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Clint Dempsey Move Doesn't Pass the Smell Test

It's been reported that Clint Dempsey will be sold to the Seattle Sounders for $9 million, but the Timbers seem to have missed out.


I'm not going to link to the various reports, but by now, everyone has probably heard about Clint Dempsey's $9 million transfer to the Seattle Sounders. I'm not going into the details that have been "confirmed" because that's been reported enough. I want to talk about MLS and the seeming fluid nature of the roster rules. Before I get into it, this is a very apt tweet from Grant Wahl:

My issue with this transfer is the allocation (or non-allocation) process. From the 2013 MLS Roster Rules:

The allocation ranking is the mechanism used to determine which MLS club has first priority to acquire a U.S. National Team player who signs with MLS after playing abroad, or a former MLS player who returns to the League after having gone to a club abroad for a transfer fee. The allocation rankings may also be used in the event two or more clubs file a request for the same player on the same day when the discovery period opens in December. The allocations will be ranked in reverse order of finish for the 2012 season, taking playoff performance into account. Once the club uses its allocation ranking to acquire a player, it drops to the bottom of the list. A ranking can be traded, provided that part of the compensation received in return is the other club’s ranking. At all times, each club is assigned one ranking. The rankings reset at the end of each MLS League season.

So, looking at the latest allocation order (as of July 1), the Portland Timbers would be first in line to acquire Dempsey. New York is number fifteen, so there was no chance of it happening for them. So, the first question is, did Portland actually have a chance at Dempsey? With the reported $9 million price tag, I could see Portland, and most teams for that matter, shying away. However, with Seattle, their biggest rival, sitting right behind them, it seems unrealistic that Portland would just let it go without something in return. According to Soccer By Ives though, Dempsey isn't going through the allocation process.

Let that sink in. The allocation process, specifically written for returning USMNT and former MLS players, is not being used for Dempsey, who qualifies under both titles. Now, for those who remember, Dempsey played for New England before leaving for Fulham. So, maybe Seattle bought his MLS rights from New England?

OK, so no on that front. So how does Dempsey get to Seattle since New England doesn't own his rights, and the Timbers are bypassed on the allocation order? I've seen people tell me that DP signings are not part of the allocation process.

However, that's not in stated rules posted on the official MLS Press Box site. Now, let's go through the rest of the player acquisition methods in MLS.

  • Super Draft? No, because he's not coming out of college.
  • Trade? No, because he would have to be in MLS already.
  • Discovery Signing? No, because he should be subject to allocation.
  • Homegrown Player? No, since he's not a kid.
  • Re-Entry? No, because that means it's the end of the season and a MLS team didn't want him.
  • Waivers? No, because he isn't on a MLS team, and he should go through allocation.
  • Lottery? No, because he is a USMNT player.
  • Extreme Hardship, Season Ending Injury, & Short Term Injury Replacement? Obviously not.

So, at least from the rules posted by MLS, Dempsey should be going to Portland, or Portland should get something in return from Seattle. That isn't happening based on all reports. So what's the answer? It's simple, Don Garber is bending the rules for Dempsey/Seattle. For MLS as a whole, this may not be a bad thing as it gets one of the USMNT's biggest players back in the US, and all the publicity it brings. However, this is the biggest problem, in my opinion, with the current single entity system. There is not enough transparency in player signings (see Zusi & "Retention Funds"), and the rules, apparently, are fluid. Something about this move stinks, and it's not just the crap we constantly hear from MLS Headquarters in NYC. I'll end this piece on a tweet I put out there when the rumors seemed to solidify.