According to Fox Soccer's Ives Galarcep and the Daily News' Kerith Gabriel, the Union have made a big move to improve their back line by signing 26-year-old defender Bakary Soumaré.
Soumaré was a finalist for Major League Soccer's Defender of the Year award in 2008, the second of three seasons he played for the Chicago Fire. In 2009, Soumaré moved to French club Boulogne for a $2.1 million transfer fee, which at the time was a MLS record.
He had since been loaned to German club Karlsruher, which is where he most recently played.
The 6-foot-4, 185-pound Mali native will officially become a Union player on June 27, when MLS' summer transfer window opens. He is expected to be introduced by the team Tuesday.
Galarcep said on the Union's WIP radio show Monday night that Soumaré will not be a Designated Player.
"He's actually taking a pretty big pay cut," Galarcep said, adding that Soumaré's family lives in New York. This will allow Soumaré to be closer to them.
As Ives explained, the manner in which the Union acquired Soumaré is a bit complicated.
Former MLS players who return to the league cannot just join any team they want to. There is a multi-step process. It works as follows:
1. The team that sold the player retains the rights to that player until the money from the transfer fee is spent.
Chicago has spent the money they got for selling Soumaré, so that step is cleared.
2. An allocation ranking system is used to determine the team that gains the rights to any player who returns to MLS after having left it, or any U.S. national team player who joins the league.
We can argue some other time about whether having this kind of artificial restriction on player movement into MLS is a good thing or a bad thing. I think it's a factual statement to say that it is a mechanism of enforcing competitive balance.
The allocation ranking order is based on the previous season's order of finish. It is re-set prior to each new season (i.e., it is only determined by one season's results, not multiple seasons). Teams that want to move up can trade players or allocation money to do so.
At the start of 2012, this was the allocation order (hat tip to Drew Epperly of WVHooligan). The expansion Montréal Impact had the top spot, and the Vancouver Whitecaps - last year's worst team - were No. 2. Philadelphia was No. 13.
In February, Montréal used its spot to acquire former U.S. national team forward Eddie Johnson, then traded Johnson to Seattle for midfielder Lamar Neagle and forward Michael Fucito. That moved Vancouver up to the No. 1 spot, Philadelphia to No. 12 and Montréal to the bottom at No. 19.
Since then, Vancouver fans and media have been talking a lot about the Whitecaps pursuing U.S. national team captain Carlos Bocanegra. He has been in a perilous situation at his club, Scottish giant Glasgow Rangers, which has been in bankruptcy and almost went out of business entirely.
As recently as last Monday, reports were coming out of Scotland that Bocanegra moving to the Whitecaps was "all but tied up."
(Yes, that particular report got the name of the team wrong; another got the name of the Whitecaps' manager wrong. But the point was made.)
Meanwhile, the Union were making moves behind the scenes. According to Galarcep, Peter Nowak - yes, really - was moving to acquire Soumaré in conjunction with the trade of Danny Califf to Chivas USA.
Galarcep reports that the deal was completed early last week, with the Union sending between $100,000 and $125,000 in allocation money to Vancouver in order to move up the rankings. The deal put the Union in the No. 1 spot and Vancouver at No. 12. Now the Union are No. 19, Vancouver is at No. 11 and Montreal moves up one spot to No. 18. The complete current allocation order is here.
The Union's acquisition of Soumaré didn't happen in time to have any impact on Nowak keeping his job - and given what we've been hearing since Nowak's departure, the trade probably wouldn't have helped that much.
I can't help thinking about is how much allocation money the Union have received over the years from Vancouver in exchange for Sébastien Le Toux and Jordan Harvey. Now the Union have sent some of that money back, and they have gotten a serious talent in return.