Selmir Pidro is the First Signing for St. Louis CITY SC
The answer to the trivia question will be Selmir Pidro and February 1st, 2022 will be the day that goes down in history as the day that St. Louis CITY SC announced him as their first player signing. While the inaugural season is still over a year away, Sporting Director Lutz Pfannenstiel and staff are clearly wasting no time in building their roster. As the January transfer window wound down, rumors began to circulate that Pidro was on his way to the Gateway City. Jake Henry and CITY SC Report were the first to spot it locally and the St. Louis soccer community was abuzz for days, researching and looking up YouTube videos and information on our prospective first signing. The possibility of the 23 year old Bosnian international with two caps for their national team, making the journey to play for St. Louis is exciting. Especially so, as St. Louis is home to the largest Bosnian community in the United States. It did not take long for the club to make it official, announcing his signing on social media and via press release. The full team press release can be found here.
You only get one first player signing and whether the stars just happened to align, or it was the Lunar New Year at work, the way this played out could not have been better. Fans and supporters have talked for years about wanting to see the diverse nature of our city and region represented in the club, whether on or off the field. Despite only being 23 years old, Pidro's pedigree is already impressive. He has been with his current club FC Sarajevo since 2014 in their academy, he has won silverware 4 times with them and competed in both the Europa League and Champions League Qualifiers. The qualities Pidro brings have been touted extensively in interviews by Lutz and head coach Bradley Carnell. It's always exciting to see what others have to say, and there has been no shortage of coverage this week, but I found Tom Timmerman's story in the Post-Dispatch to be the most comprehensive locally. Before looking at some of the information we've found and some speculation about what might be next for Pidro with CITY, I would highly recommend reading through Tom's piece here.
After joining CITY, Pidro will stay with his club FC Sarajevo on loan until July 2022, when he will join St. Louis. Pidro is left footed and is said to play a quick, high intensity game. He pushes up field, has goal scoring potential with great vision for crosses and assists, and would seem to be a great fit for the high press style of offense that our staff have employed so far in Academy matches. There are also some interesting facts that emerged from various outlets regarding the move and what it means for CITY in their overall roster build.
⦁ The transfer fee for Pidro's move was €330,000 ($338,000), paid to FC Sarajevo
⦁ Pidro's salary information has not been disclosed yet
⦁ Pidro is signed through 2025 with St. Louis CITY SC
⦁ Pidro is NOT a Designated Player for CITY
⦁ Meaning his salary will most likely be below the upcoming league maximum, $612,500 in 2021.
⦁ It is unlikely in this scenario, but it is possible the club could use GAM or TAM to buy down his actual salary - as an example, they could pay him $800,000 but use $200,000 GAM and his charge to their salary cap would only be $600,000
In the Post-Dispatch article, Lutz is very clear that it was not intentional to make our first signing a Bosnian, it just worked out that way with the paperwork completing first. What is even more interesting though, is that he specifies "in the next few weeks a few more players will follow from the foreign market, where the contract will start in July". The Bosnian transfer window closed on January 29th and the highest visibility leagues closed on January 31st. However, there are numerous leagues who have active transfer windows that run through February and March. With the international scouting network that we know our team has, it would not be surprising to see either a deal already done and yet to be announced publicly or wrapping up soon in any number of these countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Switzerland, Romania, Poland, Ukraine, Australia, or more.
So, what happens now? Pidro will finish out the current campaign with Sarajevo and land in St. Louis in July, but what happens in July? The CITY MLS Next Pro side will be in midseason form in July, so staying in-system and competing at the D3 level against other MLS Next Pro sides (and Rochester) is an option. This would provide the obvious benefit of learning the Lutz/Hack/Carnell/Schumacher system to a T and could provide a perfect opportunity for Pidro, the previously discussed Josh Yaro, and these other unnamed signings who will arrive in July, to get some minutes together before the first team camp starts next January. The flip side, is the level of competition is widely unknown in MLS Next Pro. It is assumed by many that a place like USL-Championship would offer a higher caliber competition that you would want your signings to face, if given the opportunity. This would mean a potential loan to another club through the end of the year, with Pidro being recalled from loan next January.
I see validity in both philosophies, and initially I had the perspective that it would be almost a defeat to loan Pidro out in July. Admitting that your 2nd team isn't at the same level as a USL-C as opposed to keeping the best that you can in this league and elevating it. But that's not really the purpose of this league. St. Louis CITY SC is in a highly unique position when it comes to MLS Next Pro in 2022 as it will be our pinnacle club that provides the growth platform from our academy, but we have the option to keep MLS-level talent there. No other team will be faced with this possibility, to have players they will start in 2023 either at their Next Pro team, or loaned out, and this is the choice we'll probably see made more than once by CITY. It is a lot to speculate about since MLS Next Pro hasn't kicked off yet and we truly do not know how the competition will fare yet. However, my advice is when, not if, we see CITY loan out a player instead of keeping them in house on their 2 team, know that it will be an MLS ready talent that we've already signed (which is great) and we want to provide them the absolute highest level of competition we can (either staying in their international league or USL-C), and MLS to MLS loans just don't happen. Either way, it will be interesting to see play out this year.
One last note that the Pidro signing brings up, as we're starting to get into the international player discussion, is a reminder that MLS limits each team to 8 international roster slots each year. These can be traded and acquired, but they reset each year. The savviest teams employ creative tactics to make this work and are on the forefront of knowledge regarding processes that can assist, such as obtaining green cards for your players, thereby making them domestic players under MLS rules. Recently, the law firm Thompson Coburn LLP touted their work in helping Bradley Carnell obtain a O-1 nonimmigrant visa, detailed here. This law firm has long been retained by CITY, so it is reassuring, as we hear our sporting staff talk about international signings and see clubs like Charlotte load up on double digits international slots, that CITY has retained a firm that appears to be extremely experienced at the green card process, raising the high possibility that some of these early international signings may not need to take up international roster slots for 2023.
By Matt Baker