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.

PL Preview: Brighton vs. Stoke City

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  • Stoke leads all-time 16W-14D-9L
  • First league meeting since 2006
  • Potters have won last 8 in series

Brighton and Hove Albion meets Stoke City for the first time in Premier League history when the two battle at the Amex Stadium on Monday (Watch live at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Brighton is unbeaten in its last four PL matches, with a pair of away wins and two draws at home.

They’ve been led at the back end by Shane Duffy and in attack by Pascal Gross, but it’s been a well-traveled Premier League veteran filling the goals. Glenn Murray has historic motivation to keep scoring, knowing that a marker versus Stoke would make him the first Brighton player to ever score a goal in four successive top flight matches.

Stoke followed up its win over Watford with a draw against Leicester City. The Potters have two goals and four assists from Swiss attacker Xherdan Shaqiri, and three and one from Senegalese scorer Mame Biram Diouf.

What they’re saying

Brighton’s Chris Hughton on bagging wins“For a club like us to get back-to-back wins would show the level we are playing at. It’s tough. I remember being told by somebody with one of the promoted teams that they didn’t get their first away win until February-March. That can happen and it’s exactly the same for a team getting promoted to get back-to-wins. They are hard to come by. Any way we are able to do that would certainly be a major boost for us.”

Stoke manager Mark Hughes on Xherdan ShaqiriHe is taking on more the role of the main instigator of our attacking threat. When he gets the ball, I think the whole team responds to that. You sense that maybe something’s going to happen. And I think the crowd sends it as well. And I know opposition team sense it too.”

Prediction

Few matches are more of a toss-up than this one, and there’s no recent match-ups on which to rest our heads. So we’ll side with the home team managing a point, and maybe a pair of old-timer goals from Murray and Peter Crouch, in a 1-1 draw.

Italy soccer chief resigns after failure to reach World Cup

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ROME (AP) Italian football federation president Carlo Tavecchio has resigned a week after the Azzurri failed to qualify for the World Cup.

Monday’s announcement came following calls for a complete overhaul of the nation’s most popular sport, from the amateur leagues right up to Serie A and the national teams.

[ MORE: What’s next for West Brom? ]

Sweden’s playoff win over Italy kept the four-time champion out of the World Cup for the first time in six decades.

Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura was fired two days after the loss.

For the last week, Tavecchio has resisted calls to step down but he eventually lost the support of the federation’s board of directors.

Former federation chief Giancarlo Abete said as he left the board meeting where Tavecchio resigned that a new election would be held within 90 days.

Managerial change a slippery slope for West Brom

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Tony Pulis brought much needed stability to West Bromwich Albion before his tenure soured in a hurry.

When Pulis took over at the Hawthorns, West Brom had seen both Pepe Mel and Alan Irvine do little winning in abbreviated managerial stints. Mel won three of 17 matches in charge, while Irvine could only nab five in 22.

[ MORE: Pulis sacked ]

So there is little debating, even for those who West Brom fans who revel in the club’s former free-flowing ways, that Pulis had a productive time in charge from January 2015 right on through most of last season.

But Pulis was seemingly limited to setting a points total and then kicking his heels up once Premier League safety was reached.

While that sounds a bit laughable, the facts are that the Baggies finished 10th last season despite an impressive start that saw the club comfortably eighth for much of the season. However, West Brom won five points from its final 12 matches to finish 16 points behind a European place (including five shutout losses at home).

The Baggies finished 14th the previous season, Pulis’ first full year in charge, but collapsed again after hitting the rarefied air of 11th. That final stretch? Five losses and four draws including shutout losses at home to Norwich City, Watford, and West Ham.

In doing so, Pulis belied his own budgetary critiques by proving the Baggies had the talent to compete for something relatively special.

Pulis was good at getting his side to play with the fury of a relegation contender from Day One, but it was so clear the side was sated once safety was secure. It wouldn’t be callous to opine that the manager would’ve viewed the Europa League as a nuisance to his “never been relegated” reputation (an idea buttressed by West Brom’s performances in Cup competitions, where Pulis never advanced to a quarterfinal while losing to Reading, Norwich City, Derby County, Northampton Town, and, this season, Man City).

What West Brom does next will say a lot. If it’s as simple as a rehashing of the “never been relegated” deck with Sam Allardyce, well, that’s something. But the Baggies are in the tricky predicament of having to replace a relatively stable hand who was their first good hire in three tries, while also running with the knowledge that their players clearly are capable of so much better than 17th.

The names on the bettor’s lists show what’s expected of West Brom: gritty style from an island manager. Derek McInnes is the favorite, with Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill just ahead of Sam Allardyce. Alan Pardew is next, followed by Ronald Koeman (For what it’s worth, bookies are still milking money from gamblers by including Jurgen Klinsmann’s name at 20:1 or so).

West Brom is in its eighth-straight Premier League campaign. The firing will jostle an already rocking ship, but the Baggies have steady leadership in Jonny Evans, Ben Foster, Chris Brunt, Gareth Barry, Gareth McAuley, and Craig Dawson. They have the wherewithal to achieve safety again, and can even look good in the process should a manager find the right way to use Salomon Rondon, Matty Phillips, Jay Rodriguez, Nacer Chadli, and others.

Who’s the right man for the job?

West Brom fires manager Tony Pulis

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Tony Pulis‘ reign over the Hawthorns is over, as West Bromwich Albion has fired the 59-year-old after just under three years in charge of the Premier League outfit.

Assistant coach Gary Megson takes over on an interim basis.

[ MLS: Steve Bruce to Miami? ]

The Baggies have not won a game since August, and were belted 4-0 at home by Chelsea on Saturday to leave the club one point above the drop zone.

Overall, Pulis oversaw wins in just 36 of his 121 matches, losing 49, in what will go down as one of the least successful stints in his well-traveled career. Only three PL clubs have scored less than the Baggies’ nine goals.

Here’s the club statement:

“These decisions are never taken lightly but always in the interests of the Club.

“We are in a results business and over the back end of last season and this season to date, ours have been very disappointing.

“We would like to place on record our appreciation of Tony’s contribution and hard work during a period of transition for the Club which included a change of ownership. We wish him well in his future endeavours.”

Pulis will almost certainly be back on the touch line soon, as he hasn’t spent more than a few months out of work since 2002.