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Marquinhos Pedroso to D.C. United is done. Why was the deal so complicated?

Let’s work through yet another weird-ass MLS trade

After several days of trying to figure out a deal that MLS would find acceptable, D.C. United has reached a deal to acquire left back Marquinhos Pedroso from FC Dallas. The details make some kind of sense if you’re an MLS lifer: Dallas had to waive Pedroso, and United claimed him that way. Meanwhile, at the same time but off to the side, United traded their 2020 first round SuperDraft pick to Dallas for $100,000 in General Allocation Money (GAM).

That sure is an MLS trade, isn’t it? A deal that on paper has no relation to the original move, plus the waiver wire, plus...teams opting not to pick Pedroso up for themselves somehow? That’s our league!

If you haven’t spent too much of your life grappling with the vagaries of the ever-expanding MLS rulebook, let us explain how this oddity came to pass.

The original plan, per a report from Steve Goff at the Washington Post a couple of days ago, was more straightforward. United was going to send that same 2020 first rounder to Dallas. The Toros were going to send the same Marquinhos Pedroso to the District. That’s not to say the initial deal had no strangeness: Dallas was apparently going to carry the lion’s share of Pedroso’s 2019 salary hit on their books. With Pedroso listed as making $330,000 last year by the MLS Players Union, that’s no small thing.

By league standards, this trade was very normal and everything was fine...except it wasn’t legal. Marquinhos Pedroso came to Dallas via the use of discretionary Targeted Allocation Money (dTAM), which is different from regular Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) because it’s not granted to you by MLS. Teams get dTAM if their owner puts up the money, turning regular money into MLS money, which is a thing you might try to do if you own a team that has run out of regular TAM, or wants to use your regular TAM for something you can’t use dTAM on. More importantly, you can’t trade dTAM, as that effectively means one owner is subsidizing another.

I...look, I get it. This acronym bombardment isn’t fun for any of us. I promise it’s almost over.

So Dallas brought Pedroso over from Figueirense using dTAM last year in late July, and MLS rules don’t allow dTAM players to be traded for one full year after they enter the league. With the early MLS window closing this week, United — who desperately need a healthy left back right now! — couldn’t wait until then. The teams agreed to terms, but the league said the deal couldn’t go through as structured.

That brings us to this new version of the deal. The rules around dTAM don’t say anything about just cutting someone loose. Dallas couldn’t trade Pedroso to D.C., but if they happened to let him go...and United just happened to put in a waiver claim on him...and everyone else in the league who could use a better left back just opted to find something else to do for five minutes...Pedroso could join the Black-and-Red! Done! Nice and legal, just like everyone likes it!

So that covers United’s half of the deal. How does Dallas get paid, you might ask? Well, that’s where this concurrent trade gets involved. United still sends the 2020 first round pick to Dallas, but for two reasons, Dallas has to send something back this way. First of all, remember, United wasn’t supposed to carry much of Pedroso’s salary, and adding him via waivers would make them wholly responsible for his cap hit. Secondly, you can’t just send a draft pick to a team for nothing, because that would be weird!

So that brings us to where we are: Pedroso was cut loose by Dallas and immediately claimed by United. Meanwhile, United send next year’s first round pick to Dallas for $100,000 in GAM, which unlike TAM or dTAM can be used to offset a player’s salary. In theory that GAM could go towards Pedroso’s salary, but really United can do a bunch of other things with it, and we’ll never actually know, because that’s how MLS works.

Now: If you saw all these acronyms and your brain shut off, it’s cool. No one is going to be upset at you. If you skimmed to the bottom of this piece, here’s what you absolutely need to know: D.C. United got the left back they needed. Dallas got a draft pick next year.