Why Major League Soccer conditioned you to think the Red Bulls lost the Kljestan trade


When the news that the New York Red Bulls let Carlos Rivas and Tommy Redding go, many took to Twitter to fire off their hot takes about how the Red Bulls did horrible business. People who think that are flat-out wrong. I am not here to make the case that they won the deal. Perhaps they could have gotten more value or better players in return. Who knows?

The Red Bulls did not lose the Sacha Kljestan trade, because they got exactly what they wanted.

Why Major League Soccer conditioned you to think the Red Bulls lost the Kljestan trade

Right now, you may think I am crazy. “How could they have gotten what they wanted if they cut what they got?”.

The simple answer is, they wanted to get Sacha Kljestan and his large contract set off of their books. Kljestan’s compensation was set to rise from around $700k to $1.2 million. There are a few reasons why they wanted to do this.

The first reason is that it became increasingly clear during the 2017 season that Kljestan was a square peg in a round hole. His production began declining. His assist numbers remained strong, but direct assists dropped from 16 in 2016 to 10 in 2017.

At $787k he was above the 500k Designated Player threshold. Targeted Allocation Money, or TAM for short, augmented the range and only required $287K minimum to be bought down from the DP level. With his salary set to increase, he was all but locked into a DP spot, restricting the team from using TAM to reduce his cap hit. Even if they did, it would have made other additions difficult to fit under the salary cap.

When the Red Bulls confirmed they were trading Kljestan, they did something you see in every American sports league, a salary dump. A salary dump is when a team trades a player with a very large and lengthy contract for a cheap player or two. Usually, this is a sign they have their eye on using the open salary cap room to sign a star (*cough* Kaku *cough*). Sorry its flu season.

The team with the large contract often gives something up to sweeten the deal, since they need to free the cap space. These sweeteners are usually draft picks or cash considerations. So, the trade that saw Kljestan and TAM go to Orlando City SC for two spare parts in Carlos Rivas and Tommy Redding was nothing more than a standard salary dump. Why did the Red Bulls send TAM money to OCSC? To offset the cost difference between Kljestan’s and the outgoing players, $1.2m and about 600k.

From the New York side, they got two young players that if they worked out, great. If not, whatever. The important part was getting rid of an aging albatross on the Salary Cap. OCSC got a veteran who was coming off a decent season for two guys they deemed excess to requirements. Both sides got something they wanted.

While it is fun to gang up with Red Bull Twitter to call people out, understand it’s not that person fault they think the Red Bulls lost the trade.

It is Major League Soccer fault.

In many ways, the lack of transparency from the league has conditioned fans and analyst alike to ignore the perspective of the sporting director making sure the 20 players that count against the cap fit underneath it. In every other American League fan can see how each player counts against the cap and understand when a team is doing a salary dump. When they don’t a whole handful of writers and analyst will tell them.

In American soccer, all focus is on the field. Since we don’t have that level of transparency when analyzing trades it is always looked at as black and white my guy for you guy who did best. Its time for the Player Union to push for it and its time for the League to make it easier for all to understand how the proverbial sausage gets made.

So don’t get angry at those who don’t get it, get at angry at Major League Soccer who keep us in the dark and conditions us to look at trades as one player for money or one player for another. This is an American sports League it is time to make the uniquely  American aspects easier to understand.

Photo by Bill Twomey Photography

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