I blogged about this when the Beckham news became official, and I argued that the problem wasn't with Beckham getting paid big bucks to come to the US, but with the way the rules were structured.
It seemed to be a guaranteed way of forcing teams to use their 1 exemption on trying to get players whose names were worth more than their games. The rules, as they were worked out seems to have opened up the signing of big money players in the worst way--by focusing on a player limit, rather than a real cap number, each team in the league is going to try to pull a mini-Beckham, looking for players on the decline with foreign experience and maybe a built-in fan base. And I think we've got ourselves the start of a trend here.
Back in January, The New York Red Bulls signed Claudio Reyna. And a lot of the nice part of the story was covered--Claudio is coming back to the US; his first stint in the MLS; reunited with Bruce Arena, playing for his hometown club, etc, etc. But the fact is that the NY Red Bulls have used their exemption on a 33 year old, US-born, holding midfielder whose style of play has become slower and more deliberate with each passing year. I loved the concept of Reyna's steadying influence on a younger generation of US players during the World Cup (up until his botched holding of the ball blew the Ghana game wide open for Ghana). But is he really the type of player that MLS GM's were imagining when they agreed to the massive overhaul of rules that got Beckham over here? And should signing a quickly aging, oft-injured American looking for a place to retire in comfort really be the purpose of this exemption?
The Red Bulls did manage to acquire another exemption in a trade, and recent rumors in England have them looking at Juan Pablo Angel. The British Press, (the Guardian, by the by, not The Sun) pleasantly refer to this potential move as "yet another washed-up Premiership has-been...heading Stateside in a bid to play out his twilight years in the sedate surroundings of the MLS rest home."
These are the moves being made by New York's team, for heaven's sake. With a hugely rich and looking to make a splash ownership group. What sort of desperate moves might a just slightly lower-profile team make?
We have our answer in the Chicago Fire's signing of Mexican forward/Dick Supreme Cuauhtemoc Blanco. This makes sense only in a short-term, get a Mexican fan base kind of way. And it only barely makes sense that way. In every other way of looking at this deal, it is borderline lunacy. Blanco is a 34 year old striker who doesn't score much, angers his own teammates (even at the national level) and will probably be suspended as much as any player in the league. And he can't fill seats if he ain't playing. He'll just have wrapped up his contract with his Mexican League team when he comes to Chicago, and the likelihood of fatigue settling in early on his body early in the season is high. At least Los Angeles and New York can argue that they've brought in older players who don't rely on their speed to get their jobs done.
ESPN's Steve Davis has a whole laundry list of reasons why Blanco is a bad signing. And then suggests that the correct answer might be Blanco's Mexican National Teammate, 33 year-old Jared Borghetti!
And so, the Beckham Rule ripple effect predicted by myself, and being observed by others as well, is officially underway. Of course, it should be noted that it is still possible that a MLS GM may do the smart thing and try to find a young, up & coming talent and develop his game, instead of chasing old guys with famous names, but I wouldn't wager too much on that happening.
Enjoy the mini-deluge of over-the-hill players showing up for lackluster play year after year until the MLS fixes these rules. Most notably--Making a real salary cap, instead of a fake one with the 1 exemption; or possibly not including American players against the exemption.