From the league that introduced weighted lotteries, homegrown signings, discovery selections, re-entry drafts, the SuperDraft, designated players, allocation orders and designated players exempt from allocation orders, MLS unveiled a new acquisition mechanism Sunday: the blind draw.
Love of MLS is, indeed, blind.
Both the Chicago Fire and New England Revolution coveted U.S. World Cup midfielder Jermaine Jones. Using a coin flip, ping-pong balls, Pokemon cards or rock-paper-scissors, Commissioner Don Garber declared the Revolution as the winner of the sweepstakes.
Welcome to Foxborough, Mr. Jones. The Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru on Route 1 is just south of Gillette Stadium.
The signing is good for MLS. Jones is a high-impact player with a high-energy game who enjoyed a superb Cup campaign. Despite the approach of his 33rd birthday and inactivity for two months, Jones still has much to offer a New England side pressing for the playoffs.
The manner in which he joined the Revs, however, further exposed MLS’s immaturity and again raised issues of transparency. In this 19th season, the league remains as confounding as ever. It’s a good league; it’s also an odd league.
To the best of my knowledge, here is how the Jones acquisition transpired:
Jones took interest in MLS last winter. Richard Motzkin, a Los Angeles-based agent who represents several U.S. players, took the case. No deal was reached and Jones moved from Schalke in Germany to Besiktas in Turkey for the second half of the 2013-14 Euro season. Jones, though, had planted the seed for an MLS move after the World Cup.
This summer Chicago was first to engage in serious talks with Jones, whose influential play in Brazil raised his profile and price tag. In an unusual arrangement, Jones had enlisted both Motzkin and New York-based agent Ron Waxman, who works for Jones’s midfield partner, Michael Bradley.
With MLS’s guidance, the Fire did the arduous leg work.
Like Bradley and Clint Dempsey before him, Jones would not have to go through the allocation order, currently headed by the Columbus Crew. In MLS, special conditions apply to special players. As MLS states in the roster rules and regulations, “Designated Players of a certain threshold – as determined by the League – are not subject to allocation ranking.” The threshold is not specified. Trust us, MLS says.
Protocol, however, requires the league to run a player’s name through the entire membership to identify other clubs financially capable and interested. Historically reluctant to spend big bucks, New England stepped forward at some point and became an unexpected suitor. Chicago suddenly had competition.
Jones preferred to play for the Fire — closer to his family in Los Angeles, a home stadium with natural grass, an established dialogue with Chicago brass — but because MLS could not ensure his destination if multiple teams were interested, Jones backed away last week.
MLS wanted him badly and increased the offer. His salary would be the same whether he landed in Foxborough or Bridgeview. The rub: Jones would have to drop his demand to play for Chicago and allow the process to play out.
It played out in New England’s favor.
According to ESPN, Jones will earn more than $4.5 million over 1 1/2 seasons. The Revolution’s backers – the Kraft family of NFL Patriots fame — are responsible for most of that figure.
New England has “always said that any major DP signing would need to make an impact, on and off the field, and we believe the addition of Jermaine will do just that,” Jonathan Kraft said in a news release. “When we learned that he was interested in signing with MLS, we immediately informed the league of our interest.”
Fire officials were understandably disappointed.
“The Chicago Fire Soccer Club has pursued Jermaine Jones as a free agent signing over the past month and a half, and have gone to great lengths to bring him into Major League Soccer and our organization,” Coach Frank Yallop said in a written statement.
“We thought that he’d be a great fit in Chicago. While we’re deeply disappointed that he will not be a part of the Fire, we respect the system employed by MLS and wish Jermaine well with his new club.”
Chicago visits New England in two weeks.