Why MLS teams should – and will – try to sign Chicharito

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Mexico's biggest star could demand an MLS-record investment, but most GMs believe that he's worth it.

Speculation about the future of Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez has centered around whether the Mexican star will land in MLS. Conversations with multiple MLS general managers and league sources over the last few weeks revealed that the prevailing belief is not just that an MLS team should make a play for Chicharito in the summer window, but that a team will move to sign the Bayer Leverkusen forward.

The price tag will be a hefty one. When Chicharito last negotiated with an MLS team – Orlando City in 2015 – he set his number above $10 million in salary. One source said it was as high as $12 million per year. The total investment, including a transfer fee, could end up in the $50 million range over the life of a four-year contract.

For context, Kaká signed for approximately $30 million over four years and Sebastian Giovinco for around $35 million over five years. Despite that price tag, most GMs believe money, at least compared to previous Designated Players, shouldn’t be a deterrent.

“He’s worth more than any team has spent on any player,” one general manager said.

Multiple people around the league said they believe Chicharito, 28, falls into a category reserved for only a select few players this league has ever seen: those who can move the needle in attendance, marketing and TV numbers and can transcend multiple soccer markets. David Beckham leads this list in MLS history. Freddy Adu, Cuauhtémoc Blanco and Jorge Campos also gave the league bumps in regards to business impact.

Just one GM expressed reservations that “overpaying” Chicharito might inflate the market and make it tougher to navigate for MLS teams in the future. Others believe Chicharito’s stature in North America is well known and would combat that potential problem.  

Chicharito would undoubtedly fill stadiums and bring sponsors on board – and he’d do it while scoring a ton of goals on the field. The question is whether those sponsorships, jersey sales and ticket profits would be enough to balance out the substantial financial package necessary to sign him, and whether Chicharito would be willing to step into the responsibilities that come with that spotlight, as Beckham did. One MLS general manager said the price of a contract might hinge on whether a team owns all of Chicharito’s marketing rights.

John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

Of course, MLS will face stiff competition for Mexico’s biggest star. If Leverkusen opts to sell the goal-scorer in the summer window, there will be plenty of suitors in Europe. PSG is one team that has come up in recent rumors. That’s what ultimately killed the Orlando City negotiations; Chicharito wanted to play Champions League football. (One source said MLS never expressed reservations about the hefty price tag in 2015.) In addition to European suitors, there will be the temptation of returning to Liga MX to play. There are some questions about whether a Mexican team can compete financially for Chicharito, though. MLS teams have shown an ability to outspend for top-end players, even if they don’t spend across the entire roster the way Liga MX does.

Wherever Chicharito lands – and two sources think LAFC will ultimately sign him, perhaps this summer before loaning him out ahead of the 2018 season – MLS will not allow discovery rights to hold up a deal for a player of this caliber. As one source put it, the process would be, essentially: “Here’s the price. If you can pay it speak up, otherwise step aside.”

If that price exceeds $10 million for a transfer fee, it makes an MLS move a bit more unrealistic. One source indicated the league has also backed away from the days when it would assist teams with transfer fees. That was confirmed by MLS commissioner Don Garber when I spoke with him at the MLS All-Star game announcement in Chicago last week.

“There was a time, particularly when we created the Designated Player rule, where the league was very involved in helping our clubs make decisions that we believed would be in their best interest,” Garber said. “In fact, we subsidized many of those decisions. Those days are long gone. There are no more subsidies, and our clubs are first and foremost making the decisions about what kind of players they want to sign, particularly as Designated Players, that can create value for them on and off the field.”

“He’s worth more than any team has spent on any player.”

Many of the newer ownership groups now involved in MLS don’t need the league’s financial aid anymore. At Chicharito’s price point, however, there are only a few teams really capable of splashing the cash: LAFC, LA Galaxy, New York City FC, New York Red Bulls, Toronto FC, Seattle Sounders and Atlanta United.

It feels like a realistic possibility now, though, that a team in MLS is going to sign a player many believe would be a game-changer – off the field as much as on it.

The Final Third

Preseason is preseason

The preseason games have started and already I’ve seen fans diving too much into the results and trying to make sense of performances.

This is preseason. It’s not a real indication of how good or bad a team is going to be. Often, teams are toying with tactics and combinations and still working up to certain fitness goals. A win over a college team by one goal or five goals isn’t going to be a sign of whether your team can beat the Sounders on the road in June. Player performances might give you some indication of a player who is capable of taking on a big role during the season, but it’s not always a perfect picture.

I’ll take a closer look at lineups in preseason games as the regular season nears, but we won’t have a true idea of teams until the real games get started in March.

Real Madrid at All-Star Game

The league announced last Tuesday that the MLS All-Star Game will be held at Chicago’s Soldier Field on August 2. As I reported on Tuesday, multiple league sources told FourFourTwo the league is finalizing a contract with Real Madrid to be the opponent in that game.

MLS commissioner Don Garber said at the announcement the opponent would be “one of the top five teams in the world,” and Real Madrid certainly lives up to that hype.

Read of the week

I love when we stories look deeper into an aspect of the game we take for granted. This Boston Globe piece by Ben Volin on the 40 seconds in which a play is called for the New England Patriots is a great example.

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Paul Tenorio is a reporter for FourFourTwo. He works as a freelance reporter on Fire home TV broadcasts. Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulTenorio.