Numerous reports indicate Real Salt Lake has agreed to terms with Brazilian club Atletico Mineiro for the transfer of Jefferson Savarino. The winger scored 21 goals during three seasons with RSL from 2017 to 2019.
However, Savarino is one of about 46 players on MLS's Allocation Ranking List. This means that the club first in the Allocation Order essentially gets "first dibs" on Savarino's rights. RSL is currently No. 22 on the list, so the club will need to find a way to the top of the list through trades in order to sign Savarino.
So, what even is the Allocation Order, and what will RSL likely have to give up to be where the club needs to be on the list?
Players on the Allocation Ranking List
MLS provides three criteria for how players end up on the Allocation Ranking List. Here are the first two, directly from MLS:
"This list will consist of (i) select U.S. Men's National Team players, [and] (ii) select youth U.S. National Team players."
So how does the league define "select?" Here is what they have to say:
"The players who will be included on the Allocation Ranking List will be determined by Major League Soccer's player personnel department and club technical staffs and will be updated once each year, during the time window between the end of the MLS regular season and MLS Cup."
Clear as mud, right? Luckily, Savarino is on the list through the much clearer third criteria:
"(iii) Former MLS players returning to MLS after joining a non-MLS club for an outgoing transfer fee of $500,000 or more."
RSL reportedly sold Savarino to Atletico Mineiro for a base fee of $2 million in early 2020.
The Allocation Order
The Allocation Order is reset at the end of every season based on each team's results. Similar to the draft, the worst team has the No. 1 spot, with the MLS Cup winner last. Teams can switch spots on the list with another team through trades, using any combination of allocation money, players, draft picks or any other tradeable assets.
As it stands, FC Cincinnati is No. 1 on the list, with Austin FC second. This means Cincinnati has "first dibs" on Savarino. While clubs can technically waive their rights to a player, it is unlikely all 21 teams ahead of RSL would do so. Additionally, clubs at the top of the list frequently use the inherent position of power to take advantage of teams farther down who are forced to negotiate under unfavorable circumstances. Remember, Cincinnati knows RSL needs the top spot to sign Savarino, so its general manager can drive up the asking price because RSL has no other option.
When a team signs a player from the Allocation Ranking List, the club moves to the bottom of the list. So, if RSL ends up at No. 1 and proceeds to sign Savarino, the Claret and Cobalt would then be at No. 28. No. 2 on the list then becomes the top team.
How RSL can move up, and how much the move will cost
As mentioned earlier, RSL can swap places with another club by sending that team any combination of tradeable assets. MLS insider Tom Bogert reported RSL is making plans to end up at No. 1 on the list, although Cincinnati is not interested in falling to RSL's current No. 22 spot. FC Cincinnati reporter Laurel Pfahler says Cincinnati will make a trade with RSL to move from No. 1 to No. 2. This means RSL will have to make a separate trade with Austin to become No. 2.
There have been three Allocation Order trades in 2022. Reviewing the switches will paint a better picture of what Austin and Cincinnati will be asking for their respective spots.
In January, Inter Miami moved from No. 9 to No. 1 by sending Charlotte FC defender Christian Makoun. Last season Makoun played in 26 games for Miami, scoring two goals and completing 85.1% of his passes. Miami then used the No. 1 spot to sign senior USMNT player DeAndre Yedlin.
In February, the New York Red Bulls moved from No. 14 to No. 2 after giving Toronto FC $575,000 in General Allocation Money. Toronto gave the Red Bulls a 2022 International roster spot as part of the transaction. The Red Bulls then gave $100,000 in GAM to Cincinnati to switch from No. 2 to No. 1. After New York acquired Caden Clark, Cincinnati resumed its position at the top of the list.
Finally, D.C. United moved from No. 10 to No. 2 in March. The club sent $325,000 in GAM to the Houston Dynamo for the move, and it is assumed Cincinnati waived its rights to D.C.'s desired player. D.C. used the spot to sign midfielder Chris Durkin. Notably, both the Red Bulls and D.C. were in the same position RSL now finds itself in, as both clubs acquired players who previously played for them.
RSL's attempted move from No. 22 to No. 2 is by far the biggest jump this year, meaning the club will have to prepare a large trade package. Sending a starter from last season may not be enough, as Miami only improved eight spots with such a move.
If RSL attempts to pay GAM, general manager Elliot Fall will likely look to the Red Bulls and D.C. trades for the current market rate. New York spent about $47,917 in GAM per Allocation Order spot to become No. 2, although the club did also receive an international roster spot. If RSL were to do the same, No. 2 Austin would receive about $958,333. RSL could then send an additional $100,000 to Cincinnati to move from No. 2 to No. 1, the same rate New York and Cincinnati agreed to for the same swap.
D.C.'s trade cost $40,625 GAM for each spot. This rate would see RSL sending Austin $812,500, followed by the same $100,000 agreement with Cincinnati.
Regardless of what happens, RSL's acquisition of Savarino will cost the club far more than his transfer fee and salary. The team has not scored in three consecutive games, so Savarino's proven goal-scoring record in MLS will hopefully be worth the price.