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Report: New York Red Bulls lose out on Jozy Altidore; Toronto FC wins the race

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How does a transfer saga manage to end as expected in an unexpected way? Because MLS.

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Another one bites the dust.

The New York Red Bulls' dream of moving on from the abrupt and ham-fisted termination of the Petke era will have to wait according to a report from TSN: Jozy Altidore is definitively not going to be a RBNY player in 2015.

Gareth Wheeler writes that Toronto FC has prevailed in what appears to have been a somewhat messy tussle between the Canadian club and RBNY. Despite the fact the Red Bulls allegedly also had the league's backing, they were unable to work the allocation order to their advantage because, per the report, of something that doesn't appear to have had a great deal to do with the allocation order.

If we are to believe the account presented to us, here's what went down:

- RBNY really wanted Altidore, and was determined to trade up the allocation order to take Montreal's top spot and claim the player

- But Toronto demanded compensation - in the region of $7.5 million - and, more to the point, didn't want the money anyway...so TFC played "hardball" and "wouldn't budge" and RBNY's bid crumbled.

OK...

With the caveat that we have learned this off-season that MLS and its clubs routinely lie, misrepresent and otherwise mislead fans over their business dealings, and we'll almost certainly never know what really happened, and there will be fresh reports and briefings to try to correct some of the missing details and placate an already riled fan base - let's dig in.

The allocation order lets a club claim rights to a player, with the assumption that player has been signed by the league and is available to whichever club is willing to meet the terms of the contract. In principle, RBNY could have traded up, and gazumped TFC, and claimed Altidore - assuming it was ready and willing to pay him what he had agreed to be paid under his MLS contract.

The allocation order only comes into play because Altidore is a quasi-free agent within the MLS system, available to the highest bidder in a league that doesn't really want a lot of bidding to happen, so instead of bidding there is allocating. TFC could have tried to get Montreal's spot with a better offer than that made by RBNY, and it was assumed (at least by this writer) that would be the basis of the battle between the two clubs.

Indeed, earlier today, Jeff Carlisle reported Toronto's General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko stating very clearly that he was getting ready to go to work on a fight for allocation rights:

It's a league signing.

Huh. Ok. Reports in England, where there is general difficulty comprehending MLS's we're-a-league-with-clubs-except-when-we're-buying-or-selling-players-at-which-point-we're-basically-just-an-agency-for-contracts structure (and therefore generally little attempt to understand it, because who cares? We care. The unfortunate fans who choose to delude ourselves that this league has any great method to its transfer dealings beyond who shouts loudest at ownership meetings), described the Altidore transfer as a swap between Sunderland and Toronto: Defoe to the Premier League club, Altidore and cash to TFC.

To recap: there was cash in that Altidore transfer as well, allegedly. And it has been reported the player was signed by the league, not TFC. And that he would go through the allocation order.

And that Toronto was demanding $7.5 million in compensation, as well as whatever RBNY was minded to give Montreal for its allocation order spot.

Toronto, it should be pointed out, didn't necessarily need to counter RBNY's offer to Montreal - it already knew (we think) all the teams above it in the allocation order were set to pass on Altidore, so it would only need to worry about Montreal's spot if it looked as though RBNY could get a deal done.

And, based on the only report of substance we have at the moment, Toronto didn't need to worry about RBNY getting a deal done with Montreal because apparently RBNY also needed to get a deal done with Toronto. For a "cash settlement" for Altidore.

Huh? I thought he was the league's player? I thought there was cash paid by Sunderland? I thought offloading Defoe suited TFC who were otherwise saddled with a very expensive player who reportedly didn't want to play in Toronto anymore? On what grounds is Toronto due a settlement of any sort?

How on earth was MLS proposing to use the allocation order if Toronto had the player, had the right to demand compensation, and could - per the report - not "budge"? There is supposed to be no possibility of budging or not budging over relinquishing player rights with the allocation order: the whole point of it is to stop club's bidding against each other for a player. The deal is done, the player is signed, and club's can do a little trading over allocation spots if it pleases them. The allocated player's rights are not (directly) in play: that is what is being allocated.

The report would appear to imply RBNY didn't want to pay $7.5 million to Toronto for Jozy Altidore. This can be characterized as further evidence of the club's new-found enthusiasm for cutting back on spending like it cuts back on winning coaches. But it would also appear RBNY has more than a little bit of a point: how on earth is Toronto able to hold Altidore for ransom if he's a "league player" in the allocation order?

We're getting this news from a Canadian news source, which is important to consider. This is Toronto's side of the story, fed through the reporter's ability to cut through the spin, but doubtless still very heavily affected by what one assumes must be the primary motivation of whomever leaked the information: to make TFC look good.

And TFC does look good: it just thwarted the league's entire allocation process because...well, because it decided it could, apparently.

And MLS was somehow powerless to prevent this. Sure, RBNY might have made the whole problem go away if it had agreed to TFC's attempts to extort $7.5 million from a club so hapless it can't even persuade the league to enforce its own rules. But why would it? The allocation process shouldn't apply if Altidore is TFC's player. And if he's not TFC's player, what is the basis for demanding a cash settlement? What is there to settle?

Quite a lot doesn't add up here. There will no doubt be more details emerging, and RBNY's side of the story will be interesting to hear, assuming the club gets round to advising someone of its account of the situation.

Stay tuned...it would appear Jozy Altidore is a Toronto FC player, but why he is a Toronto FC player may take some explaining.