Big, Bad MLS had to Flex on FCC and USL

News broke this week that Fussball Club Cincinnati (sorry, I don’t know how to make that German “B” using my keyboard) had attempted to sign US Men’s National Team star, Fabian Johnson, over the summer.  Johnson, who is currently signed with Monchengladbach, would be a huge name that would draw a lot of attention to the USL.

Small problem: MLS said “no”.

Now….. why would MLS care if the Fussball Club (again, sorry) signed a big name like Johnson to their USL roster?

Well it turns out, Johnson is currently on the MLS’s coveted allocation list.  This list is an attempt to evenly distribute select US Men’s National Team players, elite youth national team players, and some former MLS players, evenly amongst all of the MLS teams.  Whether or not your team gets a player like Johnson depends on your team’s position in the MLS allocation order and whether other teams are interested in that same player.  If another team is higher in the allocation order than you are, and they want the player, you lose.

I know…. MLS… am I right?

Anyway, what does all of this have to do with Fussball Club (I swear I don’t enjoy not getting that right) not being able to sign Johnson to their USL team?

Many speculated that Cincy intentionally tried to sign Johnson to their USL team NOW to avoid MLS rules so that they wouldn’t have to try to get him through the allocation system when they move to MLS next year.  The move would have been entirely legal in the USL since there’s no USL allocation order.

Papa MLS was none too happy about this.

How dare the Fussball Club try to use some other league’s rules to circumvent their own?!  Their rules are in place for a reason, and no other league’s rules should be allowed to impact what happens to them. “I don’t care what they do in other leagues, this is the MLS house, and when you’re in the MLS house you follow the MLS rules!”

Uhhh….”Psst, MLS…….Fussball Club currently lives in the USL house down the street.”

Now, I personally could care less if Cincy sign Johnson at this point.  It’s fully within the rules of USL, so if they have the funds and can negotiate a deal, then more power to them.  He wouldn’t even be the biggest name in the league considering Phoenix still have Drogba.

Where this irks me is the MLS and USL’s double standards on how the leagues can impact each other.  Earlier this summer, Fussball Club used a similar tactic to leverage MLS “funny money” that they’ll receive NEXT season to sign big name players for THIS season in the USL.  It was a clear case of using the rules of one league (MLS) to directly impact the competition in another (USL).  At the time, MLS lauded the signings as a great move for Cincy, while the USL was initially…. silent.  It took a few days for the USL to put out a press release on the signings of two high profile players to its highest profile team.  Why would that be?

From a fans perspective, it was clear that USL simply wasn’t prepared for their rules to be circumvented like that, and needed to figure out how to respond.  Eventually, they decided to play ball because, what were they going to do, tell MLS and Cincy “no”?  The cool kids had taken their lunch, and while initially mad about it, USL decided that they simply didn’t care in the end.

Well, now the tables have turned.  Cincy has somehow managed to steal the MLS’s lunch while leveraging the USL, and MLS demanded that they give it back.

I don’t think anyone should be stealing anyone else’s lunch, but it’s clear to me that MLS wants to “have their cake and eat it to”.  For a league, that clearly doesn’t care if their rules impact the USL, to demand that no other league impact them is a joke.

Honestly USL, I wish you would have pushed back to allow Johnson to be signed.  If you want to be taken seriously as a league you can’t let other leagues push you around when they clearly only care about themselves.  You’re sending a message to all of your teams, supporters, and fans that regardless of all of the advancements in marketing, coverage, and play on the field, you still consider yourself to be a second-class league.  A signing of Johnson’s caliber would have brought you even more recognition to add to some of the other feathers you’ve put in your cap.

At some point, you need to realize that you’re not the dorky kid anymore.  While there will always be the likes of MLS and “Fussball”-like clubs trying to push you around, you’ve got a lot to be proud of and are developing a lot of friends that are willing to stand behind you.

So the next time they come asking for your lunch, tell them to get lost.



Mike Sparks

In addition to watching, coaching, and occasionally playing soccer, Mike also enjoys talking all things soccer over at the Mon Goals podcast. Go give the show a listen and let him know what you think