Wednesday, February 27, 2008

"Hey, where'd all the players go?" or "He's gone, he's gone...I'd pay the devil to replace him (Da or Nyet???)"

What follows is a long back and forth discussion between Playtherapy, Mister3d and myself on the migration of mid-market, or middle class, players out of MLS this offseason. Hopefully, this is just another chapter in a very long discussion. What do you think?


MARTEK: Found this on DuNord:

After nabbing 2 goals in 2 games for his new team Rheindorf Altach, Nate Jaqua has been called "a penalty-area cobra with a lion's heart" by a local paper. Their league must be awful, cuz he just isn't that good. But it's fantastic for Jaqua!

PLAYTHERAPY: Jaqua was also good @ scoring slop goals with the Dynamo. Slop is slop but looks good on the score sheet.

MISTER3D: Your nonchalant disregard of jaqua's talent flies in the face of the recent breathless panting we are losing mls talent to europe postings. Pickens, jaqua, ngwenya, gbandi, noonan etc. are not indispensable and will be readily replaced by younger cheaper players, do they deserve better, yes; but they are not huge losses. Something needs to be done to keep the middle class mlser but movement to and from our league and various other leagues is a sign of the strength of mls, no?

PLAYTHERAPY: Pant pant pant
You so right, me so horny. Seriously, you make an excellent point, I'm speaking out of both sides of me mouth. Another zinger is this may be healthy for the league.

Let's use your middle class analogy:

Upper Class A Players (starters on any team)- Ching, Twellman, De Ro, Donovan, etc.
Creame de la creme- top of the league.

Lower Upper Class A- Starters on most teams, but not best in the league.

Upper Middle Class- Starters, or good subs. Something lacking in their game, preventing them from higher status.

Middle Class- Good subs, occasional starters but you don't want them starting for too many games.
The kind of players you want on almost every game sheet, ready to come in if needed.

Lower Middle Class- Fair subs, perhaps youth to be blooded or situational players. Have some strengths but definite liabilities.

Upper Lower Class- Slightly better than reserve team- spot players on the rotation, occasional subs when there are injuries.

Lower Class- Provide roster depth but most of these will not get game time. A permanent fixture in the reserve league.

Lower Lower Class- Developmental player you're not sure if you'll keep or bodies you keep just to have a full roster- the first to be waived if needed.

Now, to borrow from Soccer Hooligan, here's who has left.

Chicago GK Matt Pickens - via free transfer Queen’s Park Rangers (England)
Lower upper class
Chivas- ALMOST but no work permit- Brad Guzan
Definitely elite- had he gone, would this change the worry factor?
Columbus- Marcos Gonzalez - via transfer Universidad Catolica (Chile)
DC- GK Troy Perkins - transfer to Valerenga IF (Norway)
Lower upper class
DC- Bryan Arguez - transfer to Hertha Berlin (Germany)
FC Dallas- DF Chris Gbandi - transfer FK Haugesund (Norway)
Middle to upper middle class
Houston- FW Joseph Ngwenya - SK Austria (transfer)
Between upper middle class and lower upper class. A second year under
Kinnear and Spencer might have elevated his game.
Houston- FW Nate Jaqua - via transfer SCR Altach (Austria)
Middle class
KC- FW Eddie Johnson - via transfer Fulham (England)
Lower upper class though sometimes upper middle class.
KC- DF Will John - via transfer Randers FC (Denmark)
Middle class
LAG- MF Clint Mathis - Ergotelis (Greece on transfer)
Middle class
NE- MF Andy Dorman – St. Mirren (Scotland on free transfer)
Upper middle class/ lower upper class until last year (middle class).
NE- FW Pat Noonan - Aalesund SK (Norway on free transfer)
Upper middle class in previous years. Last year upper middle to middle.
NE- DF Avery John - not resigned, currently a free agent (looking for lucrative
overseas transfer).
Middle class
SJ- (via expansion draft thru FC Dallas) DF Clarence Goodson - IK Start (Norway - free transfer)
Exceptional year- previously middle but last yr upper middle.

As replacements, we have the new foreigners, a new cast of middle class players yet to emerge (from the bench, reserves, or draft), or players who are returning from abroad.

How would you rank these players?

San Jose- Ramiro Corrales
Colorado- Chase Hilgenbrinck - free transfer from Ñublense (Chile)
RSL- Nat Borchers - via transfer Odd Grenland (Norway)

I agree, for other leagues to view the MLS as a cheap talent pool can promote league health- if adequate replacements can be found.

One of the things I've noticed about the league today versus 10 years ago is the present quality of the nonstar players- the middle class- so to say. During their championship runs, El Diablo, Moreno, and De Arce were surrounded by a cast of players that don't seem on par with the class I see today.

Is the talent pool deep enough to replace the listed players without a ripple- especially in light of the number of expansion teams on the horizon? I hope so. No matter what, many teams have not made the moves to replace these players (KC bring the most blatant violator).

