It is the MLS offseason, a time in the past when players from around the world are linked to the league and its clubs.
Most of the time, the links are leverage points created by agents who are looking to generate more money for their clients to sign with teams that aren’t in the MLS. The list of players who reportedly interested in signing with Atlanta United, or of interest to the team, was staggeringly hilarious and very much wrong.
More power to them.
It’s been relatively quiet during this offseason compared to year’s past, probably because of the ongoing Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations. No one is quite sure if there will be a salary cap. No one is quite sure if there will be Designated Players, Allocation Money, etc.
It’s a mad, mad world.
It’s going to be really crazy for many of the league’s teams when the CBA is done, particularly if it’s ratified during the January transfer window.
But, so far, with one bizarre exception, rumors tying players to Atlanta United have been almost non-existent.
One rumor was that the club was going to sign Chelsea forward Pedro.
I thought I’d use that rumor to help explain how to separate the probable from the improbable, the possible fact from likely fiction, when it comes to reports of players from around the world who are soon boarding planes to join Atlanta United.
I’ve covered the team since before it was a team. I’ve been fortunate, by virtue of the fine publication that I work for and the communications staff employed by Arthur Blank’s businesses, to get the first interviews with Darren Eales and Carlos Bocanegra, to cover all but two of the team’s games in the past three years, and to attend portions of each of their training camps.
So, I have some idea what the club does and why it does it, even if I’m not always the first to report what is going on with signings. It’s a big world, filled with lots of players and lots of excellent journalists.
Atlanta United will spend money to buy players. The club has spent lots of money on players. It spent a reported $9 million to acquire Miguel Almiron, $14 million on Ezequiel Barco and $15 million on Pity Martinez. It spent more than $1 million in Allocation Money to acquire Darlington Nagbe.
The key to each of those signings is that the club spent money on players that it can/will develop and then sell at a profit, if it chooses. Almiron was sold to Newcastle for more than $25 million. Barco and Pity Martinez are still with the team ... for now.
It seems like an easy model to follow, but Atlanta United was the first club in MLS to go all-in on a certain geographic market and spend as much as it has. Instead of big salaries, the model Toronto employed with Jozy Altidore, Sebastian Giovinco and Michael Bradley, Atlanta United pays the big transfer fee and a respectable salary. Atlanta United’s biggest salary in 2019 was Josef Martinez’s $3.06 million. That was ninth-highest in the league. The largest was Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s $7.2 million, followed by Bradley’s $6.5 million.
There is no right or wrong. Both worked.
My point is if you see a big transfer fee and salary, it’s likely not true.
Atlanta United will spend money to buy older players. This is why the reported signing of Pedro, among the many older players that have been tied to the club over the years, seems unlikely. Pedro, while an outstanding player and Spanish international, is 32 years old. Spending a few million on him would be, in effect, dead money. There’s no way the club can get the money back it would spend on the transfer fee.
If Pedro were to agree to sign for a reasonable salary and transfer fee. ... That’s possible.
If you see Atlanta United tied to a player older than say, 26, and there’s a transfer fee in the millions, it’s likely untrue. Repeat, likely. The new CBA could force Atlanta United to change part of its philosophy, but the fundamentals will still be there.
Remember the rules. Currently, MLS allows for just three Designated Players, which is a player whose salary and transfer fee, when amortized over the length of the contract, averages at least $530,000 per year. There are other restrictions and stipulations, but that’s the one to remember. Atlanta United has three DPs. None of the three can be bought down to a level below DP. Atlanta United has a few players whose annual salaries exceed the cap charge of $530,000. Those players aren’t DPs because the difference between the DP level and their annual total salary can be bought down by using Allocation Money. Using Allocation Money to buy down a DP can’t be done once the amortized total is more than $1.5 million, which is why Atlanta United’s DPs can’t be bought down.
Remember the position. Eales and Bocanegra have said they are always looking to strengthen the roster, and always want to create competition. But the club isn’t signing anyone that’s going to replace Josef Martinez. It’s not going to sign anyone to replace goalkeeper Brad Guzan. The same is for Pity Martinez and Ezequiel Barco.
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