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Why LAFC signed a player a year before their debut season

Confused? We walk you through the Carlos Alvarez situation.

Courtesy of Orange County SC.

Orange County SC dropped a big story last week through a player signing announcement. Carlos Alvarez was added to the team, but with a wrinkle — he was joining on loan from LAFC.

Wait, what? Los Angeles Football Club, the MLS affiliate of Orange County SC, don’t have a team yet, technically speaking. They don’t begin play until next year.

Confused about this situation? Here’s a post to help walk you through what is going on here.

So Carlos Alvarez is an LAFC player?

Yes. It said so in Orange County SC’s release, and nobody offered a correction, so we’ll take that at face value.

Why is he an LAFC player now?

Good question. Yes, LAFC won’t play until 2018, so they technically don’t need any players until then. But there is a history of players signing to MLS expansion teams early.

Oh really?

Yes! David Villa signed with New York City FC the year before that team kicked off, as did Kaká for Orlando City. Both players went on loan to other teams ahead of their expansion teams’ first season.

That makes sense. But, uh, is Carlos Alvarez in the same level as Villa and Kaká?

Good point, he’s not. But there have been non-World Cup winners to also sign early with an expansion team. Atlanta United signed a handful of players over the course of 2016, and began actual play in MLS this year. The players signed ran the gamut from Designated Players to rookies and reserves.

I get that, but why is Carlos Alvarez an MLS player now?

If I understand what you’re getting at, Alvarez is technically an MLS player now by virtue of signing an MLS contract. Presumably, LAFC think he’s got a decent shot to be on their team next year and they don’t want to lose his rights. So instead of letting him sign a deal outright with Orange County, with a possible risk he could be signed by another MLS team in the future, they can sign him to an MLS contract and keep track of his MLS rights for the length of the contract.

You say Alvarez has “a decent shot” of being with LAFC next year. So he’s not guaranteed to be on the roster?

No, he’s not. Aside from the Designated Players and TAM players (basically, the players paid at a level below DPs) most players are not guaranteed much when it comes to MLS contracts. Contracts can be longer than a year, but all but a handful are 1- or 2-year deals with team options for an additional year or two. Since we don’t know how long Alvarez’s contract is, we can’t say for certain whether he’s guaranteed a place on LAFC’s roster, but my inclination is that next year is an option year on the deal he just signed, meaning LAFC could back out of it without having to pay anything if they wanted.

One player Atlanta United signed last year, Junior Burgos, did not make the roster for their debut MLS season. I’m not saying Alvarez is in the same position as Burgos, but with that example in mind, think of Alvarez having an MLS deal this year as LAFC giving him an extended trial while playing for Orange County, but with the backing to say “We think there’s a pretty good chance you’ll end up in MLS again with us.”

Do you think LAFC will sign more players in 2017?

Absolutely. I would estimate there will be around a half dozen players signed by the team before MLS Cup in December. I would imagine one or two of those players will be big-name, likely Designated Players or TAM players, and the rest will either be in a similar situation to Alvarez, possibly playing for Orange County SC, or be acquired in MLS via trade (LAFC could trade money or draft picks or international slots before they have a group of players to trade away).

So while it may sound weird to hear that LAFC is signing players well before they will field a team, there is plenty of precedent for this exact situation. And while there’s a pretty good chance Alvarez will be on the MLS team’s roster next year, precedent also shows that it’s probably not a stone-cold guarantee right now. But if he keeps playing like he did last week for OCSC, he’ll probably find himself back in MLS in 2018.

What do you think? Leave a comment below!