Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Beckham Rule Chickens Start to Come Home to Roost

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.


lbutler36 said...

I guess I would rather have older international stars playing in the MLS than keeping the young US players in country where they get little or no real experience to use on the world stage (see Donovan, Landon). In an ideal world both the MLS and US National team would be legitimate in the eyes of the rest of the world, but that is not at all realistic at this point, and it is easier to build one great team (US National) than a league full of solid teams (MLS). Success in international tournaments by the men's national team will lead to a more successful MLS

Big Blue Monkey said...

lbutler, that's a weird choice you've constructed for yourself there. What do older international players have to do with young American players?

There are already boatloads of young Americans in the MLS who never got or will get a sniff at Europe--Donovan is a very specialized, rare case in which he was offered Europe and came running home.

I'm not suggesting, by any stretch, that the MLS use the exceptions in the league to hold onto to young American talent--I'd much rather see young South American or African talent, many of whom would be delighted to have a chance to play in the US, for a host of reasons that are too numerous to get into here.

You said you'd rather see old international stars than younger up and comers in the MLS--but do you want to WATCH it?

lbutler36 said...

Ya, I'll watch it just because there arent any other options and I would LOVE to see the MLS sign some younger players from overseas to play in the league, but just not our US players. I usually go to a bunch of Revs games every summer, and Dempsey is my favorite American player, now that he has moved to Fulham I rarely get to see him play, but I still ove the move because he is one of the brightest rising stars on the national team and the only way for him to progress is to go elsewhere. Keeping the best US players in the MLS will do nothing but hurt our chances in the next world cup and foreigners view on US soccer as a whole. If the US can make another deep run in S. Africa and prove that 2002 was not a fluke, maybe we start getting more respect and more players won't be afraid to come to the MLS