Robert Jonas - Center Line Soccer

“So you’re telling me there’s a chance. Yeah!”

With those simple words born from the mind of Lloyd Christmas in the movie Dumb and Dumber, optimists have a rallying call and continue to believe they are destined to succeed whenever it looks like the odds are heavily against them. Heading into Wednesday’s MLS super-special sixth draft of the preseason — a weighted lottery for the rights to goalkeeper David Bingham — many of the teams participating were probably muttering Lloyd’s words to themselves. One of those teams, the San Jose Earthquakes, had just an 8.8% chance of landing the vaunted prospect and newly minted Generation adidas signing, but they beat the odds to land the California ‘keeper.

MLS has a crazy habit of holding these “special case” drafts, in no small part due to the byzantine player contract rules necessitated by running a single entity corporate structured league. The weighted lottery for Bingham was even more of an oddity given that the MLS Super and Supplemental Drafts had occurred only weeks earlier. Bingham had been in negotiations with MLS since late last year, but with a scheduled trial at EPL club Fulham for early January, he held off signing the Generation adidas offer sheet until he returned to the States last week. While the trial went very well according to the player himself, securing a work permit to play in Europe was a rather daunting task, and the opportunity to play in MLS was more immediate. With a Spanish-born grandparent, the likelihood that Bingham can secure a European passport in the future and make a move overseas is a likely next step from MLS.

So somewhere in a dark and secret room deep inside MLS headquarters in New York City, with unidentified league officials present, the David Bingham Sweepstakes was held. When the conclave was completed and white smoke began to drift over lower Manhattan, the announcement came forth that the Quakes had been awarded the rights to Bingham. He landed with a team in desperate need of a back-up ‘keeper and a location conveniently local to the university where he had class work still to finish to earn his degree - the circumstances couldn’t have worked out any better for team or player. Within minutes, congratulatory text messages and phone calls were being sent to and from San Jose.

Meanwhile, many in the national media let forth a sarcastic chuckle at the whole affair. MLS had once again seemed to have conducted not a “lottery” per se, but rather a “decision” on Bingham’s future team. None other than soccer writer and poker aficionado Ives Galarcep succinctly tweeted on the head-scratching that comes from seeing an apparent “four outer” drawn by San Jose. Galarcep continued to point out that with all the new-media coverage MLS provides on their own website for other matters, how hard would it be to broadcast these lotteries via video. Instead of the suspected collusion that could be occurring behind closed doors, allow for public scrutiny of such events in order to dispel any notions of illegitimacy.

A very good, if a bit trite, argument for MLS to open the doors to the media on what goes on with player personnel decisions. However, without constant attention at the frustrations of the media and public to the inner workings of the league, MLS has little reason to change a thing in this regard. As it stands now, MLS has no obligation to explain any of its decisions on player assignments — again the single-entity business nature of the league allows for this. Yet, it is in the league’s best interest to begin to be more open to the media about these special lotteries and other player and roster rules and negotiations. Taking that step toward transparency will help build trust with the media and public that will be vital as MLS moves more into the mainstream consciousness.

Was the fix in for the Bingham to San Jose decision/lottery? Probably not — as anyone who plays poker knows, you’ll occasionally experience a four-outer bad beat. But it does raise the question as to whether MLS needs to adjust its procedures in these special cases to allow for more public oversight and trust building with their customers. Special lotteries for new signings, discovery rights to Internationals, contract rights for returning MLS veterans — all these player movement procedures seem shrouded in secrecy for all but a few of the watchdogs out there. With transparency so prevalent in other American professional sports leagues, it is time for MLS to step out from behind closed doors and provide full disclosure of their player personnel workings. Only then will the raised eyebrows and derisive snorts will end and we can all go back to focusing our distrust on what really matters in soccer — the referees.

Robert Jonas is a writer and podcaster at Center Line Soccer and a frequent contributor to CSRN’s Around The League MLS show. He can always be reached on his twitter @robertjonas.
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