Everybody loves a little MLS alphabet soup, and no acronym is more de rigueur these days than TAM.
Target Allocation Money gets the headlines for a reason: The injection of investment at the top end of MLS rosters is changing the quality of play and the way teams compete for talent in the world market. In layman’s terms, it allows teams to sign better players or re-sign standouts who might have otherwise left.
But like with every other roster rules wrinkle in this league, some teams do TAM better than others. With that in mind, here are my five best TAM signings of 2017, a list of names you’ll recognize as game-changers in their own right. (View a full list of TAM players in MLS.)
5. Yordy Reyna – Vancouver Whitecaps
Yes, this is a bit of a wildcard pick. Yordy Reyna was out of action until the beginning of July after suffering a foot injury in the preseason, a real blow for the Whitecaps’ ambitions. Vancouver lost 4-0 in the Peruvian’s debut and found themselves in seventh place in the Western Conference on 21 points. Since then, he’s made 11 appearances (six starts), scored four goals and added an assist in fewer than 600 minutes played.
Look no further than Wednesday night’s goal – that touch and finish were absolute class – and assist in a win against Minnesota for the effect Reyna can have on the Whitecaps season. That win secured first place, and Reyna may just be the piece that fuels a deep playoff run. Oh, and he’s still just 23 years old, and a return to the Peruvian national team seems likely. More TAM signings like this please.
4. Carlos Carmona – Atlanta United
The Chilean World Cup veteran wasn’t Atlanta’s sexiest signing, of which there were many, but he’s been a critical, if underappreciated part of their on-field success story. Someone has to carry the water for Miguel Almiron, Josef Martinez and Hector Villalba, and Carlos Carmona stays busy circulating the ball, clogging up passing lanes and putting in timely tackles.
When we think TAM, we often think attacking players. That’s natural, but don’t forget game-changers come on both sides of the ball. Carmona played in the last two World Cups, after all, and he’ll be a big reason why Atlanta are close to a sure bet to make the playoffs in their first year of existence.
3. Alexander Ring – New York City FC
Speaking of MLS hipster picks for MLS Newcomer of the Year, Alexander Ring’s defensive instincts, aggression in the tackle and pinpoint passing are a big reason why New York City FC made another leap in 2017. In many ways, he’s an ideal TAM signing, an established international player (Finland) just entering the best years of his career at 26 and who had something to prove after playing time became sparse at FC Kaiserslautern.
Six years of Bundesliga and 2.Bundesliga experience prepared Ring for NYCFC, and he’s wasted no time establishing himself as one of the best box-to-box midfielders in the league while making the attacking players around him better and protecting a backline that’s made huge strides year over year.
2. Justin Meram – Columbus Crew SC
TAM isn’t just about acquiring new players. It’s also about locking down the All-Star caliber talent already in your midst. In 2014 and 2015, Justin Meram established himself as domestic attacking talent on the rise. In 2016, he established himself as a game-changer. This year, the Michigan-born Iraq international is proving that he’s one of the league’s most devastating playmakers and goalscorers off the wing (11 goals, seven assists).
He might be gone, however, if not for the TAM Columbus used to re-sign him this year, more than tripling his salary according to figures released by the MLS Player’s Union. Crew SC drafted Justin Meram and gave him a chance to establish a professional career, then they recognized the value he earned via standout performances on both the domestic and international stages. And he’s not the only MLSer to follow that career trajectory – think Darlington Nagbe, Steve Birnbaum, Lee Nguyen, Dax McCarty, Dom Dwyer and others.
1. Victor Vazquez – Toronto FC
Six goals and 15 assists in less than 2,000 minutes, good for a goal scored or created every 93 minutes on the field. That production – as well as Victor Vazquez’s picture-perfect movement on and off the ball and crisp, clean passing – are a massive reason why Toronto FC are chasing regular-season history and the treble. The Big Three of Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley may get all the headlines, but Vazquez allows all three to be at their best and helps pick up the slack when they aren’t.
Ultimately, TAM can be used in many ways – to snag a promising prospect, to re-sign a player who’s become a star, to open up a DP spot for someone else or to grab a player like Vazquez in their prime and ready to contribute immediately – but the end result, when used correctly, ought to be the same: elevate play in a meaningful way, collectively and individually.
Who do you think is the top TAM signing of 2017? What players would you look at for 2018 if you were an MLS coach or general manager? Let me know in the comment section below.