COLUMBUS, Ohio - Giancarlo Gonzalez is on his way to Italy, and he's not coming back.
Columbus Crew head coach and sporting director Gregg Berhalter confirmed the news at a Saturday press conference that the club is in the final stages of a deal that would send the Costa Rican defender to Italian side Palermo for what will be one of the richest sums in MLS history. Without Gonzalez in the lineup, the Crew blanked the Houston Dynamo 3-0 on Saturday night.
"Believe me, this is something that you don't pass up, bar none," Berhalter told the assembled media before the game. "When this type of offer comes around, you take it. I think that, for us, it's a game-changer in terms of what we're able to do now with the structure of the club and what we're able to do with prospective players."
Berhalter wouldn't put a number on the fee, but confirmed that it's the largest for an MLS defender in the league's history. Those funds will be divided between the Crew, MLS (which helped pay Gonzalez's initial transfer fee) and Gonzalez's last club, Norwegian side Vålerenga.
Palermo was one of the first teams to inquire about Gonzalez, according to Berhalter, and the Crew had been in talks with the Italian club since after the World Cup.
"In any negotiations, you need some type of time constraint to kind of end it," Berhalter said. "What's happening is that their deadline is closing, is approaching, and they felt the urgency now to finish it off."
How will the Crew use all of their newly acquired funding? Berhalter indicated there are a plethora of possibilities.
"Financially, we now have a big chunk of allocation to work with, which helps with the long-term building of your team ... that backing that lets you go above and beyond the salary cap. So we have that for some years to come."
However, MLS also allows its teams to use transfer funds on soccer operations, including the academy. And Berhalter says that's also part of the plan.
"What we've talked about was building a first-class organization, and that is from the top down," Berhalter said. "We're talking about the first team, high performance, scouting resources. And then all the way down to the academy, where we can use these resources to enhance our academy.
"Our vice-captain (Wil Trapp) is a homegrown product, so why can't we have three of those guys in the future?" Berhalter continued. "Why can't our scouting network find four Giancarlos? And then you start building a solid structure and you've built a successful team."
Andrew King covers the Columbus Crew for MLSsoccer.com.