An era is coming to end in Germany: Der Dino, Hamburg SV, the only club never relegated from the Bundesliga, is seven points adrift of safety and missed its chance to close the gap on 16th place Mainz through a 0-0 draw two weeks ago. They have a single match against a team in theoretical striking distance, Wolfsburg, remaining on their schedule. Their other remaining matches are against teams competing for European places. It would be one of the all-time Great Escapes were they to survive relegation. They've already used their quota of them in the past five years.
Relegated teams shed payroll, as they can also expect to lose 25% of their fanbase. Even in a league where tradition and loyalty are prized like the Bundesliga. High-earners are more difficult to justify when playing against Union Berlin instead of Hertha. For a club like Hamburg, with a solid youth system, it might prove attractive to turn to their academy and younger players, much like Stuttgart did when they campaigned in the 2nd flight. Also, the requirements for domestic players are more strict in the 2 Liga than they are the top-flight. A high-profile American player could very possibly be seen as a disposable asset. One that can be turned into squad level domestic players.
Enter Bobby Wood, US National Team and HSV striker. One of the club's top earners carrying a valuation of 3.5 million Euros (per Transfrmarkt). The Hawaiian striker, signed from the 2 Liga (the aforementioned Union Berlin), remains the highest scoring American in the professional Bundesliga ranks for his season with the former East German side (17 in 31 appearances). His struggles at Hamburg (6 in 48), have more than a whiff of Jozy Altidore in England about them: That is, a poacher, bereft of service, is not going to produce goals in himself. Especially when he's expected to hustle and bustle up top until the midfield deigns to arrive.
The list of destinations for Bobby Wood could very well include MLS (h/t Alexi Lalas in his State of the Union podcast). At 25, he's proven himself overseas. He's had the biggest payday he's likely to have in Europe, when Hamburg extended his contract before the season. As a US International of standing, he's exempt from the Allocation Order (Clint Dempsey rule). Meaning any club interested in him can negotiate with Hamburg. It's fair to assume he's unlikely to get better offers from other European nations than he will his own domestic league. That said, with the transfer fee and his likely signing bonus, a prospective suitor will have to possess a stockpile of Garberbucks, not just a deep pocketed ownership group.
Good thing the list of MLS teams includes one flush with Garberbucks. And a team in need of a striker as well. Our very own Sporting Kansas City.
And not just any striker. Peter Vermes' system requires a specific kind of forward. One used to mucking up the back line of the opposition when not in possession and leading the press from the front. Much like a German club expects its center forward to defend high and hard. One with the pace and fluidity to stretch the defense and create space for inverted wingers and a creative box-to-box midfielder. Wood, a converted winger, has pace, intensity, and energy to burn. For some teams, a 5'9 center forward might seem too short. But Sporting Kansas City has experience with undersized pit bulls at the position. And with the vertical threats posed by Russell and Gerso combined with Wood's electric pace, the quick counter game that has been missing from SKC the last few seasons could make a return.
Moreover, it's fair to say the quality of defenses Bobby Wood would be running at in MLS would be closer to the 2 Liga teams he terrorized than the Bundesliga top-flight. And if the last two games have demonstrated anything, there are a lot of weapons on SKC for an aggressive center forward to link up with. Wood is not a back-to-goal striker. But he has the skill to combine with forwards and midfielders, and the guile to make runs to clear space for them as well.
Furthermore, after two years of being the Lone Ranger on a team gasping to survive, the chance to be the missing piece on a team looking to win now could be an enticement in itself. Especially when that club is known to have quality fans and world-class facilities. He would continue the trend of players we've added the past two years: That is, quality players who can help the current core win trophies now, but also provide the next core to keep Sporting competitive into the next decade.
The sticky wicket is that Sporting Kansas City currently has 3 DP level contracts in Felipe Gutierrez, Roger Espinoza and Yohan Croizet. One of those deals would have to be bought down with TAM or GAM to make room for the fee and wages Wood would command. Even though it's a certainty he will take something of a pay cut when he leaves Germany anywhere he goes, his current deal is beyond the $504,375 level of a designated player signing. Since Felipe and Croizet's deals include bonuses as well as wages, paying them down in addition to the transfer fee would be impossible [Editor: I believe Felipe came on a free transfer though I could be wrong -- and who knows what he makes, it still may be impossible to buy down]. That leaves Espinoza's salary as the only other player who could be bought down unless Croizet was traded.
The easier solution is probably just buying down Espinoza's salary. Otherwise, admitting that we have whiffed on a DP signing so soon (Croizet, since Felipe isn't going anywhere) would be a blow to Peter Vermes the Technical Director's ego. On the other hand, the addition of a National Team quality striker who is also a perfect system fit for the club should make Peter Vermes the coach willing to set aside the qualm of a trade or transfer and at least practice due diligence when Hamburg's fate is confirmed. In this case, the death of Der Dino could very well complete the evolution of Sporting Kansas City.