It is an altogether enchanting and frustrating time for everyone involved as teams shuffle their pack for the second half of the season. The pervasive nature of the guaranteed contract under the auspices of this Collective Bargaining Agreement has all but eradicated the widespread culls of the past, yet danger still exists for players. A mixture of contractual options (mostly for foreign players) and non-guaranteed deals (for younger folks and recent imports) ensure that some players will suddenly feel the pinch as teams evaluate all of their options.
Make no mistake: the secondary transfer window presents plenty of options for MLS sides. Those choices may not rank among the most glamorous in world football, but they are enticing enough to keep those technical directors busy and prompt fans to wonder whether one or two key additions can push their club toward the postseason or toward a viable run at MLS Cup.
With plenty of comings and goings on the docket over the next month (June 27-July 27), here are a few of the story lines worth monitoring carefully:
In order to sign players, teams must make room for them: More than likely, clubs will do so over the next week or two by chopping players from their current roster. Time is of the essence as players with non-guaranteed deals will see their contracts turn into guaranteed deals as of July 1 (with some limited exceptions). Other players (mostly foreigners) will have contract options come up on the same date or in the middle of next month. Most, if not all, teams will have to clear both roster space and salary budget room in order to significantly tweak their rosters at this point.
Designated Players are certainly on the table … : Most teams can find a way to shoehorn the budget hit for a DP ($175,000) or a young DP ($150,000) with the proper cocktail of transactions. Signing the right player, however, usually presents a more difficult challenge.
… and quite a few familiar faces are jockeying for a spot at the table: Prominent figures such as Alessandro Del Piero and Alessandro Nesta have all but clamored for a move to MLS, but this particular window may not yield such a high-profile arrival. The increasing pay gap between MLS and emerging leagues in Brazil and China limits the options at the top end (think Didier Drogba and Clarence Seedorf) and ratchets up the pressure to proffer better financial packages for players accustomed to making serious money at top European sides. This summer may provide a decent test of the theory that MLS can pay comparatively modest dollars to anyone that falls below the Beckham-Henry-Márquez category and still manage sign proven players willing to sacrifice some coin to live in the States.
Whither Carlos Bocanegra?: Most observers in British Columbia (and most everywhere else, too) thought he might end up with old friend Jay DeMerit up in Vancouver. When Philadelphia instigated a draft pick swap and sent a truckload of allocation money to the Whitecaps earlier this week to acquire the top spot in the allocation order to sign ex-Chicago defender Bakary Soumare, those plans seemingly hit the back burner. At this stage, Bocanegra may just have to wait and see how the mess at Rangers unfolds in the courtroom before he makes any grandiose plans about a potential MLS return (and the corresponding pay cut it would likely require) or a move to some other European side.
New England is now on the allocation clock: The Soumare switch allowed the Revs to jump to the top of the allocation order right in time for the start of the transfer window. MLS will have to entice someone, anyone to sign with the league over the next couple of months to make this particular asset worthwhile. If that moment does arrive, Revolution general manager Michael Burns may have to move some pieces around to accommodate another high earner in a side that already boasts Benny Feilhaber and Shalrie Joseph. If the right player doesn't sign with the league in time (and, if he's out of contract by the end of the window, that time period can push into August) or the Revs decide to pursue other options (a striker and a central defender, perhaps?) from outside the league, then the spot could turn into a bargaining chip. Either way, the Revs will try to find a way to parlay their current spot at the top of the order into a couple of pieces to help them with their playoff push.
As some players return, others will go: Geoff Cameron (Houston for now, Stoke City for later?), George John (FC Dallas for now, out-of-contract at the end of the season), Marco Pappa (Chicago for now, out-of-contract at the end of the season), Brek Shea (always in the rumor mill) are just four of the players likely to land on the wishlists of European sides in the next few months. It isn't ideal to move a key player during the middle of the MLS season, but it may beat the alternative of having a distracted player futilely trying to keep his focus and his form as the business end of the season approaches.
Don't forget about the guys already in the fold: Oscar Boniek Garcia (Houston) and Marco Di Vaio (Montréal) will take the field as Designated Players in short order. Di Vaio, for instance, is expected to start for the Impact in tonight's match against Toronto FC. Alex de Lima (Chicago) and Jairo Arrieta (Columbus) rank among the players who could boost their new sides in less prominent ways.
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