[MLS]Make no mistake, no matter how much better RSL 2008 is compared to the 2007 version, it will be tougher. And more experienced. Defender Nat Borchers, midfielder Dema Kovalenko and Colombian defender Jamilson Olave are just a few examples of the players added by Coach Jason Kreis and general manager Garth Lagerwey to upgrade guile as well as tenacity.
Kovalenko's trade from Red Bull New York isn't yet official, but Lagerwey plans on him accompanying RSL to Argentina Friday when the team embarks for 10 days of training and matches. Kovalenko has accepted a cut in a salary from the base figure of $190,000 he earned last season.
"The league has not approved that deal but we hope to work out the final details, preferably tomorrow, but he signed a new contract - we renegotiated as a condition of the trade - and he'll join us in Argentina," says Lagerwey of the nine-year MLS veteran who has played for D.C. United, Chicago and the Red Bulls and recorded 36 goals, 36 assists, 46 cautions, and five red cards in his turbulent career.
"You need piano players and piano carriers; we've had a lot of players and not too many carriers, and I think Dema is a totally different midfielder than anyone we have and a necessary piece that we needed."
The Colombian Olave, 26, who is still awaiting his P-1 visa, is also described as "rugged" by Lagerwey, who adds, "He's a center back. He's 6-4, 220, and fast. Most central defenders are pretty rugged.
"We definitely wanted to get a little tougher and we've definitely done that, but we also wanted to get more savvy. That's what we're doing more than anything. What we're doing more than anything is bringing in veterans. We had a very young group and now we've brought in guys with some experience."
RSL is also adding experience up front.
Scottish striker Kenny Deuchar, 29, who has helped Gretna earn three straight promotions, is also on board. He scored both Gretna goals in a 4-2 defeat to Glasgow Rangers last Sunday and Lagerwey confirms the striker is headed to MLS. He's scored six goals in 11 league matches since returning from a loan spell with St. Johnstone of Division 1.
A large pot of allocation money - Lagerwey won't say how much - will enable RSL to sign its new players and not exceed the salary cap, which according to various sources is $2.2 million or $2.3 million or somewhere in-between.
According to a source, as of the SuperDraft in January, RSL had about $800,000 in allocation money to play with. The money can be used to acquire players as well as pay bonuses and salaries for new players or re-signing current players.
In the case of Deuchar, however, the salary wasn't a critical issue. Guaranteeing a contract isn't a popular feature in MLS but the league is competing in a global market, albeit with a relatively small stash of cash.
"We had to guarantee it, which we were loathe to do, but it's standard in Europe," said Lagerwey. "The money's not that big, actually."
Lagerwey said one more signing is possible without identifying the player. RSL is vying for the services of Brazilian striker Reinaldo Elias da Costa, 23, and its richer resources could tip the scales in its favor vs. Colorado.
The Rapids have first dibs because they filed a discovery claim before RSL, but may not be able to afford the cost of a salary - between $200,000 and $250,000 according to a source - and a transfer fee that probably will be in the low-$100,000 range paid to his current club, Queensland Roar of the Australian League.
In the mechanisms of MLS, a team using the allocation process can trump a discovery claim. And with that money, RSL won't have any trouble being salary cap and roster compliant by Monday, as mandated by MLS.
"We'll be over the cap, but we can use a pot of allocation to buy down [salaries] and get ourselves under," said Lagerwey. "I'd tell you more but I'm not allowed to."