As sure as the winds change, MLS has provoked a bit of controversy in the last week during the ongoing Jermaine Jones saga. Which is just as well, really, as it gives us a reason to get incensed about transfer rules and things we might not otherwise care about.
As a brief recap, Jones signed with MLS, then looked set to go to Chicago Fire, or so went the rumors. New England Revolution entered the picture at some point, and things got a little bit messy from there on out. Or maybe it didn't get messy, but we'd never know if that was the case.
After all, the single-entity nature of the league means that we never really get to know what's happening in a broad set of circumstances, and this was certainly one of them. If we rewind a bit - and we should to get a full view - we can see the Clint Dempsey-to-Seattle and Michael Bradley-to-Toronto deals as playing a role. Both of those players didn't go through the allocation order, which exists to somewhat temper the ability of top teams to get all of the top U.S. national team players. Or something like that. If you perform well, you're lower on the list, unless you do a bit of trading and sacrifice resources.
That allocation order doesn't matter, though, if the player is being offered a big enough chunk of change. Dempsey, Bradley and now Jones are players that otherwise would have gone through the machinations of MLS player acquisitions, but they haven't. It's a "for the good of the league" thing. So that rule has been gutted, and maybe it should read a little something like this:
"Allocation order is that mechanism by which players that aren't really the best U.S. national team players enter MLS, but if they're good enough and have been offered a substantial enough salary, then we'll just ignore it. But if they're being signed as designated players, they go through an apparently separate list that's entirely secret. Oh, and maybe if there's a dispute, we can have a coin flip."
Joking aside (if there was any joking there), this doesn't bode well for Real Salt Lake.
If Jeff Cassar, Garth Lagerwey, and Dell Loy Hansen were to commit to signing a national team player, they'd have to think very carefully about whether they could or couldn't.
First, they'd have to ensure that the contract was up to MLS snuff. The league has rejected contracts before - which is their prerogative, because our single-entity nature means every player signs with the league, not with the team.
Second, they'd have to make a trade to move up in allocation order, unless a particularly awful season had been had. Allocation order is the combined league table reversed, so RSL is going to be near the bottom of priority.
Third, unless they wanted a fight on their hands, they'd have to sign the player above the minimum (presumably secret) threshold by which players bypass allocation order directly. There aren't many of those players on the team, actually, who would be a good fit., if there are any left who aren't in MLS. From the World Cup squad, the top picks are all in MLS: Jermaine Jones just joined, Clint Dempsey's been here a bit now, Michael Bradley's there. The rest are all rather unproven or wouldn't really meet that multi-million dollar salary limit. Julian Green? No way a 19-year-old comes into the league from the top European club. Tim Howard? Too old. Jozy Altidore? Too inconsistent. Kyle Beckerman? Hey, wait.
So really, if RSL wants to sign a player of the caliber of Mix Diskerud, Alejandro Bedoya, Aron Johannsson, Timothy Chandler, Fabian Johnson - the list goes on - they're stuck going into the allocation order battle and sacrificing big pieces to get that top spot in the ranking. There are very few teams in MLS who wouldn't want to sign those players given the opportunity.
So we're left in a bit of a pickle. If we want to bring in internationally recognized American players, we're stuck in a tough spot. So what do we do? We bring in talented foreigners. Like, say, Sebastian Jaime - not good enough for the Argentina National Team (they've got some good players, I hear) but good enough to earn a substantial (by our standards) salary in MLS.
Our other option, and it's one we take quite frequently, is to develop players that are national team-caliber. Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando are two good examples, but there will be some young players coming through who could reach those heights. We're making the moves we can.
Just don't expect any U.S. national team players to come through in the short or medium-term. It'll take some pretty big rule changes from MLS for that to happen.