The Rules Apply…Kinda.

By Dave Trausneck @Trausneck

In January, Sideline Signals highlighted the Charlotte’s Web of professional leagues, Major League Soccer; and the league’s confusing player system.

For the sake of this article, and possibly your sanity, you’ll want to take a few minutes to jot a few notes before you proceed further.  Oh, and take and Advil prior… save yourself the headache later.


Since that article, some of Major League Soccer’s best players past and present decided the rules may not apply to them… and the league appears to be ok with that.  Reason being, they don’t want to play for the club that currently holds their rights.  And it’s turned into a blinking match between the league and its players.

Gomez and Rogers

We start in Kansas City who currently owns the rights to United States National Team forward Herculez Gomez. Gomez currently plays for Santos Laguna in Mexico, but stated he wants to come back to the U.S. and play.

Backtracking for a minute, KC offered Gomez a raise, but it wasn’t near what he could get on the foreign market, so he took his talents South of the Border.  But, because KC offered something, they get to retain his rights.  The former LA Galaxy and pre-MLS Seattle Sounder stated he may enjoy playing in Seattle if he returns to MLS, but he doesn’t understand the whole cluster of who owns his rights.  He even had an exchange with MLS Commissioner Don Garber over Twitter about it.

By rule, if Gomez returned to the league, anyone that wants him would have to trade compensation to KC for him.

It’s a similar situation for former USMNT player Robbie Rogers.  Rogers recently came out and announced he’s gay.  A staggering admission that made plenty of headlines, but after the dust cleared, Rogers started training with the LA Galaxy.  Rogers, who grew up in Southern California, admitted he could return to soccer (he retired earlier this year when he announced he was gay), but only in the right situation.  In recent interviews, he said he felt better about being in Los Angeles since he has more family in that area, and could draw strength from their support.

Rogers’ rights are owned by the Chicago Fire who acquired them in a way that’s not easy to find on the Internet, and also not easy to explain.  Leaving that to the side, like Gomez, if LA wanted Rogers to play for them, they would have to work out a trade with Chicago to make it work.

While neither of these players have broken any sort of agreement with the league, or the clubs that own their rights… it’s starting to create a sticky situation for the rest of the teams in the league.  Why is it that teams like New York and Los Angeles seem to get first crack at the top talent? It’s no secret MLS wants to put its biggest stars in the biggest television markets. But for league fairness, is it wise business?  Sporting KC is one of the top clubs in MLS right now, and Chicago is a very large market in its own right.  It appears we may be on the verge of the “Robbie Rule” or the “Herc Rule,” like we had the “Beckham rule.” 

Major League Soccer seems to favor the top clubs, then, they come up with a rule the following year that “other” teams can follow.  Oh, Landon Donovan wants to play for LA?  We’ll allow it, and next year every team can have not one, but TWO Designated Players.  Oh, you want to add Robbie Keane too?  Ok, well, we’ll have 3 Designated Players for the clubs next year.  New York you want Thierry Henry, Rafa Marquez and Tim Cahill.  Ok, we’ll make that happen.

Below is a list of the clubs and their “guaranteed compensation for players.”  Notice a trend among the top 3 teams and who “usually” gets crack at top stars who want to play in the U.S.?  Kudos to NY, the Galaxy and the Sounders; they found a way to game the system in their favor.

NYR         $10,860,960
LAG         $9,685,263
SEA          $5,958,813
MTL         $5,288,700
VAN         $4,809,278
TOR         $4,710,844
CHI          $4,333,357
FCD         $4,244,860
DCU        $3,906,065
PHI          $3,832,575
SKC          $3,783,882
HOU        $3,648,640
RSL          $3,646,402
CLB          $3,617,001
POR         $3,564,501
NER         $3,476,086
SJE           $3,371,908
COL         $3,371,325
CHV         $2,607,146

It’s no wonder top players want to go to those 3 clubs.  They want to get paid.  But, if Major League Soccer wants to get serious about their player system, and they want to make sure it’s a level playing field for all clubs.  They’d look at some of these recent cases of players just wanting to go to a club because they “feel” like it.

It sets a dangerous precedent for the league moving forward and could be a major roadblock for the league’s development and potential expansion either to New York for a second team, or Orlando as an expansion franchise.