The LA Galaxy and Nigel de Jong split up after just eight months on Wednesday, mutually agreeing to terminate the Dutch midfielder’s contract to allow the 31-year-old to make a lucrative move to Turkish club Galatasaray.
No one – at least no one who was under contract when the transfer window closed on Aug. 3 – is coming in. The Galaxy, fifth in the West and winless in their last six, will likely make do the rest of the way with Jeff Larentowicz or Baggio Husidic sliding in for de Jong.
Contrary to some of the narrative out there, this is a significant loss for LA. De Jong didn’t fill up the score sheet for the Galaxy, but, as the team’s primary defensive midfielder, that was never his job. As Bruce Arena put it back in February, de Jong was signed to add a defensive presence in the central midfield that LA “missed last year, last couple of years” and to play a key linking role in the Galaxy attack.
He mostly accomplished those objectives.
The two-time World Cup veteran was an excellent shield in front of the Galaxy back four, teaming with several central midfield partners to help form one of the stingiest defenses in all of MLS. The Galaxy have conceded just 26 goals in 26 games this year, second fewest in the league. In de Jong’s 18 appearances, LA allowed just 16 goals and notched five of their seven shutouts.
De Jong didn’t get forward much, but he was very efficient as a distributor. According to Opta, MLS's official stats partner, he averaged a shade over 60 completed passes per 90 minutes, second in the league behind Seattle’s Ozzie Alonso. He was third in the league among qualified players with a passing accuracy of 87 percent, trailing only Alonso and Columbus midfielder Wil Trapp.
Of course, it wasn’t all positive. There were the two suspensions for rough tackles on Darlington Nagbe and Blas Perez and the fact that the Galaxy had a significantly better record when de Jong sat (5-0-3) than when he played (4-4-10).
I put a lot of that discrepancy down to timing and the streakiness of LA’s attack. De Jong sat out the entirety of Giovani dos Santos’ early-season blitz and the Galaxy scored the same number of goals – 20 – in the eight games he missed as they did in the 18 he played. Everything is connected in our game, but, as a deep-lying midfielder, I’m hesitant to put much, if any, of LA’s attacking struggles on de Jong.
I’m not hung up on that, or on his zero goals and zero assists. LA have a ridiculous amount of offensive options, some of whom aren’t exactly known for their defensive effort. Someone had to stay home to provide balance and start the attack. De Jong did that, and did it well.
But, if he was such a solid part of the LA midfield, why did they let him walk? And why didn’t they get a transfer fee for him?
As of now, the Galaxy aren’t answering either question. But that doesn’t mean we can’t follow the money:
Some background: Despite his pedigree, de Jong didn’t sign a Designated Player deal in February. The Galaxy already had the league limit of three on the roster in dos Santos, Robbie Keane and Steven Gerrard, and bought down de Jong’s reported $500,000 salary under the DP threshold using Targeted Allocation Money.
As indicated in Brian Straus’ tweet, that arrangement was temporary. If de Jong played in 23 matches this season, he’d trigger a contract extension for 2017 and 2018 that would pay him $3.25 million per year. There isn’t enough TAM in the world to bring that charge under the DP threshold, meaning de Jong would’ve occupied a DP slot for the next two years if he’d played in five more regular season matches.
The Galaxy reportedly have Gerrard coming off the books at the end of this season, meaning they’ll probably have one open DP slot to play with this winter. That would’ve gone to de Jong, had he stuck around. Now, with him out the door, the Galaxy have options. They can either make center back Jelle Van Damme a DP and spend the TAM they used to sign the Belgian this winter on another player or they can go out and use that third DP spot on someone else. Knowing the Galaxy, with their history of big, marketable player splashes, I’d bet on the latter.
Of course, if Van Damme is due for a hefty raise in 2017, LA might not have enough TAM to buy him down, and could be forced into using a DP spot on him. If they were indeed facing a choice between de Jong and Van Damme, the Galaxy made the right call.
De Jong was very good, but Van Damme has been Defender of the Year-good. That, coupled with the notion that it’s probably harder to find a stud center back than it is to find stout defensive midfielder, make this a good long-term move for LA, even if it's a bit of a negative that they couldn’t get a transfer fee from Galatasaray.
It’s not exactly a bad move for de Jong either, as the veteran midfielder will draw a huge paycheck in Turkey, get to play in the UEFA Champions League and potentially increase the likelihood of a recall to the Netherlands national team as they jump into World Cup qualifying.
