It was getting late in the MLS Secondary Transfer Window. FC Cincinnati were patient and confident, but time was running out.
Cincinnati hadn't yet signed a center back. They'd only signed one player prior to this summer's deadline day (Thursday, Aug. 4). Questions and consternation from fans grew.
Cincy remained confident and, in the end, they got the deal wrapped up and landed their man. US men's national team center back Matt Miazga would soon formally sign from Chelsea on a free transfer.
“Matt was our top target," general manager Chris Albright told media Friday in a virtual press conference. "We’re really excited. A lot of hard work went into it.”
Patience was key
Miazga, 27, broke through with the New York Red Bulls before signing for Chelsea in 2016 on a then-league-record fee for a defender. He never broke into Chelsea's first team, instead going out on loan to five different teams during his time at the English Premier League club. His most recent loan was a move that didn't work out to Alaves in Spain's LaLiga. Others included Nantes in France's Ligue 1 and Anderlecht in Belgium's first division.
This summer, Chelsea were going to allow Miazga (and a few others from their infamous "loan army") to leave on a permanent deal. Miazga had options.
“We got wind there was a possibility he’d entertain coming back to MLS, but he had other suitors in Europe like we knew he would," Albright said. "We were able to convince Matt this was the best place for him. It was a long process; our patience paid off.”
Critically for Cincy, Miazga signed a deal that won't require one of the club's three Designated Player slots. Brenner, Luciano Acosta and Obinna Nwobodo currently hold those three spots.
“There were clear parameters around this deal for us because of league constraints," Albright said. "In some ways, it’s an easier negotiation. We’re maxing out our resources. There wasn’t much we could negotiate.”
Cincinnati are in the first year under another new regime. The club preached patience for a long-term vision since Albright took over as GM and Pat Noonan as head coach, but Cincy are performing ahead of schedule under that ex-Philadelphia Union duo.
With a Best XI-caliber season from Acosta and a breakout campaign from Brandon Vazquez, Cincinnati are in the thick of an Audi MLS Cup Playoffs race in the Eastern Conference. The club finished bottom of the league in each of their first three seasons. Now, they have a legitimate chance at postseason soccer.
“There certainly was urgency around [the deal]," Albright said. "As a long-suffering Philadelphia sports fan, I understand the fan perspective if they want things now. We had some other options, but being patient allowed us to land on our top target.”
Miazga is currently on his way to Cincy. He's expected to join training for the first time next week and be available for selection next weekend, though he hasn't featured in a competitive match since February.
Keeping the top spot
To get deeper into the MLS roster rules, Miazga could only be signed through the Allocation Order. He was on the Allocation List because his transfer out of MLS was for more than $500,000.
FC Cincinnati had the top spot in the Allocation Order for almost the entire season. They were involved in three trades to drop from No. 1 to No. 2, helping facilitate other teams signing players (Jefferson Savarino, Caden Clark and lastly, on Friday, Richie Laryea), but never cashing in fully by trading all the way down. They were deliberate in staying near the top to avoid losing this opportunity.
Cincy were reported to be interested in ex-FC Dallas midfielder Carlos Gruezo earlier this season, another player on the Allocation List. Albright said when Miazga became a possibility, they weren't moving away from the top.
“We initially wanted to keep our options open. We had numerous targets at center back," Albright said. "But once we engaged with Matt, it became very clear that was our play [with the Allocation Order]. We weren’t going to do anything to jeopardize being able to select him.”
Miazga was just one of two additions by Cincy this summer, joining alongside striker Sergio Santos (trade from the Philadelphia Union). Albright took over in the winter and the front office have been deliberate with changes to the roster.
The front office also have worked to rebuild their reservoir of allocation money, with numerous trades atop the Allocation Order to pick up $350,000 GAM as well as other departures throughout the year to aid in flexibility.
It’s a stark contrast to moves in the club’s past. In their inaugural 2019 season, Cincy included the top spot in the Allocation Order almost as a throwaway asset in a trade to acquire Nick Hagglund.
“We’ve been in a process of trying to turn over the roster, but also turn over the salary cap and internal league resources to be able to compete," Albright said. "It was really important that any mechanism we could use to get league assets, we had to. Allocation money is gold in this league.”
How much does Matt Miazga help Cincy’s defense?