The latest turn in the Kaku legal saga is not as momentous as much of the Internet reaction implies, but the details revealed in the complaint filed in federal court this week by Red Bull New York LLC reveals several details and pieces of context.
The Red Bulls and Major League Soccer filed a federal complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey demanding a trial against Scott A. Pearson and Argentina Futbol Tours LLC. The defendant is accused of “tortious interference” by “shopping the player around before his contract ended.” The club is seeking damages “at more than $6 million” due to alleged “willful, malicious, [and] fraudulent” conduct.
The plaintiffs (represented by the international law firm of Proskauer Rose LLP) continue to claim that Kaku was notified “in writing” that his contract option year for 2021 was being exercised. The player was said to have been handed a copy of the letter at the practice facility in Whippany, as well as Pearson being notified “via email.” The representative “proceeded to offer [the player’s] services to clubs outside MLS for a contract beginning in 2021,” in which he “knowingly and intentionally conveyed false information.”
Perhaps the most interesting theme of the complaint is the somewhat informal nature of the process that led Kaku to New York. Though this appears to undercut the argument that Pearson was an official representative of Kaku’s, the complaint appears to paint him as less an agent but as a freelance scout who was contracted by the Red Bulls to recruit Argentine players represented by domestic agents, such as Kaku and his agent Marcelo Simonian.
According to the filing, Kaku was first brought to the club’s attention when Pearson “traveled to RBNY’s training facility” and approached Jesse Marsch. He offered to help the club “identify elite young players in Argentina.” The former Red Bulls manager, along with sporting director Denis Hamlett, then traveled to the South American nation to scout “players that Pearson claimed to represent.”
During his time in MLS, the Red Bulls “declined multiple lucrative transfer offers” for as much as $6 million. Both league and club claim to have lost “the benefits of Kaku’s services” or a potential sale, had Pearson not “interfered.” The representative is said to have attempted to “force” a move to Club América, supposedly trying to “replace” the agent fee that was waived during the initial negotiations n 2018. In December of 2020, “talks broke down” with Club Tijuana “due to the high agent fee… demanded in connection with the proposed transfer.
After departing the club, Pearson is alleged to have “advised Kaku to falsely claim that Kaku had not received the option exercise letter.” The defendants claim that the MLS Players Association “based on false information… reversed course” and supported his free agency status. The Argentine-Paraguayan playmaker would then sign with Al-Taawoun of the Saudi Professional League, despite warnings “that any contract with a foreign club would violate [his] contract with MLS and the Collective Bargaining Agreement.”
The complaint’s exhibits include the documents of the contract itself. As reported by ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle in February, Denis Hamlett’s email of the contract extension is not formally addressed to Kaku but only to agent Scott Pearson, who (along with business partner Gustavo Casasola) relinquished any official agent status as part of the agreement to pay off Kaku’s formal agent Marcelo Simonian at the time of signing with New York. But the complaint’s exhibits do show a letter “via hand delivery” from MLS (signed by league VP of player relations Dimitrios Efstathiou) declaring Kaku’s contract formally extended. In one email, Pearson mistakenly refers to a Red Bulls sporting executive named Kevin Thelman.
According to the lawsuit, the Red Bulls “were forced to pay a transfer fee of approximately $5.5 million to a foreign club to secure the rights to a player, with comparable skill and ability…, who was deemed to be a suitable replacement… on the Red Bulls’ roster.” This acquisition is presumably Patryk Klimala, signed in April from Celtic.
In the midst of all this, Kaku enjoyed a fantastic debut half-season with Al-Taawoun. He contributed nine goals and four assists. The club’s preseason training recently started in the Netherlands, and Kaku is expected to join the camp after his break from service with the Paraguay national team at the Copa America.
Meanwhile, the New York Red Bulls have taken their attempt to wring whatever financial compensation they can out of his now-certain exit from the club to yet another legal theater. As the situation drags on and suit attempts pile up, the likelihood of the club earning the full transfer fee it seeks seems less and less likely. Indeed, a case in United States federal court is more likely to wring an informal settlement out of the situation than the Court of Arbitration for Sport or the arbitrator who ruled in New York’s favor in April.