Jermaine Jones has discussed his desire to move to MLS for quite some time now. It isn’t a secret that he’d like to continue his career in the United States. He has said it time and time again.
MLS is always searching to bolster the league with high-profile U.S. internationals. The league has spent millions of dollars over the past year to tempt players like Jones to continue their careers in Canada or the United States.
There are no fundamental impediments in place to hinder the union between Jones and MLS. Jones is out of contract now. MLS has two clubs willing to shell out Designated Player dollars to secure his services. There is a common interest in securing a mutually acceptable outcome.
It has not led to a satisfactory resolution yet. Jones and MLS are mired in complicated and protracted negotiations. His suitors are waiting to figure out how they might procure his rights. Each day seemingly presents a new twist to a fairly straightforward case that has now stretched over the course of a month.
This increasingly complex imbroglio creates all sorts of room for misconceptions and peculiarities. Here are a few of the fundamental truths to help sort through the mess before it reaches its conclusion.
Jones wants to play in MLS, but he isn’t willing to join the league at a significant discount
Some players have smoothed their path to MLS by settling for reduced terms, though the practice went out of style right around the time the league started handing out lucrative, long-term contracts last summer.
Jones noted the trend and set out his stall accordingly. He outlined his stance last month in an interview with FOX Sports 1’s Julie Stewart-Binks.
It has taken a while for Jones and league officials a while to sort out his value within the MLS system
The lucrative deals to bring Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey back to MLS complicated the negotiations considerably. Bradley, Dempsey and Jones are essentially peers in the U.S. national team setup, but MLS and its clubs aren’t willing to place Jones in the same wage bracket as Bradley and Dempsey given his age, his free transfer status and the actual and perceived differences in marketing appeal.
Jones took to Twitter recently to illustrate the difficulty of finding a compromise between the parties and underscore the compensation he seeks in any MLS contract. He retweeted this comment after ESPN analyst Alexi Lalas started a debate about Jones’ value within the MLS system.
New England subsequently took its private interest public in a bid to vie for Jones’ services. Revolution general manager Michael Burns told Inside MLS on Aug. 8 that investor/operators Robert and Jonathan Kraft gave their approval to pursue Jones as a Designated Player target this summer.
MLS possesses considerable latitude in determining Jones’ future home
Returning U.S. national team players are generally placed into the allocation process, according to league rules and regulations. The process is used to determine the order of priority for clubs to acquire a player who has agreed to terms with the league.
Under normal circumstances, the player would enter the allocation process upon signing a deal with the league. The league would then proceed through the allocation order — Columbus is currently ranked first — until a team wishes to select the player.
The allocation process comes with a considerable caveat with potential high-profile imports, though. MLS publicly codified an exception applicable in this case after finagling a way to send Dempsey to Seattle and ship Bradley to Toronto FC.
Designated Players of a certain threshold — as determined by the League — are not subject to allocation ranking.
excerpt from Article II, Section A in the MLS Rules and Regulations
This clause reinforces the league’s might in player personnel decisions. MLS — as a single-entity structure – retains the power to determine how a player’s rights are distributed whether it discloses its inner workings or not.
The flexibility matters here because Jones’ expected salary will place him among the top 10 earners in the league and provide the league with evident justification to determine his next home as it sees fit. Jones’ destination is now a decision for the top officials in the league office to make.
As of Thursday morning, Jones had not agreed to terms with MLS on a contract
The resolution — whatever it is — will leave someone unsatisfied
Jones may or may not sign for MLS at this stage given the complicating factors involved and the particulars at hand. It looks more likely than not, but there are no guarantees at this point. If he does finally agree to terms, then he will likely play for a sum of money well below his national team peers and ply his trade in a location further away from his Los Angeles base than he originally intended. If he decides to pursue other options, then he must locate a potential destination late in the transfer window (though the hard deadline does not apply since he is out of contract) and wonder whether he should have spent all of this time angling to play in the United States in the first place.
Chicago and New England must grapple with the fallout from their decision to chase Jones for much of the summer. If he lands with their club, then they must find a way to ease his adjustment and work on his fitness to propel a late stretch run. If he ends up elsewhere, then the teams must move forward with only out-of-contract options available to plug the void ahead of the roster freeze deadline on Sept. 15. Both teams will ponder whether the entire situation warranted the time and attention afforded to it if Jones (or the postseason, for that matter) slips away.
MLS will hear plenty of criticism for its handling of the entire process from clubs and from skeptical supporters. The single-entity structure provides the league with the flexibility to make personnel decisions for the good of the league (see: Bradley, Dempsey signings last year), but it also creates distrust and uncertainty given the pliability of the rules and regulations. The absence of clarity in this particular situation — created by the inability to sort out a contract in timely fashion and exacerbated by the indecision about how to distribute Jones’ rights — highlights the negative consequences and stokes the debate surrounding the need to liberalize the underpinnings of the league even further.
At this stage, it is difficult for anyone involved to veer away from the matter or its consequences. It is left for the parties to see out this process to its conclusion and then weigh the fallout accordingly.