Although there have been dozens of moves and countless more local stories for every team, these are the 10 most important moves and stories of the offseason thus far, in my humble opinion.
Walker Zimmerman to Los Angeles FC – Let’s start out with the first big move of the offseason that also takes the focus to FC Dallas. On the surface, this looks like a win-win for both teams as FCD got a large sum of money to move on from a player they were probably ready to move anyway and LAFC gets a potential Best XI type CB to build its spine through. Regardless of your thoughts on Zimmerman (not a big fan), the GAM money FCD received from this trade alone helped us fund our move up to #4 in the draft, without even considering the extra TAM we received. This gives Dallas flexibility to build out the roster and gives LA a young foundation piece to build around.
Benny Feilhaber to Los Angeles FC – Sticking with LAFC, this move for some reason, stirs almost zero emotion for me, although it is a big move. Feilhaber is a fine player, a top ten 10 in my book, but not an ultimate game changer. I think what LAFC is doing is walking the tightrope between what Minnesota tried to do and Atlanta knocked out of the park last year. Build a solid, competitive team for the first year through MLS vets and splashy signings. Minnesota tried to sign proven MLS talent and supplement it with, umm, exotic signings only to slip the clutch at the start of the season before steadily gaining some steam towards the end. We all know the Atlanta story, sign young South American superstars and take over the world, uh, the league with Tata Martino. Easy. LAFC is trying to be more prudent than Atlanta, but acquire better MLS talent than Minnesota. I’m interested to see it all play out.
Sacha Kljestan to Orlando – Again, no strong feelings, for me, but this is a solid move for a proven creator to replace Kaka, and I think Kljestan can really help Orlando reach their goal of making the playoffs. He should be a boon for Dwyer and whoever Orlando replace Cyle Larin with (more on that below). The fact it only took $150,00 TAM to get this deal done is the best part about it *cough cough Philadelphia*. As for New York, I am torn between the two sides of their roster building. I feel the first MLS team in New York should be going toe to toe with LA Galaxy (don’t laugh), Toronto, Seattle, and Atlanta as the marquee team of the league. But I also applaud the way they have developed and promoted (and sold) so much young talent. Must be the FC Dallas fan in me.
David Accam to Philadelphia – The big draft day deal that sent Accam to the Union is all kinds of intriguing. Chicago dealt it’s second highest scorer and top assist man; one of the most electric players in the league, to a Philadelphia team, starved for more talent. I like Accam, he’s like Fabian Castillo with a better first touch and vision, but, wowzers, that is A LOT of money for a team that probably had more than just one hole to fill. Philadelphia now has some real quality attacking pieces in Accam and CJ Sapong, but central midfield and central defense were probably the more urgent need. Going from a team with Dax McCarty and Bastian Schweinsteiger running the midfield to Alejandro Bedoya and (insert generic midfielder here) sounds like it could be an issue. I really hope Accam and Philly can make this work, but count me a skeptic. And speaking of rounding out a roster, the extra cash Chicago picked up could go a long way in rounding out their already good one.
Darlington Nagbe to Atlanta – I mean, what more can you say about Atlanta, even playing in an NFL stadium works for them. I believe Atlanta will play a 2-2-6 next year just to fit all their attacking talent on the field. Nagbe might be the 3rd most polarizing player in the league (looking at you Bradly and Altidore) but he can hold possession with the best of them and is a terrific passer; two useful skills when Atlanta starts feeling the effects of bunkered in teams. Portland on the other hand…(sigh)…I don’t know what to make of them. Dealing a player of Nagbe’s caliber is a big risk for a team that’s already losing its coach. Replacing him with an unproven, albeit exciting, a prospect in Andy Polo is reckless (?), daring (?) exciting? All the above?
