Every penny counts in a league with severe budget restrictions and intricate roster rules and because of that Major League Soccer clubs have grown increasingly creative in finding ways to acquire funds which they can hopefully use to strengthen their teams.
Orlando City is a good example of the variety of strategies adopted around the league as the Lions have earned as much as $150,000 in General Allocation Money (GAM) over the course of the last eight months in exchange for the rights to two players who were never part of their roster.
Last July, Toronto FC announced the signing of winger Erickson Gallardo from Zamora FC. The Venezuelan was part of Orlando City’s Discovery List, a mechanism created by the league to avoid competition between clubs for the same players, and the Canadians paid $50,000 in GAM for his rights.
One month ago, it was Los Angeles Football Club that sent money to Central Florida — this time $100,000, for the rights to sign Ecuadoran midfielder José Cifuentes from América de Quito.
“In this league, anytime we can get any kind of funds it’s an advantage,” Orlando City Executive Vice President of Soccer Operations Luiz Muzzi told The Mane Land. “It’s not that we originally planned these trades to happen. The reason those guys were on our list in the first place was that we wanted to sign them. At one point we noticed the deals weren’t going to happen, but we knew there was interest from other teams, so we decided to keep them on our Discovery List and talk to these clubs as there was a possibility we could get some compensation from them.”
The prospect of receiving allocation money or other assets in exchange for the rights of players who were never part of the roster may seem enticing for teams, but this is a route that needs to be navigated very carefully, Muzzi said.
By keeping a player that certainly won’t be signed from their Discovery Lists, teams limit the number of athletes who could actually potentially join the roster. With each MLS team only being allowed to have seven players at a time on their Discovery Lists, these decisions aren’t taken lightly by front offices.
According to Muzzi, just one or two among the seven players Orlando City currently has on its Discovery List were kept there due to the possibility of having their rights traded to other MLS teams.
“The main goal is to have guys we can sign there,” Muzzi added. “It’s not an unlimited list, so we have to be very careful about how we handle it. If we could add 20 players, then yes, we’d probably have several guys there with the specific purpose of trading their rights, but that’s not what the league wants and that’s why the list has just seven names.”
Sometimes, however, keeping players who won’t necessarily be part of the roster is just the right thing to do, especially nearing the end of transfer windows. If most of the signings were already made and the roster is basically set, there’s nothing wrong in profiting from a potential deal for a player the team spent time and money identifying.
“Let’s say we’re looking to sign a defensive midfielder,” Muzzi explained. “We identify three or four targets, add them to our list, and start negotiating with some of them at the same time. When we get one, we no longer want to sign the other three, but if we know that there’s something we can do with the rights of one of them, we’ll just keep him in the list and remove the others.”
The entire strategy, however, depends on efficient talent identification at the global level. Teams not only have to find the right players but they also have to do it before their MLS counterparts.
In Orlando, that’s the job of the scouting team led by Ricardo Moreira, who joined the club in October 2018 and has significantly expanded the club’s scouting efforts in South America.
“We feel that scouting at the Under-20 World Cups and continental championships is too late because there are a lot of people watching these guys already,” Muzzi commented. “Our scouting team tries to identify players when they are 15 or 16 and to project what they will look like one or two years ahead. For those we understand that fit the profile we’re looking for, we keep tracking them and that was exactly the case with Cifuentes. We also try to look at specific places, such as South America, because we understand the global market is more focused in Europe, so we’ll have a better chance somewhere else.”