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

Jan 14, 2013, 7:20 PM EST

San Jose Earthquakes v Chivas USA Getty Images

A piece today from Goal.com 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.

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