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MLS Trade Value Rankings: Midsummer update Part 3, Nos. 64-31

Chicago Fire - 33 years old; CM; $6.1 million; Designated Player. (Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports)

Welcome to part three of the MLS Trade Value Rankings, the midsummer update. With the MLS Players Union releasing the 2018 salaries and half of the season finished, it’s time to count down the top 100 trade assets in the league.

If you haven’t read part one, click here to see where I made mistakes in the preseason rankings, what I got right, who dropped out and how we’re evaluating MLS prospects with minimal minutes.

And check out part two here, where we covered the rules of the list and revealed No. 100 (Matthew Real) through No. 65 (Danny Hoesen).

As a reminder, the theory in this ranking is simple: The higher you are in the rankings, the less likely you are to be traded to another MLS team for someone lower in the rankings.

Got it?  Good!  Let’s continue on!

OLDER ICONS

64. Bastian Schweinsteiger, Chicago Fire – 33; CM; $6.1 million (DP)

63. David Villa, New York City FC – 36; ST; $5.61 million (DP)

These players are very productive when they’re on the pitch and have a huge draw given their playing histories. But, it is obvious they’re on their last legs. I don’t think Chicago or New York City FC would ever entertain the idea of trading their talismans (nor would the players allow it), but I’m not sure other teams would be knocking on their doors willing to give up an incredible amount.

Both were deservedly on the MLS All-Star team. David Villa has been MVP caliber (0.85 xG+xA per 96) when he’s on the field, but unfortunately that hasn’t always been the case. At 36, I’m not sure how many years he has left to put out there.

Schweinsteiger, while three years younger than Villa, has felt slow as well. But his mind is one of the best in MLS, allowing him to play anywhere along the spine for the Fire. He’s tidy on the ball, completing over 85 percent of his passes and has a 13.4 percent usage rate. He may not be playing that much longer, but he’s been a joy to watch in this league.

ONE STEP FORWARD, TWO STEPS BACK

62Kellyn Acosta, Colorado Rapids – 23; CM; $300,000

61.  Jefferson Savarino, Real Salt Lake — 21; RW; $398,687 (Young DP)

60. Cristian Roldan, Seattle Sounders – 23; CM; $191,000

Nothing like a blockbuster trade that happens as you’re writing an update. Kellyn Acosta was traded to the Colorado Rapids for Dominique Badji, switching first round picks and an international roster spot for a year and a half.  If you wanted to convert FC Dallas’s haul, I would roughly value it about $600,000-$750,000 (breaking it down: roster spot worth about $200,000, switching draft picks about $150,000 and Badji worth between $250,000-$400,000).

There’s no doubt Dallas sold low. If you’re a Colorado fan, you have to be ecstatic. Acosta has the potential to be MLS Best XI and just a year ago was playing all midfield spots at a high level and starting for the United States men’s national team in a World Cup Qualifying match in the Azteca. For Dallas, it’s improving the squad adding Badji to the strike force. I don’t rate Badji as much as other analysts, but there’s no doubt he’s a good player who can help.

The kicker to this trade is that Dallas would keep 50 percent of the transfer fee until 2020, the year Colorado has club options until.  Added to this, MLS will take 25 percent as well since Acosta loses his Homegrown status. This provides a problem in any future transfers abroad:

The cut of the transfer fees means that if Acosta tears it up for the remainder of 2018 or early 2019 and a club was offering, say $2 million in fees, the breakdown would be:

  • MLS cut:  $500,000
  • FC Dallas cut: $750,000
  • Colorado Rapids cut:  $750,000

All signs point to Kellyn Acosta leaving for a free eventually.  If it happens in 2020, that means he goes as a 25-year-old finished product instead of a 21-year-old prospect.

This is a troubling trend in MLS in general, and I feel that Acosta (like Cyle Larin) is an “Adi Theory” candidate, as I stated in this thread:

People in the know (and 100 percent would know better than anyone else) in Dallas disagree disagree:

There weren’t any formal offers at the height of Acosta’s value, despite expectations from fans (and myself) given the rumors.  It’s also important to point out that Dallas has been open to move players when they really want to with Diaz and Nedyalkov, and Acosta hadn’t played up to par since coming back from injury.

All of this is true and the reason why Acosta has dropped so much on this list. But I, and I think most U.S. soccer fans, are rooting for Acosta to returning to his full powers with Colorado and force their hand with a real offer from abroad.  If that happens, everybody wins.

