Castillo goes, MLS loses

By Paul Gardner

The Turkish city of Trabzon holds a cherished place in my thoughts. Not that I’ve ever been there, or will ever go. But in my youth I read a most wonderful novel, “The Towers of Trebizond” -- and the ancient town with the lovely name of Trebizond has lost none of its attraction for me by becoming a modern Turkish town with an ugly name that sounds like a prescription drug -- Trabzon.

All of this has my mind in a ferment right now, as I read of the sudden departure of Fabian Castillo - the brilliant young Colombian of FC Dallas -- for Turkey. For Trabzon, no less, where he will join the local club Trabzonspor.

A huge adventure for the young star, just as it was for the characters in the novel -- though they proceeded slowly by land and had to cope all the way with a bad-tempered camel. Castillo has flown in, been greeted riotously by fans, and carried shoulder-high through the airport.

There are, it seems, all sorts reasons why trading Castillo is held to be a good move for Dallas. No doubt. No secret there, of course, it all comes down to money. Castillo, earning $170,000 a year at Dallas, can earn a hell of a lot more in Turkey. And MLS and Dallas get to share the reported $4 million transfer fee. So win-win smiles all round.

But from the MLS angle, these are smiles that cover up a serious fault-line in the league’s structure. It is noticeable that Commissioner Don Garber has been much quieter lately about one of his favorite visions for a glowing MLS future: that it will, by the end of this decade, be one of the global sport’s top leagues.

The Castillo deal exposes that -- much more clearly than any previous move -- as not likely. How is MLS going to compete at the international level if it cannot hold on to its best young players?

How does MLS benefit from losing a dynamic star like Castillo? It doesn’t. The monetary details that are reported show that MLS is not in the big league. The $170,000 salary that Castillo was getting from Dallas is almost insultingly low for a player of his potential. Of course he was going to move to Europe where he will earn at least twice that much. As for the $4 million fee, that too sounds like a steal, great news for Trabzonspor, a poor deal for MLS.

How long does MLS expect to keep its other promising youngsters? Players like Cyle Larin, Jack Harrison, Jordan Morris? It simply cannot expect to retain them if they feel the lure -- which they will -- of much more money in Europe.

At the moment, MLS is trying to give the impression that its Designated Player scheme will enable it to match European salary scales. But the limited number of players to whom it applies gives the lie to that notion. There is also the fact that the DPs tend to be veterans in the final years of their careers.

Some of those veterans have done very well, though few have been -- like the Galaxy’s Robbie Keane -- outstanding. The transactions that brought Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley back from Europe were greeted ecstatically at the time -- but that was three seasons back, and so far neither Seattle nor Toronto has anything to show for their big-spending.

Maybe the opposite -- the upheavals at Seattle, the departure of coach Sigi Schmid, suggest that bringing in a superstar who may be earning as much as all the others team players combined does nothing for locker-room harmony.

The DP system has its good points -- or at least, it did have them. But it is at best a stop-gap measure, something that allows MLS to give the impression that it belongs with the big-spending European clubs.

Well it doesn’t, not by a long way, and it never will as long as it adheres to the single-entity structure. That structure, so vital to the birth and post-partum health of the league, now stands as an obstacle to any expansive MLS growth. It will have to be ditched, or at least smoothly modified out of existence. Right now, it is a deception, though it seems likely that those most deceived are the MLS owners themselves.

A league that imports, and overpays, fading veterans, while underpaying and losing its young stars, is never going to be one of the world’s great leagues.

The loss of Fabian Castillo, so suddenly in midseason, may be justified by defining it as part of the realpolitik of the global game, but there’s no escaping that it is a sad loss for MLS and for Dallas fans in particular. As Castillo adjusts to life in Trabzon, I shall try to dispel my sadness by re-reading the zany adventures of the travelers in “The Towers of Trebizond.”

11 comments about "Castillo goes, MLS loses".
  1. Daniel Clifton, July 28, 2016 at 3:47 p.m.

