If it seemed too good to be true, ultimately it was. Chivas USA, given an opportunity to add U.S. World Cup midfielder Benny Feilhaber to its roster, passed on the chance Tuesday.
Head coach Robin Fraser said the impact of Feilhaber's salary and transfer fee on the Goats' salary cap would harm the club's ability to make further moves and that "we just feel that we have more needs than the one person could’ve addressed."
Feilhaber, a former UCLA standout from Irvine who has played professionally in Germany, England and Denmark, signed Friday with Major League Soccer, transferring from Danish second-division side AGF Aarhus. Chivas, atop MLS's allocation list, received first crack at him; Philadelphia, second on the list, now may claim the attacking midfielder.
"This was a really difficult decision, because we had to look at a number of factors, first and foremost being if we take him and accommodate his salary within our salary cap, how much is that going to limit us going forward," Fraser said in a statement released on Chivas USA's website. "Certainly we’re looking to address some needs on the team, and having Benny would’ve been great in our midfield, because he’s a very, very good player, but the fact of the matter is his salary would’ve been so high that we wouldn’t have been able to make any adjustments going forward. The summer window coming up is an important time for us, and we’d like to position ourselves to make some moves that we think are going to further improve our team."
Feilhaber's MLS salary is uncertain, but it is expected to be near or over the $335,000 threshold to count as a Designated Player. AGF, on its website, acknowledged that they could not match the offer made by MLS, and The Washington Post on Monday cited a source as saying AGF had offered the former Northwood High School standout between $240,000 and $300,000 annually. Feilhaber's deal with the club was to end this summer.
MLS teams may use allocation money to "pay down" players' salaries under the $2.675 million cap.
Fraser said the Goats were ready to consider trades for Feilhaber from other MLS clubs. Chivas' greatest area of need is on the forward line.
"Our only concern is what’s best for the club," he said, "and to make this a successful team that’s vying for championships year in and year out, so we were listening to offers for trades. Having this number one spot in the allocation is definitely an asset, not only because of the player you can get but the potential moves that you can make with it. So in the last 36 hours it’s been looking at every possible scenario that we thought would benefit us, and as unbelievable as it may sound, it seemed like this was the best move for the long-term benefit of the club."
Chivas (0-2-3) started the year at No. 2 on the allocation list, based on last year's standings, then moved to the top spot when D.C. United signed U.S. national team forward Charlie Davies, MLS's scoring leader, on loan from French club Sochaux. Feilhaber's quality would have helped the Goats, but the club has good depth in midfield, although that has been tested by injuries during preseason and the first five weeks of the campaign.
"It was a difficult decision to pass on Benny, but we just feel that we have more needs than the one person could’ve addressed, and his salary would have inhibited our ability to make improvements that we think we need. Benny’s salary, given where we are, was not something that we were going to be able to take on, and so we then felt like it was important that we retain this number one allocation because as players come back through this mechanism, we will have first choice at getting them."
UPDATE (6:30 p.m.): Philadelphia also passed on Feilhaber, who was claimed Tuesday evening by the New England Revolution, holders of the No. 3 spot on the allocation list.