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Philadelphia wants to pay Maurice Edu seven figures; MLS is not so sure

Jan 15, 2014, 4:21 PM EDT

Portrait of US player Maurice Edu taken Getty Images

A $1.2 million salary in U.S. sports makes you a middle class athlete, at best. In Major League Soccer, however, it’s a big deal. When the players union made its biannual release of wage data last September, only nine players were making seven figures. Major League Soccer millionaires are still relatively rare, especially compared to the other big four sports.

That’s the context for today’s report from ESPNFC, the outlet reporting that Major League Soccer is pushing back against Philadelphia’s desire to make Stoke City’s Maurice Edu the league’s next millionaire. According to Jeff Carlisle’s sources, the Union want to give Edu in the neighborhood of $1.2 and $1.4 million dollars per year, a number that would likely put him in the league’s top 12 earners at the start of the season.

Last September, the millionaire’s list was made up of Clint DempseyThierry Henry, Robbie Keane, Tim Cahill, Landon Donovan, Marco Di Vaio, Obafemi Martins, Danny Koevermans, and Kenny Miller. Even when you take Koevermans out (not returning to Toronto) and add Michael Bradley, Jermain Defoe, and Omar Gonzalez to the list, MLS’s Millionaires Club is still rarefied air. Edu’s salary would slot in right above Miller’s who made around $1.1 million last season for Vancouver.

But why should MLS care? It’s probably best to let them explain (if the move ever happens), but if you’re a league that wants to keep bringing U.S. talent back to North American teams, overpaying early in the game could lead to a lot of lost money down the road. Not everybody can argue they deserve Bradley or Dempsey money, but Maurice Edu is a borderline national-teamer, a distinction that’s shared by a number of Jose Torres, Brek Shea, and Sacha Kljestan-esque talents. If the Edu contract means the price to bring those players home climbs into the millions, it may not be an example MLS wants to set.

There has to be a happy medium. MLS wants to present itself as a better option than most mid-tier destinations in Europe, but they can’t be so stingy that mid-table clubs in Greece, Turkey, Belgium or Holland can offer better deals. While a sub-million dollar contract is unlikely to convince a player to turn his back on his chances with bigger clubs, MLS doesn’t want players leaving North America for just any European opportunity. Unless you’re going to one of the top 20 or 25 clubs in Europe, MLS should be able to offer talented North American players a viable alternative, the thinking goes.

Unfortunately, the stalemate leaves a series of questions, all of which hint at the continuing evolution of MLS’s rules (“evolution” being a euphemism, for some). If MLS is unwilling to sanction a $1.2 million salary for Edu, what is the right number? Is MLS’s front office really the right entity to be making those decisions, and if so, could those decisions end up keeping some U.S. internationals away from the league?

source: AP

Clint Dempsey’s move back to MLS bypassed allocation. Maurice Edu’s will not. (Photo: AP.)

That all comes down league preference. Unfortunately, the million-plus figure being linked with Edu also points to a more definable league conflict. When Clint Dempsey came back to Major League Soccer, we were told some players go through allocation, others come straight to teams, and the Designated Player process was one of the mechanisms for making that distinction. Michael Bradley didn’t come back through allocation. He was a DP signed by Toronto.

Whether he makes $750,000, $1 million, or $1.2 million, Edu will likely be a Designated Player. So what is Philadelphia doing trading up in the allocation order? Shouldn’t they be able to sign Edu and bypass allocation by virtue of the Designated Player rule?

Apparently not. Some speculation says this comes down to the league’s role in facilitating the move (Dempsey’s transfer fee was covered by the league; it’s assumed Bradley’s was also subsidized). Perhaps Edu was merely tagged for allocation before Philadelphia started position themselves to acquire him. While there are explanations, there aren’t without inconsistencies – conflicts that only seem to be addressed after the moves are made.

When Clint Dempsey came back to Major League Soccer, I bought what we were told. Designated Player not going through allocation? Okay. I see why people are upset, but it’s plausible. Sure, it feeds the conspiracy theorists, but tinfoil gonna tinfoil, right?

