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.

Aston Villa grab vital point at Brighton

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Injury-hit Aston Villa grabbed a big point at Brighton and Hove Albion on Saturday.

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Leandro Trossard gave Brighton a first half lead but Jack Grealish popped up with a second half equalizer to share the points in a fiery encounter at the Amex.

With the draw both teams remained embroiled in a relegation battle as Brighton have 25 points and sit three points ahead of Villa who occupy 18th, the final relegation spot.


3 things we learned

1. Grealish delivers, again: Riddled by injuries, Villa needed their captain to stand tall. He did. Again. Even in recent heavy defeats Grealish has tried to drive Villa on and he has now scored in their tight win at Burnley and grabbed them a point at Brighton. Against relegation rivals, Grealish has delivered for Villa and at 24 years old he conrinues to mature.

2. Brighton let another lead slip: The Seagulls have won just won of their last eight league games and they keep letting leads slip in tight games. Graham Potter‘s side have plenty of the ball and dominate games but just can’t score the second goal to finish teams off. They have only scored more than one goal once in their last seven games and for all of their fine attacking play, Brighton are three points off the bottom because they can’t finish teams off.

3. Relegation battle coming up: Both teams showed why they will be in a relegation battle all season long. Brighton can’t score or finish teams off, while Villa are too reliant on Grealish and have no real attacking options as they rode their luck at Brighton. Potter and Dean Smith are two progressive, young, English coaches but they will be pushed to their limits to keep their teams up this season.

Man of the Match: Jack Grealish – Villa’s main man popped up with the goal which grabbed them a point and he was everywhere. Villa had no central striker once again as they wait to bring someone in during the January window with Wesley out for the season, and Grealish made so many runs forward during the game to try and take the pressure off his team.


Jack Grealish smashed an effort just wide as Villa looked dangerous on the counter without a recognized striker.

The Seagulls then came close to the taking the lead as Bernardo‘s cross found Aaron Mooy and his volley was cleared, eventually, as an almighty scramble ensued.

Aaron Connolly then knocked a low cross just wide as he seemed to be surprised that the ball found him in the six yard box.

Brighton took the lead as Neal Maupay ran towards goal and teed up Trossard who fired home across goal and into the far corner.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Mohamed Trezeguet was denied by Mat Ryan in a rare Villa attack as Brighton were dominating, with young American Indiana Vassilev coming on for his Premier League debut.

Moments later Grealish made it 1-1 as a poor mistake from Brighton saw Douglas Luiz play a long ball over the top and Villa’s skipper slammed home to send the away end wild.

Late on Villa debutant Pepe Reina made a wonderful stop to deny Maupay preserve a point as tempers flared towards and after the final whistle as both sets of players were involved in a huge melee.

Pukki leads 10-man Norwich City win over 10-man Bournemouth

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Both teams finished with 10 men but only one found a goal when Norwich City beat Bournemouth in a relegation six-pointer at Carrow Road on Saturday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Teemu Pukki scored from the spot to give the Canaries some hope and increase the Cherries’ despair.

Steve Cook was sent off for Bournemouth in the 31st minute, with Ben Godfrey leveling the field in the 76th.

Norwich now has 17 points, six back of the safe places, while 19th place Bournemouth stays level on 20.


Three things we learned

1. Pitch side monitor used to upgrade card: The Premier League told the refs to check the pitch side monitors on possible red card offenses, and it worked. Ben Godfrey cleverly disguised his ugly tackle by looking away from the contact, only earning a yellow card. The video monitors told the story, though, and Paul Tierney wasn’t shy to make the right call and turn the yellow into a red.

2. Bournemouth in the worst of ways: Eddie Howe‘s slumping Cherries played down a man for 45 minutes, and couldn’t make anything of the reprieve handed them by Godfrey’s awful tackle. There was proper desperation from the Cherries, but also never a feeling that Bournemouth would come back.

3. Steve Cook at full stretch is pretty impressive (and illegal): Referee Paul Tierney was almost laughing as he gave Cook a red card for his excellent “save” to push a ball off the post.

 

Man of the Match: Emiliano Buendia is Norwich City’s shining light. If the Canaries go down, he’s going to be the subject of a recruitment more like relegated stars Idrissa Gana Gueye and Andrew Robertson before him.


Pukki couldn’t get purchase on an earlier chance, but got the job done from the spot.

Cook handled a ball in the box and was shown red, with VAR holding up the clear penalty.

The Finnish striker had no problem making it 1-0.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

Todd Cantwell was very busy as usual for the Canaries, passing well but also blasting a shot into the upper reaches of the stadium.

Norwich was dominant, outshooting Bournemouth 15-3 when another moment of madness had both teams with 10 players. Godfrey’s late challenge on Callum Wilson sent Tierney to the monitor for a VAR-aided straight red card.

Jimenez leads stunning Wolves comeback

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Wolves were 2-0 down at half time at Southampton on Saturday and won 3-2.

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Jan Bednarek and Shane Long had put Saints in a comfortable position but then Pedro Neto made it 2-1 and Mexico’s Raul Jimenez scored a penalty kick and a winner to send the Wolves fans wild.

The win was Wolves’ first in six games in all competitions and moves them into sixth place, while Southampton saw their six game unbeaten run in all competitions come to an end in dramatic fashion.


