MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. – Multiple sources have told me this week that Atlanta United FC may have to wait until after the Premier League season to sign US national team goalkeeper Brad Guzan, who reportedly agreed to a deal with the club last month.
According to the sources, Atlanta are not planning on using a Designated Player spot on Guzan, whose salary would be over the DP threshold but then bought down with Targeted Allocation Money so that he doesn’t count as a DP. TAM can be used on players who earn at least the maximum salary budget charge ($480,625 in 2017), but less than $1 million per season.
Because Guzan is under contract with Middlesbrough through the end of the Premiership season in May, Atlanta would have to pay a fee to land him from the English side in the current transfer window. According to the sources, that transfer fee – when added to his salary – would make it impossible for Atlanta to use TAM to buy his contract down; if acquired with a fee, he’d be a DP in 2017.
The sources said that Atlanta were hoping Middlesbrough would release Guzan from his contract to allow him to join the expansion side on a free transfer ahead of the season, which would allow them to use TAM to buy him under the DP threshold. That now appears unlikely, however, and Atlanta may be forced to wait until Guzan is out of contract with Boro to add him to their roster.
When asked about Guzan on Monday, Atlanta president Darren Eales told MLSsoccer.com that “we’re not going to comment on any players that are under contract [with other clubs], but we’re still No. 1 in the allocation order.” As a returning USMNT player, Guzan would enter the league via the allocation process.
Guzan, 32, has primarily served as Victor Valdes’ backup for Middlesbrough this season. He has five appearances in all competitions this year, though he did start and record shutouts in the club’s last two matches while Valdes was recovering from injury. Valdes is reportedly now healthy and available for selection for Boro’s match at Watford on Saturday.
Prior to joining Middlesbrough this year, Guzan spent eight seasons at Aston Villa, totaling 160 league appearances for the club before they were relegated to the Championship last season. The 2007 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, the Chicagoland native began his career with Chivas USA, making 79 regular-season appearances in three and a half years with the club before moving to Villa in July 2008. He has 53 career appearances with the USMNT.
Confusion and overanalysis at the Combine
For years, the MLS Combine has been an exercise in overthinking.
Coaches and GMs from every MLS team swoop into town – LA this year, Fort Lauderdale in the past – commiserate with each other over drinks in the hotel lobby and, every other day, drive out to a stadium to watch more than 70 college and international prospects suit up for a total of six scrimmages.
The games themselves are usually a bit of a slog. That’s no fault of the players. They’re put in a damn near impossible situation, with most arriving without having met any of their teammates and, for the kids whose college teams didn’t advance to the postseason, not having played a competitive match for months. They’re not at full fitness, they don’t have relationships with their teammates and, with everyone feeling pressure to impress, things can quickly turn towards hero ball.
Under the circumstances, it’s hard to really take much meaning away from any of the games. Yet, every year, we see previously unheralded prospects shoot up in the SuperDraft after a strong Combine while guys who generate plenty of pre-draft buzz fall way down the board.
We don’t need to go back far for a good example of this. In 2015, Cristian Roldan was a highly touted 19-year-old Generation adidas signee projected by many to go in the top five after he decided to turn pro following an first-team All-America nod in his sophomore year at the University of Washington.
Teams had plenty of tape on him against solid opposition in the Pac-12, but they were scared off by three terrible performances on a sloppy cricket field in Ft. Lauderdale, with Roldan infamously falling all the way to No. 16, when the Seattle Sounders moved up to grab him.
Two years later, and Roldan has already appeared in 55 MLS regular season games, played a huge role for the Sounders in their run to MLS Cup last month and has nearly worked his way into the US national team picture. He’s got a better professional resume than almost all of the 15 players who were selected ahead of him in the 2015 draft, four of whom have played fewer than 30 minutes in their MLS careers.
How does that happen? It wasn’t like Roldan was an unknown. The kid signed a GA deal. He played quality competition in college, and was considered one of the top midfielders in all of D-I.
Guys like Roldan (and Patrick Mullins before him) slip because teams fall into this weird Combine trap. Coaches, GMs and agents mingle all week, and people start talking. Rumors flying through the hotel bar quickly become reality. Teams that had prepared well start to feel a bit uneasy about their scouting work. Discipline flies out the window.
“These guys start talking to each other and they all pretend to trust each other, even though they don’t trust each other,” one GM told me earlier this week. “It’s all, ‘Oh man, I heard so-and-so talking about moving up. I heard so-and-so’s gonna move up to get [Abu] Danladi. Oh man, we should take a good look at him.’ No. We’ve done our homework. We know where he is on our priority list. He’s on there, he’s already there. The overthinking is just dramatic this week.”
Not to say that there’s no value in the Combine matches. Players can shine, red flags can pop up, and there are guys in attendance that can’t be scouted beforehand. There’s some meaning here. Just not much. There’s four years of tape on most of these guys and plenty of teams do a ton of pre-draft scouting. They’d be wiser to rely more on that, and less on three games in difficult circumstances.
I fully expect Jeremy Ebobisse, who played in his only Combine game on Thursday and scored, to be selected first overall by Minnesota United FC on Friday. The fact that he didn’t arrive in LA until Monday night (he was at a camp with the US U-20s in Florida over the weekend) and his lack of participation in the first two rounds of games tells me that the former Duke forward knows he’s going first.
The consensus at the Combine seems to be that Syracuse center back Miles Robinson and UCLA forward Abu Danladi will be the next two names off the board behind Ebobisse. Which Generation adidas player gets taken first is a bit of a mystery, however. Both Atlanta (No. 2 and No. 8) and Chicago (No. 3 and No. 11) hold a pair of picks in the top half of the first round, and both clubs have told me this week that they’re open to trading their top pick. I could see someone moving up to grab Danladi, who many think is the most talented player in the draft but had some issues staying on the field at UCLA.
In terms of the other Generation adidas players, I like Jackson Yueill to go pretty high, potentially to Houston at No. 4. Jonathan Lewis should also be a top-10 pick, while Canadian Generation adidas signings Adonijah Reid, 17, and Shamit Shome could drop into the back half of the first round or lower.
Regardless of who goes where, there is still value in the SuperDraft. As Matt Doyle noted on Wednesday, with more and more talented youngsters joining the league as Homegrown Players, it’s not quite as important as it used to be, but every year, there are still solid players – and a future star or two – to be found. We'll see who's next on Friday.