Philadelphia wants to pay Maurice Edu seven figures; MLS is not so sure

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A $1.2 million salary in U.S. sports makes you a middle class athlete, at best. In Major League Soccer, however, it’s a big deal. When the players union made its biannual release of wage data last September, only nine players were making seven figures. Major League Soccer millionaires are still relatively rare, especially compared to the other big four sports.

That’s the context for today’s report from ESPNFC, the outlet reporting that Major League Soccer is pushing back against Philadelphia’s desire to make Stoke City’s Maurice Edu the league’s next millionaire. According to Jeff Carlisle’s sources, the Union want to give Edu in the neighborhood of $1.2 and $1.4 million dollars per year, a number that would likely put him in the league’s top 12 earners at the start of the season.

Last September, the millionaire’s list was made up of Clint Dempsey, Thierry Henry, Robbie Keane, Tim Cahill, Landon Donovan, Marco Di Vaio, Obafemi Martins, Danny Koevermans, and Kenny Miller. Even when you take Koevermans out (not returning to Toronto) and add Michael Bradley, Jermain Defoe, and Omar Gonzalez to the list, MLS’s Millionaires Club is still rarefied air. Edu’s salary would slot in right above Miller’s who made around $1.1 million last season for Vancouver.

But why should MLS care? It’s probably best to let them explain (if the move ever happens), but if you’re a league that wants to keep bringing U.S. talent back to North American teams, overpaying early in the game could lead to a lot of lost money down the road. Not everybody can argue they deserve Bradley or Dempsey money, but Maurice Edu is a borderline national-teamer, a distinction that’s shared by a number of Jose Torres, Brek Shea, and Sacha Kljestan-esque talents. If the Edu contract means the price to bring those players home climbs into the millions, it may not be an example MLS wants to set.

There has to be a happy medium. MLS wants to present itself as a better option than most mid-tier destinations in Europe, but they can’t be so stingy that mid-table clubs in Greece, Turkey, Belgium or Holland can offer better deals. While a sub-million dollar contract is unlikely to convince a player to turn his back on his chances with bigger clubs, MLS doesn’t want players leaving North America for just any European opportunity. Unless you’re going to one of the top 20 or 25 clubs in Europe, MLS should be able to offer talented North American players a viable alternative, the thinking goes.

Unfortunately, the stalemate leaves a series of questions, all of which hint at the continuing evolution of MLS’s rules (“evolution” being a euphemism, for some). If MLS is unwilling to sanction a $1.2 million salary for Edu, what is the right number? Is MLS’s front office really the right entity to be making those decisions, and if so, could those decisions end up keeping some U.S. internationals away from the league?

source: AP
Clint Dempsey’s move back to MLS bypassed allocation. Maurice Edu’s will not. (Photo: AP.)

That all comes down league preference. Unfortunately, the million-plus figure being linked with Edu also points to a more definable league conflict. When Clint Dempsey came back to Major League Soccer, we were told some players go through allocation, others come straight to teams, and the Designated Player process was one of the mechanisms for making that distinction. Michael Bradley didn’t come back through allocation. He was a DP signed by Toronto.

Whether he makes $750,000, $1 million, or $1.2 million, Edu will likely be a Designated Player. So what is Philadelphia doing trading up in the allocation order? Shouldn’t they be able to sign Edu and bypass allocation by virtue of the Designated Player rule?

Apparently not. Some speculation says this comes down to the league’s role in facilitating the move (Dempsey’s transfer fee was covered by the league; it’s assumed Bradley’s was also subsidized). Perhaps Edu was merely tagged for allocation before Philadelphia started position themselves to acquire him. While there are explanations, there aren’t without inconsistencies – conflicts that only seem to be addressed after the moves are made.

When Clint Dempsey came back to Major League Soccer, I bought what we were told. Designated Player not going through allocation? Okay. I see why people are upset, but it’s plausible. Sure, it feeds the conspiracy theorists, but tinfoil gonna tinfoil, right?

Admittedly, in light of what we’re hearing about Edu, I feel a little naive. A player is going through allocation, even though he’s a Designated Player. Is it plausible? Sure, if we add the “did MLS help” standard, but the more post hoc justification we get, the more it seems that each scenario is judged by a complete different standard. Some outcomes just happen to look like others.

If that’s the case, I’ve got no problem with it. Welcome to life in an 18-year-old league. New situations arise, the league makes decisions, and life goes on. It’s less an issue of transparency than a league coming to grips with its new identity, one that’s trying to spur a period of rapid maturation.

We’ll have to wait and see what happens to Edu, but at this point — whether he comes back to MLS; whether he’s a Designated Player; whether he goes through allocation — it’s another opportunity for our 18-year-old league to mature.

Arsenal sends Gabriel Paulista to Valencia

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Arsenal has a thin defense, but that hasn’t stopped Arsene Wenger from thinning the squad even further.

Gabriel Paulista is headed back to the Spanish top flight after the completion of his transfer to Valencia. The Brazilian was sold for a reported $12.8 million, just below the $14 million price tag Arsenal coughed up to Villareal back in January, 2015. He will partner with Manchester City loanee Eliaquim Mangala at Valencia.

The 26-year-old made 64 appearances for the Gunners across all competitions, including 46 in the Premier League. His only goal for the club was Arsenal’s first of a 2-0 win over Bournemouth in December, 2015. His high-water mark with the club was a 120-minute performance against Manchester City in the FA Cup semifinals where Arsenal came back to win 2-1 on an Alexis Sanchez goal in extra time.

“We would like to thank Gabriel for his contribution to the club and to wish him well for his return to La Liga with Valencia,” Arsenal said in its confirmation of the deal.

