As spring was giving way to summer in 2015, Houston Dynamo GM and senior VP Matt Jordan was sitting in a coffee shop at a Colombian airport. This wasn't for a quick getaway or relaxing vacation, it was all business.
The lack of air conditioning on that hot day was a thick reminder he wasn't here for mere pleasure.
Jordan was sitting across from Mauro Manotas, then a 19-year-old promising center forward with only 17 professional appearances to his name. He was hoping to convey to Manotas why the best move for his career was to pack up and head to Houston, how he could grow and reach his full potential. Jordan and the club pledged to do everything they could to help Manotas succeed.
"Mauro and I were just laughing about this," Jordan told MLSsoccer.com about that day. "Sweating profusely. I was selling MLS to him and his family, our club and our project. It worked out very well."
Indeed it did work out well. After five-and-a-half seasons, 51 goals and a 2018 US Open Cup victory, Manotas' time in Houston is over, as both player and club held up their side of the bargain. The Colombian has been transferred to Liga MX side Club Tijuana for an undisclosed transfer fee, including a "significant" sell-on percentage and performance-based incentives.
“Looking at everything and speaking with Mauro, the opportunity with Club Tijuana was going to provide him a really good platform to get into the Colombian national team," Jordan said. "It’ll also benefit our club down the line financially. We all agreed this was the right time and the best spot.”
A source tells MLSsoccer.com the transfer fee is $4 million including add-ons while the club retain a sell-on percentage in the region of 25%.
Still that sell-on, similar to the club's deal with Boavista for Alberth Elis, Houston will keep plenty of interest in Manotas. He figures to get significant playing time at Xolos, which could provide another stepping stone into the Colombian national team and then either to Europe or a bigger Mexican club.
Manotas has been long linked with a move away from Houston. MLSsoccer.com reported La Liga club Granada had a bid rejected for him last year, while the likes of Cruz Azul, Nantes, Montpellier, Saint Etienne and Porto have been reported to have interest and another deal with a Spanish club scrapped late.
"At the beginning of this year, we planned to move Mauro in the summer," Jordan said. "We actually had a transfer being set up in Spain for the summer just prior to the pandemic and we were forced to adjust and pivot."
Manotas departs Houston as the club's second all-time leading scorer, behind only Brian Ching. And such, one era for the Houston Dynamo is over. Led by their dynamic young attackers Elis and Manotas, the club will now move forward into a new cycle.
"With change comes opportunity"
The Dynamo will have plenty of flexibility to take the current roster in whatever direction they choose under second-year head coach Tab Ramos.
Houston have two Designated Player spots open with Manotas and Elis gone, and likely could open a third by buying down Darwin Quintero if the right deals arise.
“With change comes opportunity," Jordan said. "With Mauro and Alberth moving on, it’s the end of one cycle and the start of another. We’re really excited. With Tab coming in, we have the opportunity to evolve and mix things up.”
The Dynamo also have just 21 players under contract for 2021 at the moment, with Manotas transferred and roster decisions announced. Longtime key players like Maynor Figueroa, Boniek García and Tomas Martinez have all left the club.
Ariel Lassiter is back, after Houston triggered his purchase option from Costa Rican club Alajuelense. Rising Argentine attacker Mateo Bajamich will get his MLS debut in 2021 while Quintero's debut campaign went quite well from an individual standpoint, tied for the league lead in assists.
“We’re really pleased with Tab to be our head coach, he’s a really good fit," Jordan said. "For us, the focus is we want to get a bit young, athletic and more dynamic while recognizing results are an important part of the process. We’re really proud of how we restructured our academy, that was a lot of heavy lifting. We’re very optimistic about what the future looks like.”