Real Salt Lake are expected to officially acquire US Under-20 attacker Brooks Lennon on a year-long loan from Liverpool in the coming days, according to a source close to the situation. The source said that the deal is in place, but the two sides are finalizing paperwork before formally announcing the transaction.
RSL’s interest in acquiring Lennon was first reported in January by The Salt Lake Tribune.
Lennon’s contract with Liverpool runs through the 2017-18 English Premier League season, meaning he’ll have roughly six months left on his deal when his loan to RSL expires following the 2017 MLS season.
Prior to moving to Liverpool in the summer of 2015, the 19-year-old Lennon played in Real Salt Lake’s Arizona academy, shining in US Soccer Developmental Academy action and establishing himself as a regular US youth international.
He’s spent time with the RSL first-team this preseason, receiving permission from Liverpool to train with the club in between stints with the US Under-20 national team. Lennon is one of 24 players currently with the US U-20s at their training camp in Orlando. At the conclusion of the camp on Feb. 10, a final roster of 20 players will be named to travel to Costa Rica for the 2017 CONCACAF U-20 Championship, which serves as the region’s qualifying tournament for this summer’s U-20 World Cup. The tournament will run from Feb. 17-March 5.
Capable of playing as a second forward or on the wing, Lennon moved from the Liverpool U-18s to the club’s U-23 side this season, recording two goals in 12 appearances for the reserve unit. He trained with Liverpool on and off starting in 2013 while he was still in the RSL academy. Expect the Arizona native to provide depth in the RSL attack while making more regular appearances with the club’s USL side, Real Monarchs SLC.
Breaking down Van Damme's new deal
It’s rare that a quote in a team press release is at all revealing, but we got some actual information from LA GM Pete Vagenas in the Galaxy’s announcement of a contract extension for defender Jelle Van Damme on Wednesday.
Here’s what Vagenas had to say about the deal, which will make Van Damme the Galaxy’s third Designated Player. Emphasis is mine:
“Jelle showed last season that he is undoubtedly one of the best defenders in Major League Soccer,” Vagenas said. “His contract will still give us the flexibility to bolster our roster during the summer. He is a leader, a winner and a competitor and will continue to be a centerpiece along our backline. We are thrilled to have Jelle as a member of the Galaxy for years to come.”
That bolded sentence is the key. Taken with a report from LAGalaxy.com’s Adam Serrano that indicated the same a couple weeks back, that line is a pretty big hint that LA will be able to use Targeted Allocation Money to buy Van Damme’s contract down in the summer if they want to sign another DP.
Last winter, the Galaxy used Targeted Allocation Money to acquire Van Damme, buying down his salary cap hit under the maximum budget charge so that the Belgian wouldn’t count as a Designated Player. That was crucial entering the 2016 season, as the Galaxy already had three DPs on the books in Giovani dos Santos, Robbie Keane and Steven Gerrard. Now, with Keane departed, Gerrard retired and Romain Alessandrini added earlier this week as the club’s second DP, LA had a little more flexibility.
That flexibility allowed them to give Van Damme a new deal, bumping him up to DP status. Making the veteran defender a DP now and buying him back down in the summer – as opposed to using allocation money to keep him off DP status all year – is advantageous to LA.
Most importantly, it allows the Galaxy to potentially save a solid chunk of TAM. Let’s say Van Damme is set to make $600,000 in 2017, about as high a figure as one could reasonably figure given his 2016 salary of $480,000, as reported by the MLS Players’ Union. If LA wanted to buy him down under the DP threshold before the season, they’d have to use about $120,000 in allocation money – either targeted or general – to get there. That’d be a significant chunk of the $1.2 million each team receives in TAM and nearly the entirety of the $200,000 in GAM that teams who made the playoffs in 2016 are starting with this year.
By making Van Damme a DP now, LA significantly decrease the amount of allocation money they’d have to spend to get him under the DP threshold in the summer. Teams are allowed to use TAM to buy players under the DP threshold during the season if they immediately acquire a new player to fill that DP spot. In those cases, how much TAM a team needs to use to buy a player down is is adjusted depending on how much money he’s still owed that season.
Let’s stay with the $600,000 example. If LA want to sign a new DP at the halfway point of the season, they’d have to buy Van Damme down under the DP threshold. If they use TAM to do that, the league would prorate Van Damme’s salary cap hit down commensurate with how much money he’s still owed.
At the halfway point of the year in our $600,000 example, that number would be $300,000. Even though that number is under the 2017 DP threshold of $480,625, LA would still have to use the league-mandated minimum of $75,000 in TAM in order to remove his DP tag. If they chose, they could use more. In the above example, they could use up to $225,000 in TAM on Van Damme. That’d take his cap hit to $75,000, which would then be prorated back up to $150,000, which is the minimum budget charge for any player bought down with TAM. The process of prorating a player’s salary down based on how much money’s he’s owed, then pushing the cap hit back up depending on how much time is left in the season is the same in all cases of a team using TAM to buy a player under the DP threshold in order to open up a spot for a new DP.
Even if the Galaxy don’t sign a Designated Player in the summer and keep dos Santos, Alessandrini and Van Damme as their three DPs, they should have a decent amount of TAM to play with to go out and make a significant signing. If that signing’s salary cap hit is over the DP threshold but lower than Van Damme’s budget charge, they can save a few bucks by using the allocation money on the new guy instead of Van Damme to keep roster compliant.
For a team that already has two set-in-stone DPs in dos Santos and Alessandrini, is spending TAM on Jermaine Jones and Joao Pedro and used TAM on Gyasi Zardes in 2016 and will presumably use either TAM or GAM on him again in 2017, making Van Damme a DP now is a smart move. The Galaxy are re-tooling, and maintaining maximum flexibility going into the summer window – when it’s usually easier to make huge signings – is a solid strategy.
D.C. trying Franklin at center back
D.C. United’s 2017 roster is mostly set, but the club is eyeing a potential position switch during preseason.
As has been discussed in certain corners of the internet this winter, United GM Dave Kasper told me on Wednesday that the club will try veteran defender Sean Franklin at center back this preseason. Franklin, 31, has played in 82 regular season matches in three seasons with D.C., with nearly all of his appearances coming at right back.
US international Steve Birnbaum is an every-game starter at center back for United when available, but he’s never played more than 26 games in his three seasons as a pro. Bobby Boswell, 33, has been his primary partner.
“It’s something that we’ll take a look at in preseason,” Kasper said when asked if the club would consider playing Franklin at center back. “He’s a guy that can play obviously at right back, at left back in situations to cover. But he’s played center back at times in his career and we always talk about him as someone that, if something went wrong during a game and we needed a body, could play center back. He could step in there and do a job. So we are going to take a look at Sean at center back this preseason.”
Kasper also spoke about recent Homegrown signing Ian Harkes, who won the MAC Hermann Trophy as the best player in college soccer for his standout senior season at Wake Forest in 2016 and could’ve conceivably been the No. 1 overall pick had he been eligible for last month’s SuperDraft.
A central midfielder, Harkes spent a week training at English club Derby County and drew interest from Fulham before signing with D.C. on Jan. 23.
“We think Ian’s a player who can contribute right away,” Kasper said. “Time will tell whether he’s in the first-team right away or whether that’s going to take him a little bit, but he is a player that we feel is going to get on the field this year. And certainly his future’s very bright and we’re excited about him and what he can bring.”