Among MLS teams interested in landing U.S. international striker Jozy Altidore, Toronto FC is the frontrunner. According to a source with knowledge of the negotiations, it's because of the club's higher standing in the league's allocation ranking.
Thanks to its single-entity structure, the league has always played a considerable role in where Designated Players land, and the rules governing such moves have been fluid to say the least.
In the case of Altidore, two teams have emerged with a high level of interest and a willingness to meet his salary demands of between $5 and $6 million per year: the Portland Timbers and Toronto FC. Toronto has a higher ranking (seventh) than Portland (ninth), and while it's possible that the Timbers could work out a trade with one of the teams above them to leapfrong Toronto, at present, TFC has the inside track.
"[For Altidore], it's not about dollars," said the source. "MLS is right to want a clear, consistent process. The blind draw was a bad look for the league."
The allocation ranking has been the primary mechanism by which U.S. internationals coming into MLS were allocated. The ranking was also used for foreign players returning to the league after playing abroad. Every year, the allocation ranking is constructed in inverse order of league finish.
This year, expansion sides New York City FC and Orlando City were placed at the top at the start of the offseason. The team highest in the rankings has first crack at acquiring such players when they become available.
But MLS appeared to move away from this approach when Clint Dempsey went to the Seattle Sounders and Michael Bradley landed with Toronto FC. In those instances, MLS decided that players of a certain salary threshold were not subject to the allocation order. At that point, a willingness to pay the player's salary and acquisition costs was the deciding factor.
The issue came to a head last season when Jermaine Jones entered the league. A tug-of-war ensued between the Chicago Fire and the New England Revolution, with both clubs willing to meet Jones' asking price. A blind draw was ultimately used to send Jones to the Revs, but in the aftermath MLS received withering criticism over its lack of consistency and transparency.
According to the source, it now it appears that MLS is going back to using the allocation ranking to determine where such players are placed.
TFC still has some details to work out. With three Designated Players -- the maximum allowed -- already on its books, Toronto will need to sell one of them, likely Jermain Defoe who's been linked with a return to the Premier League. There is also the rather considerable requirement of negotiating Altidore's transfer fee, though how much that might be is unknown at the moment.
A third team, the New York Red Bulls, was also reportedly interested in acquiring Altidore, but a source told ESPN's Doug McIntyre that the Red Bulls have balked at his financial demands.
If Altidore does land back in MLS, it will likely be with Toronto, in large part due to the league's goal of more consistency in player allocations a prime motivation.