Admittedly, in light of what we’re hearing about Edu, I feel a little naive. A player is going through allocation, even though he’s a Designated Player. Is it plausible? Sure, if we add the “did MLS help” standard, but the more post hoc justification we get, the more it seems that each scenario is judged by a complete different standard. Some outcomes just happen to look like others.

If that’s the case, I’ve got no problem with it. Welcome to life in an 18-year-old league. New situations arise, the league makes decisions, and life goes on. It’s less an issue of transparency than a league coming to grips with its new identity, one that’s trying to spur a period of rapid maturation.

We’ll have to wait and see what happens to Edu, but at this point — whether he comes back to MLS; whether he’s a Designated Player; whether he goes through allocation — it’s another opportunity for our 18-year-old league to mature.

  1. danielofthedale - Jan 15, 2014 at 4:50 PM

    Maybe the Union want to the use the allocation slot for Marco Pappa in addition to bring Edu?

    And $1.2M seems like a whole lot for Edu. The guy has hardly played at all and I can’t see him moving to a better club than stoke in Europe or his salary being so high that $1.2M is the reduced rate he is worth now. I would say he is a $500K guy at most right now.

    • talgrath - Jan 15, 2014 at 6:33 PM

      Yes, I’m quite confused by the commentary at the end about allocation order, why wouldn’t Philly acquire both Pappa and Edu if they’re willing to lay down some dollars for Edu?

  2. seanb20124 - Jan 15, 2014 at 5:17 PM

    He should be offered as a low a salary as possible that still gets him to MLS. Beggars can’t be choosy. Edu is currently a beggar

    • lavatomy - Jan 15, 2014 at 5:59 PM

      A beggar that’s making around the same amount of money in Europe. MLS offers more playing time but I wouldn’t take a pay cut for it.. nothing wrong with Edu asking for the same amount of $ that he’s making at Stoke.

    • talgrath - Jan 15, 2014 at 6:56 PM

      Edu is not a beggar though. He’s not doing well in the EPL and his last loan was not as successful as he liked, but he still likely has interest from teams outside of MLS. In his appearances in the Turkish league Edu scored 13 goals in 11 appearances, middling leagues (like MLS, which is still in the middle of the world overall in talent) would likely be willing to pay him a fairly handsome salary if he can keep that rate up.

      • bear06 - Jan 16, 2014 at 1:06 AM

        You have your stats wrong talkgrath. Edu hasn’t scored since he was with Rangers.

      • talgrath - Jan 16, 2014 at 4:55 PM

        Ah, sorry, I misread the chart I was looking at, my fault.

  3. chadmoon1 - Jan 15, 2014 at 6:19 PM

    This is what’s wrong with the single entity concept still being in place. Philly should not have to go to the league to get approval for this. If they want him, and can pay that price, go for it!!!

    • talgrath - Jan 15, 2014 at 6:52 PM

      Well, first and foremost it’s worth noting that MLS (just like the NFL and others) actually pays the player’s salaries, not the teams themselves. The league says “here is the rules on how you can pay the players” and the teams work within those rules, when a player gets their check or bank transfer it says “MLS”, not “Philadelphia Union” on it. Now yes, technically that is the team’s money, a portion of their money from MLS that would go to the team if it wasn’t spent on players, but ultimately the check comes from MLS. The second thing is that for a larger transfer fee like Edu’s MLS may pay a portion of it (or it might now, we’re not entirely clear).

      • chadmoon1 - Jan 16, 2014 at 4:14 PM

        Yes, and that’s the problem. Tell the teams what the rules are, set a hard salary cap, stop all of this arbitrary bending or breaking of the rules for “special” players, and let teams go after players. Let them pay transfer fees. Let them pay Edu $1.2 million if they want as long as they can fit him into their cap. Let teams be buyers or sellers.

        Now that every club (I think) has an owner that does not have an interest in another MLS team, this should be the way it is.

