After last week's roster decisions, the task ahead of Crew SC is clear. The core remains, including Federico Higuain, but the defense is very thin, the goalkeeping situation is unsettled, and the team has promised bringing in impact players. With training camp opening on January 23rd, less than two months, Columbus will have to move aggressively to retool a roster that underperformed significantly in 2016. The upside is that Columbus and Gregg Berhalter have significant tools at their disposal to bring in the right parts.
The team is well stocked with the esoteric mechanisms of MLS. The team controversially traded star Kei Kamara in May with no immediate return. They got draft picks and allocation money. This is when the trade will have to pay off. The team reportedly received $500,000 in a combination of general and targeted allocation money for Kamara.
Crew SC will also have two high draft picks in this January's Super Draft, the 5th pick from 2016's poor record and the Revolution's 9th pick as part of the Kamara trade. With 2017 is looking to be slightly deeper than years past, Columbus should be able to pick up a contributing player with one of those two draft picks. The draft may be declining in significance, but there are plenty of players that can fill a hole in the team.
The allocation funds will likely play a bigger role in the reshaping of the roster. Targeted Allocation Money and General Allocation Money can be used in several ways to make deals happen. TAM is specifically for the sub million dollar player to pay for transfer fees or lower the "cap number" of a player. Crew SC has used it for Gaston Sauro's transfer and to push his salary budget number below the designated player threshold. TAM was also used to bring Nicolai Naess to Columbus. The team also used TAM to trade for Dilly Duka's rights and Adam Jahn.
The league and team does not disclose how much allocation money anyone has, it's a near certainty that Crew SC has a large combination of GAM and TAM to use. The team has much of the significant allocation funds received from the Kamara trade. The team also received allocations from Chicago for the Khaly Thiam trade and Portland from the Jack McInerney trade. The team may also have some GAM left over from the Giancarlo Gonzalez transfer in 2014.
The team's recent history with allocation money shows it's a valuable trade tool, but with the goal of a significant roster retool, the team will have to spend allocation funds to bring in players. This may mean in the case of Naess or Sauro, a designated player level target at a sub DP number. Additionally, it may be used to trim the impact of signing several high salary players. The salary cap isn't the obstacle.
Allocation funds provide the flexibility and the team, including owner Anthony Precourt, have promised to be "aggressive". Without the roadblocks that can pop up in MLS, Berhalter and the rest of the front office have to execute the plan that transforms the team that went from MLS Cup finalist to third worst back into a Cup contender. No excuses.