A week after hinting that he was on the verge of signing a striker, Union sporting director Ernst Tanner proved that true Thursday by acquiring Julián Carranza on a yearlong loan from Inter Miami.

The cost of the deal for the Union was only a second-round pick in the upcoming college draft, and taking on Carranza’s $750,000 salary. The Union will also have a purchase option at the end of the loan, for an amount that isn’t known yet.

That is a bargain for the 21-year-old from Argentina, who was a big-time acquisition for Miami before its expansion season in 2020 but has not lived up to the hype yet.

Inter, whose owners include David Beckham and construction magnate Jorge Mas, splashed out a $6 million transfer fee to acquire Carranza from Argentine club Banfield in July 2019.

Two months later, Carranza played on an Argentina under-23 national team with Cristian Romero, now at Tottenham Hotspur, and Julián Álvarez, now at River Plate and arguably Argentina’s hottest young prospect.

Carranza’s pedigree also includes being on Argentina’s squad at the South American under-17 championship, though the squad wasn’t great and won just one of its four group stage games. (Tournament winner Brazil featured future Real Madrid star Vinícius Jr. and future FC Cincinnati striker Brenner.)

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Stats might be deceiving

After arriving in Miami, Carranza scored only three goals in 42 games for the club. But whether that marks him as a bust or a long-term prospect is in the eye of the beholder. He suffered a foot injury early in the 2020 preseason that forced him to miss the first two weeks of the regular season, then the pandemic struck.

When games resumed at MLS’s tournament in Orlando in July, he played in all three group stage contests but started just one — coincidentally, against the Union.

The next month, the regular season fully resumed. In Miami’s first game back, Carranza started and scored twice in a 3-2 win over Florida Derby rival Orlando City. But he made just three starts for the rest of the year, in part because Miami signed superstar Gonzalo Higuaín in mid-September, and he got the lion’s share of the playing time as Inter scraped its way to the Eastern Conference’s last playoff spot.

This past season, Carranza remained in Higuaín’s shadow at Miami. He played 723 minutes over 25 games, with six starts and just one goal. Inter was subpar again, finishing 11th in the East and 20th leaguewide.

And that wasn’t the only shadow Carranza was under. He was part of one of the biggest front office scandals in MLS history. Inter underreported his salary and the salaries of two other players, and under-classified the roster statuses of two more. The latter pair, Blaise Matuidi and Andrés Reyes, should have been Designated Players, but Miami would have had five DPs had they been counted properly — the other three were Higuaín, Rodolfo Pizzaro, and Matías Pellegrini.

MLS slammed Miami with fines of $2 million in cash and $2,271,250 in cap space for each of 2022 and 2023; fined Mas individually $250,000; and suspended the former sporting director who did those deals, Paul McDonough, through 2022. McDonough had moved to Atlanta United after the 2020 season, and Atlanta promptly fired him when the suspension was announced.

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Fixing the mess

Inter eventually cleaned up its roster, with Carranza left untouched. (And to be clear, neither he nor any of the players were specifically accused of wrongdoing. Only team executives were.)

According to the MLS Players Association, Carranza’s salary for 2020 was reported as $400,000, and this past year it was $750,000. An Inter Miami spokesperson said Carranza was initially a DP when signed, but his cap hit was bought down below the DP threshold with Targeted Allocation Money before Higuaín arrived. Carranza remained a TAM-level player through 2021.

Since now is when the allocation-money fine really kicks in, Miami had to make some big moves to clear cap space. On top of that, new sporting director Chris Henderson is reportedly lining up a new big splash in Brazilian playmaker Raphael Veiga, who scored the opening goal of this season’s Copa Libertadores final for Brazilian club Palmeiras, which won the game, 2-1.

So Henderson’s phone line is open for deals for his current players. Pizarro is seemingly next to go, with a loan move to Mexico’s Monterrey (his old club) reportedly in the works. If that deal happens, it would take $3.35 million more in salary off Miami’s books.

Will Carranza fulfill his potential here? Call it a medium-risk move by the Union to find out. His salary is substantial, and he’ll count as a Young Designated Player on the Union’s books. But he already has a green card, so he won’t take an international slot; and since the Union don’t care for the college draft, they gave up next to nothing to get him. If he succeeds, perhaps he’ll be worth the purchase option.

“We’re excited to welcome Julián to the Philadelphia Union and add a promising young attacker with a lot of potential to our roster,” Tanner said in a statement. “He is aggressive in the box and brings the versatility of a natural center forward who fits the profile of a striker we were looking for, as well as our style of play. We look forward to welcoming him to the team and watching him develop in our system.”

Now we’ll wait to find out if Tanner comes through on another goal he floated last week: that he might not just sign one striker this winter, but “better even, two.”

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