MISTER3D: (Playtherapy), just copy and paste this to the blog and you have an excellent post. With everything right in front of my eyes this whole exodus issue warrants a little more stress and definitely needs to be monitored over the next few seasons, but as of right now no sweat. If the 2008 season play suffers along with the american player then this issue becomes a huge issue. As for jaqua scoring slop goals I would prefer it being done for the dynamo but oh well. I will miss noonan's intuitive sneaky play, can I even watch the revs without him...yes as long as they have shalrie joseph, but still.

MARTEK: Now, THIS is the discussion to be having out there, and the one that I'd love to have with the collective brainpower not just of the three of us, but multiple of our fell Bloggy McBlogmeisters.

I will have to take your word for it as to how much MLS has progressed since the 1990s, since I have to admit I did not follow the league in any significant way until Dynamo got here. However, I suppose I do not have to just take your word for it, as the view seems to be the consensus among those out there who have been following the league since its inception.

MLS has so many challenges in its development that are unique to it, at least in relation to other American sports leagues. The main one being, for the purposes of this discussion at least, concerning player development and retention. MLS has now progressed to the point where it has become an ideal place for a young player, whether American or furrin, to get valuable, intense and quality game experience. It is also a place where those who have found their greatest glory elsewhere, but still have something in the tank, can show of their still significant but declining skills for a variety of of reasons both personal and professional.

The phrase I used over on Center Holds It, that Dan Loney picked up and Jeff Bull highlighted, was that MLS was in danger of becoming primarily an under-23 and over-32 league. I believe we all share the dream of having MLS take its place among the great leagues in the world. There is no objective reason why MLS can not be every bit the league the Mexicans, Brazilians and Argentines have, not to mention La Liga, the Eredivisie, Serie A, Bundesliga and, yes, the EPL. I would even go so far as to maintain that MLS is already every bit as good as the Coca Cola Championship, the lower reaches of the EPL, the SPL (minus Celtic and the Huns), the Austrian Bundeliga, possibly the Eredivisie (Mr3D, Bradley's experience in the Mexico game giving credence to your argument here), the Portuguese Superliga and several others. (It's way better than the three-year-old A-League, judging not just from Dynamo's Sydney experience but from games I've seen on FSC.)

All of that being said, how does MLS get from its current situation to that promised land among the best in the world. Well, of course, it all revolves around the green, now doesn't it? It's damn easy to be called a visionary when you have a lot of money and spend it. And, conversely, no matter how visionary you are, without the money you become less like Pete Rozelle and David Stern and more like Phil Woosnam (former NASL commissioner).

Playtherapy, your list below of the range of middle class players who have left MLS in the last few months is revealing on several levels. Looking at purely on-field reasons, there is no reason why any of these guys would go to the Austrian Bundesliga, Scandinavian leagues, Greece to sit on the bench when they could playing much, much closer to their families and in their home countries. So what is it?

Well, anyone who is straining their brain on answering this question is trying too hard. Payday is more than just a mediocre candy bar. The increase in money these players get over in Europe is extremely persuasive on many levels. First, when a team like Preston North End, in the lower reaches of the Championship, can treble the pay of one of MLS' premier players, it's a very simple calculus. But it gets more deep than that. Second, players' No. 1 adviser on contracts is always their agent, who makes his or her money on the commission of the contract. Hence, here's someone who is highly motivated to get the player the best deal (most money) possible.

But third, a contract and career abroad, above and beyond the immediate remunerative qualities, gets that player seen by more European scouts than it does here. So the contract becomes an investment that is both immediately lucrative and could play out into a greater deal later on.

A player's average career is, what, 5-6 years, and how long is the player in what could be considered their prime during that period of years? And can injury or other factors beyond your control take it all away in a second? Yes. Thus, when you get a chance to sign for that much money, you are beyond foolish not to take it. Turning it down for some abstract concept of "loyalty" is laughable.

So where does that leave MLS? Clearly, they have hit a ceiling of some sort when you have so many of the type of players you listed here leaving. here is no need to panic and by itself this does not constitute evidence of disaster, but the situation outlined above is the long and short of a problem that is very real. MLS MUST pay their players more, must compete on the world player market, in order to develop. They MUST take steps away from their current price taker status or what you're seeing now is what you'll be seeing in MLS in 3, 5, 10 years and more.

There are no two ways around this very simple and obvious fact. Ignoring it means PlayTherapy will be able to make a list like this with every single offseason and summer transfer window. Only the names will be changed.


The Manly Ferry said...

Holy crap. I just read the thing and I'm exhausted. Good discussion, guys. I'm with (I think) Mr. 3d, though I have to confes myself a little irked by it all, if only from the player's perspective. But, for now, it is what it is; it just needs to be monitored so it doesn't add up to talent drain.

Martek said...

Awesome! Exhausting someone with the discussion was our nefarious scheme all along!!

Nothing turns me into a "workers controlling the means of production" guy (what are those called, communitarians? commuters? some kinda "c" word) quicker than looking at how sports players are exploited in the absence of a strong union.

Free agency, total TV (local and national) revenue sharing, mandated percentage expenditures on player salaries, these are the things the promised land is made of. This isn't rocket science here, and the examples abound throughout the sports landscape.