How will MLS fare in the offseason rate of exchange, i.e., the players it sells or loses overseas to those it imports?
Right away, the league has fallen slightly behind on the American side of the ledger, with EPL clubs Reading and Fulham in the hunt for Eddie Johnson and Clint Dempsey, respectively, and Brian McBride and, maybe, Claudio Reyna and Eddie Lewis headed in the other direction.
The deals could mean a major plus in money, as Reyna will be out of contract next summer and Lewis, while a solid player, won't command a substantial transfer fee. McBride signed a one-year deal last year with Fulham and will be free and clear in a few months.
The New York Red Bulls, which a source says will soon acquire an additional Designated Player slot from Chivas USA in exchange for Amado Guevara, could field as many as three high-profile players next season. The league would acquire Reyna and pay him a high salary, as it has done for Landon Donovan, Eddie Johnson, and a few other players, leaving RBNY to sign two stars at whatever cost it can negotiate.
A Designated Player slot costs the team $400,000 against the cap and the club is also responsible for acquisition costs, which is just as important a change as the salary hikes. A second DP costs $350,000. All deals must be approved by the league Board of Governors, but those teams that have been pushing for ways to spend money stupidly have been granted their wish.
Much ballyhooed, and never really nailed down as to its legitimacy, was a $5 million offer from Benfica for Johnson nearly two years ago. Kept under wraps yet confirmed by two sources was a 2.2 million pound ($4 million) bid by Everton - a team scout watched him play against Mexico during the CONCACAF qualifying campaign - that was approved and signed off by the league, yet eventually collapsed for reasons unknown.
Dempsey could command a higher price than Johnson, even though Dempsey's contract expires next season and Johnson's option years extend beyond 2007.
If a rejected offer of $2 million from West Ham was indeed the high-water mark following the World Cup, Fulham could probably nick Dempsey by paying a little more and sending McBride home a few months early. Even if it has to buy out a few remaining months on McBride's contract and pay him a good salary, the league would come out ahead and bring one of its most popular players back into the fold.
A change of scenery can only help Johnson, who has missed lots of national team games the past 18 months because of injuries and scored just two goals in MLS last season. Games missed through injury are exempt from the computation of whether a player meets the 75 percent benchmark of competitive matches in the past two years, but by not playing in several games for which he was available - and not starting any of the three World Cup matches - his case for a work permit is weakened in case he doesn't meet the 75 percent threshold.
WOLFF WAITS. A solid trial with 1860 Munich of the German Second Division and his MLS contract about to expire has put Josh Wolff in an interesting position.
He has met with the new owners of Kansas City and discussed the future, which could include a new head coach to replace interim coach Brian Bliss. He nearly went to Derby last summer, but fell just short of the 75-percent benchmark and his work-permit appeal was denied. He made $420,357 last season and it's unlikely the Munich club could afford that salary unless it gets promoted, yet he has seen a change in MLS that might spur him to try something else.
"We have a lot more younger players, and with that comes guys out of nowhere," he said. "In some ways that's a good thing, but I think there's less quality games than there were five and six years ago. There's been a changing of the guard in a lot of areas.
"The parity in our league is something else these days. Teams in the past always seemed to have a few more quality players."