    So why didn't Dallas consider making Castillo a DP and paying him the money to keep him in the league. Wouldn't that make more sense than bringing in so many overpaid over the hill stars of the past.

  2. Joey Tremone replied, July 29, 2016 at 12:20 p.m.

    Dallas is just about the worst draw in the league. As good as Castillo was, fans aren't paying to come see him.

  3. don Lamb replied, July 29, 2016 at 3:07 p.m.

    Overpaying for old players is not how Dallas operates. Name one player they have overpaid for to bring in? Figueroa and Perez are/were old, but they didn't overpay for them. Of the 28 players on their roster, 21 are 25 or younger. They are just not afraid to sell their talent. However, you can bet that this money and the money from the Zendejas sale will go toward developing other young players. Their track record speaks for itself. Shea, Castillo, Diaz, Acosta, Gonzalez, Ulloa, Craft, and a slew of academy players that project toward the first team in the future. What FC Dallas proves, unfortunately, is that the American viewers are still not drawn by young developing talent. If they were, FCD would be at the top of the attendance charts instead of the bottom.

  4. R2 Dad, July 28, 2016 at 4:05 p.m.

    Well-stated. And the Super Lig itself is a lower-level organization--it's not like Castillo is going to one of the big European leagues. I suspect with the recent crackdown Turkey has had difficulty attracting their typical targets: aging stars from the Bundesliga, Serie A, Premier League, La Liga and Ligue 1. Good luck, Fabian, thanks for your service to MLS.

  5. beautiful game, July 29, 2016 at 10:55 a.m.

    The few big MLS stars have become fewer...the departure of Martins is quite noticeable; and the departure of Castillo is a bigger loss to MLS quality. Potentially, this is Castillo's stepping stone to a bigger Euro-club.

  6. beautiful game, July 30, 2016 at 12:28 p.m.

    $4M transfer fee for a player who delivers a far greater value? That's called innovative accounting with no up-side.

  7. don Lamb replied, July 30, 2016 at 1:50 p.m.

    How do you figure Castillo is worth more to FCD than $4million??

    - The team will see absolutely no change in ticket sales whether he is on the roster or not.
    - The team will sell the same amount of jerseys than it did with Castillo on the roster (maybe more depending on who they sign).
    - The team's likelihood of reaching the playoffs is virtually the same with or without Castillo.
    - The team's likelihood of winning MLS Cup or other silverware is only marginally affected by losing Castillo.
    - The team got a great amount of use out of Castillo during his tenure in Dallas.
    - The team would have had to increase his payments very significantly had they tried to resign him.
    - The team has other players behind him who will benefit with playing time after his departure.

    The fact is that Castillo was developed by FC Dallas and spent six years with the club. They got plenty out of him during his time there, and now that have a chance to turn a big profit. Good business. Now they have to keep developing. Eventually, they will hopefully be at a place where their investments put them at a place where they can hold on to players so that they can win big trophies and make the club famous, but now is not that time.

  8. don Lamb replied, July 30, 2016 at 1:52 p.m.

    AND (this cannot be stressed enough)... FCD would have been in danger of not receiving anything AT ALL if his contract had expired. $4million sounds like a pretty good deal considering everything.

  9. Marc Silverstein, July 31, 2016 at 7:34 p.m.

  10. Scot Sutherland, August 1, 2016 at 10:55 a.m.

    I agree, PG, that losing Castillo is bad for the league, and that some of the owners are pretty clueless, but I don't think the single entity is the problem. I can see the league flourishing if the salary cap is doubled a few times and five players are exempted from the cap for each team. That would make it possible to pay first team players really good money compared to most leagues around the world. Lets say the 23 man salary cap settles in at 18 million or so, with 5 players exempt from the cap. That's a very good wage per player and gives each team the ability to buy enough difference makers to have a powerful team without sacrificing parity. I think the silence from the commissioners office comes from owners who don't want to see numbers like the ones above. However, with those numbers the MLS would be a very high-level league indeed.

  11. Fire Paul Gardner Now, August 1, 2016 at 2:12 p.m.

    No need to wring our hands any longer. This deal is dead.

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