MLS gets cloudier, not more transparent, with Clint Dempsey’s Seattle Sounders deal

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SEATTLE — Question marks surrounding United States captain Clint Dempsey signing with Seattle Sounders FC persisted on Monday. Major League Soccer owners appear happy to have fans and media in the dark about much of their process.

“I think we’re in our adolescence as a league,” Sounders general manager and part owner Adrian Hanauer said during Dempsey’s introductory press conference at CenturyLink Field on Monday. “I sit on the product strategy committee (and) the competition committee, and we talk about transparency, and we want to continue to have more and more transparency in the league. I think that’s a good thing for fans. It is something that we’re working towards.”

After the press conference, he continued the train of thought by reiterating MLS’s goals within its single-entity structure.

“The objective is that we have a partnership of owners, and our goal is to improve the league and the profile of Major League Soccer in this country and globally, or our profile vis-à-vis the rest of the world,” Hanauer said. “We’ve created a rule structure that we think best allows our league to grow in a rational way. You can ask me about a specific rule, but we have a decent level of transparency in some areas. In others, maybe we have less transparency, but we’re just trying to build the game and do what we need to do to run a healthy enterprise.”

During the conference, Hanauer offered some insight into how the Sounders were able to sign Dempsey without being subject to the allocation process, but he declined to comment further on why media and fans continue to be left clueless on many facets of the player acquisition process.

“We have different mechanisms by which players can come into the league,” he said. “You can’t come in through multiple mechanisms. You can’t come in as a Designated Player and an allocation player and a Discovery Player. So he came in as a Designated Player.”

Seattle’s biggest rival, the Portland Timbers, holds the top spot in the allocation order. If any United States national team player signs with the league, the team at the top of the order is supposed to have the right of first refusal to sign him.

(MORE: A brief look at MLS roster rules with regard to Clint Dempsey signing)

On Saturday, after Dempsey’s deal became official, MLS executive vice president of player relations and competition Todd Durbin released a statement saying Dempsey was not subject to allocation because of his Designated Player status.

“For new players signed by an MLS club as a Designated Player, the allocation process does not apply,” Durbin said. “Examples of this include previous high-profile player signings like David Beckham, Thierry Henry, Robbie Keane and U.S. national team player Claudio Reyna when he signed with New York.”

Reyna signed with the Red Bulls in 2007, in the first year of the Designated Player rule. The rule allows each MLS franchise to sign up to three players for more than the league maximum salary of $368,750 for a player over age 23.

Designated Players only count for the maximum amount toward determining a team’s salary cap situation. If a U.S. national team player signs as a Designated Player, then he is not subject to allocation because of the special nature of the deal.

Common wisdom surrounding player acquisitions in MLS suggests that if a deal would raise the profile of the league, especially on a global stage, then team owners are usually willing to make concessions to the player involved.

“Let’s be realistic: A player of Clint’s quality and pedigree has a say in where he ends up,” Hanauer said. “That’s just the reality of certain players that end up in our league.”

Hanauer said Monday that Seattle has courted Dempsey for at least the last two years. It’s unlikely that any other team was willing to shell out Dempsey’s reported $8 million annual guaranteed salary.

(MORE: Report: How Dempsey’s move came together, new details on Deuce’s Seattle deal)

Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl reported that MLS, not the Sounders, paid Tottenham Hotspur the $9-million transfer fee — but Hanauer declined to confirm both the number and who paid it, except to say that “the league generally won’t pick up transfer fees.”

The key word in that sentence: “generally.”

Even that brief sentence seems to indicate that the set of guidelines team officials use flex much further than the MLS Roster Rules and Regulations published to the world. Never has MLS’s single-entity structure seemed as insular as this week.

USMNT eyeing the table as it kicks off training camp

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COMMERCE CITY, Colo. (AP) Goalkeeper Tim Howard‘s uniform was filled with grass stains after the first day of training camp.

And this was considered a light workout.

“Just getting everybody back together, getting a sweat,” Howard said Monday after the U.S. squad went through a roughly 60-minute workout. “Day by day, we’re just trying to add on to the pile, put some concepts in and get some understanding between players.”

What awaits the squad in resumption of the final round of World Cup qualifying is certainly a gantlet. They have a game against Trinidad and Tobago on June 8 in Commerce City and then at Mexico three days later.

[ MORE: Wenger would pay Sanchez, Ozil ]

There’s little margin for error, with the U.S. currently in fourth place in the six-team standings. They have three home and three away matches remaining. The top three teams qualify, with the fourth-place squad going to a playoff against Asia’s No. 5 nation.

“We need to keep climbing that table. We feel like this is a good opportunity to do it,” said Howard, now with the Colorado Rapids and who will feel right at home with the Trinidad game on his turf at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. “One game, that’s as far as you can look. You can’t look to next week or the week after or two months from now.”

