The Dempsey Route: Allocation in focus, but another “rule change” a bigger issue for MLS

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People keep hitting their heads against the wall regarding Major League Soccer’s allocation order, insisting new  Sounder Clint Dempsey should have entered the league through that process, but as Seattle General Manager Adrian Hanauer reminded everybody at today’s press conference, there are a number of ways players can come into the league. You can be a Designated Player, allocated, discovered, drafted, homegrown, etc., but you can only enter through one avenue. That explanation is unlikely to win over those of a conspiratorial bent, but nothing ever does.

The funny part is: There is reason to be skeptical about how Dempsey landed in Seattle, and it has nothing to do with allocation or the applicability of the Claudio Reyna precedent. As SI.com reported this morning, Major League Soccer paid Dempsey’s transfer fee. All $9 million of it (though an MLS source disputed that characterization). Since when does the league do that?

In the abstract, it’s not a terrible idea. The league is a collective entity, after all, and if they decide there’s a certain class of player they want to, on a league level, facilitate bringing to Major League Soccer, that could help MLS meet its goals. You’d need mechanisms in place to make sure there’s a certain amount of equitableness to the process, but when a Dempsey-like player says he wants to come, it doesn’t seem like a bad thing to make that happen.

[MORE: How Dempsey’s deal came together.]

The problems come when you consider where. And why. And for how much. And at what cost to competitive balance. Do players just get to pick their team? Hanauer did mention the reality that top caliber players are going to want say in where they go, so perhaps that’s a formality. But what happens if the league office balks at a price a team thinks is reasonable? And if a player’s willing to go to a number of places, how does MLS decide which club to steer him toward? And what happens when other teams start speaking out, implicitly saying they disagree with taking money out of the coffers for a particular player?

Perhaps you could trust the league office to try to make those decisions from an objective, unbiased perspective — to decide when a best of game decision is worth making — but then you remember what happened with Mix Diskerud this winter, where reportedly there was a difference of opinion between the league office and the Portland Timbers about Diskerud as a Designated Player. The disagreement implicitly forced the Timbers to choose between the young U.S. international and Diego Valeri, Portland owner Merritt Paulson eventually said. The league’s objective, unbiased view differed with a club’s.

Two paragraphs ago, this sounded good in theory – a mechanism that could land more Dempsey-level players in North American shores. Practically, it’s a mess. That’s not to say a series of clear, objective guidelines couldn’t be laid out, criteria which would give general managers some idea of how the mechanism’s used. But as it was applied to the Dempsey situation, MLS’s decision to pay for a player is problematic.

[MORE: Dempsey introduced, but picture still cloudy around acquisition.]

That said, there’s only so much we can draw from this example. Dempsey’s circumstances are distinct. At most, you can have one U.S. Men’s National Team captain at a time, let alone somebody still in his prime, extremely popular, who is the country’s most accomplished player at club-level, can still command a mid-to-high seven-digit fee, and wants to come back. Throw out the captain detail, and you could see a Michael Bradley or Jozy Altidore qualifying for this Dempsey Route, but all you’d still need all the stars to align.

That doesn’t mean this Dempsey situation isn’t a problem. More than a few prominent people around Major League Soccer are unhappy with how this went down. Either Seattle can afford Dempsey on their own or they can’t, the thinking goes. While everybody agrees getting Dempsey back is great for the league, there are a lot of things that would be great that clubs just can’t afford. How did Dempsey-to-Seattle reach the point where this new precedent needed to be established? And if another team impact player identifies an MLS team he wants to join, will that club get the same consideration?

Of course not. That’s why the Dempsey deal will leave a bad taste in a lot of mouths. And that’s why, when the years go by and this Dempsey Route doesn’t get utilized again, teams won’t feel any better. That will only feed the perception that Seattle’s received some rare, unfair benefit.

It is important to maintain perspective here, though. Dempsey is a great player, but he’s just one guy. There are teams still capable of beating the Sounders. Seattle’s no lock to even make the playoffs. They’ve gained a competitive advantage here, but not an overwhelming one.

The bigger issue is the mechanism. It’s the decision-making process. It’s Major League Soccer reaching into the bank and buying something that’s going to disproportionately benefit one team. Focusing on allocation being bypassed (no true) or some other conflict in MLS’s rules misses the point, after today’s report. The issue is the Dempsey Route – something that can only improve one team at a time, and only when MLS decides to do it.

Yes, the whole league is better off today than it was on Friday, but it’s not unreasonable to ask why Seattle is getting something special; something they didn’t fully pay for.

Wenger: Sanchez, Giroud will both be with Arsenal next year

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Arsene Wenger thinks Alexis Sanchez will sign a new deal at Arsenal this summer, whether the manager changes or not.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s visit from Leicester City, Wenger did not offer any clues as to his future with the club. He also said it does not hinge on how the Gunners finish the current campaign, and that he is working on transfers for the benefit of Arsenal regardless of his future.

[ MORE: Will Real open door for Barca? ]

That’s no surprise, given his reputation and fidelity to the club. What may surprise some is Wenger’s confidence that Sanchez will stay at the Emirates Stadium.

From Sky Sports:

“I personally think he will stay and sign. First of all he is happy here, his desire is to stay, that is what I deeply believe.

“I don’t think you would sell him to any Premier League club, that is for sure. The question is why would you sell him to another club? You want to be as strong as you can be and not strengthen the other teams.”

Wenger said both sides want to work out a deal and that the hold-up resides in agent-related matters. He also said Arsenal does not have interest in selling Olivier Giroud, who backed Wenger just over a month ago.