Jefferson Savarino has also seen a large step back from last year.  His xG+xA/96 dropped down to 0.34 from 0.50.  His key passes per game dropped from 1.89 to 1.50.  This is a troubling trend for a young attacking talent when value is built on projection and growth. Savarino is still young enough to turn it around and become the man for an Real Salt Lake team, and a consistent striker would go a long way. 

Roldan’s talent has manifested into three national team caps. He’s a local product, still young and on a very friendly contract. But, there is a feeling we’re waiting for Roldan to turn into an elite player, one that should push for All-Star nods. If you look at his passing stats, for example, the the growth isn’t outstanding:

  • Roldan 2017:  11.3 percent usage rate, 82.3 percent pass completion, +3.4 percent vs expected, 4.25 yards forward per pass.
  • Roldan 2018:  10.3 percent usage rate, 82.9 percent pass completion, +1.4 percent vs expected, 2.4 yards forward per pass.

The numbers show Roldan is less involved, making safer passes and not completing at a better rate than last year — not something you necessarily want to see in a very young player.

THIS IS WHAT TAM IS FOR — DEFENSE

59. Leandro González Pírez, Atlanta United – 26; CB; $685,004 (TAM-eligible) 

58. Alexander Callens, New York City FC – 26; CB; $564,000 (TAM-eligible)

Pirez hasn’t fully kept up with his early “Defender of the Year” hype. But LGP’s passing ability plays incredibly well in Atlanta’s system. Pirez has completed the third-most passes in the middle third of the field of any defender (and as many as holding midfielders like Alejandro Bedoya). He’s also completed them at a great rate, 86 percent, nearly 3 percent higher than expected.  But what’s really special is that each completed pass in the middle of the field went for nearly 8.5 yards down the field. This means Pirez is often kick-starting the offense the other way, going across lines like this:

Alexander Callens is one of the few backs who has completed more passes  in the middle third than Pirez.  He’s done it a bit safer, averaging 4 yards per completed pass, but his marking has made NYCFC’s defense so stingy, especially at home.  He’s been tasked with locking down other teams’ best defenders, and he’s done it rather well, giving rise to reactions like this:

THIS IS WHAT TAM IS FOR – OFFENSE

57. Victor Vázquez, Toronto FC – 31; CM; $1,500,000 (TAM-eligible)

56. Roland Lamah, FC Dallas – 30; CM; $818,500 (TAM-eligible)

When MLS introduced Targeted Allocation Money, it was meant to attract high-quality players and to keep talented U.S. nationals in the league. These players have done that at a high level.

Vazquez and Lamah are on this list because of their incredible production. 

Vazquez has trouble staying on the pitch for Toronto. He was Best XI last year, and still plays like it when he’s healthy. He’s also at the maximum level salary without being a designated player and is on the wrong side of thirty.

Lamah, similarly, has been the lynchpin for FC Dallas’ attack. With the loss of Mauro Diaz, he became more important. He’s good at scoring goals and creating chances.

The thing to worry about with Lamah is if this form is sustainable.  Below are his underlying stats per 96 minutes in 2017 versus 2018:

  • 2017:  0.95 shots on target, 1.39 key passes, 0.48 xG+xA
  • 2018: 0.71 shots on target, 1.62 key passes, 0.53 xG+xA

He’s certainly more efficient and creative this year, but in both 2017 and 2018 he greatly outpaced his expected goals.

SALARY CAP SAVIORS

55. Alex Muyl, New York Red Bulls — 22; W; $114,000 (HGP)

54. Julian Gressel, Atlanta United – 24; RWB; $111,250

53.  Marky Delgado, Toronto FC – 23; CM; $230,000

52. Mark Anthony-Kaye, Los Angeles FC – 23; M; $75,000

Alex Muyl wasn’t supposed to be a starter, but he’s been instrumental for the Red Bulls. His xG+xA/96 is 0.59, which is comparable to players like Victor Vazquez.  Even more impressively, his xGoal Chain / 96 is 0.87 is around the same as MVP-level players like Maxi Moralez. He’s one of the top Americans under 25 who is producing, according to American Soccer Analysis:

When the fan XI for the MLS All-Star team was announced, it’s obvious that the Atlanta United fans spent a lot of time ballot stuffing. While Almiron and Martinez are sure-fire All-Star starters, the other four ranged from borderline (Guzan) to comical (Barco). What’s interesting, is that the third best shout for an Atlanta all-star nod, didn’t make the list: Julian Gressel.