    • petertyler - Jan 19, 2014 at 10:00 AM

      That league management is still watching the purse strings closely is why you still have the league here to begin with. If the MLS wasn’t fairly thrifty, teams would spend themselves into a hole and the league would fold quickly.

      As it is, I thought the Dempsey and Bradley acquisitions to be borderline premature.

  4. tylerbetts - Jan 15, 2014 at 6:24 PM

    There are a couple of issues at play here.

    First, it seems backwards and stupid that DP doesn’t trump allocation if you use only your own money to pay the transfer fee. Think about that. If you pay the transfer yourself, you then have to give up an asset to get the player. If the league helps you, you don’t have to give up an asset. The logic there is mind boggling.

    Second, yes, MLS has to take steps, even at this stage, to make sure it can remain/become financially viable. But … this seems like an arbitrary place to draw the line, just like it did with Portland and Diskerud last year. Why is it okay for Toronto to significantly overpay for Bradley, but it’s not okay for Philadelphia to overpay for Edu? Is it because Bradley moves the needle more and will sell more merchandise? If so, the league is opening itself up to becoming top heavy, where the owners and markets that can attract a player deemed with of being overpaid can/will go sign those guys, and the rest of the clubs/markets continue to get their hand slapped for trying to reach into that particular cookie jar.

    I don’t like it. And, I say that not speaking as a fan of a smaller market team, which I am. I say that as a fan of the league in general.

  5. talgrath - Jan 15, 2014 at 6:37 PM

    The thing is, Edu would be taking a pay cut at $1.2 million, I don’t think Edu is worth $1.2 million but the idea that he wouldn’t enter the league as a designated player is naive. If I were managing a club, I’d be willing to pay about $500,000-$750,000 a year to him. If Pappa heads back to MLS, Philadelphia can snatch him up thanks to DC United, or if Pappa confirms he is returning to MLS, they can use that as a bargaining chip to get someone they want. If you can get both, why not get both?

  6. onelovesoccer7 - Jan 15, 2014 at 7:19 PM

    sticky situation MLS has put itself in. Edu makes $1.38M at Stoke and is asking for $1.2M here. personally, i agree he probably isn’t worth that much in his current form.

    EJ was making $750,000 base salary when KC sold him to Fulham for $6M. EJ at that time said the money was great (regarding his new Fulham salary), so you have to assume he was making the same as, if not more than, Edu. we all know what happened and he comes back to sign for Seattle at $100,000 with an option bumping him to $150,000 in 2013.

    Edu certainly has a higher market value given his performance in the SPL (irrelevant of what us USA fans think of that league…) and the fact that he is wanted in Turkey. but while i hate that MLS is doing this, Philly has to realize he isn’t worth that much right now. at the same time, Edu intends to use MLS as a backup plan, so i’m not surprised he is asking for a European salary.

  7. midtec2005 - Jan 15, 2014 at 8:04 PM

    I’m a little torn on the $1.2 mark. Wasn’t he starting at Rangers? I think his talent may justify that but the Stoke situation would suggest otherwise. Oh the Stoke situation… I think that’s more a bad situation than an indictment on him. I just don’t think Mark Hughes likes him at all. Looking at the other midfielders there is no reason he should at least make the bench, based on talent.

  8. pjbowmaster - Jan 15, 2014 at 10:42 PM

    No way Edu should make more than Kyle Beckerman. For me he’s a $250,000 player in MLS. If he can find a club in Europe that will pay him more go for it. There is only one more American player out there worth a multi million dollar contract in MLS. And that’s Jozy Altidore.

    Market value is a funny thing. Dempsey and Bradley had to come home to make the really big bucks. Every other American player can make more overseas.

    • bellerophon30 - Jan 15, 2014 at 11:06 PM

      I hope you were just talking outfield players, because Guzan and Howard are both worth seven figures in MLS. Heck, throw in Friedel on a one year contract for that matter.

      Oh, and Cameron would be an interesting discussion, though MLS doesn’t prioritize defensemen when it comes to money (Omar G notwithstanding). He’s still an EPL starter, and the US only has 3 of them right now.

