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Should Orlando City Hold on to David Mateos?

If Orlando City can’t move Mateos, it’s not the end of the world.

MLS: Montreal Impact at Orlando City SC Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

David Mateos has been the source of contention in Orlando City circles for the past few weeks. Less than 18 months after joining the Lions from Hungarian club Ferencvárosi TC, the Real Madrid academy product has caused a stir regarding a possible exit.

Mateos, who has made 27 league appearances since arriving in 2015, is one of the most expensive players on the Lions’ books, which is the cause for most concern. He was guaranteed over $450,000 in 2016 according the the MLS Players Union, good enough for fourth-highest on the team. He also suffered an MCL tear in October that cut his season short.

Because of all of this, the Spanish defender has reportedly been told by the City staff that he is surplus to requirements and with the club struggling to find space in the budget to bring in reinforcements, it has become paramount that they move him if they want to upgrade the back line. Mateos said on social media that he has turned down potential transfers to China and Mexico — preferring to battle for his place with the Lions — as Orlando searches for a new landing spot for him, further complicating matters.

Mateos’ contract is fully guaranteed, so he cannot be waived by OCSC. The only way to remove him from the roster without his agreement would be to buy out the remainder of his contract. MLS clubs can buy out one guaranteed contract per season, according to the league’s roster rules and regulations. If that occurs in the off-season, the player’s budget charge is removed. If it occurs during the season, the cap hit remains but the player is free from his contract.

So, if Orlando is going to buy out Mateos, they will need to make that decision before the roster compliance date just before the season begins. According to Paul Tenorio, a buyout would cost Orlando City ownership over $700,000 out of pocket. But will the Lions terminate his contract without another defender lined up to take his place?

Orlando City has been linked to Girondins de Bordeaux’s Grégory Sertic and, more recently, American defender Jonathan Spector of Birmingham City as potential replacements, but there are several hurdles to overcome with each. Sertic is now reportedly entertaining a new contract offer from Bordeaux that would extend his stay past this summer. There is a chance that the Lions could land him on a free transfer in the middle of the MLS season, but they would need to clear Mateos’ salary several months before that to have the necessary cap space available.

Risking going into half of the year with only José Aja, Seb Hines, Tommy Redding, Conor Donovan, and Devron García as options in the center of defense could sink any playoff shot the Lions have very early on.

For Spector, Orlando will need to go toe to toe with his hometown club, the Chicago Fire. The good news is that the 30-year-old is not on the MLS Allocation Ranking List, meaning that he is not subject to the allocation process. He can be claimed through the discovery process, which is first come, first serve.

If the Lions cannot bring in a suitable central defender before the start of the season, their hands may be tied. But that might not doom their 2017 season. Yes, the heart of a defense that allowed 60 goals last year would remain wholly unchanged. And yes, Mateos is highly overpaid for what he has brought to the team thus far. But if the OCSC brass can’t find a starting-caliber player in the next few weeks, there could be worse options to have at Kreis’ disposal.

Given that Jason Kreis dropped Redding from the lineup after his arrival, it’s entirely likely that Mateos would be in line for a starting job. David at least has that coveted experience in the league and there were actually signs of improvement after Uruguayan José Aja joined in the summer.

The physical young center back paired well with the ball-playing Mateos and they were able to stifle New York City FC’s potent attack in their first start together. With a full off-season under Kreis, perhaps they can rectify some of the more common mistakes we’ve seen for the last few years. It should certainly help Aja, who was thrown into the fire after changing continents in the middle of the year.

The center backs should also get some help from the new acquisitions around them. Donny Toia is far better defensively than any left back the Lions have had at their disposal. Will Johnson also adds some more defense to the midfield and some bite that Orlando has lacked. If those two can help limit the opportunities of opposing teams, perhaps they can provide some relief.

That’s not to say that keeping Mateos would be the answer to the defense’s issues. Keeping the roster intact would be a stopgap until Orlando City can line up a replacement next year. The Lions have signed themselves into a corner with few options to get out. The good news for the City faithful is that there’s a time limit to rectifying the situation and we should know exactly what we’re dealing with for 2017. But if it comes to pass that Mateos remains with Orlando City for the coming year, the defense can survive.