One of the more bizarre transfer sagas this offseason for Major League Soccer has been over New York Red Bulls Paraguayan midfielder Alejandro Gamara “Kaku” Romero. Kaku has played for the Red Bulls for the last three seasons and the relationship between club and player has been tested at times. Signed as a designated player on a club record fee, Kaku had had 13 goals and 17 assists in 72 regular season matches. This has received a lot of criticism and the mishandling of a player’s career whether he desired to stay or leave potentially damaging the relationship further.
Kaku’s contract with the Red Bulls expired at the end of 2020 and signed on a free transfer to Saudi Arabian club Al-Taawooun in the Winter Transfer Window… or so he thought. Outraged, The New York Red Bulls disputed Kaku’s free transfer claiming he had violated his contract. According to Sam Stejskal and Paul Tenorio’s article in The Athletic, New York and MLS requested that the US Soccer Federation not release his International Transfer Certificate to Al-Taawoun. An ITC is an important document a player transferring needs to have in order for a transfer to be completed. US Soccer did what the Red Bulls asked, but FIFA provide Al-Taawoun a temporary ITC allowing Kaku to play while the dispute over his contract went in to arbitration
The New York RedBulls claimed that they had exercised his options and did inform Kaku as well as his agent before the December 1 deadline. It’s at this time the rosters in MLS must be finalized as they enter the offseason. It’s also common practice at season’s end that the clubs inform all the players that their contract options have been exercised or not. Major League Soccer Players Association (MLSPA) claimed that the Red Bulls did not only fail to inform Kaku that his contract option was exercised by the deadline, but they informed player representatives who weren’t responsible for that specific player, and by doing so Kaku was allowed to leave on January 1 on a free transfer.
An official ruling by an arbitrator was made on Friday April 2 between the Red Bulls and the MLSPA stating that the Red Bulls did retain Kaku’s contracts rights. The club followed up with their own statement stating there would be a further resolution over the dispute. However, the resolution remains to be seen. SB Nation Site “Once A Metro” reported that the arbitration resolved last week was only between the league and the players union. The dispute hasn’t been brought up to either the Court of Arbitration for Sport or FIFA.
This isn’t the first time a player has left MLS while under contract. It happened to Brazilian striker Camilo Sanvezzo who left the Vancouver Whitecaps in 2014 and it happened again with Canadian striker Cyle Larin leaving Orlando City in 2018. Those disputes were settled over an agreed transfer free before further legal actions was needed. Kaku’s case is past the point of settling what club’s own his contract rights with an agreed transfer fee.
The MLSPA hasn’t stated if it agrees or disagrees with the ruling and its unclear if they will take this case to a higher level. Whether the matter is resolved or unresolved will likely be determined by Kaku’s emotional reaction to the decision that was made by the arbitrator. Either he will stick it out with the Red Bulls like nothing has happened rolling with the punches or he’s outraged by how poorly the club has handled his contract that he simply wants no part whatsoever threatening early retirement if that’s what it takes for him to be no longer contractually bound.
It never looks good for any club who mishandles the contract of high profile signing who expresses desires to leave and isn’t able to. The Red Bulls have brought in new management this past offseason, but the relationship between player and club maybe beyond salvageable at this point. For the time being Kaku is still a player for the New York Red Bulls but for how much longer brings more uncertainty.