Why this summer transfer window will impact MLS far beyond 2017
The brilliant thing about the parity in Major League Soccer is teams almost never feel out of the playoff hunt.
Real Salt Lake, which has struggled this season, sits just four points out of a postseason position in the West. Even Minnesota United, an expansion team that has plenty of problems, could be back in contention if it strings together a couple wins.
With the secondary transfer window opening Monday morning, there is plenty of incentive for almost every team to be actively shopping for the pieces that will help in its playoff push.
Discussions with several agents, coaches and general managers over the last few days indicate that MLS teams could be fairly active this summer.
Earlier this year, I lamented the lack of activity in the primary window. MLS teams are often far too hesitant to make moves, scared to pull the trigger on a trade that could come back to bite them. But the summer window and the prospect of making the playoffs could overcome even those instincts. There are two main philosophies in any window: the teams signing for now, and the teams positioning themselves for the future.
For teams like Real Salt Lake, Minnesota, Colorado and even Orlando City, sources indicate potential moves are being lined up with an eye on not just this season, but the moves are also targeting the salary cap and roster space positioning it could mean for the years beyond. This is not to say those teams aren’t trying to win now, but each team's move is linked with more maneuvering in January.
The Chicago Fire is the ultimate model here. Last season, the Fire compiled as much allocation money as possible and moved to clear out roster spots in anticipation of a busy January transfer window. Among those moves was trading Kennedy Igboananike to D.C. United for a relatively small amount of allocation money while agreeing to pick up the majority of the winger’s tab and hold his Designated Player spot. While some may have questioned the return, what Chicago was doing was adding assets and opening a DP spot. The Fire would sign two DPs in January, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Nemanja Nikolic, both of whom have been catalysts in the team’s worst-to-first turnaround.
Last week, I reported Real Salt Lake was having discussions with teams, including the LA Galaxy, about trading Yura Movsisyan. Two sources confirmed the talks for the Designated Player, who is paid nearly $2 million per year. That’s number would make it very difficult to move Movsisyan, and it is a likely factor in why the Galaxy turned down a trade and are “not interested” in signing the forward. The talks were in the early phase, and a trade may never occur, but it provides some insight into what RSL is thinking about the future.
People asked why RSL would make the trade and what they would get in return. The answer is similar to the Igboananike deal: Even if RSL made a trade in which it would eat most or some of Movsisyan’s salary for the rest of this season, the payoff comes in the open Designated Player spot and additional allocation money for more roster flexibility next season.
With Albert Rusnak in prime position to be bought down with Targeted Allocation Money, RSL could potentially open two and even three (depending on Jefferson Savarino’s cap hit) Designated Player spots for next season. Add a bit more allocation money to the mix and there is potential to add multiple DP and TAM players that can quickly change the outlook of a team. With a young core in place, the future of RSL can be very bright, if the right moves are made.
This type of maneuvering would also make sense for Minnesota United, which may look to trade or sell players in order to open roster and cap space for next season. Minnesota isn’t going to make the playoffs this year, so offloading players like John Alvbage ($247,748; international), Bashkim Kadrii ($288,100; international) and Vadim Demidov ($555,008; international) would create more flexibility for the 2018 season. Demidov may be a hard sell, but Alvbage’s loan is up on July 15, and Kadrii may be easier to send back to Scandinavia.
A source with knowledge of the proposal confirmed a report out of Costa Rica this weekend that Minnesota received an offer of around $1 million for center back Francisco Calvo from a team in Asia. The offer fell well short of the asking price for Calvo, which was reported to be at least $2 million, but with Calvo playing in the Gold Cup this summer, Minnesota may have more suitors for the Tico.
Orlando City, meanwhile, will certainly be looking to add pieces to address a team that needs help right now. It’s not hard to peak just around the corner, however, and look at the big decisions that lie ahead. Kaká’s contract, all $7.2 million of it, comes up at the end of the year, and that’s a potential DP spot and an international spot that could come free. Orlando City will also have some work to do in deciding what to do with Antonio Nocerino ($850,000; international) and, of course, Cyle Larin. Orlando City has just one senior roster spot open right now, so its options in this window are limited. In January, however, Jason Kreis will have a chance to continue making the team in his image.
