What can only be described as a weird off-season for Orlando City SC got even weirder on Thursday when news broke of DC United's plans to file tampering charges against the Lions over their pursuit of AC Milan midfielder Antonio Nocerino.
This, of course, comes just two days after the league had to step in on United's behalf to tell Orlando City to get its nose out from where it doesn't belong. The biggest kicker? This comes on the heels of last season's slap on the wrist for -- you guessed it -- tampering.
The problem the league faces now is sorting through the mess. Should Orlando City be found in violation of tampering guidelines, it will not be a fun result.
Ideally, Orlando City is not found guilty of anything, Nocerino finds his way onto an MLS team he'll be happy with, and this all goes away. That's a boring column, though.
Let's assume the MLS investigation finds Orlando City did in fact offer a $900,000 contract out of turn, swaying Nocerino away from United's $700,000, directly violating the rules of the Discovery Process as outlined in the MLS Roster Rules and Regulations. This would result in the club being deserving of punishment. The debate lies in how severe.
The correct answer should be quite severe. A second offense doesn't bring another slap on the wrist -- it brings the hammer. The Discovery Process is in place specifically to prevent bidding wars between teams, as MLS is a single entity league.
The severity shouldn't be as extreme as some corners are suggesting. Game forfeiture would certainly set the rest of the league on notice, however, it is entirely counterproductive to the entire point of the Discovery Process -- protecting the single entity. If the concern of the violation is the cause of a bidding war which, in turn, would raise player salaries for the single entity, then cancelling a game and losing the revenue that comes with it does not make sense as an applicable punishment.
While point-docking is not unprecedented in the world of soccer, it doesn't do much to compensate United for the violation. Rather, it's more of a standalone punishment towards the club for the violation. While this could be possible, it also doesn't seem likely.
First and foremost, should the Lions front office be found in violation, the team should be prohibited from signing the player. Let's get that out of the way immediately.
What we're also likely to see is a fine in the form of Targeted Allocation Money heading from OCSC to United, for starters. Should it be true Nocerino has his heart set on that sweet $900,000 deal that was (allegedly) thrown at him, we can start with the front office paying the difference on United's offer for the duration of the deal. It wouldn't be surprising to see some extra cash tacked on the top for their trouble.
Draft pick forfeiture is a common punishment for different violations in North American sports. The most infamous case would be that of Joe Smith and the Minnesota Timberwolves of the NBA, who lost five first round draft picks for an illegal contractual agreement. There is certainly no illegal contractual agreements here, and I doubt we'll see MLS levy a punishment as stiff as five first round picks, but some sort of forfeiture in the SuperDraft should be expected.
Lastly, I expect the hammer to come down on City's roster building mechanisms. This is a roster building violation. If MLS wants to make a clear statement that these violations will not be tolerated, transferring an International Slot from the Lions to D.C. would send that message loud and clear.
Or, there was no tampering, and we all live happily ever after. Stay tuned.