FC Cincinnati made a bold, controversial move this week.
FC Cincinnati (FCC) made a historical acquisition yesterday for Portland Timbers Designated Player (DP), Fenendo Adi. But, this isn’t historical for Major League Soccer. Rather, it’s historical for USL. According to the presser released by FCC, Coach Alan Koch stated that he’s “excited to get him involved with the squad immediately”. That’s right, the 27 year old, 6’4” forward with UEFA Champions League experience will be competing with a USL side for nearly half a season, and likely the playoffs.
— FC Cincinnati (@fccincinnati) July 30, 2018
The Cost of Acquisition
Despite playing in the USL this season, it is the future MLS iteration of FCC that paid for Adi. They paid $450,000 in future MLS General Allocation Money and $400,000 in future MLS Targeted Allocation Money, with more cash considerations for other performance measures or transfers. They also presumably match the near $2M salary Adi draws every year. While none of this is final, it is also presumed that Adi will be loaned down to the USL side by the MLS side for the remainder of the 2018 season.
Here’s the Rub
Some people hate that a player of this caliber is being loaned down to a USL side in this strange circumstance. I am not one of those people. This is a rare occurrence and I welcome freak show fun associated with it. Furthermore, I think it’s incredibly smart and long sighted for FCC to bring the inevitable Designated Player into the squad well before their upcoming capitalistic promotion occurs. But, here’s the rub. FCC’s use of allocation monies, rather than cold, hard cash, gives them an unfair advantage over every other team in the USL. This article explains how. Even if an independent USL team wanted Adi, they would naturally offer cash. Just using that cash for random players counts against the Timber’s salary cap. Allocation money, however, does not. So, the value of this allocation money is far higher than its face value. Not only that, but FCC doesn’t actually pay any of this acquisition money until 2019. I liken this to FCC having a credit card that no one else in the USL has access to, has an unprecedented currency exchange rate, and is interest free for 5 months or more.
The League Stance
Alright, are you sitting down? None of this is illegal. FCC is well within their rights to do this. In fact, thanks to Nicholas Murray at USL headquarters, I have proof of precedence.
Lovely work of knowledge and/or research from Nicholas Murray:
The Adi deal isn’t unprecedented in terms of a team giving up MLS assets to acquire the rights to a player before officially joining MLS. Orlando did so with Yordany Alvarez in 2014, giving up a Fourth Round MLS SuperDraft pick in 2017 to Real Salt Lake for his rights while also acquiring him on loan for the season prior to its arrival in the league.
At the time, Alvarez was a known commodity to Orlando, having been USL Most Valuable Player in the 2011 season for the club before he signed with RSL after the season ended. Orlando also signed players to MLS contracts while it was still in the USL. Its first official signing was Kevin Molino, who went on to become USL Most Valuable Player for the second time that season with a then-record 20 goals in the regular season and a league-leading nine assists. The club also picked up Darwin Ceren and signed Tommy Redding to a Homegrown deal, and both of those competed for the Lions in 2014.
Now, Mr. Murray is talking much different numbers in terms of amount spent and sheer talent–so much so that perhaps precedent holds slightly less clout in this circumstance.
I’d like to leave you with is this. All day I’ve been searching for a completely ethical (talking a much higher standard than legal) way for FCC to acquire Adi while staying within the rules of player acquisition and movement within Major League Soccer. I sincerely can’t find one. Part of that could be that I don’t have a firm grasp on the ins and outs of player acquisition rules within MLS. But, part of that could be that MLS hasn’t laid out an ethical path for this particular situation–be it because they didn’t think of it or merely don’t care. I do think the USL could lay out some rules to avoid this in the future (looking at you Nashville), but at the risk of ruining the free market stance that keeps our league all the more pure–which is something I really don’t care to see the USL start dipping into.
Luckily, all the USL owners gather in Atlanta a week from now for mid-season meetings. I imagine this topic will come up. I think we, as fans, have the ability to affect how much the owners care about avoiding this in the future. Find a way to make your feelings known to your clubs. I would LOVE to see a tifo or five.