While the Fire’s biggest need is backline depth, Taylor Twellman reported Chicago is the frontrunner to land Juan Quintero if the Porto man comes to MLS. Discussions with three sources confirm the Fire own the discovery claim on Quintero and do has a strong interest in the player, but the asking price on Quintero has been high enough for any MLS team to press pause. One source put the number of a transfer fee as high as $7.5 million –- it’s been reported overseas they want as much as $11.4 million -– with a salary upwards of $3.5 million per year.
Orlando City has interest, as well, according to one of the sources, and it’s possible the Fire could be staying in the mix for Quintero to drive up the price for the discovery rights, should Orlando City be more willing to pay for the attacking midfielder. The Fire could buy down David Accam to open up a Designated Player spot if talks with Quintero get more serious.
The Galaxy, meanwhile, is one of the most intriguing teams to watch in this window. The traditional powerhouse is struggling this season, and it has two senior roster spots open, including one DP spot and one international spot. ESPN’s Tom Marshall reported the Galaxy approached Tigres regarding star forward Andre-Pierre Gignac, and the French forward would be the type of superstar signing that would shake up the Western Conference. Will the Galaxy put down the money to take one of the top stars from Liga MX?
The window remains open until August 9. Hopefully, it doesn’t disappoint.
Facebook Live Question of the Week
Every week I pick a question from my weekly Facebook Live Q&A – every Thursday around noon ET – and expand on it here in the column. This week’s question:
Alex A. Sykes - Read your NASL/USL player article and I understand the structure but it doesn't make sense. Miles Robinson(ATL) makes 150k+ and doesn't play. Jonathan Lewis(NYCFC). How are college players valuations higher than professionals?
The idea that college or younger stars are valued higher than established professionals is a phenomenon that occurs across sports. Teams are betting on the potential they see and the future of those players as they continue to develop into pros. A 28-year-old in the USL may be a better pro today than a given college player, but the team is betting that a player like Miles Robinson can develop into a high-end starter for an MLS team, while we know that a 28-year-old USL pro’s peak is a depth roster option and spot starter, at best.
Players like Robinson and Lewis also fall under the Generation Adidas designation, which adds even more value for MLS teams. GA players do not count against the salary cap, making them extremely valuable additions as long as they are a part of the program. It leads to headaches when a player is graduated because suddenly a six-figure cap charge hits the books, but a free year or two with a top young player is worth it. In addition, betting on a player at $150,000 is a relatively low-risk move, especially compared to the millions it takes to buy players from abroad. Often you get what you pay for, but the MLS SuperDraft gives you the chance to get talent like Cyle Larin and Jack Harrison for far, far below market value.
The decision here, Alex, comes down to the reality of sports. Teams will always bet on top young players and their potential higher ceiling over a known commodity that won’t develop beyond the product you already see on the field.
The Final Third
Acosta drawing interest
There have been plenty of hints around the league that FC Dallas may soon have a decision to make about quick-rising American star Kellyn Acosta.
The central midfielder is opening up some eyes both here and abroad, and FC Dallas, which has shown a willingness to sell players, may have to choose if now is the time to sell the 21-year-old. One source said Acosta has drawn interest from PSV in Holland, as well as a club in Germany. If the interest turns into offers, Dallas could, for a second straight season, face the decision of selling a star player in the middle of a potential Cup-winning year.
Transfer window research
Want to have a bit of fun guessing what your team might do in the transfer window? Check out the MLS roster pages on MLSSoccer.com.
As the league pushes for more transparency, these pages are invaluable to see how MLS rosters breakdown between the senior, reserve and supplemental rosters, Designated Player spots and international player spots. Paired with the MLS Players Union salary page, it’s a bit easier to get an idea of what teams can and can’t do – though without knowledge of how much allocation money each team holds, it’s an impossible task to really know a club’s capabilities.
Still, as you try to make predictions about your team, this is a great tool.
Reads of the week
A pair of powerful reads this week.
From the New York Times: How the Death of a Muslim Recruit Revealed a Culture of Brutality in the Marines.
From The Washington Post: The watchers: Airmen who surveil the Islamic State never get to look away.