Maurice Edu is reportedly prepared to return to MLS. The Philadelphia Union have moved up in the Allocation Ranking in order to sign him and are apparently willing to pay a hefty salary in order to do so. As simple and straightforward as that may sound, we have been reminded once again that very little in MLS is ever quite as simple as it seems:
This bit of news has been greeted by a predictable level of hand-wringing around MLS. That this comes just a day after Michael Bradley was unveiled as the Toronto FC's newest Designated Player, after agreeing to a deal his agent says was worth about $50 million, only serves to ratchet up up the discourse.
On some level, I can't blame anyone who says "each team should be allowed to spend whatever they see fit on Designated Players." If the Union are really willing to dip into their own pockets to pay about $800,000 a year to a player that is, at best, a fringe All-Star candidate, there's plenty of reason to think the league has grown to a point of stability where that should be allowed.
At the same time, if MLS has really nixed this deal, I won't fault them, either. Even assuming the Union were willing to spend actual money -- and not just rely on allocation the way they did with Freddy Adu -- there's a very valid case to be made that the league is simply saving the team from itself.
As good as Edu may be, the reality is that the going rate in MLS for players like him is somewhere between $200,000 a year and the lower-end of the DP scale. A very similar player with a similar resume, Ricardo Clark, makes about $300,000 a year. The kind of money Edu is apparently trying to get and the Union are apparently willing to pay would place him among the top 10 players in the league, which seems absolutely crazy. That kind of money has historically been reserved for players around whom a team -- and the league -- can building a marketing campaign. The kind of players who help raise the profile of the team and league. The kind of player who raises the quality of play. Ideally, the player helps accomplish all three of those things.
If we're being generous, Edu -- who hasn't made a first-team appearance for any team anywhere in the world since April and hasn't suited up for the United States since March -- might accomplish one of those things. It has also been known for quite some time that all contracts must be approved by the league office, so in a sense their rejection of one should not be a huge shock.
But even if I can agree with the decision it appears MLS has come to given the reasons I've assigned to them, I must admit that the whole thing is a bit of a mess of the league's own making. For starters, the league had issued a statement in the wake of the Clint Dempsey signing that clearly said Designated Players did not have to go through the allocation process. Why, then, did Edu need to go through allocation in the first place? It would appear that only certain kinds of players, then, need to go through allocation. Shouldn't the league clarify which kind of players those are? And more to the point, shouldn't they be clarifying these things before they happen?
This entire affair is obviously made far more frustrating and confusing because MLS lacks basic transparency. Sure, if you're connected enough, you can usually figure out what happened, but even the reporters with the most access are often thrown for a loop in situations like this. As with many things, the perceptions ends up being the problem more than the action. If MLS truly wants to become a top league anytime soon, that's an issue that must be tackled. I can defend the decision, but I can't defend the fact that we're all forced to play a guessing game.