By Jason Davis - WASHINGTON, DC (Aug 24, 2011) US Soccer Players -- Soccer transfers remind me of the story of Janus, the Roman god of beginnings. Janus, when represented in physical form, is typically depicted as having two faces; one looking back into the past, the other looking forward into the future. He's simultaneously peering into the possibilities that lay before him and giving reflection to what he has left behind. Beginnings are necessarily born of endings.
Where you happen to be, for example Blackburn, England or in the shiny offices of a stadium somewhere in the sweltering environs of Frisco, Texas, determines which face is shown. When it involves two clubs or leagues of disparate wealth and perceived importance, the forward-looking face gets the lion’s share of consideration. Perspective is a function of money and prestige. The buyer has more of both.
Which makes the sale of George John by FC Dallas to Blackburn an interesting study in just how much stomach MLS has for sending its better talent abroad in return for a check and the tentative hopes that some of that prestige reflects back across the pond on America’s league.
John is young and talented, the backbone of the defense of a club challenging for both regular season and post-season hardware, and may have a US National Team future ahead of him. It’s not unreasonable to think that he’s just the type of player MLS should be working to hold on to rather than sell to a middling English Premier League club for questionable return. Sometimes it’s about the money, but it’s not always about the money.
When a player leaves club for a bigger stage, more money, more prestige, or all three, he leaves behind a team that must go about finding a way to replace him. In the richer leagues of the world, there’s often a young understudy ready to step in or a new signing arriving (perhaps on the back of some of the money from the original sale) to fill the void. Clubs that sell their talented youngsters to bigger clubs can usually invest as least a portion of the sale proceeds on a new player. Short of that, selling is at the very least tied directly to club finances in a meaningful way.
That’s obviously not the case in Dallas, where John’s sale is as much about the League and its whims as it is about the club’s desire to benefit from the transfer.
FC Dallas is not, by any measure, better off in 2011, and probably beyond, without George John. Whether they reap any reward down the road is irrelevant if the current campaign, considering the team’s position in the standings and realistic shot at the MLS Cup they missed out on last year, is disastrously impacted by his leaving.
Monetary gains like those that come with John’s sale mean less here than anywhere else. That's especially true when it comes to making FC Dallas a better team on the field. Dallas fans can’t point to John’s sale and say “well, at least we have money to spend.”
Rarely do MLS teams spend, and certainly not in the way implied by the use of the word elsewhere. Add to that the fact that, unfortunately, the MLS window is closed except for out of contract players, and the transfer is entirely one-sided.
The void left behind by John in the center of the Dallas defense won’t be easily filled. Schellas Hyndman clearly knows what he’s doing and might have a plan to paper over the hole, but there’s only one certainty: FC Dallas won’t be quite as strong at the back.
John’s departure comes at the worst possible time for FC Dallas, just when the final push for the Supporters' Shield and playoff position is getting underway. Even allowing for the mismatched calendars and the occasional European club bidding for MLS players as the North American season hits its homestretch, few MLS clubs have taken such a hit when it could impact their chances the most.
The lack of depth available to FC Dallas all but guarantees an inevitable drop-off. Dallas takes a step back from “very good” and will hope not to fall into the pit marked “not good enough” that looms behind them.
Blackburn came calling. John is only signed through next season. His Greek passport gives MLS the opportunity to cash in on a player that has yet to gain any National Team notoriety, meaning his profile as the type of young American talent of which the League needs more is still limited to only the most ardent US soccer fans. For his part, John couldn’t be blamed for jumping at the opportunity to move to the world’s most popular league. There’s also the obligatory and substantial pay raise.
It’s the beginning for another American player leaving MLS behind to take on the challenge of Europe. That beginning and the challenge it brings for John has a ramifications on what he leaves behind. In this case, it’s a drop in the number of promising young Americans in MLS, a gaping hole in the center of a contending team’s defense, and the troubling questions that come with running a League that is always relegated to being Janus’s less important face.
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