Soccer is that of erstwhile national team midfield Maurice Edu.

Edu was a member of the 2010 World Cup squad and established a very successful career in Scotland with Rangers.

His move to Stoke City in the English Premier League didn’t work out and he is now seeking playing time somewhere in order to show Jurgen Klinsmann that he is worthy of a spot on the U.S. roster in Brazil.

That is where the Philadelphia Union comes in. Philadelphia, having failed to acquire Michael Bradley, sees Edu as the ideal player to fill a role in its midfield. The Union reportedly feels so strongly about Edu that they are willing to offer him a contract in excess of $1 million per season.

But MLS apparently doesn’t think Edu warrants that kind of money and has so far blocked the transfer.

The irony, of course, is that Major League Soccer just approved a contract of roughly $6.5 million per year for Bradley to play for Toronto and kicked in $10 million for the transfer fee to lure Bradley away from Roma.

MLS has a responsibility to oversee the financial health of the league but in this case seems plainly guilty of a double standard.

Edu might not be at the same level as Bradley but, to be fair, Philadelphia isn’t proposing to pay him at anything near the same level.

And why is a league that is willing to green-light million dollar plus contracts to the likes of Danny Koevermans or Kenny Miller unwilling to allow one of its clubs to bring home a USMNT player at a similar rate?

MLS also deserves a black eye for the situation involving Golden Boot winner Camilo Sanvezzo. The Whitecaps striker pulled a bush-league move by showing up at Mexican club Queretaro in December as an apparent new signee – despite the fact that he had a binding contract with MLS.

Major League Soccer cannot be faulted for the disloyal, and presumably illegal, maneuver by a player who wants to challenge his contract with the league.

But MLS and the Whitecaps seemed taken aback by Camilo’s maneuvering. How can it be that one of the marquee players in the league simply decided that he wanted to move to Mexico and was able to force his own transfer?

Camilo had a contract with MLS and the league was not obligated to tear it up and pay him more money.

But there is a history of MLS players receiving new contracts after posting breakout years. And by all accounts neither the Whitecaps nor MLS had engaged in serious discussion with Camilo about a new contract before he headed south.

The trajectory of Major League Soccer is very positive and it is possible that before this offseason concludes the league will announce a new franchise in Miami and a significantly larger television package.

But the missteps of the past couple of months are embarrassing. For MLS to achieve its goal of being one of the top leagues in the world it cannot let these types of things continue to happen.


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Peter is a government relations professional in Washington, DC, and Los Angeles, CA. He has been a DC United season ticket holder since 1997 and has attended every MLS Cup except one – in 1998 when he was busy helping his boss get re-elected to Congress.