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MLS midseason is a money muddle
by Ridge Mahoney, June 25th, 2008 7AM

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Distracted, perhaps, by the spectacular show that is Euro 2008 and the required, if rudimentary, U.S. World Cup qualifiers against Barbados, little notice has been paid to the fact that season 13 of MLS is nearly halfway done. Soccer America's Ridge Mahoney examines the chances of teams rebuilding in midseason with big-name transfers -- Thierry Henry? Luis Figo?

Strewth! By the time the next two weekends of play are completed, 11 of the 14 MLS teams will have hit the halfway mark of 15 games. On the heels of July 4 weekend comes SuperLiga, which will take four teams - D.C. United, Houston, Chivas USA and New England - out of league play, for the most part, until after the All-Star Game is played July 24 in Toronto.

If Houston and D.C. United hadn't been stormed out at RFK Stadium June 4, both would sit out league play for three weeks. Instead, they will meet twice within a few days at RFK - in a SuperLiga match July 19, and the rescheduled league match three days later. Don't expect there to be a lot of representation, if any, from those teams at BMO Field.

Falling right near the halfway mark is the re-opening of the transfer window July 15, and a few coaches - such as Frank Yallop of San Jose - are pointing to that date as a possible opportunity to tweak their rosters. Yet the window only applies to players under contract, so any team wishing to sign, say, a player like forward Paul Dickov, recently released by Manchester City, or ex-Norwich striker Darren Huckerby, need only wait until his international player certificate is released. Same with Brian McBride, who left Fulham, is a free agent and can be registered as soon as he signs a contract.

(Seeing as how Toronto is buckling down to play hardball, the only question is whether Chicago coughs up either Justin Mapp or the other player tabbed by Toronto to get the allocation by which it can sign McBride, or another team - say the cash-rich and scoring-challenged Earthquakes - comes aboard in a three-way move, or the league steps in and orders TFC to either deal or be stuck with relative squat, as in "future considerations.")

While the big names who float MLS as one of the possibilities for their next destinations generate headlines and buzz - Ronaldinho! Thierry Henry! Luis Figo! -- most teams are maxed out against the salary cap, and haven't hoarded the huge slush funds, er, stockpiles of allocation money needed to snag a superstar.

Yes, the Designated Player option has yet to be exercised by several teams, but a DP counts as $425,000 against the cap. However, a midseason DP counts only $210,000 toward the cap, according to the league office. Another source says the per-team salary cap is $2.18 million this season. Before a major signing can be made, most teams would need to trim salary before the contract guarantee date of July 1, after which cap hits are locked in and can be removed only by trading or transferring the player.

The league has, so far, steadfastly adhered to its formula by which teams that lose players in transfers to foreign clubs are limited to spending $500,000 in allocation funds regardless of the fee received by the league. So the Red Bulls, whose coach Juan Carlos Osorio recently returned from a scouting trip to Argentina, will only be able to spend half a million of Jozy Altidore's transfer fee on players. Ditto for the Revs and their share of the Clint Dempsey windfall.

Signing Henry would be a coup, but is he willing to a) sit out nine months before Seattle commences play next year?, and b) play in a mediocre league on artificial turf with a recent history of thigh, groin and back troubles?

Maybe, theoretically, a half-mil would be enough for a team to get a Figo for the rest of the season, assuming it had the cap space, with the possibility of making him a DP for next year. He just signed with the William Morris Agency, which has main offices in New York, Beverly Hills, Nashville, London, Miami and Shanghai, to negotiate his playing contracts and sponsorship deals.

Figo is discussing an extension to his contract with Inter Milan and has floated the prospect of MLS, according to Philip Button, vice president of global sports and entertainment for William Morris.

"Luis is also very interested in playing in Major League Soccer in the near future and we will continue our conversations with MLS about this intriguing possibility," said Button in a statement.

Which translates to, "Don't hold your breath." Still, as those adidas ads of a few years ago constantly reminded us, "Impossible is Nothing."
Speaking of such, why not Zinedine Zidane? Isn't it about time for his name to re-surface?

The USA window closes Aug. 15. European teams can sign and register contracted players until Aug. 31, so the middle of the MLS season is more muddling than defining. Not until the rubble of SuperLiga is cleared away and the domestic and international windows have closed will there be a clear indication as to which teams are best poised for crunch time.



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