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Everything you need to know about selling players in MLS

Here’s how Atlanta United can get ride of every type of player they have

It is with a heavy heart that I must announce that ---The Dread—- is at it again.

You see, I’m old enough to remember a time when the combined powers of Jay Riddle’s tattoo, “CrestFire” and Sam Jones’ newly mintedRedWeapon” sealed the portal to the bad place at the battle of Roswell. And there was peace in the realms of men. This peace lasted for a whole five days (i made up the names for their tattoos).

“Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.” Taylor Twellman Cormac McCarthy’s The Road

For many of us who do not have beIN Sport (thanks PS Vue), Judgment Day came neither swiftly nor in a straight line but instead over the course of several hours — hours of fragmented Twitter anxiety turned to prayers turned to cries of pain. Quote tweets and likes of happier moments from before The Fall came unstuck from time and stumbled their way across the present, persisting on our timelines even after all had become lost, like failed attempts to go back in time and change the outcome.

"We might be through with the past, but the past ain't through with us." - Jermaine Jones Magnolia

It’s a complicated case, a lotta ins, a lotta outs, a lotta what-have-you’s. One way to remember it, and one which I neither accept nor reject, is that Atlanta United’s star goalkeeper, Brad Guzan — the dude that’s significantly reduced Atlanta United’s goals conceded by a rate of a goal every 3 games relative to ASA’s expected goals models — was fruitlessly called away from his club in a time of great need against Minnesota United only to watch helplessly as Tim Howard was eliminated both by friendly fire and also by a laser from SkyNet.

It absolutely helps to have a local club team in playoff contention at times like this. But suffice it to say after a rough week or two, I’m back to expecting the worst. Almiron and Garza are surely out forever (Almiron is probably back, but just go with it). Tata is surely the next USMNT manager. Darren Eales is surely the next USSF president. The turf at MBS isn’t actually larger than the grass field at Bobby Dodd. The price of hot dogs at MBS is on the move. And when I find myself in a bad place like this, I like to see if I can just attack it head-on by opening up Microsoft Excel. And something called the Internet.

Kevin Flynn: [Voice Over] The Grid. A digital frontier. I tried to picture clusters of information as they moved through the computer. What did they look like? Ships? Motorcycles? Were the circuits like freeways? I kept dreaming of a world I thought I'd never see. And then one day . . .

Young Sam Flynn: [Voice Over] You got in!

Kevin Flynn: [Voice Over] That's right, man. I got in.

******************derznerrrrrrrrrrrrrnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn djerneyrneyrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr djerneyrneyrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr......*******************

- Tron Legacy

asterisks mark the end of the actual quote. those letters are supposed to represent the sound of angry synthesizers.

How to sell all our players

You’ve no doubt seen the rumours. (here and here for instance) about interest in our best players from clubs abroad, and now soccer analytics guru Ted Knutson has officially let the cat out of the bag on Josef Martinez:

But with all those dang MLS roster rules, it’s hard to understand what a transfer of one of these players might mean for the club, aside from meaning the inevitable departure of a fan favorite or two... at some point in the future. I’m going to walk us through a few scenarios for illustration purposes and then we can collectively decide how to handle emotions.

  1. Selling a designated player (Miguel Almiron)
  2. Selling a homegrown (Andrew Carleton)
  3. Selling a Generation Adidas player or Superdraft player (Julian Gressel)
  4. Selling any other player (Leandro Gonzalez Pirez)

Insert your own block quote from Glengarry Glen Ross or Boiler Room here.

Before we get into each specific example, an overall rule to know is that for any amount of transfer fee ultimately retained by Atlanta United, they’ll basically only be able to increase their cap space by up to $650K (via General Allocation Money) with the proceeds. See the exact rules here:

The club's share of transfer or loan fee revenue may only be used as follows:

The club may assign up to $650,000 of the transfer/loan revenue as General Allocation Money. (In the case of Designated Players, such assignment of Allocation Money can only take place after the club has received 100% of their out-of-pocket investment)

The remaining balance of the club's share (if any), and which cannot be traded, will be available to be used by clubs in the following ways:

Against the expenses incurred by the club in relation to the costs of an existing or new Designated Player

With league approval, clubs can use the revenue against an expense that would (i) would not otherwise have been incurred by the club; and (ii) reasonably represents an investment in the league or club (e.g., youth development and training facilities).

That’s going to be a recurring theme, going forward.

Selling Miguel Almiron

If a Designated Player is transferred or loaned, the club will receive all amounts of the transfer or loan fee revenue until it has recouped all of the out-of-pocket cash payments made by the club in connection to that player prior to any sharing arrangement with the league. After such recoup, the transfer or loan of the Designated Player shall be treated as any other transfer with the club receiving two-thirds (2/3) of the corresponding transfer or loan fee revenue.

So if Atlanta United really sold Almiron for $24M, they’d add up everything they’ve spent on him so far in transfer fee and wages, and they’d get 100% of that back (let’s call it $11M). Of the remaining $13M, Major League Soccer would take $4M and change and Atlanta United would take the balance (call it $9M). So Atlanta United as a club would receive $20M of the $24M fee. And they’d be able to put $650k into their General Allocation Money piggy bank (which could effectively increase the club’s wage bill by $650K (or it could buy down a DP or pay a transfer fee etc etc), and the remainder would either not go back into the team’s wages, or it would go in by way of a new designated player.

So, in short think of this like trading in 1 Almiron and receiving 1 Carmona’s worth of additional salary cap + 1 new designated player (possibly a much more expensive designated player) to replace Almiron.

Selling Andrew Carleton

A club shall receive three-fourths (3/4) the corresponding transfer or loan fee revenue (including agent fees and other expenses) from any transaction involving a Homegrown Player(regardless of service years).

So like, you know, after the 2018 season, when Dortmund comes calling and they pay $8M to sign Andrew Carleton, Atlanta United would keep $6M, (MLS would take $2M off the top), and of the $6M, Atlanta United would only be able to add $650K to the team’s salary budget (by way of General Allocation Money). The remaining amount would need to be applied against existing DPs or other non roster-related club investments.

Selling Julian Gressel

A club shall receive the transfer or loan fee revenue (including agent fees and other expenses) from any transaction involving a Generation adidas Player or player acquired via the MLS SuperDraft based on the number of MLS service years: (then there’s a table that says 1 year = 13 of the revenue, 2 years = 12 of the revenue, 3+ years = 23 of the revenue.)

Ugh, why all the math. Let’s say Julian goes back to Germany to Werder Bremen after the 2018 season, and they pay $2M, Atlanta would keep $1M, with up to $650K used to increase the team’s salary budget. If on the other hand, Gressel left this January, Atlanta would get ... <squints>... some mathy amount, that I can’t do in my head. I think its $3.99, which you could use to buy a burger and two sides and a cheerwine at Cookout.

Selling Leandro Gonzalez Pirez

A club shall receive two-thirds (2/3) of the corresponding transfer or loan fee revenue (including agent fees and other expenses), from any transaction involving a player that is NOT a Homegrown Player, Generation adidas Player, or player acquired via the MLS SuperDraft.

So let’s say LGP gets sold for $12M to Liverpool FC. Atlanta keeps $8M but only $650K of that goes back into the team’s salary budget. This seems messed up given the team likely spent TAM of $1M-$2M to acquire him. I don’t .. love this scenario, honestly.

Note: All of the above scenarios involve Atlanta United transferring a player overseas (where cash is paid by a foreign club to MLS, and then MLS distributes the profits based on their bylaws. Trades within MLS are different because in those, cash isn’t so much transferring between clubs (MLS is one entity). Instead they can trade funny money assets (GAM and TAM) back and forth to no limit (Hi Dom Dwyer). But I will not go into that, because if any of these players are traded within MLS I will lose my mind.


The bottom line for all of these transfer scenarios is that if the players sold is not a DP, the most amount of profit Atlanta gets to plow back into making the squad better is $650K (GAM). If it’s a DP, then its $650K plus they would be able to replace the DP with theoretically limitless funds (or at least whatever amount they want to spend, as is always the rule with designated players).

So as a fan, unless you are Arthur Blank, you really shouldn’t care if Tottenham pays $20M or $40M for Josef Martinez. The incremental bonus to squad building is $650K, which is useful, but static.