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Let’s discuss Juan Agudelo, MLS doctrine and the slippery slope of skewing contracts

Jan 14, 2013, 7:20 PM EDT

San Jose Earthquakes v Chivas USA Getty Images

A piece today from wonders about Juan Agudelo’s (impending?) transfer to Celtic.

More specifically, Alex Labidou wonders about this business of Major League Soccer losing its young, marketable stars and the potential dent in TV numbers that already look fairly battered. Agudelo, Labidou reckons, is one of the few faces who dwell in the sweet spot of domestic commercialization potential: he’s good enough, savvy enough, young enough and recognizable enough.

True enough that there are not many like the Chivas USA man in MLS, so precious few ready and able to take the baton of domestic marketability from Landon Donovan.

So it’s a fair question, wondering if this move will dim a couple of bulbs that should be shining on MLS?

But there are lots of moving parts here. And they are squeaky parts, too.

First, this is only Major League Soccer’s call to a certain point. If a player is determined to test himself overseas, at some point he’s leaving the MLS nest, like it or not. At some point, the league and club suits can only shrug, get over it and then examine the months or years remaining on contract to gauge the best timing of a sale.

I know where the debate goes from there: “Pay them more and they will stay!”  Again, it’s a fair point, but it’s not that simple.

If you create a system where the best American players understand they can squeeze more than market value from MLS – because they have the league over the marketing and endorsement barrel – you are effectively steering the league down a very dangerous alley.

Don’t forget, MLS tried to do this once before. Everyone got all hot and bothered nine or ten years ago and launched a half-baked initiative to keep the top American talent at home.  (Mostly, they were watching Donovan languish on the Leverkusen bench in Germany and wondering how to keep such a thing from happening again.) That’s why Eddie Johnson was on an $800,000 deal in 2005, following a year where he hit a respectable-but-not-sensational 12 goals. That’s more than double what Chris Wondolowski makes today – and the Earthquakes’ scorer usually gets to the quarter pole of 12 goals before breakfast!

Other contracts for American players got similarly skewed. So, it’s dangerous to dangle too much money on a young player who simply has not proven enough yet. Again, it’s a tough case.

Besides all that, there’s a certain German-born manager in a very, very influential position telling these guys to constantly test themselves.

And isn’t that what most U.S. Soccer supporters want, too?

Like I said, lots of moving parts. There really are no perfect solutions here.

  1. whordy - Jan 14, 2013 at 7:34 PM

    You are certainly right about there being a lot of moving parts.
    What I want to know is, when (if ever) does the MLS (and it’s most ardent fans) step back and look at reality? Which is that they are a mid level league, and for now releasing their best young players to bigger and (usually) better leagues is a GOOD thing? Or at least, they should admit it’s the best they can hope for now and maybe 10 years from now the culture of soccer in America will be able to change that.
    Look at all the comparable NTs to us and their leagues. Korea, Japan, Belgium, Poland. Their best young players move on to bigger leagues and look at the Lewandowskis and Kawagas and Hazards of the world. What’s our prized transfer of the past few years? A 26 year old CB to Stoke? Color me thrilled!
    This is yet another symptom of the tug of war MLS finds themselves in; they need to reconcile their near future dreams of wild success with the reality of the sport they represent as it stands now.

    • joeyt360 - Jan 14, 2013 at 11:27 PM

      It’s neither good nor bad, particularly. It’s business. If you get a better fee than what you can get from the player, that difference is good. If the opposite, bad.

  2. valiantdraws - Jan 14, 2013 at 10:26 PM

    I don’t think there are that many MLS fans anymore who fancy the league something more than it is. I think most of us are pretty aware of what the reality is, and actually appreciate it for what it is. Most of us *want* Donovan to go play in Europe. Yeah, we’d like to see good players stay, but we recognize that our grass isn’t that green yet, and I think many of us enjoy seeing our MLS alums making a splash abroad.

    • charliej11 - Jan 15, 2013 at 3:11 PM

      I think most of the people that *want* LD to play in Europe follow Europe more than MLS.

      He is doing VERY fine where he is.

      • valiantdraws - Jan 15, 2013 at 9:49 PM

        Well, no…I just mean that they would be quite happy for him, albeit disappointed. No one *wants* their stars to go away, but I think MLS fans appreciate when an alum goes off and shows the world he can play. Like Deuce, Howard, etc.

  3. jpan007 - Jan 14, 2013 at 10:27 PM

    They can sell young talent but at least buy some quality player with the money they are getting for the sale

  4. theasoccerist - Jan 15, 2013 at 8:43 AM

    I think part of the problem for MLS is we trade young affordable talent for older more expensive talent. There are two opposing forces at play here – Thierry Henry is very expensive but he puts butts in seats. Do casual observers even know Chris Wondolowski’s name-I am not so confident.

    My point is definitely not to bash the league – I am a fan! But to point out that teams should take the middle ground (which is what many try to do). Have a few marquee players alongside some young talent keeps the bottomline in check by keeping payroll down and boosting attendance at games.

    With that said, want to see the difference in how much more Thierry Henry makes for making the rounds in New Jersey – here’s a table of how much the league’s leading goals scorers earned per goal last season:

  5. arjanroghanchi - Jan 15, 2013 at 9:33 AM

    Juan Agudelo – great raw talent. there is potential, but is he anywhere near a european quality player? no. is the SPL a better place to be playing than MLS? no.

    US soccer media (sorry man) does an excellent job of hyping these guys up. Juan Agudelo scored in two friendlies for the USMNT and became the greatest attacking prospect in US history….but if you watch him play he literally has a hard time staying on his feet.

    Chivas, although they suck, offers consistent playing time.

    Tim Ream anyone?

    • Steve Davis - Jan 15, 2013 at 3:05 PM

      No offense taken. The collective media monster is a beast! Individually, I may write only a few sentences, but when it gets stacked “a few sentences” here and another “few sentences” there, the momentum starts building. (Plus, there are plenty of lesser responsible / more easily impressed sites or writers who really lay it on thick.) So, your point is well made.

  6. charliej11 - Jan 15, 2013 at 3:19 PM

    The problem is it is about the money. And the money is in Europe. IF it were here, the players would be better off here and of course the fans would be better of then too.

    Big Time Europe is a joke, and not good for American talent, for a number of reasons.
    One, the money is in the hands of too few and thus, the competitions are a joke.

    If a Dempsey can make it ( and get playing time, which he doesn’t seem to be getting right now ) to Tottenham great. What if he doesn’t play ? We want one of our stars not playing ?

    And what about the guys playing on teams 50 points back, then getting blamed and not playing on teams 50 points back ?
    Waste of a career.

  7. 127taringa - Jan 15, 2013 at 4:35 PM

    While the parameters of MLS are intricate, I would like to see a ammendment to the Homegrown rule that would require each MLS club have a minimum of 2 (or even 1) US players under the age of 23 in the starting 11.
    MLS shouldn’t fool itself by thinking that is the parallel of the EPL. I don’t think there is anything wrong with having a development aspect to the league.

    • mvktr2 - Jan 17, 2013 at 8:31 PM

      Player dev. is in it’s infancy in MLS with the academies being a key to the future as well as development leagues U18/U20. With things being in their infancy there are going to be vast and varied changes in this regard for years to come. I’d like to see the league put more incentive into homegrown products (of which Agudelo is one) by making them not count against the salary cap for as much as 5 or 6 years not the initial time the rules currently dictate.

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