Gressel has been outstanding since Day 1 for the club. He’s the Swiss Army Knife for Tata Martino. He can play in the middle. He can play out wide. And I wouldn’t be surprised if he could be backup keeper. Despite playing back much more often this year, Gressel’s impact on the field has been even better:

  • Gressel’s 2017 xGoal Chain /96:  0.39
  • Gressel’s 2018 xGoal Chain /96:  0.57

While the stars of Atlanta, Martinez and Almiron, seem to have an expiration date in MLS, Gressel feels like a player who could be very good in this league for a long time. And when you get All-Star level production from a player making less than $150,000, that is a very valuable trade asset. 

Marky Delgado is often the unsung hero of the Toronto FC side. He was so unsung, I didn’t have him in my top-75 assets entering the season.

Doh! The former Chivas USA academy graduate was good enough in 2017 to get his first senior national team cap, where he impressed with an assist from deep to Tyler Adams.

On a down year for Toronto FC, the underlying numbers for Delgado show he’s becoming even more productive:

  • 2017 Delgado:  0.46 xGoal Chain / 96,  0.29 xBuild Up / 96
  • 2018 Delgado: 0.73 xGoal Chain / 96, 0.58 xBuild Up / 96

These numbers suggest Delgado is more effective and lying deeper in the field. His value is through build-up of play versus providing the final ball. So while Toronto FC might be making some changes in the near future, Delgado’s age and salary means he’ll likely be a big piece moving forward.

Mark Anthony-Kaye is the youngest and cheapest of the Los Angeles FC midfield trio.  The former Toronto FC academy product came to Bob Bradley’s side from Louisville City, and he’s been essential. As of July 17, Anthony-Kay had the team’s highest xG Chain of an absolutely loaded LAFC team. It’s unfortunate he injured his ankle in the latest El Trafico and underwent surgery this month that will keep him out the rest of the regular season.

THIS IS WHAT TAM IS FOR – HOLDING PLAYERS

51. Yoshi Yotun, Orlando City – 28; CDM; $600,000 (TAM-eligible)

50. Darlington Nagbe, Atlanta United – 28; CM; $620,000 (TAM-eligible)

Yoshi Yotun showed better than any MLS player at the World Cup in Russia. In three games for Peru, he displayed talent and composure that would make any MLS neutral proud. 

For Orlando, he’s been excellent.  Here’s an example of his value on the pitch:

His xChain/96 (the sum of expected goals from actions by a player that leads to a shot) is at an impressive 0.98. The next highest player for Orlando, Sacha Kljestan, comes in at 0.81, a difference of 0.17.  For most teams, the difference between the No. 1 and No. 2 players is closer to 0.10. 

This is a fancy way of saying Yotun is by far Orlando’s best player and could potentially be MVP level if he was on a higher-functioning team. Orlando will want to lock him up for a while.

One of the big blockbuster deals within MLS last year was Darlington Nagbe’s move to Atlanta United. Nagbe slid into Atlanta’s lineup easily after his big-money move from Portland. His efficient passing comes with a 90-percent completion rate in the attacking third, which is easily the highest in the league for anyone with more than 100 passes.  Here’s how he compares to similar players:

  • Nagbe:  203 passes in the attacking third; 90.1 percent completion rate
  • Kreilach:  193 passes; 77.2 percent
  • Schweinsteiger: 214 passes; 73.8% percent
  • Ibson, 217 passes; 73.3 percent

Now, all the others play more difficult passes, so the comparison isn’t completely fair. But Nagbe’s tidiness with the ball is tough to match, averaging a competition rate nearly 8 points higher than expected. It was highly effective in Atlanta’s high pace and counterattacking style.

METRONOMES

49. Wil Trapp, Columbus Crew – 25; CDM; $550,004 (TAM-eligible, HGP)

48. Alexander Ring, New York City FC – 26; CDM; $411,666

47. Ilie Sanchez, Sporting Kansas City – 27; CDM; $330,008

46. Artur, Columbus Crew – 22; CDM; $210,000

I have a soft spot for defensive midfielders. In the modern game, they’re the metronomes, controlling the tempo.  They can shield the back line and they can spring counterattacks with passes. All of these players are capable of doing that.

It’s easy to forget Wil Trapp is only 25 years old. He’s been the captain of his hometown club, Columbus Crew, for a while and recently has done the same for the U.S. men’s national team. He’s been on top of the list in passes completed in the middle, and once in a while he can unleash magic:

Trapp also received his Greek passport recently, which makes a European move easier. The Crew recently signed him to an extension, but might have to think about transferring Trapp abroad — especially if he impresses with the national team moving forward. They may feel better about this because Trapp’s partner, Artur, is quality at 21 years old.

