Empire XI: Altidore, Stolz Deals Present Contradictions in MLS Market

Jozy Altidore Leo Stolz Red Bulls Toronto FC

by CHRISTIAN ARAOS
Columnist

Leo Stolz and Jozy Altidore have more in common than the New York Red Bulls. Both of the newest arrivals to MLS managed to dictate the terms of their arrival to MLS in scenarios that illustrate a clear contradiction within the league’s philosophy of growth.

It is easier for an incoming player to dictate where he plays in MLS than it is for an established player. This is something that has been clear for awhile under the terms of the previous collective bargaining agreement. However, the frustrations for players unions in collective bargaining comes when the owners run with the established truth in an attempt to satisfy their ambitions. Ambitious protectionism is an oxymoron that has come to define MLS, and the Players Union has a right to call out ownership on this ambiguous philosophy.

Understand that under the old rules of the game, Altidore was allowed to have a say in his destiny – not Stolz. Both the players union and the owners operated under this thinking with no real qualms because it was clear that the players for whom MLS and its clubs wanted were going to help both the established players and owners by improving the on field product and by raising revenue.

However, Liam Ridgewell is not selling kits and causing all road Portland Timbers games to sell out by himself. Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco might have this effect for Toronto FC, but their likes are not nearly as prevalent within the league as it was a few seasons ago.

With DPs becoming more specialized, the onus falls on owners to open the wallets and overpay for the relatively high-profile signing. In this regard, MLS owners are exactly like any top flight owner; they are willing to overpay in the right instances.

This is where the Stolz situation begins to standout.

Stolz refused to sign a contract with MLS before the 2014 and 2015 SuperDrafts, causing concerns amongst clubs that the German-bred, Herrmann Trophy winner would return to Europe after a successful career at UCLA. Stolz insisted he would play in MLS, but only in New York or Los Angeles, paving the way for the Red Bulls to draft him with the 18th pick in last week’s SuperDraft. Stolz signed with the Red Bulls on Saturday — a quick end to an illustrative saga.

Stolz is an unproven player with an impressive resume who was the only player in his draft class to pick where he would begin his professional career. Credit Stolz for getting MLS to buckle to him, the rookie, by playing the same game Altidore, the two-time starting American forward at a World Cup, played. They both demonstrated that the MLS front office and its clubs can allow for players of different statuses to have a say in where they play.

The fact that Stolz is not Altidore or Giovinco, but is still playing in MLS, is the best thing that can happen to anyone calling for reformed methods of player movement within MLS. Before Stolz, MLS justified its more lenient stance on players’ rights by creating a double standard. They deemed certain players worthy of bypassing the pre-existing mechanisms because they crossed a ‘certain threshold.’

While Stolz and Altidore each reached MLS through those pre-existing methods, it was clear that the methods existed in shadow form only.

Toronto FC were sixth in the allocation order and the Red Bulls had the 18th pick. If the spirit of the concepts of allocation ranking or the draft were truly followed, Altidore would be in Montreal and Stolz would have been a top-five pick. However when you are trying to have your cake and eat it too, it is impossible to adhere to the rules in full. MLS and the owners needed Altidore and Stolz to go through their respective mechanisms in order to present the technically correct case that those current mechanisms can exist without much alteration while negotiating with the players union. It is clear that is not the case.

What is particularly annoying about collective bargaining agreements in sports is that it has become cyclical yet unpredictable. Owners dictate the rules, break them, mend them and then head to the table to do it again, crying poor and threatening work stoppages. We do not know if there will be a work stoppage but we do know that the rules are going to change and they are going to be broken in the name of growth.

We’ve already seen owners break their own rules for rookies and prominent players.  There is one party that remains and it is the majority of the membership of the MLS Players Union: established veterans.

Empire XI:

1. The Red Bull front office should be commended for having the guts to take its deserved flogging from angry season ticket holders last Friday. Could Ali Curtis have been more transparent and given the exact story of how and why Mike Petke was fired? In an ideal world, yes, but Curtis lost the room the moment he stepped in it. Whether or not the full story sees the light of day remains to be seen, but last Friday was not the time for Curtis’ full side of the story to come out.

2. Luis Robles has to be the next captain for the Red Bulls. It will probably happen but the fact that he volunteered an offseason Friday night to be in that situation makes him look like the ideal candidate for fans who could use a player who truly cares about them and the front office who could use a liaison in the locker room given the recent upheaval.

3. The Red Bulls could use an extra left winger or midfielder just to provide enough protection for Eric Alexander who is the primary option on the left side and as Dax McCarty’s partner in midfield. Even if Stolz is able to successfully integrate himself into the first team, the Red Bulls would still be thin in midfield with Alexander set to move from wing to midfield if necessary. Collective Midfield play is going to be more critical for the Red Bulls this season as they do not have Thierry Henry to orchestrate play.

4. Alecko Eskanderian demonstrating what it means for the New York Cosmos to troll the establishment to draw more attention to themselves. While he does have a point, sometimes the best things are left unspoken.

5. The full NASL schedule will be released this week and Neil Morris at Indy Week is reporting that the LA expansion team will not be on it for the fall season, contrary to previous beliefs. It is not a secret anymore that the NASL needs a franchise in the west coast to maintain its claim to Division II status in US Soccer, so it is imperative that the league fully clarifies the status of the franchise sooner rather than later.

6. New York City FC addressed their need for a tall target forward in the SuperDraft selecting Khiry Shelton. Shelton had 12 assists with Oregon State last season and the hope is that he will be provider as well as a scorer. NYCFC already have forwards who can score in Patrick Mullins and David Villa but someone who can come into the play and allow for a change to direct tactics is always welcome. Top Drawer Soccer sees Shelton more as a second striker/ wide option.

7. Unfortunately, turf will stay at the Women’s World Cup barring anything truly drastic. An ever-so-minor victory will be that the turf at B.C. Place will be replaced in May for the tournament.

8. A theory as to why it may be better for attacking players to come to MLS instead of middle tier but regularly qualifying Champions League clubs like Celtic or Anderlecht or the bottom clubs of elite leagues like Sunderland. While both groups of teams present the opportunity to go against the best players, they do so with the caveat of being likely to lose every time they run into the top club in their Champions League group or league. As a result, defensive direct tactics are used in hopes of getting a result and this style of play does not suit all players — as was the case with Altidore. While MLS does not have the best talent, the more competitive nature of the league requires teams to try to win, not just park the bus, so all teams need different types of attacking players.

9. The US U20 Men’s National Team needs a draw against Trinidad & Tobago to clinch a spot in the next and decisive round of World Cup Qualifying. It is a disappointment that the US will not be able to directly qualify for the World Cup through the group stage but they will need better finishing from open play if they want to avoid the more calamitous fate of failing to qualify for the World Cup.

10. Panama will qualify for its fifth U20 World Cup of the 21st Century with a win against Guatemala. The future remains bright for the Canaleros and it will manifest itself on the senior level soon enough with a berth in the World Cup.

11. Canada will need to take care of business against Cuba this afternoon to have a chance at qualifying for the playoff. However, their fate will ultimately rest on its last group game against Honduras. Sounds very familiar.

  • Did he really make the league buckle or was his insistence a turn off for clubs not to waste a pick?