There's been a lot of discussion in our little corner of the blogosphere about Houston's acquisition of 18 year old Felix Garcia.
Specifically, people are asking if this isn't just another "make up the rules as we go along" kind of a deal by whoever it is that handles these things now that Gazidis is gone.
The answer - I think - is a definite "maybe yes and maybe no".
To catch up those of you who may have a life of some kind outside of MLS, Garcia is an age group national teamer who, it was announced, is now the property of the Houston Dynamo because the moon is currently in Sagittarius and thus the tides in Samoa are waning and the capital of Swaziland is Lobamba.
Got it now?
And of course, as per current MLS rules, Toronto had to be paid something. A US U20 of Mexican extraction who lives in Texas and plays in the PDL and so of course a team in Canada gets a spiff when Houston inks him. Not even Kafka could write this stuff.
(Honestly, with TFC racking up draft picks and allocations and foreign player slots every time any other MLS team hires an usher or a clubhouse boy, if Mo Johnston can't gather up enough good players to build a decent team then he's the most incompetent soccer adminstrator in history. Hell, even Alexi Lalas could come up with some talent with all the stuff that Mo keeps getting.)
After extensive personal research during which no expense was spared - somebody quick: give Huss some smelling salts - the official explanation is as follows:
Garcia was a legitimate member of the PDL Laredo Heat. Some people have speculated that this was a convenience signing allowing them to bypass a draft, but he played there in 2007 and 2008. The only question mark with regard to the Heat is the fact that normally PDL contracts are one season deals for a league which plays in June and July exclusively. Thus, it's a little early for him to be under contract for 2009. But we'll let that one slide.
Laredo, it should be noted, is one of the PDL teams that has some professional players. Most PDL teams do not, since most of the players are NCAA guys with eligibility remaining and NCAA rules prohibit them from playing on a team with professionals. However, playing against a team with professionals is allowed.
Still, not all of Laredo's players are paid. Most of the roster comes from NAIA schools and, as we all know, there ARE no rules in NAIA.
In any case, because Garcia was ostensibly under contract with Laredo, and thus Laredo had to be compensated, Garcia had to come into the league as an allocation, not a discovery. Discovery players have to come in on free transfers.
And because of this the allocation ranking came into play, which makes sense but then raises another question.
The allocation ranking at the time of the deal was 1) San Jose 2) Los Angeles 3) Toronto.
The league says that San Jose and LA passed on the kid, and Houston gave Toronto one of their foreign player spots for two years in return for swapping places on the allocation list. Thus, Toronto moved down to #10, Houston took Toronto's place at #3 and claimed Garcia.
To further muddle the deal, MLS signed Garcia to a genA contract. As we all know, GenA is normally a process through which high potential players are convinced to leave - or bypass - college in return for a) good money and b) the promise of a paid education at a later date. In this case, MLS says he was given a GenA deal because of his age.
However, normally these players then go into the Superdraft, a la Freddy Adu, or a lottery, a la Danny Szetela. But Garcia, as an allocation, is not subject to the draft.
(That Sagittarius/Lobambo thing is looking clearer all the time, isn't it?)
There is also some speculation that the kid wanted to stay closer to home and thus the deal with Houston. I have not seen independent verification of this, but it makes sense and, if true, it reinforces my point. Which I'm getting to. Honest.
This entire transaction hinges, I think, on one other fact: at least a couple Mexican league clubs were pursuing him.
So in the end, what it came down to, I think, is that MLS didn't want to lose another kid to Mexico. So they gave him a GenA contract, which is certainly for a lot more money than he'd otherwise get as one of four developmental players on some cap-strapped MLS team. He's a talented kid, or so they say, but another word you hear in connection with him is "raw".
Put another way, you needn't look for him to start for the Dynamo any time soon.
The main reason why I'm wandered down this long, dusty road is simply this:
Everyone - myself included - complains about the seemingly random nature of MLS acquisition rules. You often hear people say that they "make it up as they go along". And therein lies the key.
Are they "making this stuff up"? No, not really. What they ARE doing, most certainly, is what they always do, which is to apply different flexibilities to gin up a rationale which lets them do whatever it is they feel is in everyone's best interest.
This is not, as some would have it, a weakness that needs to be corrected. In the vernacular, it's not a bug, it's a feature. A feature that's only possible under the much-maligned single entity structure of MLS.
It's more or less clearly in everyone's best interest that the kid not bundle off to Mexico. We want him here for any number of reasons. So the good folks in New York figure out a way to make it happen:
He's been offered more money than we would normally pay? No problem, we'll make him a GenA and pay him good money. He wants to stay closer to home, we'll jury-rig a deal to get him to Houston.
The only problem was finding someone who would let Houston swap up in the allocation order for not much of anything. Doyle in SJ and Arena in LA said "No thanks". Mo was willing. Done deal.
With a hard-and-fast Rule Book approach to player acquisition, this kid is now South of the Border working on his dialect skills. But because the single entity system allows the league to engineer a deal that makes the kid happy to stick around, everybody wins.