MLS might not allow the Chicago Fire to sign anymore DPs in 2013. Here's why.
This had been floating around in the Spanish press for awhile and today the Chicago Fire confirmed that forward Federico Puppo has been sent on a year-long loan to Ecuadorian giants LDU Quito. Some might have even forgot he was still under Fire control.
"In the best interest of the club and the player, we have decided to loan Federico Puppo to Liga de Quito for the 2013 season," said Vice President of Soccer Operations Gui Petrei. "This move allows Federico consistent playing time and an opportunity to play in the Copa Liberatadores qualifiers. We will continue to monitor his progress while he is in Ecuador."
Puppo was a major disappointment for the club in 2012. He tallied one assist and zero goals in 11 appearances. Slightly in Puppo's defense, he only made one start and played a total of 216 minutes. In the 26 year-old Uruguayan's prosecution, he may have deserved less minutes than that.
Puppo is generously listed at 5'8. He played more like he was 5'5. That didn't do him any favors when head coach Frank Klopas typically played him up top all by himself. The massive center backs in MLS pounded Puppo away from being effective. He enjoyed success after being loaned to Uruguayan side Defensor Sporting. In 12 matches, he scored five goals and helped his team finish second in the Uruguayan Primera's Apertura tournament. We'll never know if Puppo could have helped the Fire in 2013 subbing in for like-sized Chris Rolfe while big men forwards Sherjill MacDonald or Maicon Santos took the heat.
Potential Designated Player Conundrum
What the Chicago Fire and Major League Soccer should clarify is whether or not the Fire will be limited in signing additional designated players in 2013. With the loans of Federico Puppo to LDU Quito and Alvaro Fernandez to Al Rayyan, Chicago now has two players out on loan that at one point in time were DPs in Major League Soccer. Common sense thinking would lead one to believe that since these DPs are not on the team anymore, they would not count against Major League Soccer's maximum of 3 Designated Players per team. An early August conversation that Seattle Sounders GM Adrian Hanauer had with reporters raises some doubts to that line of logic. The following was originally posted on Sounder at Heart.
"We tried very hard to figure out a way to hang onto Alvaro [Fernandez] and bring Christian [Tiffert] in," Hanauer said during a Tuesday conversation with reporters. "There isn't a 100-page rulebook on DPs at this point, so it's a bit of a work in progress. I think ultimately, it's my understanding that the league's position was that if we were to loan Alvaro out for instance, outside of the league, we would effectively have four designated-players under our control if we brought another one in. In that regard, you could start stockpiling Designated Players, loan them out all over the world, let them improve or find the optimal time when you needed an outside midfielder back and make a transaction."
Sherjill MacDonald, Federico Puppo, and Alvaro Fernandez all entered the league as designated players. Under Hanauer's interpretation, the Chicago Fire would be blocked from signing another designated player because they 'would effectively have four designated-players under [their] control'. Fire fans should watch out for this but I feel better about Chicago's ability to sign another DP or two after taking a second look at Hanauer and asking around the league.
For starters, Seattle's GM admits the rules aren't clear. He says it's his 'understanding', not that it is against any specific rule. Hanauer was also in a tough spot on August 1st. The Sounders were going to play in the U.S. Open Cup Final just 7 days later. Fernandez was heating up having scored 1 goal and notching 1 assist in his last two regular season games. It seemed an odd time to trade the popular player away even if the new DP, Christian Tiffert, did end up being a better player for Seattle in the long run.
It was bad enough to lose Fernandez but on top of things he was going to stay in MLS. Imagine if the Fire and Sounders faced off in the MLS Cup Final and Fernandez scored the winning goal for Chicago. Not a great scenario for Seattle's front office to having willingly agreed to.
Hanauer was overwhelmingly approved by 96% of the voters in a December 2012 ballot asking season-ticket holders and Sounders Alliance members their opinion of whether or not Hanauer should retain his job. This January 5, 2013 article highlights some of the issues the popular GM faces going into this season. Fernandez's trade might have had much more to do with the Sounders' expansion allocation money drying up than any league interpretation about having 4 or more designated players under team control.
In fact, a source close to the league's main office said they were unaware of any restrictions that would prevent a team from having 4 designated players under team control as long as one was out on loan. The same source said much more importantly that there were likely MLS details Hanauer could not openly discuss. Any thoughts of Hanauer wrongly depicting himself and the Sounders to fans as giants with one hand unfairly tied behind by their back might in itself be unfair. I also don't think Hanauer's words on this designated player situation should be taken as gospel truth.
Situation Going Into 2013
One thing is for sure. Major League Soccer doesn't do itself any favors when it leaves these situations up in the air. I understand there is a lot of nuance to the world of international soccer business but certainly some of these problems could be cleared up. Many leagues around the world don't have these issues. At times, it appears MLS doesn't put out rules because that means following them later. If people don't know the rules, they don't know when they have been broken.
On the Chicago Fire being able to sign designated players in 2013, I think they will be able to. Both LDU Quito and Al Rayyan reportedly covered the entire costs of the respective Puppo and Fernandez loans. Why not sell Puppo off for some amount of money instead of loaning him out? Furthermore, players who are out on loan don't count against the international slot limits. Why would they count against designated player limits?
I see only three likely scenarios that could clarify the question of whether or not the Fire could sign another designated player right now. One is the Fire making a statement. However, that could end up being as confusing as when Adrian Hanauer said something in the first place. It certainly would be as 'binding' with the MLS front office. The second scenario is Major League Soccer makes a statement. That hasn't always been the end of things though.
The third would be the Fire announcing that they have signed a designated player while MacDonald is still on the team and Puppo and Fernandez are still out on loan. That, and only this final scenario, seems to be the only way we'll know for sure.