Navigating through the mire of the MLS player acquisition process often produces inconsistencies and puzzles too difficult to reconcile in any sort of consistent manner.
Into that opaque mix comes a pair of mooted signings all but certain to raise questions in Kansas City, Salt Lake City and any other city not situated on a coast or within the limited sphere of destinations usually deemed acceptable by the majority of established European players.
The potential arrivals of Eidur Gudjohnsen in Seattle and Christian Wilhelmsson in Los Angeles underscore all of the longstanding concerns from smaller clubs about how the current setup favors a few chosen teams capable of enticing players at a steep discount and squeezing them within a selectively accommodating salary budget structure.
It isn't necessarily a matter of equity. Gudjohnsen and Wilhelmsson don't have to ply their trade in Dallas or Houston if they do not want to do so. They are currently free agents. They can choose their destinations as they please as long as their selected clubs adhere to the discovery guidelines. Like many of their peers, they would prefer to play in the sun and sand of southern California or in front of the passionate masses in the Emerald City. They might even take a steep salary cut to facilitate the deal. So it goes in the world of football. Some teams just possess the advantages of infrastructure, location or wealth.
(Note: One might expect Gudjohnsen's arrival in Seattle would stick in the craw of the folks at Sporting Kansas City after the Icelandic international rejected overtures to sign a Designated Player deal a couple of years ago. Gudjohnsen's accountant probably isn't too keen on the move either, but that particular point merits more discussion later in this column.)
It is, however, a matter of competitive fairness. The resources available to all 19 clubs might fall into different categories, but the administration of the process should remain uniform throughout. As one might expect, the potential non-DP additions of players used to reaping far greater rewards for their services do raise valid concerns about the elasticity and the propriety of the salary budget in certain cases. Smaller clubs frequently harp on the seemingly dissimilar budgets afforded to teams in larger markets. This pair of potential deals certainly seems to fit the narrative neatly considering the squads and the stars already at the disposals of both managers and the rather remote prospect that both sides left enough budget space open to use on such proven players at this late stage.
Those cries often discount the salary budget gymnastics employed by the Galaxy and Sounders FC to build decent sides in the first place. Galaxy boss Bruce Arena has no peer in terms of shrewd roster management and manipulation, while Seattle coach Sigi Schmid and the platoon of technical staffers in the Pacific Northwest have shown their deft touch in the transfer market on a regular basis. Even with the pliable salary budget rules seemingly in place for their sides, these two clubs manage their money well.
(Note: Wilhelmsson must keep careful track of his salary, too. He raked in petrodollars for four years in Qatar and Saudi Arabia before pondering a move to MLS. The millions collected in the gulf make taking a frankly insulting wage packet in America a bit easier, particularly if his model wife wants to spend a little extra time in Los Angeles.)
Even with that particular caveat in mind, the potential arrivals of Gudjohnsen and Wilhelmsson rankle because they could potentially provide that extra bit of postseason-altering class at a disproportionately modest price. Gudjohnsen isn't particularly required for a Sounders FC unit oozing with class in the final third already, but he adds yet another dimension to a versatile front line and supplies both potency and touch in the right areas. Wilhelmsson would provide the Galaxy with some sorely needed width on the right side. His bag of tricks and his generally decent service would offer another dimension to a side occasionally too reliant on David Beckham's distribution from deep in midfield.
If all of those points were certainties and the impact of the two proven internationals guaranteed, then these moves would signal a certain threat to competitive balance and a possible threat to the sanity of the players for taking such an unnecessary cut in their wages.
They are, of course, on trial with MLS sides for a reason. In this case, the justifications involve age, fitness and form. Gudjohnsen, 33, struggled to carve out a place in the first team with Tottenham, Stoke City and Fulham before quitting England last summer and suffered a broken leg while playing for AEK Athens last October. Wilhelmsson, 32, scrapped with his international teammates intermittently over the years and spent the past four years playing in inferior leagues and sustaining himself on international football.
(Note: Tough as it may be for some people to stomach, there are decent leagues below MLS in the pecking order of world football. Plenty of them, in fact. Including all the championships in the Middle East.)
Those minor concerns shouldn't prove too difficult to overcome given the dearth of risk involved in such short-term arrangements, but those small hindrances won't necessarily make the concept of either player joining the league on a cheap deal for the stretch run any easier to process, either. Then again, the long history of such peculiar occurrences suggests that these two possible arrivals represent nothing more than another chapter in the lengthy tome dedicated to irregularities involved with building a capable squad in MLS.
Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for Goal.com. He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSsoccer.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.