Title fight in Spain: Will Real slip up again?

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Barcelona’s dramatic 3-2 win over Real Madrid has set La Liga’s title race on its ear, with both clubs level on points with 75.

Real still controls its own destiny in a bid for its first league title since 2011-12, but a single loss puts Barcelona in pole position for its fourth title in five seasons.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

The tiebreaker is head-to-head, which Lionel Messi lifted from Real with his thrilling stoppage time thriller on Sunday at the Bernabeu.

Here are the run-ins for both sides, with Real facing a more congested schedule thanks to its status as a UEFA Champions League semifinalist.

Real Madrid

Only two of Real’s remaining five La Liga matches are at home, a boon for Barcelona considering Real boasts a strong home mark. The loss to Barca was Real’s first at the Bernabeu this season, and the Merengues only drew three matches at home (Villarreal, Eibar, Atletico Madrid).

Those home matches, however, are against teams that beat Real in the sides’ other league meetings this year, Sevilla and Valencia.

Wednesday – at Deportivo de la Coruna (16th)
Saturday – vs. Valencia (12th)
May 2 – vs. Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 6 – at Granada (19th)
May 10 – at Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 14 – vs. Sevilla (4th)
May 21 – at Malaga (14th)

Barcelona

Barca is home for three of its remaining five matches. The Blaugranas drew Villarreal and blew out Osasuna and Eibar ahead of the return visits.

As for the road matches, Barca has the Derbi barceloni with Espanyol, having taken the Camp Nou meeting 4-1, as well as a trip to Las Palmas (5-0 at home).

Wednesday – vs. Osasuna (20th)
Saturday – at Espanyol (9th)
May 6 – vs. Villarreal (5th)
May 14 – at Las Palmas (13th)
May 21 – vs. Eibar (8th)
May 27 – vs. Alaves (Copa del Rey Final)

The verdict

Any whiplash Real faces from schedule congestion should be offset by Barcelona’s much tougher schedule. Real could lose again, perhaps versus Sevilla, but Barca will likely finish second thanks to dropped points against Espanyol, Eibar, or Villarreal.

Premier League Weds. preview: Desperation on display

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Two London powers face a race to stay alive for their lofty season goals, while two Northeast sides see their last chances to claim hope for another year in the Premier League.

[ STREAM: All PL games here ]

That’s what’s on the docket for Wednesday’s PL matches, one day after Chelsea buried Southampton 4-2 t0 move seven points clear of Spurs in the race for the league’s 2016-17 crown.

Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN

No team has looked better than Spurs lately, though Palace won’t be bowed by a big name or good form. Sam Allardyce‘s Eagles boast wins at Liverpool and Chelsea, as well as a home defeat of Arsenal. Those have all come in 2017, as Palace has leapt to within striking distance of the top half.

Spurs need to win at Selhurst Park to keep pace with Chelsea and sit four points back of the No. 1 spot with five matches to play. Lose, concede, and feel like last April all over again. It was a year from Tuesday that Spurs coughed up a home lead to Leicester and saw any hopes of catching Leicester fade into the sunset.

Middlesbrough vs. Sunderland — 2:45 p.m. ET

This Tees-Wear Derby oozes desperation, with Sunderland knowing it needs to win its matches-in-hand on Hull City and Swansea to have any hope of staying up, and Middlesbrough nearly as desperate.

Boro’s 24 points is three more than Sunderland, who has played one less game. Hull sits 17th with 33 points while Swansea holds 31.

Middlesbrough hasn’t won in the Premier League since Dec. 17, a run of 16 matches. Their only wins of the year are over lower league opposition, a trio of victories against Sheffield Wednesday, Accrington Stanley, and Oxford United.

Sunderland has just one league win since that same date in December, and that came at Crystal Palace. The Black Cats have lost six of eight, and look destined to join Boro in the second tier as Northeast neighbors Newcastle comes up.

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images )

Arsenal vs. Leicester City — 2:45 p.m. ET

Did Sunday’s FA Cup semifinal win over Manchester City snap Arsenal out of its funk, or was it just a matter of Alexis Sanchez’s class squeezing a bit of excellence out of the tube?

Arsene Wenger will hope for the latter, because Arsenal’s Top Four hopes hinge on winning its matches-in-hand on Liverpool and getting significant help from Man City and Manchester United. Their opposition will also be rested, having rested since bowing out of the UEFA Champions League on April 18.

Leicester’s five match winning streak, part of Craig Shakespeare’s new manager bounce, has died down a bit. The Foxes lost at Everton and drew at Palace, and get a third tricky road test in a row at the Emirates Stadium.

Pochettino calls out Xavi for Dele Alli-Man City “lie to lie to lie”

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“He tried to destroy our focus to win because he hates me because he’s Barcelona.”

Even half-kidding, the Derby Barceloni is alive and well for longtime Espanyol man Mauricio Pochettino and Barcelona legend Xavi.

At least that’s why the latter is trying to sabotage the former’s Premier League title fight, Pochettino says.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

Speaking from his club team in Qatar, Xavi claimed that Manchester City is going to bid high for Spurs’ young star Dele Alli.

Tottenham boss Pochettino says that’s just not true. Pochettino was joking a bit when he answered questions on the topic, but then told a story about Xavi diving for a penalty in the derby. Here are a few of his thoughts, from The Telegraph:

“It wasn’t a penalty but Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored for Barcelona and they won the game. After in the replay it was very funny because it was clear no one touched him. Come on! It goes from lie to lie to lie.”

“He is working for Manchester City, maybe? He wants to help Guardiola and [Vincent] Kompany.”