Andre Blake may have been the first pick in last Thursday’s Major League Soccer SuperDraft, but within 24 hours of the draft, it was another Andre that had become the draft’s most important player. Now, five days after the Vancouver Whitecaps selected Andre Lewis with the seventh overall pick, the 19-year-old Jamaican remains at the center of a first of its kind controversy, one that’s seen the New York Cosmos exploit a hole MLS’s draft system.
Late last week, news broke that the Cosmos had come to an agreement with Lewis, leaving Vancouver susceptible to being without their first round pick should the 19-year-old join the second-tier club. That speculation was quickly mitigated when the U-20 international tweeted about his excitement at joining the Whitecaps, implicitly confirming Vancouver’s claims that the midfielder was in fact part of the Whitecaps organization.
The truth is more complicated. According to Tuesday’s reports, Lewis will be allowed to join the Whitecaps even though he is under contract to the Cosmos. Though the Whitecaps picked Lewis with the assumption he was signed up, now Carl Robinson’s staff must assess whether he’s worth the extra expense. Should Vancouver decide to add him to their roster by March 1, an agreement between Major League Soccer and the Cosmos would have to be reached, essentially casing Lewis a Cosmos player who needs to be loaned or sold to MLS.
It’s quite a coup for the Cosmos, who stand to make some money from what’s either a loophole or a failure to get Lewis signed in time, depending on how you look at the draft. With the exception of the Generation adidas class, players aren’t necessarily under contract as the draft process starts, leaving the door open for this kind of exploitation. In Lewis’s case, he attended MLS’s pre-draft combine, impressed, then returned to Jamaica. Sometime before last Thursday’s draft, he signed with the Cosmos.
It’s hard to see Major League Soccer allowing that gap to persist, but in the short-term, it’s a source of some mild embarrassment. The league is being forced to do business with a Cosmos organization it quietly loathes, one that’s engaging in some high-level trolling, picking at the margins of the league to collect any cash they might. Just as NASL investors Traffic USA picked off Tony Taylor and Gale Agbossoumonde five years ago, New York’s snared Lewis now. Though Cosmos Chief Operating Office Erik Stover has claimed the reborn team intends to compete with MLS at the highest levels, the league’s clearly not above engaging in some nickel-and-dime warfare as well.
That warfare has given the Cosmos a chance at an isolated but potentially important victory. If they intend to announcement themselves as competitors for MLS’s inbound talent, there’s no better way to do so than to fire this shot across the draft’s bow. Particularly if the Cosmos can form relationships that give their players a better chance of furthering their career, potentially jumping to Europe sooner and with less hinderance, they can become major challengers for a small but important group of talents.
That might be the next step. For now, it’s a matter of making this Lewis gambit pay off. In forcing MLS into this interim agreement, they’ve already made progress. Now if they can get the league to shell out some money to get Lewis ‘back,’ the Cosmos can celebrate a small battle won.