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Here is the big hole in the MLS rules that Dempsey’s transfer has uncovered


First, go read Grant Wahl’s piece on how the Clint Dempsey to Seattle deal got done?

Okay. Done?

Good. Here’s the massive problem that the Clint Dempsey transfer has created.

In the Wahl piece, it says that MLS will pay for Dempsey’s transfer fee.

It would appear that based on that fact, MLS is now willing to pay the transfer fees for returning US national team players. Okay, that is something that, if reasonably well-executed, I could support.

But here’s the problem, the rule only appears to apply to those players big enough to demand DP-sized salaries – the kind that have to get approved by the league (really, the other owners). The other returning USMNT guys, the kinds of players that might not require DP-sized salaries, still have to go through allocation and, if required, would have their transfer fees paid by the teams themselves.

So if a less wealthy team like, say, Columbus wanted to go get a USMNT player that wasn’t a big-money, TV-needle-moving type like Jozy Altidore or Michael Bradley, it would have to both, deal assets to get atop the allocation order, and pay the transfer fee out of its own funds.

In essence, MLS is now willing to subsidize the transfer fees of its richest clubs, and explicitly deny that privilege to its less-rich clubs.

But really, it’s MLS saying “We’ll subsidize the guys who we want to put on national TV, but if you just want to sign a USMNT player to improve your team, you’re on your own.”

That, my friends, is a massively unfair advantage that the biggest clubs now have. Transfer fees (rather than wages) are the real delineator between haves and have-nots in soccer, and now MLS has made it clear, that with its national TV packages coming up for expiration, that it is willing to make the big clubs even bigger in the hopes that these increasingly “super” clubs can move some eyeballs away from the European leagues and towards MLS.

To we fans of the other teams in the league, I think the league has made its message clear.

We’re all the Washington Generals now.

12 Responses to “Here is the big hole in the MLS rules that Dempsey’s transfer has uncovered”

  1. Devin

    Almost any USMNT player who is not going to make a DP-sized salary but would need to have a transfer paid for them, would end up being a DP because of the transfer fee and would therefor be exempt from the allocation process. This would mean that they would NOT have to go through allocation and the team acquiring him would not have to give anything up to the team at the top of the allocation order for him and the process would be the exact same as what we just went through with Dempsey.

    But let’s say a player exists who is eligible for the USMNT, is under contract at his current club outside of MLS (therefor needing a transfer fee to be acquired), is NOT worthy of a DP like salary and wants to come back to MLS now. The ONLY way for him to be subject to the allocation order is if his contract combined with his transfer fee doesn’t take him over the DP salary level (which is very unlikely but we’re entertaining the scenario). More than likely this player DOESN’T exist, really because this player almost always does NOT want to come back to MLS. is there any US player besides Dempsey that costed the team/league a transfer fee that didn’t make him a DP? Or any US player that costed the team/league a transfer fee at all?

    Further, what’s an MLS team doing spending a transfer fee on a US player who isn’t good enough to be a DP, and doesn’t have a high enough salary that the transfer fee paid for him can’t even make him a DP? This would be bad business at its finest, because this type of player can be had at the same salary and WITHOUT a transfer fee, which would make him cost less than the player you described above. In fact, this is the type of player MLS consists of, average American soccer players who are not good enough to be a DP in MLS, so why go out and buy one of these when your team is already full of them?

    You may be right that a slight hole does exist, but this hole exists in an area where the player your talking about doesn’t exist and even if he did would be a stupid investment. And i don’t want the MLS to make stupid investments so I’m fine with them not paying a minuscule transfer fee for a player who the MLS already has dozens of and only costs more against the salary cap than those players. Lastly, and I’m acknowledging that this hole does exist, having this hole exist is probably safeguarding MLS teams against making these kind of bad investments, which the MLS probably did not intend to do when making these rules, but it serves this purpose anyway.

    • Sarah

      You seem to know more about MLS rules than I do; I only just read them tonight (
      Could you help clarify the DP rules for me? As I read that first paragraph in the DP section I’m reading that DP slots are for players new to MLS or to retain existing players. How did Dempsey qualify for a spot if those are the conditions? I’ve been searching around the web but can’t find any more details.

  2. Devin

    To sum up what I said above, your logic is extremely flawed and your general understanding of how these rules work is somewhat flawed as well.

  3. broadsthooligans

    On the other hand could this be incentive to offer USMNT players DP salaries instead of regular salaries and make it more likely that some (Mixx, Corona, Bedoya) come to play here? Also if transfer fees are really what separates big clubs from small clubs, isn’t MLS taking that out of the equation and leveling the playing field for USMNT DP’s returning to MLS? Or am I misunderstanding the rule?

  4. Twoloose

    Or a normal season-payment plan has been set up between Seattle and MLS. Still, making it up as we go along is the problem.

  5. Bob

    As a single entity, the league has sole discretion to choose to pay which transfer fees they want….

  6. Adnan Ilyas

    I definitely see the issue that you raised up, but the thing is, the other owners agreed to this. There’s got to be something else about this deal that we don’t know.

  7. The Real ZeroCool (@TheRealZer0Cool)

    Wow, just wow. Bad logic, bad conclusions and spoken like the butthurt DC United fan he’s been ever since Seattle entered the league.

    Wake up and smell the coffee Aaron. DC United is a small market team now, and likely to always be even with the new small stadium.

  8. Stu

    The league would have paid wherever he went and the other owners would have said, thank you please find another. We like higher tv contracts and more league sponsors.

    The less wealthy teams would really be the Washington Generals if teams didn’t have to relinquish 30% of gate.

  9. Jeff

    First, the deal started with the MLS office, not Seattle’s front office.

    Second, Dempsey was interested in returning, but only to one of three teams. The league wanted him, no needed him, so it had to accommodate that condition. It was the league’s need for Dempsey that caused it to agree to pay the transfer fee which , as had been said by others, must have been approved by all of the owners.

    As for the salary, no one has said what LA offered, or Toronto, for that matter. Seattle was able to make an offer acceptable to Dempsey because the league paid the transfer fee. Without that, I doubt Seattle would pay the transfer fee and pay a salary acceptable to Dempsey and Dempsey is probably still at Tottenham.

    Given how this will affect the next TV deal, this will benefit every team, maybe leading to their ability to add more USMNT players.

    Also, Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley wouldn’t be DPs? Seriously?


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