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MLS is spoiling the start of Andrew Gutman’s pro career

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Still waiting for Gutman

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NCAA Soccer: College Cup-North Carolina vs Indiana James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

Andrew Gutman won’t be joining Nashville SC on loan after all as his pro career takes yet another twist before it even starts. After a delay in signing for Celtic that involved a widespread Twitter rumor that he had gone AWOL, that turned out to be false, the team announced that he’d signed and would be heading to USL. Apparently that won’t be happening. Nashville put out a statement Saturday stating that since they are going to be in MLS next year they won’t be taking him on loan since the league doesn’t support the deal.

“This past week, Nashville Soccer Club had announced its intent to take defender Andrew Gutman on loan from Celtic F.C. However, as an expansion member of MLS and in light of the fact that MLS does not support the transaction, Nashville will not be proceeding with the loan.

We wish Andrew the best this season, and we will have no further comment on the matter.”

Got that? Nashville SC, a team that is joining MLS next year, not this year - next year - is not taking a player on loan because MLS, the league they’re joining next year, does not support the move. This comes after Gutman turned down a chance to join the Chicago Fire, who finished 4th worst in MLS last season, in favor of one of the most storied soccer clubs in the history of the sport.

Nashville noted that they aren’t commenting further on the situation and Pro Soccer USA’s Mitchell Northam reports that the Fire aren’t responsible for the loan being cancelled, but the team isn’t commenting on it either. A few weeks ago the Fire did want to make it painfully clear that they offered Gutman a contract prior to signing for Celtic. More details were reported by Paul Tenorio of the Athletic, who wrote, “Sources say the Fire initially offered Gutman a minimum-value contract and that Chicago has been shopping the left back’s homegrown rights within the league.”

Later Tenorio noted that offer was raised from the minimum-value but Gutman decided that he didn’t want to join a team that saw 24 year old left back Brandon Vincent retire from it after enduring its 7th season of missing the playoffs since 2010. After the player took his talents to Scotland, Fire President and General Manager Nelson Rodriguez told the Daily Record, “Andrew was offered a contract, but chose not to accept it. Instead he decided to go with the offer from Celtic so good luck to him.” Apparently, that sentiment won’t include the Fire standing by their former academy member as he tries to build a professional career.

In some ways joining Celtic is an ideal move for Gutman. He would be signing with a team where he could develop and potentially showcase his talents for European scouts on a well regarded side paving the way for a move to a bigger club if he impressed there. He also wouldn’t be joining the Fire, a club that has no USL team, doesn’t seem to intend to start one anytime soon after signing with two USL affiliates, and that has been a model of dysfunction from how it treats fans to the way that it has watched the rest of MLS pass it by over the past decade as it constantly plays catch up year in and year out. What’s unfortunate also is that playing in USL would have also allowed Gutman to learn how to be a pro in a familiar setting rather than being an ocean away from friends and family. But, since MLS doesn’t support the loan it won’t be happening in Nashville.

So what explains this? As a blogger I can only speculate, but if we take the Fire at their word according to what they told Northam, it seems like the league is sending a message to players in its academies that if they do what is best for their careers and don’t sign for a team in MLS that it is not interested in furthering their careers and in fact will work to hinder them.

Despite what Rodriguez said, losing Gutman seems to have caused some bitterness with the club. Looking at the situation from their perspective, the defender trained in their youth system where he was able to show that he could be a key player on a college roster and then when he decided to turn pro after playing at Indiana University, he turned his back on that and went abroad after they offered him a minimum value contract that they then raised. For MLS, it seems like they don’t want a future franchise having a role in continuing his development for Celtic just to profit off of a potential sale that the league won’t see any revenue from.

As a whole for MLS, this type of situation has played out in other ways that aren’t favorable to the league. Weston McKennie trained with FC Dallas’ academy before joining Schalke, Shaq Moore moved to Huracan after spending time with the FC Dallas academy also, and Sebastian Soto left the RSL academy for Hannover 96 last year - all without signing pro contracts in MLS that would have earned a transfer fee.

MLS is designed to do one thing - make its owners money. It can’t do that if the players that its academies produce leave on essentially free transfers. It also can’t do that if players exercise autonomy the way that Gutman did. He had an opportunity that he thought was better and took it, if he stayed in MLS he would either need to wait until he had been in the league for eight years before becoming a free agent within the league or until his contract with the Fire expired and he was able to sign on a free transfer outside of MLS. Faced with joining a league with restrictive player movement rules, Gutman choose to go in another direction and MLS chose to vindictively punish him for it.