Mailbag 1.18.21 (updated): Trade rumors, draft approach and more

FC Cincinnati fans continue to wait for signing news and in the meantime are eating up every rumor that comes up on social media.

The latest rumor led to a last-minute addition to the mailbag this week, so we’ll start with that, but let’s also not forget the MLS SuperDraft approaching Thursday at 2 p.m. — another way FCC can add to its roster and another topic for questions from readers. 

For those new to these, send in your questions any time via Patreon DM or on Twitter (just let me know you’d like an in-depth answer in the mailbag). I usually send reminders to my $5/month-level Patrons a couple days before I plan to publish the next mailbag. Thanks for subscribing!

Derek S.: Tell me you know something about this Tim Parker trade rumor.

Updated: Sorry to disappoint fans, but FC Cincinnati general manager Gerard Nijkamp confirmed this morning that the club is not acquiring Tim Parker from New York Red Bulls.

That goes along with what I was told Monday night by multiple other sources, who had no knowledge of the rumored trade with New York Red Bulls for the 27-year-old center back. Multiple sources connected to Parker said he wasn’t even aware RBNY were considering offers for him as of Monday night. While it’s possible FCC did inquire about Parker, a trade wasn’t in the works. 

Now, Tuesday evening Red Bulls have announced Parker is headed to Houston.  

Matt K: With the draft coming up I have a hard time placing the talent level for some of the prospects. It seems there is a good amount of talent at the top of the draft based on some MLS articles, but does that talent project more as potential within the MLS or could these players actually contribute in their first year? The GA players seem to be all International spots so it’s hard to say if the picks would be worth it for our team or if trading away the spot would be more valuable.

Although the draft has become increasingly less important to clubs (with academies churning out more would-be draftees who are able to sign as Homegrown Players and the league looking elsewhere for talent), there are still some solid players that will be available this route every year. This year is no different in that regard, and actually because COVID-19 created so much uncertainty about the college season, some players who waived their eligibility by signing with a domestic professional league now have some added experience that could make them capable of contributing sooner at the MLS level.

From what I can tell, there’s no sure-thing as far as an immediate impact in this class, but there’s certainly potential, especially with FCC picking at No. 2. Even if the club trades down, the options available in the first round, particularly the upper half of the draft board, usually have a chance of contributing in their first year. Beyond the first-round prospects, there’s a big dropoff. If you look at the 2019 draft, Frankie Amaya didn’t start right away but played a lot the second half of the season and was a regular starter in 2020. The club traded away its first-round pick last year and took Rey Ortiz in the second round – he was loaned out and his 2021 option was declined.

Considering FCC’s current needs, it seems like Wake Forest forward Calvin Harris or center back Ethan Bartlow would make the most sense at No. 2, but while Harris would be difficult to pass up on, he would require an international slot so the club likely would go into that selection knowing he’s going on loan this season until they can free up more international slots. To me, that doesn’t seem worth it, if you think you can get more out of one of the domestic options sooner. It’s getting more and more difficult to justify drafting international players when there are good domestic options on the board. So, in that case Bartlow (a domestic player who reportedly has now signed as a GA) or even a Josh Bauer might be a safer bet, or use the pick as an asset and trade. 

Basically, any international player who is drafted is likely not going to get a chance to make an impact this season.

Anonymous reader: Do all/graduating college players have to go through the draft or can they sign directly with teams? Also, if the draft is not required, what are the incentives for a college student to go through it? Why are there late adds to the GA list (i.e. Bartlow whom folks seem excited about)?

The MLS SuperDraft is the quickest way to an MLS team for college seniors. Otherwise, they are likely going the USL route and hoping to prove themselves that way. If a player went through a club’s academy, that team could sign them as a Homegrown Player and he wouldn’t have to go through the draft. But as it is now, MLS prioritizes developing its own players through the academy system or signing players from abroad to fill their rosters, and for those who go the college route, the SuperDraft is the best way to be signed, which then guarantees the league minimum salary. The draft is only three rounds, and usually the drop-off after the first round is pretty significant. An undrafted player can still make his way to MLS, but it’s not like the NFL, where they sign undrafted guys to fill their camp rosters and some end up sticking.

