Sam Stejskal and Paul Tenorio of The Athletic reported on Tuesday that FC Cincinnati plans to raise tampering charges against the Philadelphia Union and New York Red Bulls surrounding trade talks for midfielder Frankie Amaya. The 20-year-old Amaya was the first overall pick in the 2019 SuperDraft and the report stated that FCC has given him a $1 million price tag.
While the report was thin on the precise details of how the Red Bulls and Union acted improperly in the pursuit of Amaya, the Major League Soccer constitution defines tampering as the following:
A. “Tampering” means any attempt by or on behalf of any Team Operator or any Owner thereof, whether direct or indirect, to hire, negotiate with, make an offer to or influence (i) any Player (or his representative) who is (a) a member of a different Team or (b) not a member of a different Team but with respect to whom such Team Operator does not have priority rights (as described in the Competition Guidelines), unless such Team Operator has received written confirmation from MLS that no other Team has priority rights to such Player, or (ii) any employee of a different Team Operator without first receiving written consent from such Team Operator.
If any pattern can be found in the the handling of MLS tampering allegations in the past, it often seems to be a case of imported European front office executives being tripped up by bureaucratic speedbumps that are less common in the often unregulated world of foreign transfers. Red Bulls sporting chief Kevin Thelwell is still learning MLS rules after joining from Wolverhampton Wanderers last year, while Philadelphia’s chief executive Ernst Tanner is a German with a background in the Red Bull network of his own.
Both of the most high-profile recent tampering cases in MLS have involved Thelwell’s fellow British expat Adrian Heath. Heath was fined by the league for tampering in 2015 over public comments about wanting to sign Kansas City forward Dom Dwyer, who had known Heath and much of the Orlando staff through a previous loan stint during the club’s USL days. While that incident could have been somewhat excused by professional familiarity and Heath’s grounding in the chummy, gabby world of the English professional game, Heath’s second tampering run-in a year later surrounding negotiations with Italian midfielder Antonio Nocerino (whose rights were still officially owned by DC United) was a blatant flouting or misunderstanding of the rules that required further league action.
In following with the European fish-out-of-water theme, Cincinnati’s own technical leadership consists of Dutchmen Gerard Nijkamp and Jaap Stam, perhaps foreshadowing a different type of naivete about MLS transfer culture. Beyond the aforementioned Heath cases, MLS has perhaps not been diligent about enforcing its ostensibly onerous tampering rules, with the tacit understanding that its clubs are required to play a loose game of musical chairs with many rank-and-file players due to salary cap and allocation money incentives.
Very few examples exist from the league’s past of tampering allegations being acted on – the more notable examples of the league coming down hard about tampering being cases involving the headhunting of coaches, with Salt Lake giving up draft picks over the hiring of goalkeeping trainer Jeff Cassar in 2007 and your New York Red Bulls eventually being forced to pay a similar ransom for the right to talk to manager Juan Carlos Osorio later that same year. The only other notable tampering allegation from the league’s past was an unsuccessfully-prosecuted one surrounding Seattle’s hire of Sigi Schmid from Columbus in 2008, with a brief 2013 controversy involving Robbie Rogers coming out of retirement to train and sign with LA Galaxy instead of Chicago Fire also going unpunished.
Knowing that the taciturn Thelwell has made no public comments about Amaya and Amaya is clearly not illicitly training at East Hanover, it can only be gleaned that the allegation revolves around some type of direct communication with Amaya or his agent. Assuming the league views his naivete about league regulations with the leniency that has been shown surrounding most improper player approaches in MLS, the worst that should be expected to happen to the Red Bulls is an even further price-out of Amaya as speculated by The Athletic. Perhaps, in an era of lessened draft pick importance, the commissioner’s office can come up with a creative punishment like preventing them from making any more signings from Celtic.