3 things we learned

1. Saints implode at key moment: In truth, Saints were a little fortunate to be 2-0 up at half time in an even game. But after the way they’ve surged up the table with six wins in their last nine, you could see they were brimming with confidence. That is now gone. After beating Tottenham, Leicester and Chelsea spirits were high but Ralph Hasenhuttl will have to pick his team up from a shocking defeat. This feels like another key moment in their season as they now sit six points off the bottom three but a win or draw would see them much closer to the top six battle. Fine margins decide games and Long’s header hit the post moments before Wolves made it 2-1. Saints’ season can now go either way.

2. Wolves continue to rally from slow starts: They have conceded the first goal in a league-high 16 PL games this season and it is now seven in a row. But they keep fighting and they showed incredible spirit with Jimenez and Traore leading the charge, once again. Imagine where Wolves would be in the table if they actually started games well?

3. Top four now on for Santo’s battered side: They are five points behind Chelsea and in the top four hunt now. Wolves have such a small squad and Santo wants to add to it, so expect them to do business with the Europa League knockout rounds and a possible top four push coming up. They are down to the bare bones with injuries to Vinagre, Boly and Jota hitting them hard but they are getting the job done in remarkable fashion.

Man of the Match: Raul Jimenez – He missed a few chances in the first half but was always a threat and finished his chances in the second half. Clever hold up play and pulled Southampton’s defense all over the place.


Wolves looked dangerous early on as Adama Traore’s deflected shot flew just wide but then Saints struck with their first attempt of the game.

James Ward-Prowse‘s free kick caused havoc and Bednarek cleaned up at the back post to slot home calmly and make it 1-0.

Saints should have doubled their lead as Cedric‘s header at the back post was a poor one, while Raul Jimenez went close on a couple of occasions.

After Jimenez flashed another shot wide Saints did double their lead, as Cedric’s cross was finished clinically by Long for his first goal in 19 games.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Long hit the post with a header as Saints threatened to run away with things at the start of the second but moments later Wolves started their comeback.

Adama Traore surged down the right and crossed for Neto who controlled well then finished to half the deficit.

Wolves were level soon after as Jonny ran into the box and was brought down by a combination of Cedric and Jack Stephens in the box, as a penalty kick was awarded via VAR and Jimenez slotted home from the spot.

Nathan Redmond then went on an incredible run and smashed a shot from distance which clipped the crossbar and then Neto drilled over from a great position as it was end-to-end stuff in the closing stages.

Saints went close to scoring a winner as Jack Stephens couldn’t hook home from close range as Wolves somehow cleared, and then Jimenez finished after great work from Traore to make it 3-2 and seal the stunning comeback.

Stephens and Sofiane Boufal missed chances for Southampton to nick a point as Wolves, who are short on players as injuries pile up, pulled off an amazing comeback win.

Holgate, Pickford save Everton in draw with West Ham

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Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Issa Diop traded goals in Everton’s 1-1 draw with West Ham United at the London Stadium on Saturday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

The draw has David Moyes‘ West Ham a point outside the drop zone, while 11th place Everton moves seven clear with 29 points.


Three things we learned

1. Toffees bailed out by Holgate, Pickford: Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford‘s last few weeks have been as good as he’s played since his Sunderland days, and he made a pair of incredible saves for the Toffees. But his young center back Mason Holgate was the star, with an assist on Calvert-Lewin’s goal and a key block to go with seven clearances and much more (See MOTM, below).

2. Calvert-Lewin sums up Toffees’ uneven play: The tempestuous young striker got another goal, but Everton’s point came mostly through Pickford and Holgate. Calvert-Lewin got his headed goal but also as many fouls (3) as chances created. His quick post-match comments really fit the bill.

“I thought today we under-performed. It was disappointing not to play to our strengths. We got ourselves back into the game but should have gone on from there and won it. I am happy to get on the scoresheet and get the point but I thought we could have performed better.”

3. Snodgrass is class: The 32-year-old Scot continues to turn back the clock for West Ham, providing power and craft in producing three goals and three assists this season. All of those score sheet moments have come in the Irons last 13 matches.

Man of the Match: Holgate’s assist was great, but how about seven-for-seven in ground duels, two blocked shots, a goal line clearance, and four interceptions. Fantastic stuff.


Tom Davies was stripped at midfield, leading to in-form Robert Snodgrass curling a shot to Jordan Pickford.

Snodgrass set up Pablo Zabaleta for a classy chest trap and volley, but Mason Holgate blocked the shot wide of the near post.

Lucas Digne gave the ball away to Mark Noble, who sent Sebastien Haller through the goal. Pickford made a fine leg save as Haller aimed to go low and near post.

Theo Walcott blew a chance to make it 1-0 when Digne spotted the ex-Arsenal star, who flubbed a ball right to Darren Randolph.

The Irons got their deserved lead through an Issa Diop header of Snodgrass’ free kick in the 40th, but Calvert-Lewin got one of his own from a Digne corner kick moments later.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

Pickford made an incredible save in stoppage time to keep it 1-1, reaching low to paw away a point-blank Irons chance.

The English keeper than slapped a deflected shot wide in the second half.