In the preseason Trade Value Rankings, I touted Alexander Ring’s importance for NYCFC. It’s his industrious and workmanlike effort in the middle of the field that allows NYCFC to ping the ball around and maintain possession. This is still true today. He’s the metronome that keeps NYCFC going.

Ilie Sanchez is a true revelation this year and is arguably Sporting Kansas City’s best player. He’s near the top of the list in passes completed, but what separates him is how vertical and positive his passing are in all parts of the pitch.  Take a look at the average yards forward for each pass compare to other high-volume passers:

Player: Defensive third average pass forward/ Middle third  /Attacking third 

  • Sánchez:  5.82 / 3.92 / 4.20
  • Saphir Taïder: 2.47 / 1.95 / 0.76
  • Benny Feilhaber:  4.43 / 2.84 / 3.26

Sanchez is doing this while averaging an expected goal chain of 0.63 / 96 minutes. 

FULLBACKS WHO WILL BE IN EUROPE

45. George Bello, Atlanta United — 16; LB; $71,500 (HGP)

44. Reggie Cannon, FC Dallas – 20; RB; $67,500 (HGP)

43. Milton Valenzuela, Columbus Crew — 19; LB; $313,000 (Young DP)

42. Kemar Lawrence, New York Red Bulls – 25; LB; $255,600

41. Michael Murillo, New York Red Bulls – 22; RB; $88,754

OK, this headline is aggressive. But, the first three on this list show high ceilings that could draw European bidders, while the last two already received strong interest from European clubs.

George Bello may not have played a minute in MLS yet, but Adam Belz from Scuffed Podcast ranks him the third best Homegrown prospect in the league.

“What he showed in the early part in USL is convincing,” Belz said. “He’s a technical left back who’s comfortable with the ball, a smart passer and eager to bomb forward.”

At 16, getting professional minutes and looking good is no easy task.

Reggie Cannon has been playing a level above his age as well.  The just-turned-20-year-old logged more than 1,500 minutes as a teenager for FC Dallas this season and played well enough to get a USMNT shout for January next year. 

Like Bello, he loves to bomb forward, but his one-on-one defending has been good as well. Here’s a video showing this ability, shutting down Romell Quioto and sprinting forward:

When Columbus signed Milton Valenzuela on loan with an option to buy, it kicked off a new trend in MLS. Spending legitimate money on getting the rights of talented South American teenagers is the new thing 2018. It’s going so well, that MLS introduced the “Youth Transfer Fund,” which provides teams a mechanism to spend up to $3 million on getting young teenage players.  

Valenzuela is the prototypical player for this initiative. His obvious talent and pedigree (he was on Argentina’s under-20 team) allows an MLS team to buy a high-level starter and then sell for a profit. This only works if Valenzuela can show he’s already an above-average MLS starter at 19. Thankfully for the Crew, that was the case.

This leaves us with the last two: New York Red Bulls starting fullbacks Kemar Lawrence and Michael Amir Murillo. As noted in the last MLS Trade Value Rankings, Lawrence had his fair share of European suitors. Whether it was teams in France or Fenerbace in Turkey pursuing Kemar Lawrence, the Red Bulls have been successful in keeping him and he’s been great this year.

I personally hope Lawrence gets his European wish after this season. This is because for any athlete, there’s a ticking time clock and you never know when it could all end.

That was a scary moment for any fan to watch.

Murillo’s inclusion in the MLS All-Star team was a pleasant surprise. He started in the World Cup for Panama, and while the team was mostly overrun by better competition, Murillo’s talent reportedly attracted large bids from top clubs in Europe, such as PSV Eindhoven for as much as $3 million.

LOTTERY TICKETS – GOLD TIER

40. Andrew Carleton, Atlanta United FC – 18; CAM; $87,400 (HGP)

39. Efrain Alvarez, Los Angeles Galaxy – 16; LW; $72,234 (HGP)

Carleton and Alvarez are the top tier of MLS Academy prospects who haven’t fully broken into the first team yet.  Both played at the Homegrown Game during All-Star week. And with all of the Barco trouble, Carleton has gotten a run of MLS minutes and shown well.

Both are special talents a cut above their peers. Carleton has an attacking flair incredibly rare with American talents. Here’s a clip of his skills at the Under-17 World Cup:

He’s been a little sloppy at the professional level, but has shown well recently in MLS.

Overall, he’s a very special talent Atlanta United brass might be thinking of as a major part of the team in the future.

