By Ridge Mahoney
Real Salt Lake has been through this before: the impending loss of a goalscorer who wants to test the waters overseas.
But this time, it has already landed a possible replacement, though the cost of keeping Alvaro Saborio – who is on loan from Swiss club FC Sion – around for a few seasons won’t be cheap by league standards.
If Robbie Findley finds a team overseas, as he and agent Patrick McCabe are planning to do, RSL could be under a lot of pressure to keep Saborio, a Costa Rican international who scored two goals a week ago in a 3-1 defeat of Houston – in which Findley scored his first goal of the season -- and last weekend set up a winning goal for Fabian Espindola in the 89th minute against Chivas USA.
Last summer, Yura Movsisyan – who is also represented by McCabe -- signed a pre-contract agreement with Danish club Randers after rejecting a new contract from MLS. Under FIFA regulations, a player in the last six months of his contract is free to solicit offers from other teams and sign an agreement by which he changes clubs as a free agent once his current deal expires. Findley – who led RSL last year with 12 goals in the regular season and five more in the playoffs -- will be eligible to receive offers and discuss contracts in July.
Randers offered $250,000 to buy Movsisyan during the European summer transfer window rather than wait until after the MLS season to get him, but RSL rejected the offer and kept Movsisyan, who celebrated a league title with his teammates last November. He moved to Randers and scored seven goals in 13 games as Randers successfully staved off relegation. It finished 10th in the 12-team league; the bottom two teams were demoted.
Yes, $250,000 is a nice price for an MLS player in the final months of his contract, but it doesn’t get much in the transfer market. And RSL would only have been able to use about two-thirds of that money on a player acquisition. So it kept the player, and got the title, but got nothing for him when he moved on.
Saborio will be much costlier; written into his loan deal is a buyout price of $1 million, and while such figures can be negotiated to some extent, the number gives some indication of how European teams value goalscorers, even one from a Concacaf nation. FC Sion is hardly in the pantheon of European club teams, but it apparently spotted a pretty decent player in Saborio. It signed him from Deportivo Saprissa in 2006 and loaned him to English club Bristol City before farming him out to MLS.
Many players have come to MLS on loan from Colombian clubs, and Deportivo Cali is playing the waiting game with Sounders striker Fredy Montero. There is supposedly a buyout figure in Montero’s loan deal, and it may be that Seattle – and Montero, whose listless play has been a major cause of his team’s struggles so far this season – is just marking time until Swiss striker (now there’s a coincidence) Blaise NKufo finishes up at the World Cup. Numerous teams have been in the bidding for Montero, who said last month he was all but signed, sealed and delivered to CSKA Moscow. He could wind up there in the summer, or go back to Colombia, or go somewhere else, or stay in Seattle.
Yet Nkufo turns 35 Tuesday, so there’s always the possibility he won’t have the stamina to endure the rigors of MLS when he gets here. Saborio just turned 28 and though he still has to get through an MLS season, he’s leading the team with four goals. He’s also winning over teammates and fans, and perhaps, RSL executives all too aware of how costly, and tricky, it can be to find and keep guys who can put the ball in the net.