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It Seems To Me . . .
How MLS bends its rules, hoping against hope to help the MetroStars.By Robert Wagman
WASHINGTON, D.C. (Sunday, May 14, 2000) -- Good day students, and welcome to today's class of Major League Soccer Advanced Player Movement 101, or as we like to call it: "How To Send Every Player in the League to the MetroStars in Hopes That Someone, Someday Will Help."
Let's start this session with an exercise: compare and contrast the following players: Clint Mathis, Mike Sorber, Mohammed Khakpour, Chris Albright and Conor Casey.
OK, you had a few minutes, do you have an answer yet? You're not sure, that's understandable. The only two people who seem capable of instant recognition of the question, and its significance, are that master of the Machiavellian player move Sunil Gulati, MLS's first player personnel director and his disciple and worthy successor Ivan Gazidis.
Well, let's jump right into this. Let's start with Mike Sorber. Mike was a well regarded defensive midfielder for the MetroStars. Regrettably, his salary level had progressed farther than his remaining skill level and thus he had to be jettisoned by the MetroStars to make room for the 47 allocations and gifts being sent by the league this season, including "Lothar, the Deity."
So, the MetroStars released Sorber. When no other team in the league expressed any interest in him, given his relatively high salary level, he went home and began to make plans for getting on with the rest of his life. But one day he got a call from a friend who suggested he might want to call coach Bob Bradley in Chicago. Bradley, it seems, had two roster spots open and was in need of some defensive help. So Sorber picked up the phone and in short order found himself trying out at the Fire's training facility in Lake Forest.
Both Sorber and Bradley liked what they saw, and Sorber said he would happy to become a member of the Fire. Bradley was a little embarrassed that he did not have much money left under the salary cap and could only offer Sorber less than he had been making in the Meadowlands. Fine, said Sorber. I like it here. "I'll play for that."
Seemed a nice match. When Sorber was released by the MetroStars all other 11 teams had a chance to claim him in a wavier draft. All passed. So now, logic would dictate, he should be free to make a deal with Chicago. Yes, class, I know, I seem to be using those mutually exclusive terms "logic" and "MLS" together in the same thought. And we know under the immutable Doug Logan Law, that is an impossibility.
Now Chicago wanted to add Sorber to its roster paying him money it had left over in its budget. Every other team had had months to come to terms with Sorber but none had. So it should have been a done deal.
But, of course not. This is MLS. The league effectively ruled that since Sorber had agreed to play for less money, he was not the old Mike Sorber who had been waived out of the league, but the new -- if you will excuse the term -- cheaper Mike Sorber. The new Mike Sorber would have to clear waivers once again.
Under what league officials claimed was its clear-cut and unambiguous waiver policy, once the season had begun, the team which has the worst record at the moment the player is offered has first claim to any waived player. On the Wednesday that Sorber was announced as "waiver-eligible," New England was in last place. So up stepped Sunil Gulati, currently managing director of Kraft Soccer, operator of the Revs, to say something like: "Hey, maybe we would like him, I think I'll take my allowed 72 hours to make a decision."
Well, Bradley in Chicago saw the handwriting on the wall, and got on the phone. Quicker than you could say, "No free agency, anytime, anywhere," Bradley reached a deal with Gulati to send a draft choice to New England for Sorber. So New England claimed him, sent him off to Chicago and banked the draft choice.
When the league was asked if this ever happened before, they answered: "Of course, with Khakpour." As with Sorber, the MetroStars had released Khakpour to get under the salary cap for their 93 new arrivals this season. But they thought he could still help, and asked him if he would be willing to play this season for some lesser amount of money. He said yes, and put his MetroStars uniform back on.
Now we are told that like Sorber, since he agreed to play for less money, he became the new Mohammed Khakpour, and had to go through the waiver process. But in this case, since the season had not yet started, last season's last place team had first choice, so effectively the MetroStars held a waiver draft with themselves. We outsiders just didn't realize it. But the principle was iron-clad: the lowest-ranked teams get first shot in a waiver draft.
