By Ridge Mahoney
A million and a quarter, give or take a hundred grand, depending on the breaks.
That’s my guess as to how much cap space Real Salt Lake has gained by cutting salaries and adding allocation money through trades despite its failure in the Concacaf Champions League, for which MLS rewards successful teams with six-figure sums.
Given the fact the cap will rise to $2.95 million next season from its $2.81 million of 2012, RSL could have nearly $1.5 million in extra money to play with. But just doing the math without projecting into next year shows how much RSL has changed its salary structure.
Shrouding allocation money in secrecy frustrates fans and journalists trying to assess the true rate of exchange involved in a trade, though sources say most such sums fall into the range of $100,000 to $150,000. The league requires a minimum of $75,000 to change hands in a deal involving allocation money and rarely, again according to sources, does an allocation payout approach $200,000.
Looking at the RSL salary list from 2012 – which does not specify the official "salary-budget charge" but the numbers are reasonably close – the team has shaved nearly $900,000 from its salary cap by trading Will Johnson ($243,750), Jamison Olave ($200,000), Fabian Espindola ($125,000) and Justin Braun ($102,000); and declining the options on Kyle Reynish ($66,000), Paulo Araujo Jr. ($65,000) and Johnny Steele and Emiliano Bonfigli (both $44,000).
Braun was sent to Toronto, and in exchange RSL received Aaron Maund ($44,000) for a net reduction of about $60,000 in salary budget charge. If the allocations received were each in the range of $100,000-$125,000, RSL received a salary-charge bump of at least $300,000. RSL can also take the step of leaving two spots open on its 30-man roster and using instead the $35,000 per slot MLS pays teams in such circumstances. That adds up to roughly $1.25 million, using the low-end allocation figures.
That seems like a lot of money in MLS, and though it is, RSL has other demands. The team is also trying to re-sign playmaker Javier Morales, whose base salary of $425,000 was the club’s highest in 2012, and it has already agreed to contract extensions for Chris Wingert ($145,000) and Tony Beltran ($125,000). Still, it wants to take some of the scoring burden off Alvaro Saborio (350,000), who led the team with 17 goals but aside from a hat trick against Chivas USA didn’t score in the team’s final 10 games (including playoffs).
By MLS rules, allocation money can be used to acquire new players or re-sign current players, and can be spent on a transfer fee and/or a signing bonus as well as salary. General Manager Garth Lagerwey specified goalscorers as desired additions for next season, and in a Q&A posted Monday pointed out a failure to score in big games, one of which was the CCL final second leg against Monterrey in the spring of 2011.
That 1-0 loss at Rio Tinto knocked off RSL, 3-2, on aggregate, and it’s not the only example. A 0-0 home tie with Costa Rican club Herediano Oct. 23 knocked RSL out of CCL play when it needed only a 1-0 win to advance, and in the Western Conference semifinals last month RSL lost to Seattle by conceding one goal yet scoring zero over the two legs.
“We want to get players on our team in all positions who can score goals in big games,” said Lagerwey on the RSL Web site. “As you know, the team is the star and that remains the case. We’re not talking about going out and getting star, big-name players but we’ve had a number of times now in big games where we weren’t able to get a goal when we absolutely had to have it.”
A few years ago the team took some heat for refusing a transfer offer of $250,000 from Randers FC for striker Yura Movsisyan after he’d signed a pre-contract with the Danish club. Lagerwey said at time he’d rather keep Movsisyan for the remainder of the MLS season and let him go for nothing at season’s end instead of taking the money, which he deemed totally inadequate to find a reliable scorer on the international market. Movsisyan stayed with RSL and helped it win the 2009 MLS Cup, then set out for Europe.
Now Lagerwey and RSL again set out to address a need increased in importance by the departure of Espindola and Braun. Bona fide strikers, even those in the bargain departments most MLS teams prefer to shop, are not cheap, and now that includes Movsisyan.
In January of 2011, Randers sold Movsisyan to Russian club Krasnodar for 2.5 million euros (about $3 million). He is on the verge of a move to Spartak Moscow that would pay him about a similar amount, according to reports. (It’s also about the same sum that the Galaxy pays Robbie Keane in base salary.)
Safe to say, RSL won’t be shopping in those departments, but at least it has a little bit of cash to work with as the transformation goes forward.