In the last two days, both finalists from MLS Cup 2015 took care of some of their most important players, with Columbus Crew SC making Kei Kamara a Designated Player on Wednesday before the champion Portland Timbers used Targeted Allocation Money to extend Darlington Nagbe and Diego Chara on Thursday.
The deals are feel-good stories in Columbus and Portland, who will open the 2016 season against each other at Providence Park on Sunday (4:30 pm ET; ESPN, ESPN Deportes in the US, MLS LIVE in Canada). The players get their money, fans keep their favorites and a pair of successful clubs lockup their in-their-prime (or close to it) stars for the foreseeable future.
This is how it should work, right?
Well, yeah. In theory, anyway. In reality, it’s difficult to give raises to players while simultaneously operating in a world market and within the constructs of MLS’s roster rules.
Just look at LA. The Galaxy maxed out their DP deals last year with Gio dos Santos and Steven Gerrard, and couldn’t offer Omar Gonzalez or Juninho enough to keep them from heading to Liga MX this winter. They found highly-qualified, talented replacements for both in Jelle Van Damme and Nigel de Jong, but, as we saw in CONCACAF Champions League this week, those new signings will take time to adjust.
Columbus and Portland gave their most-important pieces bigger deals, and they won’t have to worry as much about growing pains in 2016.
Crew SC, who signed US international winger Ethan Finlay to a new contract in January, will reportedly pay Kamara over $1 million per year following the striker’s stellar 22-goal 2015 season. The deal ends the reported contract dispute between the sides, and ensures Kamara will enter the 2016 season happy and with his focus on the field. Don’t discount the importance of either – a festering contract issue with a star player can quickly ruin a locker room.
Neither Nagbe nor Chara had any public issues with their deals, but locking them up – and presumably increasing their pay, as the use of TAM would indicate – puts a pause on any speculation about potential moves abroad.
Both players would be attractive targets for many foreign teams. Nagbe is just 25, has a world of talent and is an emerging star in MLS and with the US national team. Chara, 29, is a few years older, but he’s coming into his own as a defensive midfielder. He also has a connection to Liga MX through his brother, Yimmi, who is currently on loan from Monterrey to Dorados de Sinaloa.
The Timbers couldn’t keep everyone from their Cup-winning team (starters Jorge Villafana and Rodney Wallace both went abroad this winter), but they were able to manage the lure of potential overseas interest for two of their most important pieces.
Crew SC and the Timbers both deserve praise for doing right by their own this week. They’ll both be better for it over the next few years, and we’ll all reap the rewards when they meet in their MLS Cup rematch on Sunday.