When Dell Loy Hansen became full owner of Real Salt Lake, he said he wanted to spend money on players. Big players, he said.
Since he arrived on the scene as the full owner, we haven't had any seismic shifts in player personnel. But is that down to ownership, or are there easy-to-understand reasons behind it?
At the beginning of the season, Garth Lagerwey was pretty clear that we had very, very little salary cap space to maneuver with. This was in part a result of retaining basically the same squad as in previous years, and in part because we had very little allocation money to work with.
What is allocation money? It's basically additional funds given to you by MLS that you can use to pay down your salary cap hit, or that you can use to wheel-and-deal with other clubs, or purchase players, or probably something else, too.
Let's make an assumption, given what Garth Lagerwey said. Let's use that for illustration purposes only, too, because anything else would be insane.
We didn't have room for another player, but there were rumblings (or outright statements) that indicated that we could have enough to bring in a player midway through the season — if just because the salary cap hit of a player is cut in half (or thereabouts) when they're brought in after a certain point.
Right, so let's get to that assumption: We have $30,000 in salary cap room. It's a big assumption without a basis in reality, but it fits the bill, and it fits the illustration.
Let's say we want to sign that third designated player. A designated player's salary cap hit is limited to just over $350,000, and their actual salary can be anything beyond that.
So we have $30,000 in space, and we want to sign somebody who would use $350,000 in space. Something doesn't add up here. How could we free up that room?
Only the top 20 players on your roster are counted against the salary cap (or 18 or 19 — it's complicated). So we can't, say, cut ten low-paid players to sign one guy. Besides, that would be nonsense.
What we could do — and this would put the squad in an awful position — is trade a player to another MLS team in exchange for allocation money. But they'd have to be well-paid, and the allocation money would have to be significant. If we traded somebody who made $200,000, and we picked up $150,000 in allocation money — nothing to be sniffed at — we might have the option of signing that third designated player.
Alternately, we could sell a player to a non-MLS club, and we'd receive a chunk of the transfer fee as allocation money. That would also work to open some cap space.
But we can't just sign somebody out of the blue without significantly altering our squad — so while we'd love to sign a high-profile player to augment our squad, it doesn't seem likely that we have a standing desire to make huge changes to our roster. That's never been our strategy, and if we're going to praise continuity — even if we've had a rocky season so far — we can't demand it just for one bigger name.