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MLS Says Minnesota United Can Keep Current Players When Making the Jump

by on 10 February 2016

A spokesperson for Major League Soccer has informed FiftyFive.One that players currently on the Minnesota United roster will be allowed to move with the team without restrictions when they make the move to their new league.

There has long been speculation about the rules that govern players moving forward with an existing lower league team to MLS. In recent history Seattle, Vancouver, Portland, Montreal and Orlando, have all moved from lower league status up to MLS. But the question has always lingered: what are the rules that allow players to move forward?

Our own Dave Laidig asked this same question last summer in an excellent piece he did on the complexity of MLS rules which included allocations and discovery claims. Laidig detailed the many issues that might limit players moving forward with United.

The interesting caveat is that Laidig also went to MLS while writing his story and at that time was told that “all players for the expansion Minnesota side will need to be acquired (perhaps re-acquired) by the team through existing MLS procedures.” This left Laidig – and the rest of us who scratch our heads trying to understand the overly complex rules governing the league – to conclude that Minnesota couldn’t be guaranteed to take a player currently under contract with them to MLS since all signings would be governed by their current player acquisition processes.

The message from MLS on Tuesday was quite a different one and outlined the process for teams moving to MLS. The email stated that, “Minnesota has priority on all of its current rostered players under contract and they are not considered part of the team’s Discovery List (max of 7 players).” The letter also revealed that “once Minnesota was announced as coming to MLS, then all clubs were notified that they could not discover any of Minnesota’s current players.”

FiftyFive.One started investigating this situation again when Minnesota United published a rather odd press release on Jan. 28. It announced long term contracts for the fullback tandem of Justin Davis and Kevin Venegas who have been a tour de force this last several seasons in the NASL. The press release seemed vague and a bit cryptic with the news of these long term contracts and a statement by Venegas saying, “I’m looking forward to bringing my style of defending to MLS.” Yet nowhere in the press release did it say these players would be making the move to MLS nor the mechanism for them to do so.

Davis was asked about this on the opening day of Minnesota’s preseason training. He was cautious in answering. “You can’t sign will MLS officially because we are not yet an MLS team and all the contracts are signed through MLS. So technically they can’t sign anyone to those deals – yet,” said Davis who explained his contract was actually inked last August. The two-time NASL Best XI player said there was definitely “an understanding” with the team that his contract would insure him a place on their 2017 MLS roster.

United’s players are currently signed to NASL contracts that are owned by the team. MLS is a single entity system and contracts on all players are held by the league, not the teams. If this guaranteed Davis and Venegas a spot on the roster when they move forward, it would mean that MLS would need to sign them to new contracts.

The statement by MLS on Tuesday seems to guarantee that MLS will indeed sign players from Minnesota’s roster when the time comes to do so. A source familiar with the MLS process said that Davis has a guaranteed contract for next year with no options, meaning, he knows exactly what he will be making when he goes to MLS. There will be a new contract drawn up with MLS that will be have the same terms but it will also include MLS bonuses. MLS contracts are standard but bonuses evolve year to year.

Since owner Bill McGuire took over the team in 2013, United have been working to develop a top level club by signing and developing players under the rigors of the NASL but not the higher degree of pressure of MLS. In 2015 the team sold one of those players, Miguel Ibarra to club León in Liga MX, making a handsome profit while furthering the US Men’s National Team players career. Others like Davis, Venegas, and forward Christian Ramirez, now seem ready to make this jump. The information from MLS could also set a precedent for existing lower league clubs who have a realistic vision of soon joining MLS like Sacramento Republic FC or San Antonio FC. Those teams should now be motivated to spend the time and money to develop players. They could also bring in expensive talent from abroad a year prior to the move in order to build their team with assurance of moving their players forward with MLS contracts and no interference with discovery claims.

The number of players Minnesota will move forward will be difficult to know. Clubs making the move in the past have had different approaches. Portland and Vancouver moved to MLS in 2011. There were seven players who where on the Timbers USSF D-2 Pro League squad of 2010 that made the jump. They were Kalif Alhassan, Kevin Goldthwaite, Bright Dike, James Marcelin, Adin Brown, Steve Purdy, and Mamadou Danso.

Vancouver brought 10 players with them but also struggled on the field for the first several years. Jay Nolly, Alain Rochat, Greg Janicki, Philippe Davies, Nizar Khalfan, Davide Chiumiento, Alexandre Morfaw, Gershon Koffie, Russell Teibert, and Brian Sylvestre [who came from their residency program] all moved with the team to MLS, though for some it was short lived.

Orlando brought six players with them in their inaugural MLS season in 2015: Kevin Molino, Estrela, Darwin Ceren, Harrison Heath, Luke Boden and Tyler Turner. Estrela never saw a moment of action for the team and Heath logged in only 136 minutes. Turner clocked in 477 minutes and Molino 605, but Ceren and Boden had 2,254 and 2,238 respectively.

Who might Minnesota United bring forward with them? That’s a question that fans may have an easier time speculating on now that they know the Loons can bring any of their players forward without MLS restrictions. From their comments both Davis and Venegas are a sure thing to make the move. It would also seem a lock to bring along forward Christian Ramirez. Other players may be on the bubble and their performance on the field this season may make the decision for the front office. Performances from goalkeeper Sammy Ndjock, and the new signings of Stefano Pinho and Lance Laing will be watched carefully. If Minnesota United manage to sign former Cardiff City centerback Dekel Keinan from Maccabi Haifa, he would certainly make the move. Even an older but very talented player like Ibson could advance with the team but he would certainly need to show a more consistent work effort throughout the season than he did in 2015.

Several sources have told NP that MLS is waiting for Minnesota United to finalize a deal where they will play their 2017 season before giving the team their final green light. Those same sources report the team is leaning towards the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium.

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