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Soccer! Galaxy have a big decision to make this week

Soccer! Galaxy have a big decision to make this week
Ola Kamara (Reed Saxon / Associated Press)

Hello and welcome to this week’s edition of the L.A. Times soccer newsletter, which is returning after a short break. I’m Kevin Baxter, the Times’ soccer writer and we start this week with two pieces of news so timely, both may be old by the time you’re reading this.

The first involves forward Ola Kamara, who has been one of the most productive players in MLS, scoring 48 times in 90 games with Columbus and the Galaxy since joining the league three years ago. But the Norwegian international made $925,000 last season, according to the players union, and at 29 would like to make more.

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That won’t happen with the Galaxy, who are not only full up on designated players, but actually have one DP too many, a problem we’ll talk about in a minute. So the team is allowing Kamara – who has been pushing hard for a transfer -- to explore options with a Chinese club.

As of late Monday a deal was said to be “relatively close.” If it happens the Galaxy would get a transfer fee but would lose an unselfish if unhappy player who was second on the team in goals with 14, led outfield players in minutes played and even secured a green card to free up an international roster spot for the Galaxy.

The second bit of breaking news involves those four DPs. The Galaxy are facing a Friday deadline to set their roster and still have not publicly said how they intend to fit their four designated player contracts into the three DP spots they’re allowed under MLS rules.

When the team signed Zlatan Ibrahimovic to a league-record $7.2-million contract in December, he became the fourth player – after midfielders Giovani dos Santos, Jonathan dos Santos and Romain Alessandrini – with a 2019 contract that exceeds the maximum salary allowed under league guidelines. That leaves the team needing to either trade, buy out or restructure one of those contracts before Saturday’s regular-season opener with the Chicago Fire.

General manager Dennis te Kloese ruled out the first two possibilities – a buyout or trade – by saying all four players would remain with the Galaxy. But the third option, restructuring one of the four contracts to get its 2019 value below $1.5 million – the limit, funded largely through allocation money, for a non-DP deal – may be the most problematic option.

Te Kloese appeared to be focused on Gio dos Santos’ contract, which will pay him more than $6 million this season, the final year of a four-year deal. Getting it to $1.5 million would require Dos Santos to either give up guaranteed money, accept payment in some other way or would require MLS to change its rules – always a possibility but probably a remote one in this case.

As Paul Tenorio pointed out in The Athletic, it’s unlikely any player would give back money he is owed. And for the second option -- paying Dos Santos off the books -- to work the league would have to approve a backdoor deal, allowing the Galaxy to essentially keep four DPs while forcing the other teams to play by the rules.

The most likely way out is a new contract, a multi-year one that guarantees Dos Santos his $6 million-plus but reduces the salary he’ll get this year to $1.5 million. But there are several reasons why that, too, might not work.

For starters, the contract would have to be worth more than $6 million -- the amount Dos Santos is guaranteed this season and what he thinks he will be worth next season. Anything less and Dos Santos would be agreeing to play two seasons to earn what he is owed for one.

However a multi-year deal would require the Galaxy to commit to another season with a player who was limited by injury to 10 starts last year – and one who hasn’t played at all this preseason.

It would also mean the Galaxy would simply be kicking a huge problem of their own making down the road for at least another year since a restructured contract would certainly include a DP-sized salary of more than $1.5 million for 2020. With Dos Santos’ brother Jonathan already signed for next season and with a productive Alessandrini likely to return as well, the Galaxy would again be left without the flexibility to bring back Ibrahimovic, if he wants to stay, or to chase another DP.

Tenorio suggests a new contract with a $1.5-million salary for 2019 and a $4.5-million option for 2020, one the Galaxy could buy out in December. Technically such a deal might pass muster since the 2019 value of the contract is below the DP threshold and it would work for Dos Santos, who would get all the money he is owed. But the rest of the league would rightly accuse the Galaxy of violating the intent of the rule since the team would basically be playing with four DPs.

But if the Galaxy intend to buy Dos Santos out eventually, why not do it now? His commitment and contribution to the team have been questioned over the last two seasons – in which he scored just nine goals combined – so why not give him his money now and give his roster spot to someone who wants it?

Giving Dos Santos $6 million to go away would be a heavy lift for AEG, the Galaxy’s parent company, but it’s one it can afford. And doing that now would tell to the players and fans that the company is fully committed to this season, no matter the costs; it would give the front office the salary flexibility it needs going forward; and it would send a message to the rest of the league that the Galaxy intends to comply with both the letter and intent of the rulebook.

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The Kamara transfer, if it goes through, complicates that thinking a bit because Kamara’s absence probably opens a spot for Dos Santos in the midfield, playing directly behind Ibrahimovic. He’ll need to be healthy to do that though.

It’s probably instructive to note how the Galaxy got in this mess in the first place.

The team entered 2017 with just two DPs – Gio dos Santos and Alessandrini. The third spot was being held open for Ibrahimovic, who was finishing a spectacular season at Manchester United and had already been offered an MLS-record contract from the Galaxy.

Then Ibrahimovic sustained a gruesome knee injury that figured to sideline him at least a year leading the Galaxy, in July, to give their open DP spot to Jonathan dos Santos.

