Orlando City might have used up all of its allocation funds for 2018 in the past six months. That might be alarming given that the club is reasonably limited when it comes to roster flexibility in later windows. If Orlando’s new heavyweight signings don’t pan out, the Lions have also aided an immediate competitor. But it might also be the Lions getting ahead of the curve and being more willing to spend in the domestic trade market.
Trading for key players in MLS is still a relatively new concept. It seems like forever has passed since Orlando dealt Kevin Molino for a then-record-equalizing sum of $650,000 in combined allocation money. Since then, Dom Dwyer, Justin Meram, David Accam, and Darlington Nagbe have all moved for sums nearly double that and more. But even with the influx of the new Discretionary Targeted Allocation Money, teams have been hesitant to flip it to their competitors, instead looking to maximize that amount on signings from outside the league.
Both Sacha Kljestan and Justin Meram had suitors from all over MLS. Neither Los Angeles FC nor Minnesota United were willing to put together a package convincing enough for the New York Red Bulls to part with their captain. Meram’s price tag was too rich for the Portland Timbers — even after a potential league-record sale of Nagbe — as well as FC Dallas and another unnamed Eastern Conference team. Orlando’s willingness to part with GAM and TAM has put the club in the unique position of front-runners for top-end players within the league. But it has also put the Lions in a bit of a predicament with their cap flexibility.
From everything I've figured, #OCSC has almost maxed out on 2018 TAM, and depending on if they add a CB or buy down Yotun to add a DP CB, will need to pull forward some 2019 TAM to stay cap compliant. As Kreis told @samstejskal: They shoved all-in. https://t.co/yUx6yEkO8u…— Paul Tenorio (@PaulTenorio) January 31, 2018
But is it really as bad as it sounds?
Meram’s recent extension in Columbus means his contract is guaranteed through 2019 with an option for 2020. Kljestan signing a new two-year contract through 2019 was a key piece of Orlando landing him in January. Dwyer’s new deal will keep him in purple until at least 2020 after his record-breaking move in the summer. New young star Josué Colmán inked a five-year contract when he signed on a few weeks ago. While contract lengths were not part of the announcements for Yoshimar Yotún or Oriol Rosell, it’s safe to say that the Lions will have locked up those two key midfielders until at least December of next year.
The pattern is that this new core of players should remain together for at least the next two years. Ideally, Orlando won’t have to splurge to acquire four more starters next year, which means the club shouldn’t be up against the cap again next year even if it pulls some of that money forward. And while Head Coach Jason Kreis and General Manager Niki Budalić are indeed putting all of their eggs in this proverbial basket, in some ways it’s the safest basket available, especially with the league’s trend of raising the amount of available allocation money every year.
Dwyer, Kljestan, Meram, and Rosell are all battle-tested MLS heavyweights with a combined 625 league matches between them. They are not the run-of-the-mill veterans most MLS clubs are willing to collect on cheap contracts to provide nothing but depth and spot starts. They did not come from exotic locales in South America or Europe, did not arrive to the fanfare of a transfer saga, and don’t have quite the same buzz as some of the new Designated Players that have entered the league this winter. They also don’t have the same level of risk. City has been burned too often in recent seasons by players not developing, not adapting, being homesick, and having a slew of off-field issues. So while Orlando might have splurged, in doing so the club has negated almost all of those mitigating factors for proven performers in the league.
That fearsome foursome did cost Orlando an astounding net $2.9 million in various allocation monies, as well as Tommy Redding and Carlos Rivas. As Tenorio says, the deals have likely depleted City’s allocation reserves in 2018, meaning any more big acquisitions this year will need to pull from Orlando’s 2019 pool. While on the surface it seems concerning, for Orlando to bring in some of the best players in the league it was a necessity. Yes, City has likely run its cash reserves dry but it also has an All-Star core to show for it.
With Kreis confirming that one more defensive player is on the way, it looks like Orlando’s cap space will become even more limited. Unless the Lions are selling or trading away a player, chances are the brass will need to pull a good amount of money from the 2019 stores.
There will be some extra attention paid to Orlando around the league this season. If Kreis’ all-in ideology on proven MLS veterans pans out, if City finishes near teams like New York City FC and Atlanta United with their casts of high-priced internationals, it will mean spending within the league is not just a viable option but a successful one.