Money for nothing and Zlatan for free

The Union have been smart and utilized the rules of MLS to their advantage. There’s just one problem.

The Chicago Fire announced that Dutch forward Michael de Leeuw will join them as a Discovery signing yesterday. That’s good news for the Union because the U held de Leeuw’s discovery rights, so the Fire paid them $50,000 for the privilege to sign de Leeuw. In essence, the Union got paid for giving the Fire the right to sign de Leeuw. This is good use of the rules in place by the Union in a league where $50,000 means something.

Like Christopher Columbus discovering a continent full of people already, the MLS discovery list doesn’t find anyone or anything new. For the uninitiated, the discovery list is not a list of prospects or players who are unknown. It’s a list submitted to the league by every team of seven players who are not signed in MLS but who might come to MLS. In essence, it’s clubs calling dibs on people who might come to the league; in reality, it’s a mechanism designed to prevent clubs in the single-entity league from bidding against each other for foreign talent to keep wages down.

There’s another fellow who is on the Union’s discovery list by the name of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. You may have heard of him; he’s one of the best in the world, and apparently, he’s interested in coming to MLS. The Union wouldn’t be able to meet Zlatan’s demands for a contract (estimated by some to be around the $10M/year level) but they could sell the right to sign him to someone who could and thus, make another $50,000 they could use towards their young, rebuilding roster.

However, Taylor Twellman reported during halftime of the Sporting Kansas City/Orlando City tilt on Sunday (and later clarified on Twitter) that the Union will get nothing for Zlatan’s discovery rights because they cannot meet his market value. This clause is nowhere in the rules. The rules state:

“If a club wants to sign a player on the Discovery List of another team, it may offer that team $50,000 in General Allocation Money in exchange for the right to sign the player. The team with the player on its Discovery List will then either (i) have to accept the General Allocation Money and give up the right to sign the player or (ii) make the player a genuine, objectively reasonable offer.”

Clearly, there’s nothing in there which specifies the discovering club must be able to make the player a genuine, objectively reasonable offer. It merely provides them with the opportunity to do so in the case of another club wanting to sign that player. Given Twellman’s connections and prior accuracy on matters like this, it stands to reason his reporting is correct and the Union will be punished for essentially using the nebulous rules in place to their advantage.

Credit goes to the Union for using whatever they can to strengthen the club, including rules which allow them to do so. This is the kind of planning and forethought they were lacking before. At the same time, it’s difficult to use the rules to your advantage if the league changes those rules whenever they like, without warning.

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