In the aftermath of D.C. United's acquisition of prized prospect Chris Albright last weekend, Major League Soccer will reevaluate the way it distributes players to its 12 clubs and likely will make changes next year, Commissioner Doug Logan said yesterday.
"We are in the process of studying a series of proposals that will create more structure to the way that players get distributed, and that's likely to be put in place next year," Logan said without revealing specific plans. "We received input from the coaches and the competition committee, and next year we may indeed get into a far more structured situation."
Under its single-entity structure, MLS owns all player contracts and attempts to distribute talent equally. Teams can claim players on their own in the college and supplemental drafts, and through discovery rights during the season.
But many have complained that the league has sent strong teams, such as United, more than their share of good players, especially young Americans.
In the latest instance, United acquired Albright, a University of Virginia all-American forward, late Friday night in a trade with the Miami Fusion, which held Albright's rights but had almost no chance of keeping him because of a prearranged deal. Los Angeles Galaxy officials were unhappy and complained vociferously during league meetings during the all-star weekend in San Diego. Other coaches and general managers also have expressed displeasure.
Albright, who had two years of college eligibility remaining, had attracted interest from MLS and European clubs following his play with the U.S. under-20 national team. After losing to wealthy European clubs in the bidding for a couple of other young American stars, MLS was eager to acquire Albright.
Albright, 20, wanted to play in MLS, but was willing to sign only if he could play for one of three clubs: United, the Galaxy or the Chicago Fire. MLS's problem was that those teams have some of the league's most talented rosters and it couldn't justify allocating another top prospect to one of them.
But with Albright getting offers from overseas, MLS officials relented.
The league sent him to Miami, which was all but required to accept a trade offer from one of the teams Albright requested. United got him in a deal that brought midfielder John Maessner to D.C. and sent midfielder Brian Kamler, a first-round college draft pick next year and future considerations to the Fusion.
"I wanted to be in the most professional environment [within MLS] I could," Albright said. Asked if he would have gone to Miami had that club been permitted to keep him, he said, "That wasn't in the deal. I would've gone where I was told, but I'm definitely happy where I am."
Los Angeles officials said they thought Albright should have been assigned to them from the beginning because they felt they were next in line for the allocation of a young player. The league disagreed. Thus, the bidding began.
Galaxy President Tim Leiweke couldn't be reached to comment further. But Tampa Bay Mutiny Coach Tim Hankinson, who complained to Logan about the situation over the weekend, said yesterday: "We have seen some assignments in recent times going to some of the strongest teams in the league, and I think that there needs to be an examination of the process by which players are assigned to help those programs, just like a draft does, to help give them new life. I guess the theory being we want to prevent the rich getting richer and make sure there is competitive quality of placement of players."
United President and General Manager Kevin Payne was ecstatic about acquiring Albright, but said that a player dictating where he wants to play isn't the ideal situation for the league.
"It happens very rarely," he said. "The policy of the league is that [making team demands] is not an option, but occasionally a player has a little bit of leverage. It's going to get harder and harder for players to do that."
In the Albright case, however, United had to pay a price. Kamler is a quality player and, according to sources, D.C. may have to send Miami one of its star players at the end of the year.
"There were multiple bids Miami considered for Albright and it was ultimately Miami's decision that D.C. United's bid was the best," MLS executive vice president Ivan Gazidis said.
CAPTION: D.C. forward Chris Albright, right, was assigned to Miami, which traded him to United.