When Howard Megdal broke the story of United States youth international Haji Wright signing with the New York Cosmos, I have to admit, I was shocked. Wright is one of the jewels of the US youth system (alongside Arsenal player Gedion Zelalem), and I fully expected to see the player either wait until his 18th birthday to sign with a European side, or simply sign with the Los Angeles Galaxy of MLS, where he'd spend the next several seasons.
Instead, Wright chose to be a pioneer of sorts, and will now spend the 2015 season playing in the North American Soccer League. That decision has been unpopular with many MLS fans, who can't understand why a player of Wright's pedigree would willingly choose to start life in the second division, as opposed to trying his hand in the top tier of American soccer*. Quite frankly though, it's not a hard decision to understand at all.
*Realistically, Wright would be playing in USL to start his career.
One of the largest drawbacks of MLS and their single-entity structure is a lack of control for players, in terms of both salary and where they'll be playing. There is no exception for an exciting youth international like Wright.
Having come through the Los Angeles Galaxy academy, that franchise was the only side in MLS with the ability to sign him. The Galaxy also had the ability to trade Haji's rights* to another team within the league. With Wright heavily rumored to be leaning toward a European move, this scenario could be problematic from his perspective, as the league would likely make that difficult.
*See what I did there?
As a player that just turned 17 several days ago, Haji didn't yet have the option of an international transfer. FIFA does allow for international transfers for players under 18 in some cases, but while European clubs have been massaging those regulations for years, the recent transfer ban of FC Barcelona and the ongoing investigation at Real Madrid seems to have had the desired effect in that regard. The reality of the situation was that he'd likely have to wait until his 18th birthday next season to sign a professional deal if his desire was to head to Europe immediately.
The MLS format puts players like Wright in a unique and unfortunate position, as the single-entity structure of the league means that the player lacks the ability to choose between competing top division clubs. The Galaxy have all of the leverage in negotiations, and can simply freeze the player out until he's old enough to move to Europe if he won't make the concessions that they desire. The MLS franchise can push for a longer term in any deal because of this, and would likely wind up with a say in what European club the player ultimately joins.
With the growth of the NASL comes a viable alternative, however, that could be of real benefit to kids like Wright. By negotiating with both the Cosmos and the Galaxy, Wright put himself in a position to get a more favorable deal, and likely one that allows him to leave for the European club of his choosing at whatever point he feels ready. He'll also still be allowed to compete at a level which should prove challenging enough in the interim, and just as importantly from his perspective, be adequately compensated for his efforts.
Where Wright's career eventually takes him is yet to be determined, but it wouldn't be hard to believe that USMNT coach Jurgen Kilnsmann is pushing the player to test himself in Europe. As long as Don Garber and MLS are making that path more difficult for young, American talents, NASL clubs have a real opportunity to take advantage, and benefit themselves while helping the players.