In December, Real Salt Lake was on the verge of signing Oswaldo Henriquez, a talented, young Colombian center back at a price that they could fit under the salary cap.
That move didn't take place, and instead, he went to Sport Recife for three times the money he'd have made in MLS. Why?
It’s the time of the year where rumors and news come in every day about signings being made throughout the league and around the soccer world in general. It’s a time of the year that is plagued by the irrational and the somewhat insane. We all as fans go nuts over any tidbit of news, whether it makes any sense for RSL or not.
It’s understandable. We want our team to be better. We want to return to the glory of being in the race for the Supporter Shield or MLS Cup year after year. We want to host another CONCACAF Champions League final. Rumors and news get us excited about those possibilities becoming reality again.
After what everyone admits was a sub-par year for the team there are some known necessities in the roster. One of the biggest needs has been to shore up what became the leakiest defense that RSL has had in years. After the town hall meeting hosted at Rio Tinto Stadium before Christmas, rumors started to pop up about a Colombian center back RSL was looking to sign to do just that very thing.
Oswaldo Henríquez is a Colombian football defender, who currently plays for Millonarios F.C. in the Categoría Primera A. Henríquez is a product of the Millonarios youth system and has played with the Millonarios first team since November, 2007.
Henriquez was one of the targets — if not the target — for RSL to fill the hole that was left in our depth, with the injury-prone Chris Schuler going out with another foot injury last season. The reality was this: The team needed a center back that was young, good on the ball, fast, excellent in positioning, a leader, and who would get better year after year. Oh, and all of that for under $350,000. Henriquez was that player.
After negotiating with the player for some time Craig Waibel, who is very blunt and honest in these meetings, felt comfortable telling those in attendance at the town hall that he was hopeful that this would be a done deal but that there was still some work to do. He was to meet with Henriquez in the following weeks to try and complete the deal and bring the player we all wanted and needed to Rio Tinto.
This is where it gets interesting and somewhat frustrating as a fan of this club.
Silence. For weeks. Not another word about Oswaldo Henriquez is heard from any of the reputable sources out there. This is pretty normal for us this time of year. Not a lot comes out of the club regarding signings.
Then, a tweet, but not from the club.
Oswaldo Henriquez (Ex Millonarios) seria jugador de Sport Recife De Brasil pic.twitter.com/lsEr1yIFCC— Fichajes Del FPC (@FichajesFPC2016) January 7, 2016
Heartbreak. Another one has gotten away. But why?
There’s a plethora of reasons that a signing or potential signing would go south, which I won’t go into here. But this came down to a few things that we are going to have to deal with as MLS grows and the markets we start to try and take players from become more visible or more prestigious.
Oswaldo Henriquez is a young center back with a huge potential to get picked up by a European team in the next 3 years. European teams mean more money, higher visibility for a national team coach, and is the dream for so many soccer players world wide. He is, in the eyes of many clubs, an asset with value that can be sold at a greater value given time. This is soccer in many parts of the world. Invest x in a player in the hopes of getting y after that player has helped you win some games over a few years. That, in this case, is exactly what happened according to a source close to the situation.
Real Salt Lake came in with what amounts to being a great offer here in MLS. It would have made Oswaldo Henriquez that $350,000 player that we needed: young, full of potential, and a stalwart in the back for what could have been many years here at RSL. Then there’s Sport Recife. A Brazilian club that has recently returned the the Brazilian first division with a lot of money and a lot to prove. They have an interesting squad in that it is entirely filled with Brazilians with the exception of three players (two Colombians and one Chilean). Sport, as they are called, entered the race for Henriquez and ultimately won.
The way they won? Money, opportunity, visibility, Europe — call it what you will. They came in and offered triple what RSL found reasonable or would have been able to offer, and indeed, triple his market value. That’s what RSL faces right now in the transfer market. That’s the level to which we are trying to reach.
Was Henriquez the piece that RSL needed to make this year a success? We’ll probably never know. And I’m not trying to be a downer and say that we’ll never get a player like him here in Salt Lake; it’s not that at all. What I’m trying to get across here is that the old adages of "ya win some, ya lose some," or even "you don’t win the game you never play" ring true in the transfer market with every single possible move. We are playing with the big boys now. Teams with no salary caps, seemingly unlimited funds, and sometimes even questionable ethics. They're the teams we are now competing against for talent.
That RSL was even an option for a player of this caliber is an amazing thing. That players like Sebastian Jaime, Burrito Martinez, and even Yura Movsisyan have seen RSL as an option and have decided to ply their trade here is amazing in so many respects. We all want signings. We all want Craig and company to find players that make other teams jealous. What is happening is that they are, and we will get some of them to come here, but we will lose some in the process as well.