Ola Kamara to Los Angeles Galaxy, Gyasi Zardes to Columbus Crew; David Bingham to Los Angeles Galaxy – Let's combine some moves and look at the rebuilt LA Galaxy. Trading away Zardes is an admission of failure on a few levels. Replacing him with Ola Kamara is writing those failures on a piece of paper and lighting it on fire. Closure. Kamara is a first-rate attacker and should help LA move forward from this year of disaster. Having the attacking talent of LA also helps the situation. The money involved doesn’t seem unreasonable in light of the Accam and Nagbe trades. Seems like a problem solved. Replacing the cardboard cutouts in goal with David Bingham probably adds at least three to four wins from last year alone. Los Angeles is going to be back next year; not with a vengeance, but with at least a glare. As for Zardes, he moves to one of the craziest situations in recent memory (#SavetheCrew). He will have ample opportunity from a coach who seems to believe and him and has turned multiple players into Players. I think Zardes is a better player than he showed last season and, similar to Walker Zimmerman, will hopefully benefit from a new situation.
Ezequiel Barco to Atlanta – The problem with writing a few days behind the news is that the points I would like to make, have already been said somewhere else. So to quickly summarize, bringing a young player considered by most to have an extremely bright future is great for MLS. He walks into the best situation in the league with a world-class coach at the helm and a bar setting organization running the show. He should be as successful as any newcomer has ever been. However, it is no harbinger of a new and improved league. Atlanta is doing special things and is almost singlehandedly changing the perception of the league. More importantly, though, it is showing the glaring discrepancy between what the league thinks of itself, and what it actually is. Atlanta cannot change MLS if only a handful of other teams want to play along. In the end, things will have to change on multiple fronts, but that’s another story for another time.
Jesus Medina to New York City FC – Next track, same song. Highly touted prospect moves to MLS instead of Europe, hooray! That makes two out of 23 teams. Boo. Medina is technically replacing the real "Most Interesting Man In the World," Andrea Pirlo and his hair, and his DP slot. I don’t know if he will have the same impact as Barco on the league, but it shouldn’t statistically be any worse than what Pirlo did, and anyone that get’s to pass to David Villa should probably have a decent campaign. NYCFC should once again be challenging for the Supporter’s Shield and MLS Cup, what more can you ask for.
Cyle Larin to Besiktas; Ballou Tabla to Barcelona – Let’s this time combine a sad transfer saga and a fun rumor. The sad transfer playing out in Turkey is way, way too familiar, and yet altogether different. No need to rehash the Castillo drama, but what is interesting about this Larin drama is that Besiktas was also the rumored destination this past summer. I am not opposed to players being allowed to freely move, but this is a bridge too far. Besiktas are almost certainly low balling Orlando, knowing the player wants out. Orlando is probably overvaluing a player who has garnered interest from overseas before. Either way, this is a bad look for everyone involved, Larin, Orlando, Besiktas and even the league. It gets back to what kind of league MLS wants to be. A rumor linking Ballou Tabla to Barcelona should be viewed as flattering, if unrealistic. Everyone gives in to Barcelona and Real Madrid (sorry Liverpool fans). Having a prospect as electric as Tabla in the league is good; as is selling him to a big team in Europe. Holding a player hostage because darn it, he signed a contract; that is bad. If you want a player friendly, youth-friendly, best friends forever league, the Tabla situation is what you want, not the Larin one.
New Coaches! – I admit I am a sucker for new coaches. They are the ultimate prospect, capable of transforming an entire organization and catapulting them to the top, or tanking a season and ripping apart said organization. Montreal (Remi Garde), Portland (Giovanni Savarese), Los Angeles (Bob Bradly), New England (Brad Freidal), and Colorado (Anthony Hudson) are starting training camp week with new whistleblowers on the sidelines and the MLS Cup at their fingertips. History says only one or two of these men will be successful this season and most will be out of their job within 3 years. I’m most interested in Savarese. His reputation for tactics hopefully will bring some variety to our copy-cat league.
Of course, I have skipped some moves and passed up some stories, so let me know in the comments below what the biggest moves and stories for you have been.