The addition of Brad Smith via loan could be the first of a new pipeline for MLS talent from England. British players, like Dom Dwyer, have mostly entered MLS via college or bouncing out of the academy systems in the UK. Non-Designated Players from the Premier League and the EFL Championship have largely been off limits for MLS clubs due to high transfer fees and inflated wages.
Just looking at Smith as an example, Bournemouth paid Liverpool £3 million to secure his transfer a couple years ago. MLS teams have only received a handful of more valuable outgoing transfer fees in the league’s history.
Loans are not new to the league, but have largely focused on Mexican clubs with players not getting minutes or Latin American clubs loaning out promising players with the intent to eventually sell them into MLS or overseas. Plenty of players have joined the league this way, including Fredy Montero, but their wage costs are relatively low in comparison to England (and other large European leagues) and they come with lower transfer fees if the purchase option is activated. Thanks to the influx of TAM, the European loan market is now open for MLS business.
On Sports Radio KJR-AM for his weekly appearance, Sounders FC President of Soccer and GM Garth Lagerwey teased the Brad Smith announcement before touching on how TAM can uncover more players in England. Historically, the prices made it inefficient to bring in players from England, but with the increase in salary cap, looking at players in that market is now an interesting proposition.
Little bit of a new world...you’ve heard me talk about how the salary cap has doubled in the last 18 months. And it’s true. It has really put us in this universe where we have to consider new markets and new deals that we did not have access to before. Honestly, doing a lot of business in England didn’t make a lot of sense. It is the highest paying league in the world. It was almost certainly inefficient. But when you talk about now some of the young players in England and in that TAM category, all of a sudden those guys are available. They are not available to buy because their buy prices are still very very high, but on loan you can take some portion of the salary and you can make it work, at least for a discrete period of time.
Clubs can now use TAM to bring in players who would have been low-end DPs under the old system, and they can do so without large investments. Loans usually allow a team to bring in a player with no or a very minimal fee, and such deals rarely last longer than a year, which gives MLS clubs more flexibility with their rosters. If Seattle had to pay Smith’s transfer fee, he would almost certainly need to be a DP. For Bournemouth just to break even would require a fee of €3.6m, which is about two-thirds of what the Sounders paid to acquire Raúl Ruidíaz.
It is an interesting market now. Whether it is the Premier League or the Championship, it opens up a new pool of players maybe we couldn’t touch before. There are advantages to having some short term deals. We have lots of long term deals... but in certain spots you see that a spark a little something in the short term, and you know we will see how that plays out.
Smith is not be the first player to come to MLS on loan from the English leagues this season — Colorado brought in Joe Mason from Wolverhampton and Vancouver added Jordon Mutch on loan from Crystal Palace. While Mason’s loan was already terminated, that was more of an issue of Anthony Hudson and the Rapids system than salary management. Furthermore, there’s no reason this pattern couldn’t work similarly with players from other European leagues.
The TAM changes have provided roster flexibility to add more players who would have been an inefficient use of limited DP slots, but who earn more than the salary cap provided access to. Previous Seattle signings via the TAM mechanism have been out-of-contract players like Victor Rodriguez and Magnus Wolff Eikrem, but free agents are a limited pool. Expanding the potential player pool benefits clubs in trying to find the right fits both on the field and budget-wise. Lagerwey’s desire to always find good deals and have roster flexibility means that loans could be a large part of the arsenal going forward.
Other parts of Lagerwey’s interview touched on the success of the Sounders Academy; of particular note the U-14s recently won the Youdan Trophy for the second straight year. He championed their success, as well as the academy’s success at the Toyama World Challenge in Tokyo, but cautioned that there is still a long road ahead since the Academy is only halfway into a six-year plan that was implemented shortly after Lagerwey’s arrival. The Sounders still want to get the kids into more matches with S2, in front of fans, and against adult men. Lagerwey praised the diversity of the talent in the pipeline, mentioning Alfonso Ocampo-Sanchez, Ray Serrano and Sam Rogers as players they are particularly excited about.
When asked about the Paolo Hurtado deal and what happened with it slipping away, Lagerwey mentioned that there will be a meeting on Thursday to have a “comprehensive rundown” of the transfer window. He didn’t really answer what led to the Peruvian spurning the Rave Green for Konyaspor, but did say that deals come to them all the time.
Without speaking of specifics on it, you get offered lots of deals. You try them out, the great majority — 90-95% — don’t work. Some get far along, some don’t. That one did not; he signed with the club in Turkey.
Piecing together what Lagerwey has said and what we know about the Sounders’ roster situation, it sounds a lot like the deal that would’ve gotten Hurtado to sign wouldn’t have worked under the salary budget.
As Seattle continues its unbeaten run and is getting closer to the playoffs, the front office is rather confident in the roster. Victor Rodriguez is in full training and Ozzie Alonso is healthy, but if they have an opportunity they will add more players. Garth closed his transfer comments by saying “...little over 24 hours left. It [the transfer window] closes at 10pm Seattle time on Wednesday, and it will be fun to see if we can get anything else done.“
Deadline day is always crazy and is always a fun ride.