MLS and the New York Red Bulls filed a lawsuit in federal court on Thursday against Scott Pearson, the purported agent of midfielder Alejandro "Kaku" Romero Gamarra.
The suit accuses Pearson of "tortious interference" in his handling of Kaku's contract with the league, and the player's subsequent move to Saudi Arabian club Al-Taawoun. MLS and the Red Bulls are seeking over $6 million in damages.
Pearson's company, Argentine Futbol Tours LLC, is also named as a defendant in the suit.
Sources also tell ESPN that MLS is in the process of filing a complaint against Kaku and Al-Taawoun with FIFA's Dispute Resolution Chamber, that will argue that Kaku moved to the Saudi club last January while still under contract to MLS, and by extension the Red Bulls. It is unclear what penalties might be applied if the DRC find in favor of MLS, though it would likely be in the form of financial compensation.
MLS has long maintained that it exercised a unilateral contract option on Kaku prior to the deadline of Dec. 31, 2020, and informed both Kaku and Pearson of their intentions.
FIFPro, the worldwide representative organization of players, has long been against unilateral options given that they are at the discretion of the club. FIFA's DRC and the Court of Arbitration for Sport have ruled on cases involving unilateral options on a case-by-case basis, though in one instance the DRC referred to unilateral options as "problematic". FIFA's Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players are silent on the issue.
Kaku, with the backing of the MLS Players Association, contended that the Red Bulls didn't exercise the option in time, and he was thus free to sign a contract with another club. Pearson stated that he wasn't Kaku's agent, meaning he wasn't authorized to receive any notification of the intent to exercise the option. The filing alleges that Pearson scrubbed his web site and social media accounts of any mention of Kaku, but continued to shop the player to other clubs. Kaku signed with Al-Taawoun on Jan. 15.
Per the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between MLS and the MLSPA, the case was taken to an arbitrator, who sided with MLS and the Red Bulls, stating that Kaku had breached his contract with MLS, and ordered him to cease playing for Al-Taawoun. MLS later filed a petition in federal court seeking enforcement of the arbitrator's ruling.
The ruling had no subsequent impact on Kaku's playing status, and he has continued to play for the Saudi club, making 14 league and cup appearances, scoring nine goals.
In a bid to recoup benefits that they say they would have received had Kaku remained with the Red Bulls or been transferred to another club, MLS and the Red Bulls have sued Pearson.
"If not for Pearson's intentional and improper interference, MLS and RBNY would have continued to enjoy the benefits of Kaku's services and/or had the opportunity to transfer Kaku's rights to a non-MLS club in exchange for a multi-million dollar transfer fee," the filing read. "As a result of Defendants' tortious interference with Kaku's [standard player agreement], MLS and RBNY have sustained, and continue to sustain, millions of dollars in damages."
A source with knowledge of the situation told ESPN: "This is essentially a move to try and enforce the arbitration judgment against Kaku and his agent. It's simply a tool to exert leverage and bring the [Saudi] club to the table."
As for filing a complaint with the DRC, the source added that MLS is looking "for FIFA to enforce the arbitration award."
The court filing also sheds some light on what MLS deems to be Pearson's motives for moving Kaku away from the Red Bulls. Back in 2018, Pearson and an associate named Gustavo Casasola engineered the transfer from Kaku's previously club, Argentine side Club Huracan, to the Red Bulls, for a fee of $5.5m. The deal included an agent fee of $600,000. But another individual, Marcel Simonian, came forward claiming that he not only had represented Kaku in the past but continued to do so. After being threatened with litigation by Simonian, Pearson and Casasola waived their right to the agent fee.
Pearson continued to represent Kaku, and according to the court filing, tried to force a transfer in order "to replace the $600,000 agent fee that had gone to Simonian, rather than himself, in connection with Kaku's 2018 transfer to MLS." The filing asserts that the Red Bulls turned down potential transfers with Liga MX sides Club America and Club Tijuana.