The Generation Adidas program makes it so certain professional-ready underclassmen can still be drafted when they otherwise would not yet be eligible (and they earn higher salaries but don’t get charged against the team salary budget). This helps MLS compete with foreign clubs who don’t have comparable restrictions on player signings. The GA class usually ranges from five to seven players and normally they are announced by a couple weeks before the draft. I’m guessing the delays this year have to do with COVID-19’s impact on the fall season preventing players from being seen (the ACC was the only conference to have a championship this fall) and causing some indecisiveness for players considering signing.

Anonymous reader: Any sense of the approximate deadline for player signings to be available for the start of training camp, given the COVID restrictions?

Well, fortunately for the roster build, preseason/training camp has been delayed. Despite reports Friday that players were told to be in town in two weeks, there is no reporting date yet, according to multiple sources with FCC, and one won’t be set until MLS has a date for the start of the season. Atlanta and Portland have set dates, but they qualified for Concacaf Champions League and could be reporting earlier because of that. If the league is waiting to set a start date when it is clearer that fans can be in the stands at a certain point, then who knows how long that will be? The Athletic has reported the league is preparing to start as late as May.

In terms of getting work visas and all the necessary paperwork, timelines are different for every player depending on where they are coming from, but COVID definitely makes things less clear. If you look back on the players added in the fall, Franko Kovacevic’s loan agreement from Hoffenheim was announced Oct. 12 and he arrived the final week of October (around Oct. 26) and was able to play Nov. 9. Alvaro Barreal’s signing was made official Sept. 2 and he arrived around Sept. 23, then played his first match Oct. 8.

For players to have a full training camp, they likely need signed between three and four weeks ahead of the first day on the field and that might be pushing it. Whereas in a normal year you could bring a player over and he could go back to finalize his work visa before the first game, the 10-day quarantine (assuming that’s still in play) would seem to make it necessary to get that done in advance.

It also should be noted that I don’t believe every player needs a full training camp with the team to be successful. Yes, it would help the team chemistry, but I’ve said this before and I stand by it – FCC could have been a much better team in 2020 had the season continued in March and had there not been a coaching change thrown into it (I understand it, but it set the team back for sure). The late-arrival of players had nothing to do with the lack of success – Yuya Kubo was introduced Jan. 12, Jurgen Locadia’s loan was finalized Jan. 31, Adrien Regattin came Feb. 2 and Siem de Jong was announced Feb. 20. Locadia, in particular, was a completely different player before the shutdown and after, and the timing of his signing had nothing to do with it – he scored 10 minutes into his debut. The team was bad because Nijkamp was constricted by old signings that didn’t fit the system and players he expected to be better struggled to get back to form after the shut down, got hurt or didn’t get to play their natural position (Kubo) while a new coach was trying different things.

Zach C: What’s the feeling about Zico Bailey around the club? Is RB a position the team is looking for?

They love Bailey as a prospect and believe he adds depth, but I think Saad Abdul-Salaam is ahead of him in the depth chart for now. Bailey said he was told he needed to put on some weight, which he struggles with, but he was impressive in his chances at the end of the 2020 season and the club picked up his option for a reason. I would expect them to sign a backup left back and another center back before adding another right back, but I do think they could use another one.

I’ll have more on Bailey in an upcoming feature story. 

Zach C: With the expected addition of the “young money rule” (as Paul Tenorio and Sam Stejskal put it) to be an added roster designation, is the club prepared to use it?

Yes. Or at least Nijkamp hopes to. Here’s what he said when asked about that rule last month:

“If you add youth slots in your roster you get some financial advantage in your budget, so that means you have to be creative. If you can add a youth player, you get more possibilities to get higher-level, higher-standard players in your team, so the league wants to give you an extra advantage, extra possibility to … identify more young players. The story behind it is of course, to get this league younger, with more potential talents in our league. So, you create that soccer ecosystem in investing, selling players, whatever to Liga MX or to Europe and to reinvest again. So that’s the reason behind it. I am positive about this new thing, what the league puts as an opportunity for us, let us say it like that. But at the end of the day, it’s always designing the team, what do we have already, TAM, DPs? How many youth slots we can find? So that is still work in progress, but also what you mentioned, we are exploring the markets of young potential, under-21 big talents who can go through FC Cincinnati, go through the MLS in going into the future and to perform and be successful and you can sell in the future to, for instance, Europe.”

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