Wiebe: Making sense of the insane final days of the January transfer window

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Here are five questions on my mind on this frigid Friday.

What did Thursday’s flurry of moves teach us?

Miguel Almiron | USA Today Sports Images

Deadline day isn’t normally like this on our side of the Atlantic.

But then, we’re entering a new era of Major League Soccer, and we’d better get used to multi-million dollar deals and the will-he, won’t-he drama that comes with them. MLS’s incoming transfer window doesn’t close for another few months, so buckle up. There’s more to come, and so much has happened already.

I wrote the following two weeks ago, when Miguel Almiron was still an Atlanta United player.

“The future of MLS looks a whole lot like Atlanta’s offseason. From here on out, the most successful clubs will be the ones who master the delicate balance between ambition (buying) and investment (selling), from Designated Players all the way down through the academy.”

I concluded that column by asking whether Atlanta could sell as well as they could buy. ATL answered that question and then some on Thursday when the Paraguayan was sold to Newcastle United for a reported $27 million, a record for both clubs as well as MLS. Bobby Warshaw has more on the move here.

Atlanta had a plan. Hire Tata Martino. Buy Almiron. Groom Almiron into a star. Win a championship with Almiron. Sell Almiron for a hefty profit. They followed their plan, and reaped the rewards. The publicity is priceless, too. People around the world know Atlanta United now. Players and agents around the world know Atlanta United is a good place to be. They sell as well as they buy.

Not every plan works, but everybody needs a plan.

Does your club have one? Can they articulate it? Do the decisions they make reflect its principles? If the answer is no to those questions, I’m going to guess you aren’t supporting a consistent playoff team.

The future of MLS is already here. Players have been sold to Bayern Munich (x2), Manchester City, RB Leipzig, Newcastle, Cruz Azul and Al-Hilal this winter. More will be bought with those funds in the coming weeks. Every day we find out who can walk the tightrope between ambition and investment and who falls to the net below.

Can D.C. United re-sign Luciano Acosta?

Luciano Acosta | USA Today Sports Images

On Wednesday night, our collective jaws dropped when Steven Goff of The Washington Post tweeted that Luciano Acosta had left D.C. United’s preseason camp to travel to France to seal a deal with Paris Saint-Germain or an English Premier League club.

On Thursday, Goff and The Athletic’s Pablo Maurer took turns adding wrinkles to an ever-evolving story as the clock counted down and Lucho-to-PSG (?!?) turned into one of the league’s most dramatic transfer sagas of all time. It ended as quickly as it began. No deal. Details here and here.

Acosta is reportedly devastated. No matter what was said about his role (short-term, at best) or manager Thomas Tuchel’s thoughts on the move (unconvinced), the Argentine rushed to Paris for a medical in preparation for a life-changing move to a UEFA Champions League contender (Man U in the Round of 16 in 12 days) and Ligue 1 powerhouse.

All that, only to have the move cruelly slip away at the last minute. So now what?

First and foremost, renewed contract talks between D.C. and Acosta, whose contract is up at the end of 2019 and will be free to sign a pre-contract agreement with any club in the summer.

Here’s a nightmare scenario for United and MLS: Spurred on by the disappointment of missing out on his dream move, Acosta decides to play out the final year of his contract before leaving on a free transfer. United not only miss out on the reported $8 million or more from PSG, they lose their prize asset for nothing.

That would be a huge financial swing that D.C. have to avoid. Per Goff, there was already a four-year, $10 million contract extension on the table. Acosta’s agents will surely ask for more now, given the circumstances and events of the past 48 hours.

General manager Dave Kasper’s job now is to find a way to get a deal done. You can’t turn down a multi-million dollar transfer fee only to lose the player for nothing six months later. Time to pay Acosta, hope his production and chemistry with Wayne Rooney picks up where it left off and hit the market again in the summer.

Why would Toronto FC sell Sebastian Giovinco?

Sebastian Giovinco | USA Today Sports Images

Because they didn’t value him as highly as he valued himself. Simple as that.

This interview with general manger Ali Curtis, on the job all of a couple weeks, from TSN’s Kristian Jack is a must-watch if you want to understand what happened from Toronto’s perspective. This Instagram post from Sebastian Giovinco tells you in plain terms what he thought about the way it all went down.

“Recently, after refusing to exercise the club option for 2020, I was offered terms that I deemed unacceptable,” Giovinco wrote. “They may say I left for a more lucrative deal, but this is not the case … I would have accepted less to stay in Toronto.”

Said Curtis in response: “They presented us with a number, and they didn’t want to negotiate off of it. It was, more or less, take it or leave it.”

