By Kyle McCarthy
MLS isn't the only salary-capped league in the world that loses productive players because it can't pay market value. Just ask Danny Allsopp.
Allsopp, 31, left A-League champions Melbourne Victory in September to sign a lucrative three-year deal with Qatari side Al-Rayyan. The petro-dollars were too high for the Melbourne native to turn down, particularly with strike partner Archie Thompson occupying Victory's lone Marquee Player slot.
(As an aside, the Marquee Player tag – the Australian version of the Designated Player rule – doesn't always mean marquee dollars Down Under. Newcastle Jets signed former Bologna and Lazio midfielder Fabio Vignaroli to a one-year deal worth approximately $275,000 (AU$300,000) and Thompson was reported to be in line for a contract in the region of $367,000 (AU$400,000) per season when he inked a new deal to replaced the one that expired in April 2009, according to the Melbourne Herald Sun. One other note: no part of the Marquee Player's salary counts against the $2.06 million (AU$2.25 million) salary cap, though the Marquee Player does take up a spot on the 23-man roster.)
Things went sour for Allsopp in Qatar earlier this month after Al-Rayyan coach Paulo Autuori recalled Oman international striker Emad Al Hosani from an unsuccessful stint at Belgian club Charleroi. Al-Rayyan deemed the three-times-capped Australian international surplus to requirements and handed him a free transfer despite a record of six goals in 12 matches.
The prospect of inking a prolific A-League scorer – Allsopp won the golden boot in 2007 – on a free interested several clubs back home, but Victory coach Ernie Merrick eventually brushed aside the paper talk and dismissed his side's chances of obtaining its former striker.
“If he came back to Australia he'd play with us, but he's getting some very lucrative offers overseas and I'm pretty sure he's going to take one of those,” Merrick told the Herald Sun.
Most of the speculation linked Allsopp with a move to China – former A-League standout Joel Griffiths recently completed a protracted transfer to Beijing Guoan after a successful loan spell – or somewhere else in Asia in a move similar to the ones made by a few other former A-League stars.
The media chatter didn't link Allsopp with a “lucrative offer” in the United States and the chance to enter the history books as the first Australian to play in a MLS match. In hindsight, it should have. Allsopp signed a two-year deal (plus option years) with D.C. United on Monday as United tries to fill the void left by Luciano Emilio's return to Brazil.
The deal evoked memories of United's move to sign Fred from Melbourne in 2007. The Brazilian midfielder had established himself as perhaps the top player in the Australian top flight during a one-year stint with Melbourne, but the Victory couldn't match United's mega-bucks offer when D.C. swooped to sign Fred on a free transfer. The princely sum required to lure Fred away: $222,000 per season, plus a signing bonus. Given the mid-season A-League cap crunch and the two-year guarantee on offer, it may not have cost United even that much to sign Allsopp. At least in the Australian market, MLS can offer a competitive deal to players with a proven track record of success.
The real question for United is whether Allsopp will merit the outlay. Fred flattered to deceive during his three years in D.C. with a stellar first season followed by two rather disappointing campaigns, an informative bit of evidence that may or may not hold much weight in determining whether Allsopp can transfer his game to the States. Allsopp, a strong, target-type forward with an established goalscoring record in the English lower divisions with Hull and Notts County, may need some time to find his feet – he has spent most of his career playing at a standard lower than the one currently on offer in MLS. The rough and tumble nature of the league shouldn't bother him, but the question of quality – Australia coach Pim Verbeek once called Allsopp “absolutely hopeless” after watching him play in an Asian Cup qualifier against Indonesia – will stick until he produces goals consistently.
No matter the result, Allsopp and his performances bear watching as the 2010 campaign approaches. If Allsopp can deliver the goods, it could prompt other MLS clubs to dabble in the Australian market and mine it for the type of low- and moderately-priced talent required to stock the league. If he doesn't, MLS can at least take solace that it isn't the only league in the world that watches successful players leave primarily due to financial restrictions imposed by a salary cap and groans as they struggle elsewhere.
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 MLSnet.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.
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