Galaxy complete deal for winger Gabriel Pec, paying a club-record transfer fee

Before Will Kuntz was promoted to general manager of the Galaxy last month, he went to meet with Phil Anschutz, the team’s fabulously wealthy owner, to ask for the company credit card.

“My basic message was, I’m not asking you to spend any more year over year than you’ve been spending,” Kuntz said. “I just think we can spend it a bit differently.”

That new philosophy’s first charge was posted Tuesday when the Galaxy finally got the signing of Brazilian winger Gabriel Pec over the line, paying a club-record transfer fee of approximately $10 million with another $1.5 million in incentives. Pec, who will occupy a young designated player slot, signed a five-year deal, matching the longest contract in club history.

And Kuntz may not be done spending. The Galaxy, who open the regular season in less than a month, are believed to be deep in negotiations with Ghanaian winger Joseph Paintsil, who has an $8.5-million release clause in his contract with Belgian club Genk. With the transfer window in Belgium closing Thursday, another deal could be announced this week.

Should those talks fail the Galaxy have other options, having explored deals with Dinamo Zagreb’s Gabrijel Rukavina, River Plate’s Pablo Solari and Ramón Sosa of Talleres. All three, like Paintsil, are solid attackers and Kuntz is determined to add one of the four.

“For a player in Europe, there is that sort of shot clock running,” Kuntz said. “But you also need to make sure that you have guys that are options who aren’t falling into that calendar or might be at a club that is willing to make a move after the window closes.

“Our plan is to have as complete a roster as possible for the start of the season.”

The Galaxy, whose season opens in less than a month, will have to rush to accomplish that. During what has been a slow-developing offseason, the team added forward Miguel Berry, goalkeeper John McCarthy and defenders Miki Yamane and John Nelson. But it has parted ways with nearly a dozen players, including winger Tyler Boyd, the team’s co-leading scorer with seven goals and the only player to appear in all 34 regular-season games last year; forward Billy Sharp, who scored six times in 12 appearances; and designated players Douglas Costa, who had a team-high 10 assists, and team captain Javier “Chicharito” Hernández. That leaves some holes still to fill.

“We’ve had targets and we’ve been working through those; the process has just taken a little longer,” coach Greg Vanney said. “Sometimes I think clubs aren’t necessarily as motivated to really get moving on their side until you get into January and they can kind of size up what the [transfer] window around the world might look like.”

Vanney said MLS clubs, including the Galaxy, have also become smarter and more ambitious, willing to wait for the player they really want to sign rather than settling for a player who’s available. Portland, for example, still has two designated player spots open. LAFC, which is expected to announce a handful of signings this week, opened training camp with just 16 of its 30 available roster spots filled. And Austin, which had to call up players from its MLS Next Pro team just to scrimmage, needs help at striker, center back, fullback and winger.

“We have more sophisticated, more well-rounded scouting networks where most of us are looking at players based off specific profiles that we think will fit our club. And we’re trying to get that player,” Vanney said. “That’s a much longer negotiation than going to get a guy who the club doesn’t want.

“It’s a positive for the league that some of these things are maybe not quite as smooth. It is us all being more specific about who we want and not just taking what’s out there.”

Pec, whose contract reportedly allows Vasco da Gama to claim 30% of future transfer fees, is a player Kuntz targeted from the start. Though he’s still two weeks shy of his 23rd birthday, Pec has already made 178 appearances for Vasco da Gama in Brazil’s Serie A, scoring 26 goals and collecting 14 assists. Fourteen of those goals came last season, when Pec played in 50 games across all competition.

Primarily a right winger, Pec is versatile enough to play on the left side, has a great first touch, makes smart runs and is an asset defensively, pressing and winning back balls. He is currently playing for Brazil’s U-23 team in South America’s Olympic qualifying tournament which runs through Feb. 11, further delaying his arrival in Carson.

To get him, the Galaxy had to spend more than they ever have on a single player, topping the $9.25-million transfer fee they paid to pry Hernández away from Sevilla in 2020. But the Galaxy have rarely been shy about spending; their $25-million payroll last season was third-highest in the league and they haven’t ranked outside the top three since 2017.

Whoever joins Pec from the foursome of Paintsil, Rukavina, Solari or Sosa will likely sign a long and lucrative designated player contract as well, building what Kuntz’s team hopes will be a solid foundation while adding yet another hefty charge to Anschutz’s credit card. But the owner can’t say he wasn’t warned.

“Certainly you don’t want to be in a position where you are making significant investments in players and then looking to get out of there in a year or two,” Kuntz said. “I’m not doing my job right, our team’s not doing our job right if that’s the case.”

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