Free Robbie Rogers! Why MLS roster policies discourage returning U.S. internationals from signing up

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Assuming Robbie Rogers can get his soccer performance sorted out, how great would it be to have this guy back in MLS? Not just for reasons of establishing greater inclusiveness, but because the league needs all the quality it can get, and American-born quality is a ginormous bonus.

How about Herculez Gomez? He’s a proven goal scorer and a U.S. national team leader. Every MLS club could use more of that.

There are about a dozen well-known former MLS men in Europe or Mexico who might, now or later, favor a second go-round in U.S. Soccer’s top tier league. But a big obstacle stands in the way, and that’s a shame.

Yesterday’s news of Rogers potential return to soccer might – and really should – shine a new light on some restrictive MLS player policies, especially as they pertain to U.S. internationals.

Rogers is training with the Los Angeles Galaxy. Good on him. He’s presumably got plenty of good soccer in him, and the league needs as many high-quality Americans as possible. Throw in the broader message of MLS embracing cultural diversity and this is a “win, win, win.”

But there’s a problem: Chicago holds Rogers’ rights. And Fire manager Frank Klopas has reiterated his desire to make the former U.S. international be part of his roster; Goal.com’s Kyle McCarthy writes extensively on that one here. That makes Rogers hostage to the Fire and the league’s player acquisition quirks.

In this case, Rogers is not subject to Major League Soccer’s allocation rules – but the effect is the same.

Returning U.S. internationals have a tougher time getting back into MLS due to the league’s roster rules.  Herculez Gomez is going through something just like this: He is making noise about returning to MLS, and says it might be sooner rather than later. But Sporting Kansas City still holds his right.

Want Gomez? Call Peter Vermes and start the wheeling and dealing.

But Gomez and Rogers may have more control over their MLS destination than guys like Brad Friedel or Carlos Boganegra, whose MLS rights are currently not held. A potential MLS return means moving through the allocation system. So they have no idea where they might land; depends on who is up on Major League Soccer’s allocation ranking.

The allocation rules are there for a reason: they help distribute the top talent, theoretically ensuring that every man worthy of the U.S. national team pool doesn’t decide to play for New York, Los Angeles, Seattle or one of the next clubs along the list of desirables.

But the law of unintended consequences kicks in, and the net-out here is that a Tim Howard (some day), a Bocanegra, a Gomez or even a Rogers has a harder time convincing himself to get back into the league.

Given the lack of choices and greater control, they may just “punt,” which means signing up for another overseas hitch (or another contract in Mexico.)

And then Major League Soccer loses.