For now, Howard will be coach Bruce Arena’s goalkeeper over Brad Guzan, Ethan Horvath and Nick Rimando, who all were invited to camp. But it’s an ongoing evaluation.

“We have good goalkeepers here. That’s the least of my worries, to be honest,” Arena said.

Given the short amount of time between games, Arena fully plans on using more players than usual. One particular competition to watch will be at right back between Timmy Chandler and DeAndre Yedlin.

“I have a close eye on everything,” Arena said. “We have a bunch of good players here. … We’re watching everybody and thinking about how we can best utilize everyone.”

[ MORE: Kroenke, Wenger meet; Decision looms ]

The roster features a solid blend of youth and experience. Leading the youngsters is Christian Pulisic, the 18-year-old Borussia Dortmund midfielder who last weekend became the youngest American to win a club medal in Europe.

On the veteran side are players such as Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, DaMarcus Beasley, Michael Bradley and Howard, all of whom have more than 30 World Cup qualifying appearances.

“We’re past the experimentation phase. These are all guys who the manager believes in whole-heartedly,” Howard said. “They’re not here for anything other than to play minutes, play important minutes.”

Arena couldn’t agree more.

“This is a nice group we have here. Hopefully, we can find the right balance in the team, putting them in the right position to complement them both individually and collectively,” Arena said. “If we can accomplish that, there’s no reason to believe we can’t be successful in these two games.”

Joining the camp in Colorado are a few players who weren’t with the squad in March. Guzan, Chandler, Fabian Johnson, Bobby Wood and Yedlin are all on the field. Guzan didn’t participate because his wife was expecting their second child, while the others were dealing with injuries, illnesses and yellow-card suspension.

Now, it’s a matter of getting their timing down – and accustomed to the altitude.

“There’s no reason to make it an excuse,” midfielder Paul Arriola said. “Just doing the best we can to acclimate to it.”

Arena’s squad will get things rolling in a friendly against Venezuela in Sandy, Utah, on Saturday.

“That’s a good game for us,” Arena said. “It gives us a little bit of exercise at lower altitude, which isn’t perfect for what we need to do to get ready here and Mexico City, but it’s a start. Think it will be good to give a chance to 16 players and build from there – get us ready for Trinidad and Mexico.”

Stam after Reading playoff final loss: “Tough to take”

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Jaap Stam has won silverware in three different leagues for five different teams, and has a Champions League title from his time at Manchester United.

He’s used to winning, and that includes his first stop as a full-time manager. And that makes Reading’s loss in Monday’s playoff final sting a bit more.

[ MORE: Wenger would pay Sanchez, Ozil ]

Reading lost in penalty kicks and it’s not like the Royals were thoroughly outclassed by Huddersfield Town. But it still burns. From Sky Sports:

“You don’t want to play football to be in the grey areas, you want to get the max out of your career, win trophies and play at the highest level.

“It’s tough to take, but it has to be difficult. It’s not good to lose a game like this, you need to feel it and experience it and then take that forward if you get into the same moment again. The good players do that.”

Reading loses a trio of loan players — Lewis Grabban, Reece Oxford, and Jordon Mutch — as well as American midfielder Danny Williams. It won’t be easy for Reading to get back into the playoffs without an injection of money, but Stam’s first rodeo as a manager was a good ride that came up just short.

Wenger, Kroenke meet; Board to learn decision Tues.

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Wenger watch is entering its final hours.

The BBC is reporting that Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke met with longtime manager Arsene Wenger on Monday to discuss the Frenchman’s future, and that the decision was going to be made together.

[ MORE: Wenger would pay Sanchez, Ozil ]

It seems almost certain that Wenger is going to come back to the Emirates Stadium. From the BBC:

The outcome is unclear but the decision rests solely with Wenger and Kroenke and will be relayed to directors at a Tuesday board meeting.

Fresh terms were agreed in principle some months ago, but nothing is signed.

There have been questions about whether Wenger would accept a sporting director being placed above him, and if Kroenke believes the repercussions of keeping the boss would negatively impact the business.

Barcelona to keep goalkeeper Ter Stegen until 2022

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says it has reached a deal to extend the contract of goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen until June 2022.

The club said the new agreement, which has a buyout clause of 180 million euros ($201 million), will be signed on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Yaya to stay at Man City ]

Ter Stegen has been with the club since 2014, helping it win nine titles in three seasons.

The German goalkeeper has played 93 matches with Barcelona, conceding 90 goals in 71 wins, 10 draws and 12 losses.

Barcelona has already renewed the contracts of Javier Mascherano, Luis Suarez, Neymar, Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic. It is still working on new deals for Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi.