The timing of Clint Dempsey's move to Fulham FC was optimal for the Revolution. Dempsey's transfer was worth $4 million, a Major League Soccer record, and it happened to be the first significant move of a player since the league's board of governors voted to increase teams' shares in transfer fees.
So it seems the Revolution are in position to make significant additions, since their portion of the Dempsey transfer is $2.64 million. Previously, MLS teams received very little of the transfer fee and had no direct control in reinvesting that money. But though the Revolution have received more transfer money than any previous MLS team, they can use only $500,000 of it for an "allocated player." The other $2.14 million must be "reinvested in the MLS product in some way," according to MLS deputy commissioner Ivan Gazidis. "It could be training facilities, player development, it could be infrastructure."
The $500,000 limit has been placed on the Revolution for competitive reasons. If allowed to use all of the transfer money, the Revolution "could swamp the league this year," Gazidis said. "They would have so much money within the traditional MLS system. It would be very unbalanced. It's not Beckham money, but it's enough money for a significant player."
And that does not count the possibility of "designated players," who can be acquired outside the MLS spending cap; the Los Angeles Galaxy took this to the max, working out a $250 million deal for David Beckham.
The Revolution are not pursuing a Beckham-like signing, but they might be able to bring in a Robbie Fowler, who will be out of contract at Liverpool in June. Coach Steve Nicol said yesterday he has been in contact with Fowler, "but at this time it doesn't seem likely."
Fowler, 31, converted two penalty kicks in a 4-0 win over Sheffield United Saturday but Liverpool clearly is phasing him out. He has scored more than 160 goals in the Premiership and earned a fortune, which he apparently has invested wisely. But even if Fowler does not need another huge payday, he might want more than the Revolution can pay an "allocated player."
"Everyone wants to be paid what they think they are worth, at the end of the day," Nicol said. "Even if you have a lot of money in the bank, that doesn't change. We have a lot more money than we're used to. But for the Beckhams and the big names, maybe it's not enough."
The Galaxy set a standard for the "designated player," interpreting the rule as a marketing opportunity as much as a chance to improve the team.
The Revolution could set a precedent for acquiring an "allocated player," and are clearly more interested in making a positive on-field improvement while also being fiscally responsible.
"We are in a unique situation because we are the first team to benefit from the new rules in place regarding the transfer of a player," said Revolution director of soccer Mike Burns. "We would rather have someone sooner than later but we are not going to rush to sign someone just to sign someone. We want to find the right guy to fill a need on the field, first and foremost. If that player is also appealing to the market and our fans, that is the best-case scenario for everyone."
Players under contract to teams in other countries are subject to bidding from MLS teams through mid-April (the MLS season starts April 7). Many more prospects should become available during the June 15-Aug. 15 transfer window, in between European seasons.
The Revolution might yet invest some of the Dempsey transfer money in a player developmental program or start a fund to build a soccer-specific stadium. The priority now, though, is to replace Dempsey.
"Initially, we want to use the money on the field," Nicol said. "At this moment, it's to try and find somebody."
The Revolution are off to one of their best starts ever in a preseason, taking 3-1 wins over the Bermuda national team and the Galaxy (without Beckham) last week in Hamilton. First-round draft choices Wells Thompson and Amaeche Igwe have been among the most effective players. Three more draft choices (Bryan Byrne, Adam Cristman, and Ryan Solle) will arrive for practice at the Dana Farber Fieldhouse in Foxborough today. Cristman scored two goals in two games for the US Under-23 national team in games in Japan last week.
Former Japan national team midfielders Takashi Hirano and Takuya Yamada and Peruvian striker Jorge Ramirez are not expected to accompany the Revolution to training camp in Cancun next month.
"It wasn't any surprise when I say they lack a wee bit of experience," Nicol said of the newcomers. "But as far as ability is concerned, they show a lot of it, and it is a matter of getting them experience on the field.
"We started well but we are still six weeks away from the start of the season, and you don't get any points for preseason games. We like to win, and it's always a good sign if you are doing well; it's a lot better than doing badly.
"But I am trying to be cautious. We had a good start but it's preseason."
Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.