COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – Lalas Abubakar and Tommy Smith started all but two games together in the second half of the 2019 MLS season. Their ascendance, both individual and as a partnership, helped the Colorado Rapids nearly make the playoffs. Abubakar’s loan deal and Smith’s guaranteed contract have expired. The fate of the starting Colorado Rapids center backs is up in the air.
Colorado Rapids Center Backs Negotiation Updates
Last Word on Soccer spoke with Rapids General Manager Padraig Smith this past week about a number of topics, including the current futures of both of these players. Abubakar is under contract with Columbus Crew SC for 2020 as of now.
Colorado would have to negotiate a trade or another loan to have him back. Tommy Smith had a team option for 2020. The players had a 2019 guaranteed compensation of $145,000 and $640,000 respectively, per the MLSPA.
It’s not publicly known what their 2020 option salaries would be. It is reasonable to assume that Abubakar still would have been a budget player (< $530,000) and Tommy Smith would have over the maximum budget charge and would either have to occupy a DP roster slot or take up TAM.
Abubakar is listed as a domestic player while Smith took up an international roster spot in 2019. This writer isn’t an immigration law expert, but it’s reasonable to assume that this will be the case for next year.
Abubakar Transfer Negotiations:
Both Columbus and Colorado missed the playoffs. With injuries and some key changes to come, Caleb Porter and Tim Bezbatchenko are looking to retool the squad. Having extra allocation money would help tremendously especially in exchange for a spare part. They’ve already announced what options they’ve picked up for 2020 and have eight defenders on the roster.
The center backs who were starting over Abubakar (who signed a new deal at the end of 2018) to start the year are coming back. In that, Abubakar is a movable asset. He’d be a first choice starter in Commerce City but would probably have to win the job in preseason in Columbus.
“We’re certainly interested in bringing Lalas back. That’s something we’ve been very open about. Lalas has been very open about. He enjoyed his time here. He fits in from a cultural perspective. We’re in negotiations at the moment and we’ll see where those go,” Padraig Smith told Last Word.
This is clearly a move that would benefit all three parties. It’s just a matter of the clubs agreeing on a price. A source familiar with the Rapids informed Last Word that there was an option for Colorado to buy Abubakar when the loan happened in May for $500,000. A source familiar with the Crew does not believe the rumored transfer fee of $1 million is likely to be the final price.
One complication is that quality budget domestic center backs are always in demand in MLS. Just to name a few, Seattle Sounders, LA Galaxy, and New England Revolution could all use another option at center back next year and are in position to outbid Colorado based on previous spending.
Based on previous moves within MLS, the lower bound of the Ike Opara trade to Minnesota United seems plausible. Columbus could tie in a transfer fee share or future considerations given that Abubakar is about to entire his prime age-wise.
If other teams are seriously interested in the player in this price range, there could be a bidding war. If not, as long as Colorado’s willing to split a potential future sale abroad or exchange some less significant non-cash assets, this deal should get done sooner rather than later. This is one of Colorado’s top priorities right now, as it should be.
Tommy Smith Talks:
The situation with Tommy Smith is less urgent but a critical decision the club must get right. The 29-year-old is currently training with his old club Ipswich Town and just got called into the New Zealand national team. Padraig Smith confirmed that the club has declined 2020 option and the two sides are in negotiations.
Unlike Abubakar, Smith might not have many suitors. Assuming his 2020 option required TAM, it’s unlikely another team in the league would make a play for him. Given his experience in the Championship, he could find a landing spot somewhere in the Football League. Making a move in the middle of their season when he is just coming out of his off-season makes that less likely.
“We’ve declined the team option and we’re still in discussions with Tommy. There’s different avenues to ensure that we’re giving (Head Coach) Robin (Fraser) the best squad that we can for next year. We’re going to make the right decisions for the club,” said Padraig Smith.
From an age perspective, his transfer value is probably only going down from here. Conversations could be coming to an agreement on salary and/or term. Perhaps Tommy Smith does want enough room for an out-of-contract move to Ipswich at the end. Maybe he’s willing to take a pay cut if it means he gets an extra year guaranteed.
Colorado could be looking at other (and cheaper) options from a center back standpoint, as may have been hinted above. Fraser also played with a back three at times toward the end of the season, so they might be thinking about making another significant signing in addition to Abubakar and Smith to play with a proper back three going forward.
If they can bring back Tommy Smith at a reasonable (read: below the maximum budget charge of $530,000) and sign Abubakar, the Colorado Rapids center backs and the club will be in good shape.
If not, Colorado will have to make at least one significant signing elsewhere to have a playoff caliber defense in 2020.