|Welcome home, Jozy. Brewski?|
The big news of the day – that is, Jozy Altidore’s return to Major League Soccer (MLS) – doesn’t feel so big as it once might have. That’s less a knock on Mr. Altidore* than a subtle acknowledgement that signings of “big” American players don’t ripple across the league as a whole the way they used to. And that’s a positive step, even as I’m certain that news likes this hits heavier closer to home (i.e. Toronto FC fans must be tickled; Red Bull New York fans less so).
It’s also worth noting that some number of MLS clubs passed on Altidore due to the high asking price. I heard a big number for Jozy’s salary (can’t recall where) – something like $6 million – but that’s unconfirmed thanks to league policies that bar the fourth estate from talking pesos. Whatever the dollar figure, I hardly begrudge Altidore for asking or taking it. Get paid, son. I do, however, feel a certain quiet respect for my Portland Timbers for passing on what seems to be a bloated salary. Goals are great and all, but who likes paying too much for anything?
Toronto, ever reliable when it comes to spending, bolted past such quibbles. They’ve mastered the trappings of ambition, at least; and yet they’ve taken strides to creating a roster-as-metaphor for U.S. wealth inequality. Fascinating...
* To pick up that asterisk above, Jozy’s probably a good bet to make the over proposed by Taylor Twellman: 12.5 goals in 2015 (thanks, Soccer by Ives’ podcas!). Altidore will be a good player in MLS, maybe even a little better than his service. So, welcome back and all that.
The other side of the transaction, i.e. the piece that sent the long-disgruntled Jermaine Defoe back to (the shittiest little-big club in) England, is no less interesting, in that it brings in a couple current themes. Defoe’s arrival last season, coming as it did in his earlier 30s, offered an encouraging counter to the typical “retirement league” trend/perception that still attaches to MLS. A little echo of the notorious Frank Lampard Situation can be heard in there, too: if one can still play in the top flight, why the flipping hell would one stop doing so? Lampard answered that question – or Manchester City did on his behalf – just as Defoe arguably did with this move. That says a couple things about MLS’s global rep, the implications of which...aren’t so good.
The mini-glut of returning Americans says something as well. It could be roughly the same thing that Mexicans players’ long-standing tradition has said for years and years and that’s...not terrible (e.g. our guys value comforts of home). There’s also the Cheers Effect (going where everyone knows your name).
Like just about anything between now and when the thing is signed, the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) comes into the picture. No, MLS can’t compete with Europe’s glamor leagues, neither in quality or the grandness of the stage. No matter, what MLS Commish Don Garber says, it won’t likely be able to for a decade. If we’re lucky. But what the league chooses to pay players – and this is total compensation (some details mentioned in this very good article) whether for designated players or the regular guys – will definitely influence the extent to which MLS start picking higher quality players from Europe, or even Mexico. I don’t see how more can’t be better for everyone except MLS owners, but even they could ultimately reap greater rewards. Investments, man...
It should be clear now that American players have some in-built motivation to return to the States to play. They’re people here, if nothing else, and able to command cash and respect. Drawing good, younger players from Europe (or Mexico) constitutes the next big step. And what happens with the CBA definitely matters there.