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Chicago wins tug-of-war with Red Bulls
by Ridge Mahoney, April 30th, 2008 6:45AM

TAGS:  mls


[MLS] Whether it stems from spite or sporting interests, the Chicago Fire's stubborn adherence to signing Lider Marmol has finally been rewarded. Ridge Mahoney analyzes the controversy.

Marmol, 22, spent a few weeks during preseason training with Red Bull New York as the team tried to negotiate his rights away from Chicago, which had filed a discovery claim one day before NYRB did the same.

Under MLS rules, competing discovery claims are decided by "first come, first served," and try as he might, Coach Juan Carlos Osorio wasn't able to swing a deal to obtain Marmol's rights.

Red Bull threw in the towel a week ago and allowed Marmol to join Fire training sessions. He has signed a contract with Chicago, and as a free agent, will be eligible to register and play for the Fire once his P-1 visa is issued and his international transfer certificate received.

The Paraguayan defender turned into a pawn as Chicago and Red Bull New York scratched and clawed in the aftermath of Osorio's move between the teams in December.

While coaching the Fire, Osorio had invited Marmol to train for a few weeks but wasn't able to sign him, and amid the turmoil of Osorio's effort to change teams Chicago filed a discovery one day earlier. Red Bull insisted its claim was filed on the same day as that of the Fire but MLS didn't concur.

Typically, Red Bull fans are moaning about the archaic and arbitrary ways of MLS, citing Marmol's preference to play for Osorio. Much the same hue and cry emanated a few years ago when New Jersey product Danny Szetela was snagged, and kept, by Columbus, rather than being assigned or otherwise sent to the then-MetroStars.

It's true that MLS has severely scrunched its own rules to place players where it wants them. Luis Hernandez wanted to play for the Galaxy, so it traded Clint Mathis to the then-Metrostars. Landon Donovan came back to MLS and off went Carlos Ruiz to Dallas. And what about Carlos Valderrama being "re-allocated' from Tampa Bay to Miami, or was it the other way round?

But both teams know the ropes, tangled though they may be, and followed procedure. MLS stuck to its rules and Chicago stuck to its guns. And shock of shocks, not every player in every pro sport gets to play for his favorite team or first choice, at least not right away. Cases in point: the MLS, NBA, NFL, NHL and MLB drafts.

Fire technical director Frank Klopas says the teams talked about a trade. Only Klopas, Fire head coach Denis Hamlett and Osorio know just how those talks went and each probably has his own opinion about how a plausible was a trade. Or is, since the MLS trade deadline is months away, and another Fire player -- Wilman Conde, who played for Osorio in Colombia for Millonarios and followed him to MLS -- also expressed his wish to play for his former coach in New York.

Marmol, 22, is a 6-foot-3, 195-pounder who has played first- and second-division ball in his native Paraguay and Spain. After playing the second half of the 2007-08 season with the Spanish second division club Hercules, he was released and went on trial in England last summer with Reading of the Premier League and Coventry of the League Championship but didn't land a contract.

Perhaps the Fire sees this saga as an additional payment for losing Osorio, who served five months of a three-year contract before leaving despite the objections of then president and general manager John Guppy, who for some reason agreed to a clause in Osorio's contract that gave him the option to leave.

MLS found no evidence of "tampering" and the teams negotiated a deal by which Chicago would receive a 2009 No. 1 draft pick, a 2011 third-round pick, and cash. Osorio also doubled his salary, to more than $400,000.

MLS rules forbid teams from approaching coaches under contract to a league rival without permission, but is there a penalty if the coach "tampers," i.e., makes his wishes known and thus initiates, directly or indirectly, discussions?

Is the Fire being spiteful or vindictive by refusing to trade Conde and keeping Marmol? Doesn't matter. It's competing off the field, as would any professional franchise worthy of its name.

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