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The MLS Allocation Order has always been a controversial tool, a complicated process created my MLS to help provide a fair system to distribute top American players returning to MLS. This off-season, perhaps more than any before it, we have seen how teams can take full advantage of the system.
Take the Philadelphia Union, which started the pre-season as the No. 1 team in the MLS Allocation Order. The Union parlayed that spot into a player (Fred), a first-round pick (used to selected Jack McInerney) and an allocation sources tell SBI was worth $100,000. D.C. paid that steep price and proceeded to use the No. 1 spot to select goalkeeper Troy Perkins.
Philly wasn't done. The Union traded back up to the No. 1 spot last week, striking a deal with the New York Red Bulls for the top spot, spending what sources tell SBI was a $175,000 allocation to move up and select defender Michael Orozco, whose combined loan price and salary will be an approximate $300,000.
Once the dust is settled, the Union will have taken the No. 1 Allocation Spot and $75,000 and turned it into a potentially productive but expensive winger in Fred (who will cost about $300,000), a long-term forward prospect in McInerney and a quality young starting defender in Orozco. The price for Fred and Orozco is steep, but for an expansion team with plenty of cap space and allocation money to expand its cap, the price is affordable.
That's a very respectable haul for Philly, but did D.C. and New York get enough value for their moves?
In D.C. United's case, the initial reaction to its deal was that D.C. severely overpaid, but when you consider the significant upgrade at goalkeeper from Josh Wicks to Perkins, as well as the fact that D.C. unloaded Fred's hefty contract off its cap, you can understand why D.C. made the move. The allocation was a decent size, but not a major allocation, leaving the No. 7 overall pick D.C. gave up in the deal as the factor that made the deal a bit too pricey for D.C. If United had been able to pry away Philly's No. 17 overall pick (which the Union used to select Toni Stahl), the trade would have looked much better for D.C., but something tells me United won't mind having overpaid if Perkins can help lead D.C. to the playoffs for the first time since he left the club in 2007.
As for the Red Bulls, they actually secured a good price for what amounts to moving down five spots in the allocation order. Was it as impressive as what Philly received from D.C.? Certainly not, but Orozco wasn't as highly-regarded or sought-after player as Perkins was. Ultimately, that was where Philly had more leverage in its dealings with D.C. The Union could have selected Perkins with its top Allocation slot and then shopped him around a league where several teams could use a Best XI-quality goalkeeper.
Orozco is a promising player, but there is some doubt about how he will adapt to MLS. His relatively expensive price, which sources tell SBI was about $300,000 in salary and loan fee, priced him out of the range of most teams, including the Red Bulls, who are scouring the European market for veteran defenders.
So were the Red Bulls wrong for dealing the pick? Not at all. Not when you consider the fact that $175,000 allocation it received can be used to increase its salary cap. That is crucial for a team that is planning to add a second designated player to its cap in 2010. If the allocation helps the Red Bulls upgrade at other positions while still leaving room for the mid-season arrival of someone like Thierry Henry, New York isn't likely to mind having made this deal.
It would have been different if there were a top American ready to leave Europe and come home, but once it became clear that players such as Carlos Bocanegra and DaMarcus Beasley had no intention of coming back to MLS, the Red Bulls had to pull the trigger or risk having to pass on Orozco and having Philly make the deal with another team.
Which brings us to San Jose, which now sits at the No. 1 allocation spot. With the European transfer deadline closing, and with top potential returnees such as Carlos Bocanegra and DaMarcus Beasley unlikely to be avaiable until the summer transfer window, the Earthquakes will likely have to wait until the summer to find the true value of the top spot. With the World Cup looming, San Jose's spot could wind up carrying real value if a veteran decides to come home like Brian McBride did two years ago, but if players such as Marcus Hahnemann, Beasley and Bocanegra stay in Europe, then San Jose could wind up looking at what Philly and New York scored for the top allocation spot and wishing it could be so lucky.