All of that said, this move does put the Galaxy in a bind for the rest of the year. They’re now down an elite holding midfielder for the stretch run. Even if their attack is a much more pressing issue than the defense (which I think will remain solid), it’s not exactly ideal timing for the move. We’ll see how LA’s veteran group responds.
Fire reject Accam bid, in efforts to extend Ghanaian
Chicago GM Nelson Rodriguez confirmed the reports that a foreign club were interested in acquiring Designated Player David Accam, telling reporters on a conference call on Thursday that the Fire turned down a “significant bid” for the Ghanaian international.
ESPN FC’s Doug McIntyre reported on Wednesday that French club FC Nantes submitted a $3 million offer for Accam, who has seven goals and four assists in 17 appearances this year. MLSsoccer.com later verified that Nantes had submitted the offer. Rodriguez didn’t say whether or not that exact number was correct, but he did confirm McIntyre’s report that the Fire have been trying to extend the 25-year-old speedster, saying the two sides have been in discussions since Aug. 1.
Accam, who is currently on international duty with Ghana, has a guaranteed contract for next year, with the Fire holding an option for 2018.
“We recently this week had a significant offer made for the services of David Accam and we rejected that offer,” Rodriguez said. “First, although it was significant, we didn’t think it was necessarily his full market value, but more importantly we rejected it because we see David as becoming a key piece of our team.
“As of Aug. 1 we have been involved in discussions with David’s representation about a contract extension for David that would keep him contractually to our services for more than his current contract, which runs through next year with an option for ’18. We’re looking to extend that all the way through 2020 and we’ll continue those discussions.
“David has directly expressed a desire to remain in Chicago,” Rodriguez continued. “He loves the city, he loves the club and I believe he’s been playing his best soccer lately. He’s taken a much more visible and larger leadership role on the field and in the locker room. He’s away on FIFA duty now and his representative is getting married in September, so we’ll see if we can get those things tied up before the wedding. If not we’ll continue them soon thereafter.”
It’s a good sign for Fire supporters, who haven’t had much to cheer about this year, that the club are committed to keeping Accam. He’s been one of the few bright spots for last-place Chicago and is one of a few pieces – along with Michael de Leeuw and Johan Kappelhof and youngsters Matt Polster, Brandon Vincent and Jonathan Campbell – that Rodriguez and head coach Veljko Paunovic can build around as they look to add several legitimate attacking pieces to their core before the start of next season.
Ridgewell extension another shrewd move by Portland
As was previously reported by English outlet The Mirror and Stumptown Footy’s Chris Rifer, the Portland Timbers announced on Thursday that they have signed defender Liam Ridgewell to a contract extension.
The new deal will take Ridgewell off DP status at the start of the 2017 season, when the Timbers will officially buy down the 32-year-old’s contract under the DP threshold using Targeted Allocation Money. It’ll give Portland an open DP slot heading into the January transfer market, a move that will allow the Timbers to add another big money signing to their talented roster, should they so choose.
The move is shrewd enough on its own; the fact that it’s the fourth such deal done by the Timbers this year is even more impressive. The Timbers used TAM in three extensions in March, taking the DP tag off of striker Fanendo Adi and tacking extra time onto his contract shortly after splashing allocation cash to extend Darlington Nagbe and Diego Chara.
Removing the Designated Player label from Adi allowed Portland to give Diego Valeri a well-deserved raise, making the Argentine star a DP in the process. He’s now one of two DPs on Portland’s roster, along with fellow Argentine attacker Lucas Melano.
All of the moves will give Portland, who currently hold a three point lead on San Jose for the West’s sixth and final playoff spot, valuable flexibility heading into the offseason. They might need the wiggle room, too. The futures of a couple of the aforementioned players – Adi and Melano – could very well be in flux.
Melano hasn’t lived up to his billing since being acquired last year and was linked all summer with a move back to Argentina. Adi, on the other hand, has been a star on the field, but has occasionally appeared disgruntled off of it. There was some noise a couple of months back about his representation trying to engineer a move to Mexico and the Nigerian was a surprising non-injury scratch from Portland’s starting lineup for their defeat at Seattle on Aug. 21.
If the Timbers have to replace either – or both – of them this winter, their smart use of TAM this season will give them more than enough money and DP spots to pull it off successfully.