After being selected No. 1 overall in 2015 MLS SuperDraft, former UConn men’s soccer star Cyle Larin spent his first three seasons terrorizing opposing defenses, totaling 43 goals and winning the 2015 MLS Rookie of the Year award.
Even though the MLS has made its fair share of progress since its inception in 1994, it still cannot match up with the top leagues in Europe, which offer more money and better competition for young stars such as Larin.
While the Canadian native has likely been eyeing Europe for some time now, he made his interest publicly known in October, telling the Orlando Sentinel “I have personal goals and dreams and I want to go to Europe and play. I think it’s the right time.”
Larin’s team, Orlando City SC, obviously did not want to lose their top striker, but stated they would not stop him from leaving as long as they “receive an acceptable offer from the club.”
However, issues arose in January when Besiktas tweeted a pair of photos, including one of Larin in the club’s jersey.
While it may seem like the team was simply promoting their new player, there are “tapping up” rules to prevent clubs poaching players from other clubs if said player is still under contract. Included in those rules are tweeting photos of a player.
Orlando City quickly fired back with a statement reading, “[Orlando City] has not agreed to terms on a transfer of Larin and will take all necessary action against Besiktas in response to the announcement. Larin remains under contract with Orlando City through 2019 and is expected to join his teammates at preseason camp later this month.”
The centerpiece of the issue is Larin’s contract which he signed after being drafted in 2015. It is a three-year deal with team options for 2018 and 2019.
Larin reportedly signed a document to ensure he was aware of the team options and could not dispute them in the future. Orlando City exercised the option back in November, thus keeping him under contract for 2018.
However, FIFA regulations do not permit unilateral contract options, meaning both the club and player must agree to use the option. Besiktas is using this to argue they can acquire Larin without paying Orlando City the necessary transfer fee since he was a free agent. If it does go to court, the club feels good about its chances.
“FIFA always rules in favour of the player in one-sided contract extension cases,” Besiktas director Safak Mahmutyazicioglu told DHA.
However, team options are common in both the MLS and other American sports. This is important because FIFA’s regulations typically respect national law and collective bargaining agreements. From this, unilateral team options in the MLS would be considered valid, meaning Larin is still under contract with Orlando City.
Larin missed Orlando City’s first day of training camp on Monday, only to have video surface the next day of him training with Besiktas.
Beşiktaş'ın yeni transferi Cyle Larin bugünkü antrenmana katıldı. MSL’nin Cyle Larin'a vereceği cezayı futbolcunun kendisinin karşılayacağı Beşiktaşlı yetkililer tarafından belirtildi. @Hakan_gundogar pic.twitter.com/BOM3Ui6iLq— Kartal Analiz (@kartalanalizcom) January 23, 2018
This is not the first time an international club has tried to poach an MLS player under contract by disputing the legality of a team option. In 2014, Vancouver Whitecaps’ striker Camilo Sanvezzo attempted to sign with the Mexican club Queretaro by arguing the option violated FIFA rules.
The move worked in that Sanvezzo was able to leave the Whitecaps. However, Queretaro still had to pay a seven-figure fee for the former MLS Golden Boot winner and the issue of the team options was never officially resolved.
The difference with Larin is that while he is certainly talented, he’s not of the same caliber as Sanvezzo. If Besiktas is required to pay a transfer fee to Orlando City, it would be at a cost to Larin.
“We have talked this through during our meeting with Cyle Larin,” Mahmutyazicioglu said. “If Besiktas come out of this with financial damage, such costs will be covered by Cyle Larin himself.”
It is unclear what steps both Orlando City and the MLS will take to challenge Besiktas. It would be dangerous for the league if players could void their contracts and could leave for new clubs without a transfer fee. The resolution of this case will certainly impact the MLS and its players for years to come.
UPDATE - 1/30:
Orlando City and Besiktas have officially agreed to the transfer of Larin.