As Maurice Edu was presented to the Philadelphia media on Tuesday, Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz was the first to admit that “there has been a lot of frustration” about the cirucmstances of Edu’s arrival.
He is aware of the public perceptions, of your many complaints on Twitter and elsewhere.
The Edu deal was, to put it one way, an act of sausage-making. It was no coincidence that many participants in the process were in the room together at YSC Academy. In addition to Sakiewicz, Edu and manager John Hackworth, two more important figures were seated front and center: team owner Jay Sugarman and Edu’s agent Lyle Yorks.
“There were four interested parties in this, and to find a win-win-win-win scenario for four different parties was very difficult,” Sakiewicz said, referring to the Union, Edu, MLS headquarters and Stoke City.
“It takes time to do good deals," he continued. "We found [one] all the way around.”
Hackworth concurred. He also acknowledged that he too was frustrated at times.
“I would be lying to you if I said I wasn’t,” he said as Edu sat next to him on the dais. “I think any time you go through a major acquisition of a player, though - especially bringing a national team player back from Europe - there are so many things that have to happen right for it to come to reality. You have to be patient, you have to trust people.”
How was that trust built? It starts with Sakiewicz and Yorks, who go back a long way. Both men know the inner workings of MLS’ proverbial sausage factory. And it is a point of fact that league headquarters plays a role, especially executive vice president for player relations and competition Todd Durbin.
It also helps that Edu and Union technical director Rob Vartughian have known each other since the latter coached the former at the University of Maryland from 2004 to 2006.
Now Edu can turn his focus solely, as he said, “playing with a smile on my face again.”
“The past couple of years have been a lot of ups and downs, a lot of worries and concerns,” he said. “Sometimes your focus can waver and you worry about things you maybe shouldn’t. Now I just want to get back to enjoying the game again. I wasn’t enjoying the game as much as I probably should have been.”
Ultimately, everyone wanted the deal done, and it got done. And I think it’s fair to say that this meant a little something extra to Sakiewicz, because it involved bringing a big-time American from Europe to his team.
That has been a longtime goal of MLS, but it has taken many years to achieve. Now, in the span of just a few months, we’ve seen Edu, Michael Parkhurst, Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey come back home from abroad.
It is a wave the likes of which has not been seen since the league’s very foundation.
“It’s why I joined the league in the first place,” Sakiewicz said. “I was a player in the 80’s, and we didn’t have a league to play in - it [the North American Soccer League] kind of evaporated on us.”
Not only is there a league today, but it is clear that MLS will not be evaporating. That message has gotten through to American soccer players all over the world.
“We have a real soccer culture today, and we didn’t have that a short time ago,” Sakiewicz said as he pointed to Sugarman and other team investors in the room. “If not for that great investment and the belief that soccer can really be successful in America, players of the caliber of Mo would not be coming here.”
After the cameras and lights were turned off, a few reporters headed over to Sakiewicz. He had some more things to say about the process that it took to get Edu here, and what finishing the deal means for the Union going forward.
Now that you can reflect on what has happened, is there an opportunity for MLS to clean up some of its red tape - and make things clearer for fans and teams alike - as the league has said it intends to do this year?
Well, MLS is constantly evolving. I wouldn’t term it in such a way as a clean-up. It’s an evolution of the way the rules have evolved over time. They are very different from the way they were when we launched the league, and I think they will continue to polish and fine-tune the rules.
But this process was actually pretty good in terms of getting such a big player signed, and the complexity around his situation at Stoke, and bringing him to MLS. So I have to say that the process worked.
You have seen some of the reactions that have been out there: people wondering about whether Edu should have been subject to the allocation process as a U.S. national team player and Designated Player, as well as other MLS roster rules. Does it at all get frustrating for you when you can’t say anything and are trying to keep things quiet as all these rumors are flying around?
No, listen. I’ve been in this for a long time, so it’s part of the drill. It’s part of the course of doing player signings. I was just in London for three days talking with multiple teams and they are going through this very similar kind of process of give-and-take in negotiations. Youv’e got to make a lot of parties happy to get deals done. It’s not a box of chocolates over there either, getting players signed.
So I know it’s difficult, I know it’s hard, and I know the processes are very fluid. That’s part of the art of the negotiation. I’ve done a lot of these kinds of deals with players as big as Mo, and some bigger. They’re always unique, and they’re always frustrating at times. But you’ve got to keep a level head, and your eye on the target. We didn’t take our eye off the target and we got our man.
Does this deal stand out from others that you’ve done over the years?
Not really. Probably the most difficult one I ever did was Lothar Matthäus [signing with the New York/New Jersey MetroStars in 2000]. That was very, very difficult and painful, actually.
This one wasn’t painful. This was great people at Stoke, Todd [Durbin] was awesome in the process, Mo was terrific. So all the parties involved in this negotiation, including Lyle, are good people. I can’t say that about every deal I’ve ever done.
While you were on stage, a report popped up from France Football stating that the deal to sign Vincent Nogueira is done, with the final question being whether he plays one last game for Sochaux this weekend. Is there anything you’re able to say about that?
Well, it’s not “done.” But we are very close.
How important is Nogueira as the capstone to all of these other deals?
All of a sudden, with these three signings, our midfield got real interesting. [Cristian] Maidana is quite a player on the left, and Mo - with his speed and physical presence and penchant to go forward - is interesting. And Vincent will be a high-quality, technical player that, if we’re able to sign him, will make our midfield all of a sudden look a little different.
How complicated was it having so many balls in the air, and having to facilitate moves involving three different continents in recent weeks?
I’ve been to Europe twice in the last three weeks, and it’s very tiring. It doesn’t complicate things - we have a great staff in Rob [Vartughian], John [Hackworth] and myself when I’ve been called into help. We can multi-task three deals. I’m not sure I want to bite off any more at this time, but three deals we can do.
When you look at everything that has transpired with the Edu deal - the loan, the allocation order and so forth - are those aspects that you anticipated having to deal with when you first started looking at him as a possible target? Did you envision this proceeding the way it has?
Yeah, look. We were down in Fort Lauderdale and we knew we had to get D.C.’s number one allocation order ranking. We went and we did that. I think a lot of people were scratching their head as to why we did that, because we gave up Jeff Parke. Well, there was a method, and it wasn’t madness. We knew we wanted Maurice and that’s why we did it. We were pretty confident at that time that we were going to get the deal done.
Part of the frustration was a lack of clarity on how Designated Players are signed. MLS stated that Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey were exempt from the U.S. national team player allocation process because they were DPs, but Maurice Edu was not. People were trying to figure out how the path was established.
I think in the coming weeks you’re going to see the league clear those things up. Each year the league puts out the rules, and I think some things have been changed and adopted in this offseason. Unfortunately, the league hasn’t put that out there for you guys, but they will. So I think that clarity will come when that information comes out from the league.