Major League Soccer’s salary cap rules have never been for the faint of heart. So when a new league rule that could significantly change the short-term future of the league is announced, it’s time for any fan to decide it they want the blue pill (the story ends and you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe, a la The Matrix) or take the red pill (stay in Wonderland and see how deep the rabbit hole goes).
Anyone reading on should accept that this path is the red pill, meaning they are willing to accept the long-winded version of the consequences of MLS’ announced expansion of Targeted Allocation Money for the 2018 and 2019 seasons. The league announced the added funds, which work as a way to expand the cap and make it a soft salary cap and add flexibility to general managers around the league.
In addition to the $1.2 million of TAM that was already budgeted, the league is giving teams an additional $2.8 million to spend. According to the league’s press release, “this injection should increase a team’s ability to build their rosters with increased flexibility and help add high-quality players outside of their Designated Player spots.”
As simply as possible, TAM is a resource that allows teams to minimize the hit on the salary cap a player that makes more than the maximum budget charge (this was $480,625 in 2017), but less than $1.5 million. However, this isn’t just ordinary TAM. It’s being given out on a discretionary basis (this is where seeing how deep the rabbit hole goes begins to apply).
Salary cap nerd and NBC Sports Chicago’s Fire sideline reporter Paul Tenorio explained what he thinks the new funds give teams in a periscope that can be seen here. His belief, which in this case is likely correct, is that it will further separate the gap between teams and owners willing to spend money and those that are hesitant to open up the wallet.
So what does that mean for the Fire?
In recent years the Fire had been stringent with payroll, but in 2017 the team ranked fourth in the league. If the Fire want to spend more money it would be a way to add more flexibility to the roster and add more pieces to what appeared to be a solid foundation. If the team becomes tight with finances again, then the competition has more of an opportunity to gain an advantage and add quality players with the added salary cap room.
These rules would allow a player like David Accam to no longer take up a designated player spot and give the Fire an opportunity to add another high-level salary player to go with Bastian Schweinsteiger (who is still out of contract) and Nemanja Nikolic.
Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez complained about the fact that MLS teams did not know how much TAM they would have to work with this offseason. This announcement comes after teams (other than MLS Cup participants Toronto and Seattle) already had to decide on which options they picked up or declined. Rodriguez and his counterparts now know how much money they are allowed under the cap. It's up to the various ownership groups to allow that money to be spent.
The implications of this additional financial flexibility will play out over the course of this offseason and into the season itself, but until then the rest of us can only speculate how it will be used. At the minimum, it gives teams in the league the ability to spend more on players, which should in theory add to the quality of the talent on rosters.