Now is a good time to scroll up and re-read what I was saying about having a plan and sticking to it. Toronto FC have one. It just doesn’t involve spending on veteran salaries at the same level they have for the past five seasons on the likes of Giovinco, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore.

The Reds were willing to make Giovinco one of the highest-paid players in the league, per MLSsoccer.com’s Sam Stejskal, to the tune of around $3.5 million per year. They just weren’t willing to let a 32-year-old set the price, no matter his legacy with the club. That was their leverage, and Giovinco walked rather than take a pay cut.

Toronto FC now have between $2 and 3 million, per reports, via the fee from Al-Hilal, an open Designated Player spot, somewhere around $7 million saved in 2019 salary and roster flexibility they can use to get younger, and perhaps take a page out of Atlanta United’s Almiron playbook.

What they don’t have is Giovinco, inarguably one of the best players in league history.

Time to bring balance to the force. Time to invest to prove your ambition.

In the meantime, Curtis says he is in regular contract with Bradley and Altidore’s agents. Will they be asked to accept a pay cut as their contracts expire? You'd think so. How will they respond? We don't know. There’s plenty more work ahead for Curtis and TFC.

What is Marc Dos Santos building in Vancouver?

Marc Dos Santos | Vancouver Whitecaps FC

Two weeks ago, that Vancouver Whitecaps depth chart looked downright barren. New head coach Marc Dos Santos promised to change the culture, and cleaning house was apparently a prerequisite. Then the signings started trickling in and the roster began to take shape.

Jon Erice arrived from the Spanish second division to hold down the No. 6 role, Lass Bangoura and Lucas Venuto were signed to provide pace and production on the wings, right back Scott Sutter traded Orlando for British Columbia and most notably, 22-year-old South Korean international central midfielder Hwang In-beom decided to make Vancouver his first move away from home instead of opting for 2.Bundesliga suitors.

There’s much more to come, too. Per Dos Santos, six to seven more additions, starting on the backline. That started on Friday morning with the announcement of the acquisition of Tunisian international Jasser Khmiri.

In case you aren’t following @AFTNCanada or @GlassCityFC, expect Erik Godoy, who is reportedly on his way to Vancouver on loan from Colon in Argentina to join Khmiri along the backline.

For the time being, the ‘Caps have just one forward on the books (19-year-old Homegrown Theo Bair) with Anthony Blondell headed to Chile. Those Sardar Azmoun rumors are baseless, per the club, but something – or somethings – is brewing.

Meanwhile, Vancouver re-signed Felipe and Yordy Reyna, too. It may be slow going, but we’re starting to see what Dos Santos is building. Look for a team that plays in transition, likely without a traditional No. 10. Preseason will give us a better idea where this team is heading, but I'm excited to see the how the club's new vision meshes with reality.

Which under-the-radar move caught my eye this week?

Rodolfo "Fito" Zelaya | USA Today Sports Images

Pour one out for the Revs, who saw the Designated Player signing of Spaniard Carles Gil get buried by deadline-day dealings. New England reportedly paid out $2 million to Deportivo La Coruna for the attacking midfielder and will make him the team’s highest-paid player with a salary to match.

I hope Gil proves deserving of that investment. He’s clearly got the pedigree – Valencia, Aston Villa in the EPL, La Liga with Elche and Deportivo – but he hasn’t played more than 1,500 minutes since the 2013/14 season. The 26-year-old has an opportunity to change that in New England, who have a roster you could convince yourself is playoff worthy, if all the parts fit together.

Oh, you thought that was my under-the-radar move? Think again. It’s Rodolfo Zelaya to LAFC.

The Salvadoran forward just scores goals, 75 in the past four years with San Salvador giants Alianza. I’ve always wanted to see Zelaya get a shot in the league, especially after witnessing his goal-scoring exploits in the 2011 and 2013 Gold Cups, and it just hasn’t happened. He was rumored to go to Houston or Dallas back then, but the match-fixing scandal that he was caught up in as part of the El Salvador national team might helped cool interest.

Come to find out Bob Bradley’s had his eye on Fito for more than a year. LAFC finally got the 30-year-old out of El Salvador, where he’s been for the past five years, and up north to Los Angeles. Will Zelaya play much with Adama Diomande, Christian Ramirez, Diego Rossi and Carlos Vela in front of him? It’s a long shot, but I’m glad to see him in MLS.

Which MLSers will draw interest from Europe in the summer?

Just know this is complete guesswork, 100 percent by gut because it was a fun mental exercise. A couple Best XI players are gone, but there's plenty of talent to fill the void. Leave your candidates in the comment section or tweet it at me: @andrew_wiebe.

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