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Discovering Carlos Vela

Why the Rapids are being seriously linked with a $16m player.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Last week the possibility of the Colorado Rapids signing 26 year old Mexican international midfielder Carlos Vela emerged which generated quite a bit of excitement & conversation amongst the fans. Vela has spent all of his 10 year senior playing career in Europe, having first signed for Premier League Arsenal in 2005. Arsenal loaned him out to a variety of clubs including to Real Sociedad in 2011 where he scored 12 goals in 30 appearances. Because of this, the Basque club made his move permanent in August 2012 & at time of writing he has since gone on to score 47 goals in 130 appearances.

Vela was first called up for the full Mexican national team in 2007 but was suspended in September 2010 for being involved in a party after a game against Colombia. Despite repeated call ups, Vela did not pull on a Mexico jersey until November 2014 after citing that he was not ready to represent his country for an extended period. Despite the hiatus, Vela has still managed to score 15 goals in 47 appearances for Mexico.

Now fully back in the international fold, Vela is reportedly interested in moving to somewhere close to Mexico for the next stage of his career. Clearly Vela is a player that is a very attractive proposition to a lot of clubs worldwide & it's natural to wonder whether a move to MLS would be a possibility. The catch is that players in the prime of their careers like this do not come cheap & it will come as no surprise that Real Sociedad are reportedly asking for a $16m transfer fee to let him go. This would smash the existing MLS record of $10m, which is what it cost to bring Michael Bradley to Toronto from AS Roma.

So why are the Rapids, whose record transfer fee is $2m & who just about break even on revenues of somewhere between $15m & $20m, being widely linked with a player whose transfer fee appears to be way out of their league?

The answer lies in MLS's discovery process, which was rewritten at the beginning of the 2015 season. The discovery process is a mechanism to prevent MLS team owners from bidding against each other for players outside of MLS who are not subject to the league’s allocation rules (which basically encompass select senior & youth USMNT players & players who were in MLS but who left & for a transfer fee of at least $500k). Basically MLS teams are allowed to identify any player in the world & place up to seven of them on their discovery lists. So what in an essence has happened here is that it's been reported that either Paul Bravo or Claudio Lopez has said "that Carlos Vela would be a good signing" & they have then sent off a piece of paper to MLS HQ to 'claim' him.

So with the discovery claim filed, the MLS transfer games can begin. At this stage, their are 3 possible scenarios that could happen. The first is that the Rapids go ahead & negotiate with Vela & the league sign him for the team (remember that in MLS, player contracts are held centrally). This is what has got the fans hoping as Claudio Lopez revealed that the Rapids were 'in talks' with the player. Currently Vela's salary at Real Sociedad is just short $4m a year & it is naturally to expect that he will want similar figures to play in the U.S.

The 2nd scenario is that Rapids try to sign Vela but are unsuccessful & the league office subsequently signs him (presumably paying all the transfer fee) at their own initiative (again, remember they hold all the players contracts) as a way to increase the profile of MLS. The Rapids would then have first refusal on where Vela goes. At this stage it should also be noted that reports say that Chicago have also filed a discovery claim on Vela but because they filed it later, the Rapids are first in line.

The 3rd scenario is that another MLS team tries to sign Vela. If this happens, the Rapids must either make the player 'a genuine, objectively reasonable offer' or they can accept a $50,000 in MLS allocation money & waive all rights to Vela. This is what New England did when LA Galaxy signed Sebastian Lletget, much to the annoyance of Galaxy boss Bruce Arena. If they did this, it would probably be the easiest money that the Rapids have ever earned.

So, what do we actually think the Rapids will do?

The cynic in me, who is convinced that on-field success (& thus investing major sums in the team) is not a priority in Commerce City says the Rapids will take their $50k & run. While it is easy to bash the front office for taking this option, it should be considered that even if they managed to negotiate well and got their man, the Rapids could be looking at upwards of $10m in transfer fee & a contract of at least $3m / year for 3 years. Generally, unless a rich Sheik or Oligarch has rolled into town, clubs that struggle to break even don't go making $19m commitments for a single player.

To sign Vela, the Rapids would need MLS to be on board with the fact that he would be an asset to the league as a whole. In a similar fashion to the Clint Dempsey transfer to Seattle in 2013, the league would most likely pay the $10m+ transfer fee & then the designated player salary cap charge each year, which was the first $436,250 of a DP's wages in 2015. The league may also mandate any remaining Target Allocation Money the Rapids have needs to be used to contribute, although again the cynic in me reckons the Rapids have already spent a large chunk of this on acquiring Maynor Figueroa.

So with the transfer fee sorted, that leaves good old KSE to pick up the likely $2.5m / year for Vela's services. Which has got to be said is an amount they've never come close to putting in the Rapids in the past. Certainly we know they can afford it. That said, Uncle Stan didn't become a billionaire by handing out millions with no possible return, particularly on sports where his family has no history of being interested in. The money, (which I've now managed to hypothetically get down to $7.5m now!) would have to be repaid somehow. This is unless you subscribe the 'Rapids are a tax write-off' theory & believe that said write-off needs to be made bigger!

Putting $7.5m into a calculator & dividing by a few things gives us 18,750 extra season tickets at $400 each which is not possible with the current stadium capacity. If we all wanted Vela's name on an authentic jersey, we'd have to buy 62,500 of them at $120 a pop. Currently the Rapids sell about 5,000 jerseys a year. You could go on with how many extra hot dogs, beers, bobble heads etc. we'd have to sell but the conclusion would be that current fan sales revenue would have to increase massively for a player who to be honest is only going to appeal to a select minority of the soccer supporting community. Halving the fan revenue target to $3.75m may be a more realistic but still very tough proposition.

While TV revenue would remain the same, advertising revenue should increase due to increased interest in & exposure of the team. Let's say that the next jersey sponsorship deal after the TransAmerica one expires at the end of 2016 is a good one & combined with other advertising deals, a $3.75m increase may just be possible.

So while it may just be possible to raise the extra $7.5m from KSE, it has to be said that if the Rapids are going go with such as bold plan, they should simply plan to spend it on a coach & a couple of solid players who could turn the team into persistent MLS Cup contenders every year. It's a thought & maybe one that the fans would really want to happen.

Anyway, we wait with interest for the outcome of the talks with Carlos Vela.