A day after I write about the Vancouver Whitecaps getting screwed by Major League Soccer's arcane and unfair roster restrictions, it's only fair that I write about a time when these ridiculous rules are working to their benefit.
Whitecaps midfielder (perhaps I should say former Whitecaps midfielder?) Kyle Porter wants to sign with the Montreal Impact. Setting aside the obvious question of why a bright young man would ever join up with the cheese-eating surrender monkeys, it's easy to see what about Montreal appeals to Porter. He's proven that he has potential at the MLS level, but that's it: he probably wouldn't play a major role for us in the 2011 season. He's also proven that he can be a heck of a contributor in the NASL, and since Montreal is of course moving to MLS in 2012 anyway Porter would still get his kick at the major league can.
And, of course, there's money. Some anti-second-division types don't like to think about this, but it's true: thanks to the MLS salary cap, you can make more money as a key player in the second division than as a so-called fringe player in the first. In his excellent-as-ever column on the situation, the Province's Marc Weber conjectures that Porter was offered a contract from Vancouver that was on the lower end of the developmental player scale. Lots of NASL players make more than that, including many of last season's Whitecaps and quite possibly Porter himself. The second division is replete with elite players such as Bill Gaudette or Antonio Ribeiro who had the choice between riding the bench for pennies in MLS or starting for dollars in the NASL.
Porter is merely the latest player to be caught up in this seeming dilemma that isn't a dilemma at all. Much as I like the kid, and much as I want him to play in Vancouver, from one Canadian to another I'd tell Porter to enjoy Stade Saputo and hope he scores ten goals, except when he's playing against us. The salary cap's not always fair, Porter's only got so many years of productive play in him, and he'd be right to be a well-paid star instead of an underpaid lackey just because one league is supposedly "major".
If only it were that simple. The Whitecaps, according to the Major League Soccer gurus, have dibs on Porter's MLS rights. He's not under contract to Vancouver. He can go sign with the Impact on a free transfer and play him in the NASL without penalty. But if the Impact (or anybody else) wants to bring him into MLS, they have to cross Tom Soehn's palm with silver first.
What the hell?
The Whitecaps and the Impact have a long, proud history of sending players back and forth between each other. Our own former captain, Martin Nash, did time in Montreal as well as Vancouver. Cuban forward Eduardo Sebrango scored the winning goal for the Whitecaps in the 2008 USL Cup final and promptly skeedaddled for la belle province. There are countless other examples, both well-remembered and thankfully forgotten. The flight between Vancouver and Montreal is one of the most well-traveled routes in Canadian soccer. And apart from booing your former hero when he turns up in a rival's strip, there's never really been any problems with it.
Leave it to Major League Soccer to screw things up. I'd look forward to seeing Porter on the MLS Whitecaps, although I hope he doesn't have to start for a season or two. Now, though, he's caught between a rock and a hard place. Even if he signs with Montreal, it might well happen that he'd play the 2011 NASL season with the Impact and promptly be cast aside before 2012 as Nick de Santis decides that Porter isn't worth Vancouver's compensation for his services. That would be catastrophic for Porter's career, not help the Whitecaps at all, and leave the Impact grinning like a Cheshire cat. Is this really what you want out of your roster rules, Don Garber?
I do think the Whitecaps are doing the right thing. In a salary cap world they can only pay Porter what they're convinced he's worth and can't let sentiment or even fairness get in the way. If Porter is going to leave, they're also right to demand the compensation to which they are entitled instead of giving a rival a free leg up. Soccer can be a nasty, unpleasant business for both executives and players, and Kyle Porter wouldn't be the first man in this sordid game to be caught in the middle.
Porter is no Cody Arnoux. He's a useful player who could bring a lot to the Whitecaps in the medium term. His time in the 2. Bundesliga didn't go as well as he'd like, but for a North American player Porter is extremely technical. He can hit crosses very well, he's seldom out of position, and at risk of indulging a stereotype he plays the game like he was German. Meanwhile, he's got enough athleticism to back it up in North America, has size and strength to spare, and at only twenty-one years old has lots of time to iron out the kinks in his game. I think he could be a useful MLS Whitecap coming off the bench and seeing spot duty in situations where we need a goal, and long-term he could be an everyday starter and Canadian national team regular. That's not the sort of player that comes free, and it's obviously not the sort Vancouver should be giving up on if they can help it.
But what else can Vancouver do? Offer him more money? They haven't got that much money to offer him; the salary cap sees to that. Porter might be a promising player, but every dollar they give him is a dollar they can't give to somebody else. It's an unpleasant and unwelcome change from the capless NASL, even if I think the salary cap has been set up for the best of reasons. Hopefully the Whitecaps would welcome Porter back if he doesn't make the grade with Montreal in 2012, but Porter is really damned if he does and damned if he doesn't. Either take the money and a shot at an MLS spot down the line, or take the MLS spot and a shot at more money down the line.
As a Whitecaps fan, I hope he signs in Vancouver. I'm not sure that's what would be best for him, though.