Late on Friday night, word came down that Orlando City had waived 22-year-old forward Bryan Rochez, who was occupying a Designated Player spot, and that Atlanta United had claimed him, adding him to the reserve roster (roster spots 25 through 28).
This was a confusing confluence of events for folks unused to the Byzantine halls of MLS roster management, so let me try my best to clear it up:
Orlando City waived Rochez because he obviously had no future with the club. This was made clear in preseason when head coach Jason Kreis said, uh, that he had no future at the club. There were a couple of other guys in that same boat for OCSC, including veteran defender David Mateos and young d-mid Devron Garcia. Mateos was bought out earlier this month, and last week Garcia was loaned to Real España for the season, and it was a case of "ask not for whom the bell tolls, Bryan" over the past week.
Of the three, Rochez was the biggest hurdle for any sort of roster flexibility because of that Designated Player tag. OCSC, of course, desperately need some roster flexibility right now with Kaká hurt and an over-abundance of high-salaried role players/few reliable difference-makers.
It's all pretty straightforward up to this point, right? "Release one player to make room for another" makes plenty of sense in any league in the world.
The thing that justifiably confused people is that in conjunction with waiving Rochez, Orlando City did not sign a new player. Instead they moved Giles Barnes into Rochez's only-momentarily-vacated DP slot. Why?
- OCSC obviously haven't identified their replacement DP yet
- Barnes's salary is in the high six figures, and would have required TAM or GAM to pay down
TAM and GAM have changed the way MLS teams do business, and they are fungible but finite. Once you use allocation money you don't get it back – it's not like salary cap space. If you trade a $200,000 player for nothing, you now have $200,000 of salary cap room. If you waive a guy who's being paid $200,000 of TAM or GAM, that money is still gone. Thus you shouldn't use it on players who won't give you an adequate ROI, and you also shouldn't use it if you can shift a TAM/GAM player into an open DP slot instead, even if only on a temporary basis.
So no, OCSC fans, Rochez wasn't moved simply because Barnes "deserved" a DP slot, nor simply because he was an underwhelming signing and the powers that be in Florida were finally genuflecting to the god of sunk cost. Rochez was moved, and Barnes was made a DP in order for the team to preserve their allocation money and a level of roster flexibility going forward. Every cent of their budget that they save now is a cent they can put toward improving the squad later in this transfer window, or in the summer transfer window, or even next winter.
Chances are that when/if they find the right guy, Barnes will be shifted out of a DP slot and (guessing here) onto the TAM budget. Maybe OCSC will have preserved as little as $25,000 of allocation cash, or maybe as much as a few hundred thousand.
Either way, these kinds of roster gymnastics are worth doing, and it's important to understand that juggling roster designations and hoarding allocation cash are two of the most important aspects of being an MLS GM. Everyone does this, because in a league of parity every possible competitive advantage matters.
That line, by the way, explains Atlanta United's decision to pick Rochez up on the cheap. He's a guy who was talented enough, three years ago, to warrant a DP contract, after all, and has played decent soccer in the brief spurts of good health he's experienced:
He has good balance, a low center of gravity, good strength and a good first touch. He does fun, center-forward stuff. I like his talent quite a bit.
He also has a green card, which means he doesn't chew into Atlanta's international roster slots. There's virtually no risk involved here – it's just pure opportunism from Paul McDonough & Co.
Both teams did the right thing.