But Ibrahimovic recovered far quicker than expected and joined the Galaxy in March for $1.5 million – the most the team could pay – with an understanding that if he returned in 2019 he would get more.

He did so he will. Now the Galaxy has until Friday to figure out how.

Romain empire

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Although Te Kloese seems to have spent most of his time trying to figure out a way to get Gio dos Santos’ contract to work, there did seem to be an easier option available.

Alessandrini, reportedly owed less than $1.9 million, had a contract much closer to the TAM limit. And he desperately wanted a multi-year extension. So why not tear up the current deal and offer him a three-year deal that’s heavily backloaded?

Well probably because his agent Yvan Le Mee was having none of that idea.

“If they have a problem with the DPs, that is a problem of the team.” Le Mee said when he talked in Marseille, the southern French port city where Alessandrini was born and once played.

Signed Alessandrini jerseys hung on the wall of Le Mee’s office on the Avenue du Prado, Marseille’s version of the Champs d’Elysee. And before I sat down he handed me a postcard with an autographed picture of Alessandrini on it.

It was obvious the Galaxy midfielder was his favorite client.

“He doesn’t smoke, he doesn’t drink, he doesn’t go to Las Vegas,” Le Mee said of his client. “He’s not Giovani, OK?”

Le Mee says that more out of frustration than anger. When Alessandrini signed with the Galaxy, Le Mee says the team basically matched the value of the contract he had with Marseille. But L.A. is far more expensive so the Galaxy told him, Le Mee says, that the player would be rewarded if he played well.

Now Alessandrini wants that reward in the form a contract that will guarantee him an extended stay in Southern California, which he has grown to love.

“The Galaxy said ‘wait to see how he plays.’ He played well,” Le Mee said. “The second year the Galaxy said ‘can he do it again?’ He did. The third year they said ‘we have a new [general] manager, a new coach’. That’s not my problem. That is not the problem of the player.

“I’m convinced we will find an agreement. But what a pity to wait.”

In two seasons with the Galaxy, Alessandrini played in 56 games, scored 24 goals and picked up 21 assists. Le Mee produced a graphic that showed just seven MLS players have topped those totals -- and Alessandrini made just a fraction of what the others earned.

Le Mee claims to have fielded offers from teams in Dubai, Italy and China but Alessandrini told him he wasn’t interested in any of them. He wants to stay in Southern California and he wants a green card to prove he’s serious.

He even wants to play for the U.S. – which is probably a stretch given that Alessandrini will be 30 in six weeks and the national team is getting younger, not older.

“He loves America,” Le Mee said. “He loves L.A.”

Now he wants the Galaxy to love him back.

LAFC, as you’ve never seen it before

ESPN on Monday released a unique 10-part documentary series “We Are LAFC,” which takes a behind-the-scenes look at the club’s inaugural season in MLS.

The series, available in its entirety on ESPN+, provides an intimate look at the team’s players, coaches and team executives, from the board room to the locker room. For the series coach Bob Bradley wore a microphone during practices and matches, in meetings and in the locker room

The first episode explored the birth of the club while subsequent episodes will look at the Galaxy-LAFC rivalry; the opener of the team’s state-of-the-art stadium; the departure of captain Laurent Ciman; the clinching of playoff berth; and the season’s premature end in the first round of the postseason.

This one’s a keeper

Sunday’s Carabao Cup final at Wembley Stadium didn’t provide much in the way of goals – Manchester City and Chelsea played to a scoreless draw over 120 minutes before City won the title in penalty kicks – but it will be one of the most memorable games of the season because of the standoff between Chelsea keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga and his coach, Maurizio Sarri.

With extra time nearing a close and a penalty-kick shootout looming, Sarri prepared to send backup goalie Willy Caballero into the game. But as Caballero stood on the sideline waiting to come on, Arrizabalaga -- the world’s most expensive goalkeeper after his $93 million August transfer from Spanish club Athletic Bilbao -- refused to come off.

As the defiance turned into open insubordination, with Arrizabalaga waving frantically and shouting “no!” at his coach, Sarri fumed, throwing down a notebook and appearing to leave the stadium at one point. After nearly two minutes, referee Jon Moss approached Sarri and asked what he wanted to do and the coach backed down, leaving Arrizabalaga on the pitch – a decision he may have regretted when the keeper stopped just one of Manchester City’s five penalty tries.

Afterward player and coach both tried to downplay the incident as a misunderstanding. Arrizabalaga had twice been treated for injuries during the game and Sarri said he signaled for the substitution because he didn’t think the keeper was ready for penalties. Arrizabalaga said he waved off the chance because he was OK.

On Monday the goalie was fined a week’s wages by the club amid reports the majority of Chelsea’s roster was lining up behind its embattled coach. Chelsea has lost three of its last four Premier League matches to fall to sixth in the table heading into Wednesday’s game with Tottenham.

Sarri said Arrizabalaga will start that match.

Watch the fiasco for yourself by clicking here.

Until next time

If you have any suggestions or criticisms of this newsletter, please don’t hesitate to share. Subscribe here, and I'll come right to your inbox. Something else you'd like to see? Email me. Or follow me on Twitter: @kbaxter11.

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