Amid the euphoria of Major League Soccer's latest offseason signings, the league was hit with a big piece of bad news when one of its top executives announced his resignation.
Nelson Rodríguez, MLS' executive vice president of competition, technical and game operations, will step down from his post on January 31. He has worked with the league in a range of capacities for 14 years.
The news was first reported by the New York Times' Jack Bell. While It's not yet known where Rodríguez is headed, I have since learned some more information about where MLS will go from here.
Rodríguez did a lot of things at league headquarters, and he will be greatly missed by a lot of people. The easiest way to describe his duties is to quote from his extensive bio on the league's website:
As Executive Vice President of Competition, Technical and Game Operations, Nelson Rodríguez, who has been with Major League Soccer and Soccer United Marketing since 2000, is responsible for all on-field competition and technical matters. Rodríguez supervises the League's soccer technical development, oversees League-wide game operations, disciplinary matters and expands the League's scouting capabilities. Rodriguez also serves as the League liaison with MLS coaches and club technical directors on game-related matters.
In addition to the above, he supervises supporter relations, safety and security, team travel and the League’s growing sports medicine initiatives. Over the last few years, the League has developed a traveling liaison policy, supporter steward program and a return to play concussion protocol.
In previous roles within MLS, Rodríguez served as Senior Vice President of Strategic Business Development, where he worked closely with the Commissioner’s Office in areas such as strategic planning, new business development and alliance development.
Rodríguez also served as Senior Vice President of SUM International. In that role, he managed the acquisition and development of SUM properties such as the Mexican National Team’s annual U.S. Tour, the CONCACAF Gold Cup, FC Barcelona Tour, InterLiga, SuperLiga and the Pan-Pacific Championship. Rodríguez also led SUM International’s expansion into the area of business operations and competition consultancy.
Those with inside knowledge of the league office's workings will tell you that his influence spread far and wide across the league. He did a lot of good things in his tenure. He was also a public face at the highest levels of MLS' operations, and took the heat for a lot of long-term decisions that drew short-term criticism.
In particular, Rodríguez chaired Major League Soccer's Disciplinary Committee. The committee's decisions often took all kinds of fire from fans, but it was created with two worthy aims: to improve refereeing standards, and to make explanations for suspensions more transparent.
An example of Rodríguez's public persona is this lengthy interview with the San Jose Mercury News' Elliot Almond on the aims of the Disciplinary Committee. He was also very involved in the league's Spanish-language outreach.
As for how MLS replaces Rodríguez, a source with direct knowledge of MLS' decision-making process on this shared some details. There won't be a straightforward one-for-one hire. Insetad, it's my understanding that Rodríguez's duties will be shared among a few current employees whose names you may know.
Todd Durbin, the league's executive vice president of player relations and competition, will take over day-to-day oversight of all competitive, disciplinary and technical matters. He will report to MLS president and deputy commissioner Mark Abbott, as he already does.
Jeff Agoos, the league's technical director, will get a promotion within the league's office. I'm sure many of you know that Agoos played for a long time in MLS and with the U.S. national team. After retiring, he worked in the New York Red Bulls' front office from 2007 to 2011, when he moved across the Hudson River to MLS HQ.
Agoos' new title will be vice president for of competition, and he will report to Durbin. Among those who will report to Agoos are Peter Walton, the head of the PRO referees organization, and MLS director of player programs.
Lino DiCuollo, the league's vice president of player operations, will be officially installed as being in charge of the league's player relations group. Among those working under him are Ali Curtis, who replaced Tim Bezbatchenko as the league's senior director of player relations and competition.
I'm pretty sure you have heard of Bezbatchenko. He left the league office in September to become Toronto FC's general manager. He has since signed Jermain Defoe and Dwayne de Rosario, and reportedly is about to land Michael Bradley.
DiCuollo and Curtis have done most of their work out of the spotlight, though I've quoted them on a few occasions in the past. I spoke with DiCuollo last May as part of a column on MLS' transfer rules for Americans coming into the league from abroad. Curtis and Bezbatchenko gave a seminar on the league's player acquisition system at the 2013 NSCAA Convention, and I talked to Curtis about it afterward.
(The 2014 convention takes place next week in Philadelphia, by the way. You'll see a lot of reporting on it here.)
It's a safe bet that DiCuollo will be a more public figure going forward. Among other things, MLS' current collective bargaining agreement with its players' union expires at the end of the 2014 season. It is no understatement to say the negotiations for a new deal could be the league's biggest story between now and then.