Among the most frequent complaints I get from Union fans is that the team is not always transparent about how constrained they are financially.
On Monday afternoon, Union manager John Hackworth shot some sunlight into that fog.
In this wide-ranging interview with the Philly Soccer Page, Hackworth explained the Union’s salary cap situation in some detail, and offered some insights into his priorities for the offseason.
I am not going to rehash the entire thing here, because PSP deserves the pageviews for its hard work. But I would like to highlight a few things.
Among Hackworth’s most candid revelations was the number of former Union players who the team continued to pay this year, and whose salaries counted under the cap:
[T]he team’s salary cap was still occupied by salaries - all or partial - of players no longer with the club. Midfielder Freddy Adu’s salary comprised a bulk of it, but the Union also took hits for Bakary Soumaré, Josué Martínez, Gabriel Gómez, Porfirio López, and Jorge Perlaza. (That means the off-season trade for Sebastien Le Toux resulted in the Union keeping part of Martinez’s salary on their books.)
The Union could have paid down some of those salaries with allocation money but chose not to, Hackworth confirmed. Instead, the team left those salaries on the cap so they could save allocation money and build enough of a cache to make bigger signings for 2014.
Regarding the future, Hackworth acknowledged that the Union are in the market for an attacking Designated Player. Though said player would not be of David Beckham or Thierry Henry’s stature, the interview cited Portland’s Diego Valeri and Columbus’ Federico Higuaín.
(I will interject myself here briefly to note that a player like Valeri or Higuaín would have more than enough impact to make the Union a much better team. You’ve surely seen Valeri’s skills if you’ve watched this year’s playoffs, and he only makes $400,000 a year.)
The Union’s interest in a new playmaking DP is big news, but not as big as the means the team would like to use to acquire such a talent. As PSP's Dan Walsh writes:
More notable may be the new “impact designated player” alternative, which became available this season after Major League Soccer sold a reported 25 percent of its marketing arm, Soccer United Marketing, to Providence Equity Partners for a reported $125-150 million in 2012.
“The league would match up to $1 million of the investment [on impact designated players],” Hackworth said.
The player must meet certain requirements to qualify as an impact designated player. Notably, the player must be a young attacker. Colorado used this mechanism to sign forward Gabriel Torres this year, as did Toronto with Max Urruti and Portland with Diego Valeri.
If you thought you heard a noise outside your window just now, it was probably a mass howl of anguish from Toronto FC fans. They were spun left and right by the team when it signed Urruti during the summer, after coach Ryan Nelsen called the Argentine forward a “league DP.”
No one had ever heard of such a phrase before, or of the details laid out in this story by Neil Davidson of the Canadian Press. It didn’t help that MLS headquarters shot down most of Nelsen’s remarks as being not true.
It took a few weeks for new TFC general manager Tim Bezbatchenko to clarify what had really happened in a further interview with Davidson. And it did not go unnoticed that the Urruti signing - as well as a subsequent trade to Portland - were executed by Bezbatchenko’s predecessor, Kevin Payne.
(And it has never gone unnoticed that Payne has a habit of saying too much while delivering too little. That’s why Bezbatchenko now has Payne's job.)
The last thing worth noting from Hackworth’s remarks is the list of countries where he and his coaching staff have been scouting potential offseason signings. Though there haven’t been any specific names floated, this still provides an idea of where the Union have cast their net.
Hackworth traveled to Ecuador last week to scout a player. Meanwhile, top assistant Rob Vartughian was in Europe as of Saturday, having traveled to Denmark, Greece and Germany. Vartughian might also head to Sweden, where the season is over but the Union are interested in a player whose club is playing in one of the European tournaments, Hackworth said. The Union are also actively exploring the trade market.
Though the MLS playoffs won’t be done for another three weeks, it’s clear that the Union are already hard at work preparing for next year. We will find out soon enough what comes of their labors.