By Ridge Mahoney
Soccer America Magazine
1. PECKING ORDER: Out of the blue, MLS yesterday send out a release ''MLS Unveils 2005 Player Rules,'' a lengthy explanation of its complicated rules governing the signing of players. What the rules do set out is just how Los Angeles -- and not San Jose -- would end up with Landon Donovan if the U.S. star returns to MLS.
FC Dallas is next in line with a major allocation for missing the playoffs last year. This is the allocation that could be traded to LA in exchange for Carlos Ruiz and be used to acquire Donovan, who is reportedly to be very unhappy at Germany's Bayer Leverkusen and set to return to MLS.
The reverse had just taken place as Dallas picked up the No. 1-ranked allocation from the Galaxy to sign defender Greg Vanney, who returned to MLS from French club Bastia. That had been acquired by the Galaxy from Chivas USA for the rights to Chivas Martinez and Jesus Ochoa. (If Chivas USA had held on to its allocation, it would have been in the position to acquire the Spanish-speaking Donovan -- who reportedly wanted to play in Los Angeles.)
An addendum to the ranking of allocations answers the question why Donovan's rights don't simply revert to San Jose if he returns to MLS: ''If a team has an unused outstanding replacement allocation for a departed player, or has not received a replacement allocation, that team has right of first refusal in the event of his return to MLS. If a team has utilized its replacement allocation, by acquiring another player, through a trade or through a split, the team loses its right of first refusal to such returning player, who is then assigned in the normal manner.'' (The Quakes split up their Donovan allocation and sent part of the split to the MetroStars for Ricardo Clark, therefore losing its right of fist refusal.)
2. TRADE RATIONALE: So why did Los Angeles coach Steve Sampson and general manager Doug Hamilton trade Califf, a five-year veteran, for a fourth-round pick? There was a good chance at the end of the season they'd be left with nothing. Califf was training with Norwegian club Valerenga in January, right around the time of the MLS SuperDraft.
''It just made too much sense,'' said Sampson. ''He clearly, clearly wants to go overseas and made it very clear he didn't want to re-negotiate with MLS. Aside from having an absolute blinder in MLS this year, he felt his best shot at making the national team for 2006 was to go overseas and prove to Bruce [Arena] he was worthy of being called up.
''That, and many teams offering cash or draft picks made it very, very difficult for Doug to say no. Some people were scratching their heads when we drafted [defenders] Ugo Ihemelu and Troy Roberts in the first round. But when it's all said and done, I think they'll see why, especially since Ihemelu is one of the best athletes ever to come out of this country and a player I believe one day will play for our national team.''
3. NEW FACE: There will be a U.S. women's national team player on the sidelines for MLS games again this season, but she won't be Lorrie Fair. Brandi Chastain, come on down!
Chastain will debut on the ABC telecast of the Chivas USA-D.C. United opener April 2 with JP Dellacamera on play-by-play and Eric Wynalda as color analyst. Dellacamera will call the games for ABC, and Rob Stone will do the play-by-play for the ESPN2 telecasts, as was the case last year.
4. FOX CHANGES: ''MLS Wrap'' will not air on Fox Soccer Channel in the same format as it did the last two seasons and co-hosts Sean Wheelock and John Harkes will not be back. According to sources, the one-hour live studio show on Saturday nights will be replaced by a half-hour highlights program. A one-hour midweek show has been discussed. Details regarding hosts and time slots are to be announced in the next few days.
5. REAL MOVES: Striker Clint Mathis has left the national team to return to Real Salt Lake, but not announced was the return of defender Eddie Pope. Coach Bruce Arena allowed Pope to be examined by the team's doctors and they gave him a clean bill of health, so Pope is back in camp preparing for Sunday's match against Mexico at Azteca Stadium.