    • midtec2005 - Jan 16, 2014 at 1:38 AM

      Good point about Beckerman.

    • mvktr2 - Jan 16, 2014 at 7:48 AM

      From a pure soccer player standpoint, and I know this will be unpopular, both Bradley & Dempsey are overpaid in MLS when making the choice on a relative basis compared with other talents in the league. Theoretically if you can get a 10 goal scoring striker for $150,000 a prospective perennial 20 goal scorer is only worth $300,000 (i know not exactly how it works but you follow me. The reason Bradley, Dempsey, and other non-US players are worth so much is about marketing. This informs the Beckerman vs Edu discussion here. The fact that Mo Edu played Champions league soccer with Rangers, won league titles there, is currently on the books in the EPL, etc. makes him perceptionally a bigger star/name player than Beckerman. In other words no matter Beckerman’s achievements in MLS (very substantial and a player I don’t undervalue), when dealing with an international soccer player market Edu’s going to retain greater value. Thus the disparity!

  9. mvktr2 - Jan 16, 2014 at 7:56 AM

    I’m a pretty big fan of Mo Edu especially so since I follow Rangers. Add in the fact that I follow Philly and this is a win win situation for me. However in MLS Edu isn’t a good value at 1.2 million. But, and it’s a big but, are Michael Bradley, Dempsey, DiVaio, or Gonzalez? The answer is a relative yes because of shirt sales, marketing, etc. If the same holds true in MLS/Philly Union eyes for Mo Edu then pay the man, if not then pay the man 700K if he’ll come for than and if not move on. Fwiw I think this was something of Philly’s approach on Michael Bradley, offering what they thought he was worth in their eyes, not what the market would bear. The two are often very different things.

  10. udosean - Jan 16, 2014 at 12:23 PM

    I think something that we are forgetting as MLS followers is that MLS does not operate in a bubble. The international market must be taken into consideration. Edu is worth every penny of 1.2 mil because that is what Stoke is willing to pay him and Im sure others in Europe are too. I think we get caught up in looking at players relative to their positional equivalents in MLS. An example being the comparison to Beckerman. Considering Beckerman’s credentials including his national team appearances, it is safe to say that on the global market he would most likely be making double his salary if he was able to catch on with a club in a top ten European league.

    MLS has gotten away with artificially deflating player salaries in comparison to the global market place. Just look at the Camilo situation that has unfolded. Its safe to say that he is making AT LEAST double his salary south of the border. As the league continues to grow, the ranks of millionaires will continue to rise. I believe we are going to start seeing more talented players unwilling to accept the modest salaries that MLS has offered in the past. These are interesting times. The Dempsey and Bradley signings have set a new precedent for compensation and I believe that the new CBA will be a reflection of that.

  11. pjbowmaster - Jan 16, 2014 at 1:05 PM

    I was talking about ALL Americans currently playing overseas. Do any of you want your MLS club to spend $40 million to purchase/pay Howard or Guzan? I Don’t……

    Back to Edu….market value is complicated. In the UK his value is around $1 million per year. In MLS it’s about a quarter of that. In Denmark it might be half. The destination league determines the market value. And there is a different set of criteria in each. Dempsey, Bradley, and Donovan get the big bucks in MLS because they are CURRENT STARS on the National Team. And people have seen them play at big clubs in big leagues. There is an “IT” facter. They have it…….and guys like Edu or Geoff Cameron don’t. In my opinion Jozy Altidore is the only other guy that has IT.

  12. gazza305 - Jan 17, 2014 at 1:13 AM

    Only a few problems with this post. The $1.2m to $1.4m salary is not want Edu is asking or what Philly is offering. and MLS is not blocking the deal according to all the parties involved.
    As for the serious questions? Really? The league helps the clubs obtain players. If any owner/operator doesn’t like the structure they can get a majority of the owners on their side to change any rules they don’t like or they can sell their team (at a profit) and start a club in NASL or USL and pay Edu $5m a year if they want to.

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