By virtually all accounts, the Seattle Sounders are poised to sell Fredy Montero for somewhere between $3.25 million and $5 million. That's not a bad haul for a player who they bought three years ago for about $2 million. Even after paying off all the various parties (MLS, Millonarios, Deportivo Cali), the Sounders are still poised to clear somewhere between $1.3 million and $3 million. Whatever the Sounders' operating budget was, that's surely a significant percentage.
While that helps the bottom line and maybe even helps the Sounders make future moves that will yield very real on-field results, you can hardly blame fans for feeling as though little to nothing has been gained in a transaction that resulted in losing arguably the league's best player over the past four seasons. Why? Somehow the Sounders aren't getting any of that much desired allocation money that we've heard so much about over the past few years.
Allocation money is the currency of making things happen within the league. It can be acquired via trade, as a performance bonus or by transferring a player out of the league. Teams can then use allocation money to pay down the salary-cap hit of other players, effectively allowing them to operate above the salary cap.
But allocation money is a bit of a mystery. We know it exists, and teams and the league openly acknowledge that it's there, but how much is the thing of legend. The only knowledge we have of specific amounts comes in the form of anonymously sourced articles and educated guesses. The league says it keeps this all a secret because they don't want agents and foreign teams to know exactly how much money MLS is circulating. I suppose that's fair.
As it pertains to this specific Sounders example, there's been no clarification provided as to why, exactly, there was no allocation to be had. Based on previously acquired information, it would seem as though the Sounders needed to recoup some percentage of the transfer fee they originally paid for Montero as well as the over-cap portion of the salary they paid for his services. All told, that was probably in the neighborhood of $3 million.
So maybe that's the explanation. Does that make you feel any better? I'm guessing no. And I won't try to convince you otherwise.
Whether or not the Sounders are really "entitled" to allocation money is perhaps beside the point. If MLS wants to make rules that make allocation money harder to come by when transferring a player who has already exhibited MVP-quality talent, I suppose that's their prerogative. The problem here is in the complete and utter lack of transparency.
Not to go about tooting my own horn here, but I feel as though I'm pretty well educated in the finer points of MLS rules. I have regular conversations with front office staffers from a few different teams and am usually able to piece together how something might work. Even I was caught off guard by the revelation of something called "retention funds" and still don't entirely understand the reasoning behind the Sounders' inability to see an allocation-money windfall from this Montero transfer.
I point out my own frustration because I can only imagine how someone with less knowledge of the league's inner-workings must feel. This site, in particular, is full of readers and fans and people who consume the MLS product that are thirsting for more information. They might not like what they find, but they really do want to know how the sausage is made.
I won't bother comparing MLS to leagues in Europe in this sense, but comparing it to other major North American sports leagues is illustrative. Whether we're talking about the NHL, NBA or NFL -- and to a lesser degree Major League Baseball -- there are tons of hard-to-understand rules. Sometimes it does feel as though new rules are being created all the time. But eventually, there's always someone who can explain how something works or at the very least get you an answer.
I'm not saying I should be that guy by any means, but I'm not sure there's anyone in MLS who can really fit that bill. I guess Alexi Lalas is as good as anyone at finding this stuff, but for the work he does, we only hear from him once a week at the most and he is extremely limited in the amount of time he speaks about it. There's no one that seems capable of providing answers or, better yet, giving us a real roadmap to figuring out how things might work in the future.
To be fair, there are definitely people within the league that have tried to pull the curtain back a little. Sounders GM Adrian Hanauer is one person, and he hinted at his desire to do more of that during his interview on Thursday. It's also worth pointing out that this doesn't seem to be hurting MLS horribly bad right now. But if MLS is going to really grow into the big league that it says it wants to be, it will have to become more transparent. Hopefully, that happens sooner than later.