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The Union are (gasp!) trying to spend money … Major League Soccer says ‘not so fast, my friend’

Jan 15, 2014, 7:23 AM EDT


U.S. National Team player Maurice Edu could be coming to the Union, unless MLS decides to not allow it.

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.

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.

Got it?

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.

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?

Absolutely. Not.

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. 

Follow Steve on Twitter @smoore1117.

  1. Lavars Love Child - Jan 15, 2014 at 8:49 AM

    If it were NY or LA this would be a done deal. Picking and choosing who gets to spend money(foolishly or not) is not the way to grow the league. They aren’t going to grow the fan base that way. Edu is a good player. He probably isn’t worth that money, but sometimes you have to overpay to bring someone in. At least its not a Bryzgolov(?) type deal

  2. Steve Dore - Jan 15, 2014 at 8:59 AM


  3. bearfighter215 - Jan 15, 2014 at 9:06 AM

    Don’s gonna have a no-good very bad day tomorrow. I think $1.2m is too much for Edu but if Sak wants to spend that much money he should be allowed to.

  4. Turkish - Jan 15, 2014 at 9:09 AM

    Great write-up Steve. Explains it all in an entertaining fashion for both the expeirenced and casual Union watcher.

  5. will - Jan 15, 2014 at 9:16 AM

    how much is defoe going to make a year in toronto?

    beckerman is overrated crap.

    • will - Jan 15, 2014 at 10:09 AM

      8 million a year for defoe, but the league balks at 1.2 million for edu?

  6. Mark - Jan 15, 2014 at 9:19 AM

    Imagine if other sports worked like this?!?!

    Ruben Amaro Jr: I’d like to sign Ryan Howard to a 5 year 125 mil contract extension.

    Bud Selig: Naaaaaaaaah, not gonna happen.

    • Marvin Monroe - Jan 15, 2014 at 9:27 AM

      Mark, actually, it does happen in Major League Baseball. Except the conversation went more like this.

      Ruben Amaro Jr: I’d like to sign Ryan Howard to a 5 year 125 mil contract extension.

      Bud Selig: zzzzzzzzz, huh, what? zzzzzzzzz who? zzzzzzzzz PUDDING! zzzzzzz

  7. 33 - Jan 15, 2014 at 9:48 AM

    Sad to see the narrative take this sharp turn in just a week. The story was becoming that of a previously laughed at league making strides, attracting talent folks didn’t expect it to. Legitimacy… I can’t speak to what Edu is worth. I just don’t have a clue as to how to value a player like him, with the talent and pedigree but the gaping resume holes (including his current one). But, the selective help and hindrance to being doled out by the league is a joke.

    Franchises learn to swim by making mistakes and also great moves that seemed risky at the time, and markets are shaped by those decisions. If it’s a terrible move, it won’t mean the next signing will be an overpay just because this one was. There’s a *chance* the other club will learn from it, without being told how to run its signings by the league…

  8. Tom - Jan 15, 2014 at 10:07 AM

    “had been damn near comatose” So apt when referring to this “sport”.

  9. Franz - Jan 15, 2014 at 10:14 AM

    Nice article. However it would only strengthen your argument to point out that Edu is actually making MORE than $1.2 million at Stoke and so would actually be taking a paycut to make this move to Philadelphia. Reports are indicating that his current salary is between $1.3 and $1.5 million.

  10. shne56 - Jan 15, 2014 at 10:51 AM

    Nice summary thanks!

    If MLS blocks this deal, they need to have a redistribution draft of all USMNT players. Period! . . . that’s the only equitable solution. You can’t prevent teams from bringing in fringe National team talent while at the same time underwriting the signing of higher profile players. So each team gets one player from the roster. Sorry LA, Gonzo doesn’t belong to you anymore, Evans say bye bye to Seattle.

  11. Beardy - Jan 15, 2014 at 11:56 AM

    If MLS wants to attract better players to make the league more legitimate, then its going to have to start allowing teams to overpay guys to make it attractive to not only the top US talent, but also overseas talent. But blocking deals like this sends a pretty strong message to the rest of the world that the MLS will forever be a small market league, and there is no real benefit of trying to come here.

    Allow deals like this to happen. If Edu stinks up the joint, he stinks it up. Its on the Union to fix it. But in the meantime, you will now have guys who would otherwise be substitutes in the bigtime leagues overseas (like the EPL, Serie A, etc) looking at the MLS for playing time to develop their games, and if and when we get an influx of that talent, and the fans turn out because the product on the field is better, then who knows, you might actually see these guys stick it out over here when they do get good, and then all of the sudden you might have some of the bigger markets willing to spend to bring in some true top talent, and at that point the league could have enough respect around the world that these guys do come over.

    Now, thats not a quick process, it’ll take a long while, likely upwards of 20 years, but you have to start somewhere. Blocking deals like this Edu signing presses the reset button on that whole process.


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