Now enter Clint Mathis. Mexican national team star striker Luis Hernandez is finally going to join the Los Angeles Galaxy. To make room for him under the salary cap, we are told that Los Angeles will have to -- and here, class, we appear to have to choose our verb very, very carefully -- "divest" itself of three players: Mathis, Joey Franchino and Roy Myers, the latter to make available a foreign roster spot.
And somehow the MetroStars, who are annually richly rewarded for being the league's worst-run franchise, get a double bonus for finishing a pathetic 7-25 in 1999, a record that somehow seems better than the team was. In addition to getting three major foreign allocations in the offseason, including million-dollar German Lothar Matthaeus, they now are about to get one of the top young Americans in Mathis and a talented midfielder in Myers, making an entirely new contingent of four foreign players from a year ago.
And as will be explained later, the MetroStars apparently won't even have to pay Myers his full salary. Got that, class?
The parallels seem obvious. The MetroStars had to drop Sorber and Khakpour to make room for Matthaeus. They went into the waiver draft. Now the Galaxy now must drop Mathis, Franchino and Myers. So, they too will be headed for the waiver draft. Makes sense, right? Well, of course not. This is the MLS after all.
If the rights to Mathis, Franchino and Myers were placed in a waiver draft, how then could Mathis wind his way to the MetroStars because, if a waiver draft were held today, the first choice would go to, gasp, D.C. United, the three-time champion which currently has the worst record in the league!
Obviously that couldn't be allowed to happen. So the league could not put Mathis and Franchino into a waiver draft. After all they weren't being waived, but divested. Instead MLS will put them into a "Special Dispersal Draft."
What, you ask, is a Special Dispersal Draft? Here's where Chris Albright enters the picture. When Albright decided to leave college last year, he had a choice of playing in MLS or Germany. He told MLS he was willing to sign, but only if he could play close to home at D.C. United. So MLS accommodated him, putting him in a waiver draft, allowing him to be claimed by Miami, and then forcing United to trade Roy Lassiter for him.
But this whole thing was considered a very, very bad precedent. If a player can dictate where he wants to play -- and his name is not Matthaeus or Hernandez -- then someone might confuse it with Free Agency. So at last year's board of directors meeting at MLS Cup, the owners came up with a new draft system for such a contingency.
First choice in such a draft would go not to the team currently in last place, but rather then team with the poorest record over the last 32 games, not counting playoff games, since the worst team by definition would not be in the playoffs. So guess who that is. The MetroStars.
Instead of Mathis pulling on a D.C. United jersey, he will be on his way to the Meadowlands. Asked how he felt about all this, United general manager Kevin Payne sounded resigned and almost philosophical.
"I voted for it (the Special Dispersal Draft system)," he said. "But truthfully I thought the next time it would be used would be if Conor Casey decided to leave the University of Portland and to join MLS in midseason as Chris did. That's the specific situation it was designed for. Let's say I was surprised to hear it is now being used for the Galaxy situation. But I understand. There are not too many around the league who are very anxious to help D.C. United, and we know this. I understand why this is happening and we'll live with it."
So class, this is how Clint Mathis, Mike Sorber, Mohammed Khakpour, Chris Albright and Conor Casey come together in the latest of the never ending MetroStars rescue attempts.
Any questions class? You in the back. How is it, you want to know, that Roy Myers is going to end up back with the MetroStars with part of his salary being paid by the Dallas Burn? Because the MetroStars are out of money and could not afford him otherwise? Well the Burn, with room under the cap, will likely get to acquire Myers in a trade from L.A. for future considerations. But does Dallas get to keep Myers? No, of course not. It only gets to pay him while he plays for the MetroStars, which next year will return some yet-to-be-determined compensation.
Wait a sec!. That part is really beyond the scope of this course and is reserved for our special honors tutorial in
MLS machinations. Do well in this course, and maybe next semester you will be allowed to tackle situations like that.
Senior correspondent Robert Wagman's "It Seems To Me . . . " appears regularly on SoccerTimes. He can be
e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org..