Now that most of the 2019-2020 European season has concluded, the international transfer window is set to see a bunch of movement as teams reload for the 2020-2021 season. One report indicates a current English Premier League player and former Sounders homegrown star may be on the move back to MLS, and the Sounders are interested in retaining his services. Very interested.
According to Tom Bogert of MLSsoccer.com, Newcastle right back Deandre Yedlin appears close to be making an exit from the Premier League side and has expressed some interest in returning to the domestic league. Yedlin has spent the last five seasons with Newcastle, scoring three goals in 115 appearances.
However, Yedlin has seen his playing time limited recently due to injuries and manager choice, and his contract is set to expire at the end of the 2020-2021 season. According to Bogert, Yedlin and Newcastle have not held talks about an extension, fueling speculation he may be ready for a change of address.
For the Sounders part, they declined to comment on the record—their policy is not to comment on players under contract with another team—but a source close to the team confirmed that the Sounders are aware of the reports, and that there is significant interest in bringing Yedlin back to the team that helped develop him into a USMNT regular. The Sounders sold Yedlin to Tottenham Hotspur in 2014 for $4 million. Yedlin made only one appearance with Tottenham however before going on loan to Sunderland, and Tottenham sold him to Newcastle in 2016.
It’s important to say that neither the Sounders nor Yedlin have initiated talks, and there are some hurdles to clear before Yedlin and the Sounders are reunited. For the 2020-2021 season, the odds of Yedlin joining MLS are low (but not nonexistent a source noted). As Bogert’s report said, Yedlin’s salary (rumored to be in the $2 million/year range) would instantly make him a Designated Player, and the Sounders do not have any open slots until January 2021 at the earliest. The Sounders also have veteran right-back Kelvin Leerdam holding down the right back position, though as he is in his fourth year with the team, he is likely near the end of his contract.
Secondly, since he is under contract, any attempt to acquire Yedlin before June 2021 would require a transfer fee, although a team could sign him on a pre-contract in January and simply wait out the last six months of his contract.
There is also the issue of navigating MLS’s peculiar roster rules. Because Yedlin was transferred outside the league for a fee in excess of $500,000, the Sounders lost the rights to reacquire him outright. As a USMNT player, Yedlin qualifies for MLS’s “allocation order,” which allows teams to claim certain players who wish to play in the league. Teams on that list are typically listed in reverse order of how they finished the prior league season. When a player on this list signs with MLS (all players sign with the league, not individual teams), they are offered to each team based on where they are on the list. FC Cincinnati currently occupies the first spot, while the Sounders are near the bottom at 24th.
That doesn’t mean that the Sounders are out of luck though. If they can strike a deal to move to the top of the allocation order, they can select Yedlin if he comes to terms with the league. That will mean shifting resources to FC Cincinnati, or whoever occupies the top spot, and it typically isn’t cheap. In February, LAFC sent a package that included $350,000 in allocation money to Nashville SC to move to the top of the allocation order. That’s a bit spendy, though not prohibitive these days given the increases in GAM and TAM. Still, moving from the bottom of the allocation order to the top will cost more than a draft pick.
One thing that may be in the Sounders favor concerns how the transfer market will be affected by the coronavirus. The pandemic has decimated revenues for teams all over the world. And Newcastle is in a precarious position, as a proposed sale of the team to a Saudi consortium fell through. Thus it’s likely that Newcastle will be in cost cutting mode, and might be eager to shed Yedlin’s salary as early as possible.
This could also allow the Sounders or another MLS team to acquire Yedlin this year, negotiating a small fee or a loan. The Sounders worked out a similar deal with Brad Smith’s parent club Bournemouth, who paid half of Smith’s salary, with Smith spending 18 months in Seattle and helping the team win the 2019 MLS Cup.
It’s also unclear how the pandemic will affect how MLS operates the allocation order. The revised secondary transfer window opens on August 12 and runs through October 29, and that could change as conditions warrant. MLS famously reserves a significant amount of flexibility in how it administers its rules, and has changed and added initiatives midway through its season before. It’s not unheard of that the allocation order could undergo significant changes as the season resumes.
However things shake out, if and when Yedlin decides to return to MLS, it’s clear that the Sounders will be at the table with chips in hand.
Calls to MLS and Yedlin’s representatives seeking comment were not returned as of publication. The story will be updated if and when they comment.