Commentary / Union

Why do the Union need to wait for TAM numbers?

Editor’s note: The article previously stated that Fabinho was the only true left back on the roster. The Union have not yet re-signed Fabinho, although they are expected to. He is therefore not yet on the roster.

Photo by Paul Rudderow

The Union need to make moves, they’ve acknowledged that. Owner Jay Sugarman has been quoted as saying “we do need to spend more, and we will”. Sugarman and Sporting Director Earnie Stewart have also said they’re waiting to get the official amount of Targeted Allocation Money they can expect to receive from Major League Soccer before committing to any signings. And that does make it’s own kind of sense. Why commit to an on-budget player when you could get a significant upgrade for “free” and pay for it with the league’s own Monopoly money?

But it falls short of explaining the silence coming out of the offices in Chester. It’s been 44 days since the Union’s 2017 season ended, and 34 since they declined contract options on eleven players. Several of whom saw significant playing time this season. MLS Roster Rules and basic common sense mean the Union can’t spend TAM to fill all of those positions, so how does waiting for final numbers from MLS HQ enter into things?

For instance: left back. The Union chose not to pick up the option on Dutch left back Giliano Wijnaldum, and after his expected signing, Fabinho will be the only “true” left back on the roster. If there is any sincerity in the Union’s intent to improve, Fabinho can’t be the only option. That isn’t to say he is without value, and it isn’t to say there aren’t scenarios where it makes sense for him to see a healthy dose of playing time next season. But he isn’t the future, so he can’t be the only left back on the roster. And moving Ray Gaddis (back) to the left doesn’t feel right either. He’s obviously adequate there, but this team doesn’t need adequate it needs improvement.

With that said, I wouldn’t expect a TAM-level player to be that improvement. There aren’t a lot of left backs in the player pool, let alone ones that deserve that kind of money but aren’t already attached to their current team. So the Union are likely going to be hiring a player whose salary fits under the cap, which is fine. That’s how most of the league does it, it’s why most Best XIs just include three centerbacks. Left back just isn’t a sexy position.

So if TAM isn’t relevant to the left back position, is this delay anything more than pure procrastination? Looking to the rest of the roster, central defense is lacking depth and it seems doubtful they’d bury the abundant potential already on the roster by adding a TAM level player there. Or consider midfield, where the departures of Alberg, Ilsinho, Herbers, and Pontius mean there will be positions needing filling even if the Union sign two DP midfielders. There is plenty that needs doing on this team that will need to be solved independent of how much TAM budget the Union have to work with.

In the end, the Union are talking a good game by waiting to see their budget before going shopping. But it feels dangerously similar to the same Union we’ve always known. They’ll promise anything to get people to “ReDoop” after another failing season, then lie dormant through most of the off-season. If the rest of the story plays out, they’ll make signings — of that there’s no doubt. Several of them will be good signings, even. But unless they really hit it out of the park with those signings, there’s no reason to expect anything other than another improved-but-not-good team to take the field in March.


  1. I’m assuming that waiting for the TAM numbers is affecting our talks with Ilsinho and whomever else we were going to resign. Has there been any word lately on these guys?

  2. I’m assuming, for the sake of all of our sanity, that Sugarman misspoke when he said scouting was “frozen” or whatever term he used to suggest it was in a holding pattern. I assume, also, that scouting for the Union is an ongoing process during which players are rated and evaluated and that Stewart works from a list that first considers need before price. I understand he has to work within a budget, but I hope the budget doesn’t dictate scouting to the dollar. I understand if the Union aren’t scouting Antoine Greizmann, but scouts need to put the football first. I hope….

    • Union scouting department is just a YouTube Red account.

      • Atomic Spartan says:

        Pete, you assume too much. Remember what we learned in school about the true meaning of that word.
        Hoping doesn’t help much either. I find the most joy in attending Talen matches comes from abandoning hope when entering, so that victory becomes more of a pleasant surprise than a legitimate expectation.

      • Trying, AS, my best to give benefit of doubt where it may really not be deserved.

  3. The setting: Atlanta United’s board room.

    Arthur Blank, Darren Eales, Rob Geoffrey and Carlos Bocanegra are all sitting around the table discussing whether to finalize their $12M transfer for Ezequiel Barco.

    Geoffey says “Before we do this, shouldn’t we wait to see what the final TAM number will be for 2018?”

    After a pregnant pause, the four of them all burst out laughing for several minutes.

    Blank, wiping the tears from the corners of his eyes, says “alright, let’s get this done fellas.”

  4. The next time we will hear anything is Sunday December 11th in the morning, the half-day window for moves after the MLS Cup. The league wants such news to wait.
    There is no question that Earnie Stewart has successfully plugged all leaks of information, unlike most other organizations.
    We will find out if anything has happened over the last 44 days in 5 days, on the 49th day.
    The organization holds its cards close to its vest.

  5. Look. If you are “scouting” on December 5th you are fucked. At this point the Union probably have a list of needs and a list of players to pursue.
    I would assume that this is a tiered list depending on how much money is available and what position they are.
    You need to know hoe much money you have in total so you know
    1. How much money to spend on key pieces
    2. once you have spent on key pieces how much to spend on complimentary pieces.
    If you are Atlanta and have infinite monies this isn’t so much a problem. For 80% of the league you need to know these things before you spend. If the money is as much as 500,000 thousand less than expected it can reek havoc on your budget.

  6. Turns out that among other things you need an actual scouting network – who knew?

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