By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (May 19, 2017) US Soccer Players - The international transfer market is, ostensibly, a an exercise in economics. Buying a player means exchanging capital for talent you believe will help your team win more games. Selling a player brings about the opposite result. You may lose someone who could help you on the field, but the financial return strengthens the club.
Below the surface, however, the business of buying and selling players is almost as much about messaging as it is about the economics. Spending money to buy a player is a show of intent. The more money spent, the more ambitious the club must be. Considering the obvious and proven connections between spending and winning, there’s no better way for a team to tell its fans that it actually cares about winning than writing checks for new acquisitions.
Selling can send the opposite message, though it depends on the player involved and the price offered. For clubs rich in talent, shipping out a few phenoms might not be such a big deal. For those with fewer notable names, even a good return on a star player can seem like surrender.
This is especially true in Major League Soccer, where the divide between the haves and the have nots is thin, and the number of players transferred out in a given year is small. With a salary budget that enforces parity and a playoff system that ensures no team is truly out of the running for a title until deep into the season, the choices clubs makes on sales loom large in signaling their fans.
Orlando City is dealing with that exact conundrum as they ponder the future of Cyle Larin with the Lions. Larin is young and talented and full of potential. That combination that makes him worth a significant fee on to clubs outside of Major League Soccer. As he proves his quality with a second professional season as the leading scorer on a good team, his price goes up. As does the likelihood that Orlando City will sell him.
Every team has a point where the scales tip and even a star is worth parting with. The calculation Orlando City makes ties to their goals and expectations in 2017 as well as their need to fill the coffers for future expenditures. It may be arbitrary on some level, but an internal trigger for the Lions could already be in place. Should someone come in with a bid for Larin that passes that pre-determined threshold, the club will have to make the move and sell their best goal threat.
That would undoubtedly upset die hard fans of the club who view the 2017 season as paramount and are high on the club’s chances to make a playoff run. If Orlando sells Larin early enough, the club might be able to turn around and find a replacement in the summer window. There are no guarantees that a new striker would hit the ground running and score the goals the team needs to keep themselves in contention.
Not to mention that Larin is understandably popular. While he isn’t a local product and only arrived at the club because of the MLS SuperDraft, his development and rise to stardom while wearing an Orlando City jersey makes him something of a hometown hero. There are emotions tied up in his potential transfer.
Whatever Orlando decides, the club will spin the choice in as a proactive, ambitious decision. A sale? Done to ensure the future of the club, allowing Orlando City to invest in programs, infrastructure, players, etc. Holding onto Larin? That’s all about fighting for a championship in 2017--though the choice not to sell will probably just come down price or Larin’s own personal choices.
If and when Orlando decides to sell Larin, they may be creating a precedent that will be difficult to defy in the future. Consider the New York Red Bulls, a team that established themselves as sellers with Jozy Altidore back in 2009 and has since shipped out Tim Ream and Matt Miazga. Each and every time the Red Bull find themselves in possession of a talented young player deemed ready for a European stage, they will have trouble drawing a line that allows them to hold onto a player who could help them win trophies.
A Larin sale is the tougher concept for the club to sell to their fans, especially in a league where the financial return is less visceral. MLS takes a cut of every sale, and there are only certain areas that Orlando City can spend the money on. American soccer fans, and American sports fans in general, are not accustomed to idea of players sales as a driver of financial power.
The speculation over Larin’s possible sale will follow Orlando City for a long as the European transfer window is open and clubs are showing interest. Orlando City has a difficult decision to make. Whatever their choice, it will make a clear statement of intent.
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