Paulista was utilized more than expected last season thanks to an injury crisis at the back, and still the Arsenal squad doesn’t seem fat enough to offload defenders, but Gabriel’s over-aggressive nature and tackling inaccuracy led him to an early exit.

With Arsene Wenger now deploying a back-three, the only natural central defenders currently on the roster are Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker, Shkodran Mustafi, and Rob Holding. Koscielny is suspended from a red card at the end of last season, and Mertesacker is battling a head injury. Sead Kolasinac, Nacho Monreal, and Calum Chambers have played CB for the Gunners in the recent past, but it is not their natural position.

Fabian Johnson misses Gladbach training with injury

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With John Brooks already out long-term due to a thigh injury, the United States may have another key injury to work around.

According to Borussia Monchengladbach manager Dieter Hecking, full-back/winger Fabian Johnson missed training on Friday due to an unspecified injury, and is now a question mark for Gladbach’s home match on Sunday against FC Koln. It could be nothing, but even the scare is cause for concern among U.S. fans.

Johnson has battled a few injuries the past couple of seasons, including a hamstring problem last spring that kept him out for nearly two months, including a pair of World Cup qualifiers in March.

Johnson’s absence would leave a hole at right-back for the United States. The 29-year-old has been deployed some at right wing for the USMNT, but he has been relatively poor at that position in the national setup, looking better when pushed further back where he is given more defensive duties, roaming forward with less frequency but more intent.

In place of Johnson, another converted winger in Graham Zusi has been seeing more time at right-back, but he offers less in the attack and lacks Johnson’s recovery speed, meaning mistakes by the Sporting KC veteran are punished more often.

Falcao scores again to extend red hot start

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Monaco is hoping to ride out the final two weeks of the transfer window with 18-year-old wonderkid Kylian Mbappe still in tow.

While they wait, they aren’t missing a beat.

With Mbappe out of the squad, Radamel Falcao has begun the 2017/18 Ligue 1 season as Europe’s hottest goalscorer. He bagged a hat-trick last weekend with Mbappe on the bench to give him four goals in the first two league matches. Then, with Mbappe out of the squad entirely, Falcao netted the winner in a 1-0 road win over FC Metz.

Falcao has scored five goals so far this year, and his club has a +5 goal differential. In a way, Falcao has already been worth six points thus far.

Thanks in part to Ligue 1’s early start, Falcao’s five league goals are by far more than anyone else in the major European leagues. Four players have scored a pair of Premier League goals, nobody in La Liga or the Bundesliga have scored more than one, and the Serie A season has yet to start.

The Colombian did the same thing last season. After eventually coming off the shelf from to hamstring and concussion problems to start the season, Falcao scored 10 goals in 10 Ligue 1 matches leading up to the new calendar year.

At 31 years old, Falcao isn’t a long-term solution and the club will clearly look to retain Mbappe despite Falcao’s hot start, but should they lose the young Frenchman, the club will be in good hands while they search for a replacement over the next year.

Arena should give Ream a look in Brooks’ absence

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With John Brooks out three months thanks to a horribly timed thigh injury, the United States yet again has to scramble to fill a void at the back. It’s not the first time an injury to Brooks has left the USMNT scrambling for cover at a thin position.

In the successful Gold Cup this past summer, with a largely domestic squad in place, Omar Gonzalez saw the bulk of the time at central defender, with Matt Besler his partner through the final two matches. However, with European-based players now in contention for spots with the early September international break, those two are unlikely to continue, at least not together.

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The most obvious choice to start September 1st against Costa Rica and likely shoo-in should he remain healthy for the next two weeks is Geoff Cameron. The 32-year-old has been back and forth between defense and midfield with club and country, and although he has publicly acknowledged his preference for a spot higher up the pitch, he was used in a back-three in Stoke City’s Premier League opener last weekend and is steadiest at the back.

But with a spot next to Cameron up for grabs in Brooks’ absence, a player who should get serious consideration is United States fill-in extraordinaire Tim Ream.

Ream has had to work hard to earn his place with the U.S., and while he’s seen time of late, he’s not been a first-choice pick. The 29-year-old has four caps so far in 2017, with two of those starts, including one in the impressive 1-1 draw against Mexico at the Azteca with the US still clawing its way back up the Hex standings. Even then, Ream would likely not have earned that spot had Arena not chosen to rotate nearly the entire squad between the pair of qualifiers in that window. His other start this year, the 1-1 draw at Panama, only came after Cameron pulled out of the squad the day of the game with a late injury. The last time Ream started back-to-back matches for the U.S. came back in 2015 when he was somewhat of a regular through the second half of the calendar year.

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But now, with Brooks out, Ream looks like the perfect man to fill in again. The 29-year-old defender finished last season in top form as Fulham narrowly missed out on promotion, earning the official website’s Man of the Match award in a May 2nd draw with Brentford, and won it again in the club’s final match of the season.

Without missing a beat, Ream has picked up where he left off last campaign in the first few matches this month. Last weekend against Reading at the Madjeski Stadium, Ream’s center-back partner Tomas Kalas was sent off 36 seconds into the match, forcing Fulham to play a man down for 89 minutes. Ream and company solidified the back, conceding just once in the 61st minute en route to a 1-1 draw.

The club still likely requires reinforcements at the CB position – Ream was forced to partner with right-back Denis Odoi against Reading with Kalas suspended and Michael Madl injured – meaning Ream could see an influx of competition in the coming weeks. However, as it stands, the American is far and away the best (and most improved) central defender on a club favored for promotion.

Gonzalez performed well in the Gold Cup, and Matt Besler was serviceable, but with few other options in the heart of defense to take Brooks’ place, Bruce Arena could yet again look to Ream for an in-form replacement.