Feb 2, 2011

High Risk-High Reward for Davies, MLS and DC United

The news that Charlie Davies was coming to the United States for a week long evaluation/trial with DC United was met with hope and excitment by this DC United Fan. There are other Black & Red Supporters who are less than thrilled, wondering if Davies has resolved his off-field problems. Goal.com's Kyle McCarthy, has a pretty good piece on the complications that DC United, MLS and Davies face in the potential deal. McCarthy sees a little more grey skies in the deal, but realistic grey, but this potential move is a high risk/high reward situation for Davies, DC United and Ben Olsen, and MLS.

Mostly Upside for Davies
It is not nearly as complicated for Davies. A number of people wonder about the wisdom of Davies coming to DC considering that RFK is about 4 miles (as the crow flies) from where his fatal car crash took place. While some people might flinch at the idea, I think Davies is playing this one pretty smart. Coming to DC United and playing well will allow him to put the ghosts of that night behind him. I don't think he will ever forget the impact it has had on his life and career (who would be able to), but confronting the problem head on shows a maturity about the incident that should be lauded.

That is not to say that he won't carry some risk. Failure at trial will pretty much end his thus far rising European career and he will have to suffer the ignominy of stepping down in stature and possible end his hopes of a national team career for the next year or so. It will also likely mean that he will, at best, be playing for the Sochaux reserves for the next six months as the European transfer window is closed, making a move now more difficult. He will also face some pretty intense media/fan scrutiny. But I believe that Davies is ready for that and has surely considered his options well.

The biggest risk for Davies is that if DC United, with their well-known striking woes, takes a pass on Davies the question becomes will any MLS side take a chance on him. I could see some teams willing to do so--Columbus for example.

But the reward is significant.  As for his playing and potentially resurgent national team career, a move to a "summer league" is all but necessary. Davies will not be getting playing time for Sochaux's first team anytime soon. With the CONCACAF Gold Cup this summer and World Cup qualifying beginning next year, playing for an MLS side, and playing well, will get Davies back on Bob Bradley's radar screen. Given that MLSers comprised 50% of the strike force for the U.S. World Cup squad, Bradley clearly does not consider MLS strikers to be inferior. But also, playing regularly for an MLS side will be the best step to getting back in good graces with his primary employer, Sochaux or a Europoean side willing to pay Sochaux a modest transfer fee. While there is little risk for Davies, other than the media/fan cauldron, there is much reward possible for Davies. His desire to get back to the national team will ensure that he takes this chance well.

MLS' Risks are Structural
For everyone howling (and I hear you guys up in New England), DC United is tops in the allocation order for returning national team players so United has the right of first refusal. But the primary risk for MLS is that this potential loan move may break the rules that MLS has established for itself. Typically, MLS takes loans only with a potential for a buyout at the end of the loan. I don't know if Davies wants that or Sochaux for that matter. If Davies performs, Sochaux will want him back next January. The details of the loan move seem to indicate that there is no potential buyout clause, although almost certainly from a business standpoint that would be possible. The problem with that is that as a normal rule, MLS doesn't pay transfer fees or doesn't pay significant transfer fees and I believe Davies' Sochaux contract runs until 2013, which means if MLS wants Davies to stay, they will have to pay a more significant transfer fee.

While the paying of a transfer fee would be something new, it is not, in and of itself, a bad thing. MLS has visions of being a top league and that can't happen if MLS remains absolutely unwilling to bring world class players in on anything other than a free transfer. The possible change in policy clearly impacts the league's economic structure and Don Garber and the owners would have to be very careful and very, very judicious about setting the precedent and controlling the number of times a transfer fee is paid and the size of the transfer fee.

McCarthy does point out another problem. Davies wages are probably higher than the maximum non-DP salary in the league of $335,000 per year. Unless Sochaux is picking up part of the bill or Davies is taking a pay cut, MLS owners have got to be feeling a little worried about the precedent. I suspect that if Davies is truly committed to the idea, he might take the pay cut for a year. It is not like he is hurting on a $335,000 salary. By the way, I think DC United's salary cap can accommodate Davies max non-DP salary.

But at the same time, a successful Davies loan spell might entice a number of young American players who have suffered either career stagnation and/or long-term injury to return to the MLS, get some quality playing time and help revive their careers. From a league marketing perspective that is not a bad thing, having someone of Davies stature in the hearts and minds of American fans, if not as a player right now, can't help but get bodies in the buildings, if for nothing else but a chance to see the old Charlie work some magic.

DC United and Ben Olsen
Olsen and the United front office are in the midst of rebuilding the DC United squad. Olsen, Dave Kasper and Kevin Payne haven't called it that (at least not publicly) but that is what is happening. The signing of Jospeh Ngwenya and Josh Wolff, two veteran MLS strikers, should find DC United 15 to 20 goals, but not much more than that. A healthy Davies is a legitimate 15 goal striker if he works out. That is the risk for United. But Davies fits in with what Olsen & Co. have been building, a striker corps with some speed, unlike last year with Jaime Moreno's aging legs, Danny Allsop and Adam Christman--three strikers not know for any kind of pace.

Olsen is going to get something of a pass from the fans this year, given his history with the club, but too many risks like Davies that don't pan out is not going to help him any with the front office. Kasper and Payne must already be under scrutiny, as their off-season dealing this year has been much smarter than past years. But the attention that will come with a Davies signing might be truly intense, both from MLS who will want success, but also from the Black & Red faithful. The risk is that if Davies comes to United, and plays well in the early season, United could see Davies on national team duty during the Gold Cup, in the heart of the season. So United bring in a risky striker, get rewarded with Davies renaissance only to see him gone in the summer doldrums for National Team duty. That could be hard to swallow from a fan perspective.

So if United bring Davies on, he almost has to start or be the first off the bench given the financial investment, and that bears some potential resentment from other United players. United can't bring Davies in on that salary number and then have him riding the pine or playing with the reserves. Wolff might be professional enough to understand, but I could imagine Chris Pontius, Ngwenya or Andy Najar not seeing the situation is such a light. So there is the possibility of dressing room a club like United doesn't need this year. Four years out of the playoffs and there is pressure to make the post-season. Dressing room dissension is not going to help in that campaign and will test a young coach like Olsen.

But the potential reward for United is big. A return to the exciting soccer that electrified United fans previously, with goals being scored and a dynamic attack. The Barra Brava, Screaming Eagles and the casual fan would make the crumbling RFK the difficult place to play it used to be. After years of declining attendance, United could see its attendance numbers climb back up into the 20,000 per game range, making the demand for a stadium that much stronger. DC United would be back on the track that won them so many trophies so many years ago.

Yes, Davies to DC United is exciting news, but the deal is a high-risk, high-reward arrangement for all parties. Yet, despite the risk, I think if all parties are realistic about the potential to crash and burn, go into the deal with realistic expectations, then all could benefit. Ultimately though, the people who most benefit are MLS fans, who have a chance to see, week in and week out, a player who electrified us and is displaying a courage that few athletes could muster. In itself, that kind of drama is what we hope for in the beautiful game.

No comments:

Post a Comment