On Wednesday, the Major League Soccer Players Association (MLSPA) released their semi-annual update on player salaries for the 2023 season.
FC Cincinnati ranks 15th out of 29 teams in total guaranteed compensation spend at just over $15,000,000. The guaranteed compensation (guaranteed comp) number provided by the MLSPA includes a player’s base salary and all signing and guaranteed bonuses annualized over the term of the player’s contract, including option years.
Brenner’s salary ranks 25th in the league and leads the team in compensation at $2,218,600, followed closely by Luciano Acosta (28th) at $2,166,983.
While these numbers are terrific and provide great insight into each team’s roster composition, it does not tell the entire story as it relates to the MLS League Salary Budget. When accounting for the salary budget, in most situations, each team has to factor in transfer fees averaged annually on top of guaranteed comp (excluding YDP/U-22 players).
For the 2023 season, each team began with a salary budget of $5,210,000. Teams are equipped with several vehicles to buy down the budget charge of each player including Target Allocation Money (TAM), General Allocation Money (GAM), U-22 Player System, and Designated Players (DP). For the sake of brevity for this article, we are going to assume the reader knows the general concepts of each vehicle. If you are unsure, you can view the 2023 MLS Rules & Regulations here.
To give you an example in 2023 Matt Miazaga has a guaranteed comp number of $1,500,000, but as a free transfer, that is the remainder of his hit. Obinna Nwobodo’s guaranteed comp is less at $1,289,400 but when you account for his transfer fee to Göztepe of around $3,000,000 you are looking at an annual budget hit somewhere in the neighborhood of $2,289,400 making him a DP while Mizaga would occupy a TAM spot.
Looking at the 2023 roster (see below), FC Cincinnati has 6 players with charges over $1,000,000 that need to be bought down. When you exclude Brenner, Acosta, and Nwobodo as DP’s, you have Miazga, Yuya Kubo ($1,206,750), Brandon Vazquez ($1,041,000), and add in Sergio Santos ($814,375) that eat up a large portion of allocation money used to buy down the charge.
Taking into account other standard budget hits, transfer fees, and trades, our tracker makes the case that FC Cincinnati is close to their salary budget number with the 2023 season.
With Brenner out the door in July leaving an estimated three senior spots available, can FC Cincinnati make many more moves in 2023?
View on Cincinnati Soccer Talk’s Roster Tracker
How to replace Brenner as a DP?
That is the $11 million question with his move to Udinese in Italy’s Serie A this summer. Brenner occupies FC Cincinnati’s lone Young Designated Player (YDP) spot and the marginal budget hit that comes with it.
A lack of budget space, and already having 2 U-22 roster spots occupied (rules state another max DP limits you to one U-22 player), the only likely scenario in this situation is to sign another YDP. When looking at a target, a player must be 23 years old or younger during the league year to carry the smaller YDP budget charge between $150,000-$200,000. The team is able to exclude the transfer fee in this scenario making it likely if Chris Albright can land his target.
It’s yet to be determined if this player would be another striker with Vazquez, Santos, Dom Badji, and Quimi Ordonez on the roster but I think you see them land a new YDP in the summer window without disrupting the current budget situation.
How can they fill their other 2 open Senior spots?
Now our numbers aren’t the end-all-be-all with a limited amount of info made available to the public, but they are an educated best guess as to the current situation. We don’t know the exact amounts of the transfer fees or allocation money made available to teams in expansion years but it seems to lead to the fact that FC Cincinnati has a smaller pool of funds to make moves with this summer than originally thought.
I think this would rule out a large interleague transfer for allocation money like Sergio Santos in 2022 unless a player goes the other way. I can’t really imagine FC Cincinnati wanting to give up a player like a Calvin Harris earlier this year and not sure a team would want a rental with a large hit like Yuya Kubo.
If FC Cincinnati would go interleague, I think it would require exchanging future allocation money for a younger supplemental roster piece. The caveat to this is that FC Cincinnati has 3 international spots open. They fetched $175,000 from Nashville earlier this season and could sell 1-2 more spots to teams and add allocation money to land a larger piece. If you could pull off a move or two to get a couple hundred thousand in GAM and get a CB version of Junior Moreno, i.e. a solid yet not splashy player, you take it in a minute.
Does this mean FC Cincinnati has to go international?
With one open U-22 spot, I think this is the other likely move Albright will make this summer. Similar to the YDP spot, the U-22 mechanism allows teams to exclude the transfer fee in the budget charge but, unlike the YDP, the player’s salary has to be under the maximum budget charge ($651,250). This would allow a team to then account for a budget charge between $150,000-$200,000.
Now how could FC Cincinnati take a $200,000 hit when the spreadsheet says that’s not available? One of the more unique rules in MLS allows summer signings to come in at a prorated charge. Think Matt Miazga last summer coming in from Chelsea and only accounting for a couple hundred thousand in a budget hit for 2022. A half season U-22 piece would account for somewhere between $75,000-$100,000. That should easily fit in the budget while giving a player time to bed in on an already successful team.
I think an international player that would require a transfer fee, even a small one, wouldn’t fit in this salary budget without a large shakeup of existing pieces. Not to say it won’t happen but reports are that this team is close and I’m not sure the front office would want to risk disturbing team chemistry to bring in a new player.
Time will tell which moves the club will make this summer but it will be an exciting time leading up to the window opening on July 5th 2023.