Efrain Alvarez is the top MLS Academy talent and will almost surely start a recruitment war between Mexico and the U.S. The hype train is full speed. Six goals in your first 400 professional minutes at 16 years old will do that, especially when they’re executed like this:

Or this.

He’s a baller, and he’s doing it for Mexico’s under-17 team as well.  I’m not sure when the Zlatan/Ola/Gio/Alessandrini era will be over, but surely Efra will be next up.

PRODUCTIVE DESIGNATED PLAYERS

38. Ignacio Piatti, Montreal Impact – 33; W; $4,713,333 (DP)

37. Romain Alessandrini, Los Angeles Galaxy – 29; LW; $1,869,996 (DP)

36. Maxi Moralez, New York City FC – 30; CAM; $2,000,000 (DP)

35. Felipe Gutierrez, Sporting Kansas City – 26; CM; $1,650,000 (DP)

Ignacio Piatti was surprisingly in the rumor mill earlier this season. Montreal was struggling and its owner, Joey Saputo, said nobody was off limits, including his talisman Piatti. A combination of Piatti’s advanced age and extremely large salary make that a possibility. Still, Piatti is clearly one of the top players in the league and still moves like a much younger athlete.

His goals and assists output is very strong and his expected goal chains are still top-10 in the league. In any given game, he can be the best player on the pitch, which is imperative for a designated player. And if you look at the advanced statistics, you don’t even see a dip in form:

  • 2016: 0.68 goals + direct assists per 96 minutes
  • 2017: 0.84 goals + direct assists per 96 minutes
  • 2018: 0.92 goals + direct assists per 96 minutes

Much of the 2018 numbers are coming from direct assists, which shows Piatti’s playmaking ability. We all know players age differently. Wayne Rooney is 32 and Cristiano Ronaldo is 33. Still, no matter how great Piatti is, Father Time is undefeated and it might soon start making him look normal.

Alessandrini is part of a crowded front line for the LA Galaxy, but recently he’s shown he can be the second most important player on a team making some noise. Here’s a clip of Alessandrini excellent play recently:

If you look at the underlying statistics below, it seems Alessandrini isn’t slowing down at all. And at his age and relatively friendly salary (in the Galaxy sense), he’s a top asset even as a DP:

  • 2017 Alessandrini per 96:  0.62 xG+xA, 0.48 goals, 0.41 direct assists
  • 2018 Alessandrini per 96: 0.70 xG+xA, 0.40 goals, 0.40 direct assists

With David Villa out injured in the middle of the season, Maxi Moralez has really stepped up and probably deserves some accolades for potential MVP. He’s led the charge for NYCFC, which is among the top teams in the league for points per game (1.91). He’s averaged 0.85 xGoal Chain per 96 minutes, which is good for top-10 in the league. To date, he’s scored 8 goals and 12 assists and has already outdone his 2017 performance.

Injuries have been the only thing to slow down Felipe Gutierrez, since arriving at Kansas City. He was a complete dynamo on the field, scoring goals, breaking up plays and handing out passes. He was deservedly the player of the month in March:

If he continues to bring that quality now that he’s back from injury, Sporting Kansas City is a threat for MLS Cup. And unlike the other members on this list, Guti has a fair amount of transfer value left.

YOUNG CENTERBACKS WORTH THEIR WEIGHT IN GOLD

34. Matt Hedges, FC Dallas – 27; CB; $525,000 (TAM-eligible)

33. Ike Opara, Sporting Kansas City – 29; CB; $342,916

32. Walker Zimmerman, Los Angeles FC – 25; CB; $235,000

31. Justen Glad, Real Salt Lake– 21; CB; $291,700 (HGP)

After the Tim Parker trade at the beginning of the season, someone wise stated the value of young, talented CBs in this league:

It’s why Ike Opara is so high on this list, even after regressing a bit from his MLS Best XI form last year.

It’s why Matt Hedges was so valued by FC Dallas, even after having a down year, and now is back in form.

It’s also why LAFC is still happy about getting Walker Zimmerman for what was nearly 3/4 of a million dollars in assets.

If you can develop your own top prospect, like Real Salt Lake did with Justen Glad, that’s even better.  A year ago, Glad was a borderline top-10 asset in the league, but he’s slipped in this updated ranking. That’s because Glad hasn’t made the leap many expected him to this year. Instead of him being a borderline All-Star, Glad has been a beacon of inconsistency, ranging from excellent:

To frustratingly weak on the ball and prone to mistakes. Glad’s upside is as high as anyone else on this list, but his next step is being a consistent lock-down defender.

The final top 30 assets in the league are up next! Stay tuned next week.

 

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