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Regrading MLS blockbuster deals of 2018

Apr 29, 2018; Los Angeles , CA, USA; Los Angeles FC defender Laurent Ciman (23) celebrates after scoring a free kick in the 90th minute against the Seattle Sounders during a MLS soccer match in the first game at Banc of California Stadium. LAFC defeated the Sounders 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The first transfer window of 2018 came with major blockbuster deals.  There were a lot of hot takes on the date of the trades but now that we’re about a third of the way through the season, we have enough data to see which teams may have gotten the upper hand.

Below are the biggest trades that involved players on both sides and my grade to each team for the trade.

All salary numbers are from MLS Players Union as of May 1, 2018, and advanced statistics are from American Soccer Analysis and as of June 5, 2018.

Big Trade No. 1

Montreal Impact get Raheem Edwards and Jukka Raitala; Los Angeles FC gets Laurent Ciman

The Numbers

  • Ciman, D,  32 years old, $661,666 salary. Stats: 1,080 minutes played, 2.3 tackles, 2.6 interceptions and 3.8 clearances / game, 2 goals scored. 1 Team of the Week appearance.
  • Edwards, W, 22, $55,654. Stats: 672 minutes. 2 goals, 0.35 xG+xA / 96 minutes, 0.71 key passes / 96 minutes.
  • Raitala, D, 29, $241,670. Stats: 1248 minutes. 1.4 tackles, 2.4 interceptions and 3.1 clearances / game, 1 assist.

The Takeaway

The initial reaction to this trade was one of shock from Ciman, who originally moved to MLS and Canada due to his daughter’s health care needs. Ciman was legitimately the best defender in the league in 2015 and an All-Star in 2016, but his form declined in 2017.

In this trade, Montreal, under new leadership of Remi Garde, downgraded its starting centerback from Ciman to Raitala in exchange for saving roughly $360,000 in salary and adding an intriguing prospect in former Toronto FC academy product Edwards.

Since the trade, a rejuvenated Ciman has anchored LAFC’s backline toward a mediocre, if not respectable, 1.61 goals against per game.  While that may not seem impressive, it is honestly much better than most pundits would have expected going into the season.  And they’ve been much improved since LAFC moved into its new home at Banc of California stadium and Ciman’s centerback partner, Walker Zimmerman, has been healthy. Add that to Ciman’s newfound talent in free kicks and a Team of the Week performance, and LAFC has to be incredibly happy with this trade.

Ciman may not be the best defender in the league, but he’s still very good, enough so to be an alternate in Belgium’s incredibly talented 2018 World Cup squad.

This year was always going to be a rebuilding year for Montreal, so the original strategy of this trade made sense. But even with that context, this year has been a disaster with a miserable 2.42 goals against per game. Even so, I think Montreal fans would forgive this if Edwards showed he can be an asset in this league as a starter. Unfortunately, so far he’s been a mixed bag at best, with Remi Garde calling out Edwards for work ethic and desire. 

That’s not to say, there haven’t been some signs of life. Edwards has pushed up to winger as opposed to fullback with Toronto FC, and he’s seen his xG+xA/96 go up from 0.24 to 0.35. He’s also bagged a game-winning goal despite limited minutes. It’s still not enough, though, and for Montreal to feel good about this trade in the future, they will need Edwards to prove he’s an above-average MLS starter on the wing.

The Verdict

Montreal Impact:  D+

Los Angeles FC: B+


Big Trade No. 2

Orlando City gets Sacha Kljestan and $150,000 General Allocation Money; New York Red Bulls get Carlos Rivas and Tommy Redding.

The Numbers

  • Kljestan, M, 32, $1.1 million. Stats: 1058 minutes, 2 goals, 4 assists, 0.62 xG+xA/96, 3.09 key passes /96. 1 Team of the Week appearance.
  • Redding, D, 20, $147,500. Stats: 90 minutes played in quite possibly the worst CB performance of 2018.
  • Rivas, W, 23, $445,000. Stats: 286 minutes, 2 goals, 0.54xG+xA/96, 0.67 key passes /96.

The Takeaway

This is an incredibly strange trade. It’s not strange because it was the second year in a row that the New York Red Bulls traded away their captain and MLS Best XI player. Nor is it strange for being a trade that made both teams arguably better. It’s strange because while at the end it made both teams better, it’s also one where one team hosed the other one in terms of asset value.

Kljestan has been an assist machine since returning to MLS from Belgium. He’s the only player not named Valderamma to have 20 assists in a year. And while Kljestan might be just past his prime and commanded a raise that added him to the list of MLS millionaires, he’s still coming off a 2017 where he had 17 assists. His trade value, depending if your comp is Benny Feilhaber or Lee Nguyen, was roughly between $400,000 to $700,000. So it raised eyebrows that Kljestan was traded to an Eastern Conference rival not for that amount of allocation money, but for two players where New York actually gave money the other way.

Kljestan’s raw numbers so far in Orlando haven’t been as prolific as 2017.  But his underlying numbers have been good. His expected goals and assists this year (0.62/96) is higher than 2017 (0.50/96).  There’s also no doubt that Orlando is better this year and Kljestan is a piece of that.  There can be gripes to say if Kljestan is living up to his Designated Player tag, but Orlando City fans have to feel good about this deal.

Trading away Kljestan meant guaranteed playing time for homegrown Sean Davis, much like trading away Dax McCarty opened up time for Tyler Adams. The playmaking responsibilities shifted to new signee Kaku, who’s more dynamic and has been putting up historic numbers. It’s not debatable that the Red Bulls are better this year because of it and they saved a prospective half a million in salary.

But from an asset value standpoint, the players sent to the Red Bulls should be worth $550,000 – $850,000.  This is simply not the case. Tommy Redding arguably put in the worst 90 minute shift from a centerback in MLS this year. With his age, it can be argued he’s still an asset if he develops in the United Soccer League with NYRB II, but he hasn’t gotten any playing time either. In Orlando, he was highly valued as “the future of the club” and performed well with regular playing time. It doesn’t help that Redding’s salary is twice as high as starter Aaron Long’s, which leads me to believe that his trade value now is minimal.  Same can be said of Rivas, who has played some useful minutes but is getting paid like a top starter in the league.

The Verdict

Orlando City:  B (in both value and effect on team)

New York Red Bulls:  A- (effect on team), D- (value)


Big Trade No. 3

Los Angeles Galaxy get Ola Kamara; Columbus Crew get Gyasi Zardes and $400,000 Targeted Allocation Money (potentially $100,000 more if Kamara scores 12 goals).

The Numbers

  • Kamara, F, 28, $925,000. Stats: 1079 minutes, 5 goals, 0 assists, 0.74 xG+xA/96, 1.51 key passes /96.
  • Zardes, F, 26, $630,000. Stats: 1328 minutes, 9 goals, 0 assists, 0.83 xG+xA/96, 0.96 key passes /96. 1 Team of the Week.

The Takeaway

This trade proves it’s not always the player’s quality that matters, but also how well a player can fit into a club’s system. 2017 Gyasi Zardes was so bad at striker that he was going to be converted to a wingback in LA.  With Columbus and Gregg Berhalter’s system, he’s now in the running for the Golden Boot. It isn’t just about finishing chances. In LA, Zardes rarely found himself in dangerous positions, leading to a meager 0.28 xG + xA per 96 minutes. In 2018, that stat has jumped up to 0.83 expected goals and assists and Zardes is a critical piece of a top team in the East

The signing of Ola Kamara in LA was overshadowed by the eventual signing of Zlatan Ibrahimović. Much has been written about how Zlatan’s presence has forced Kamara to play out of position. But when you look at the underlying numbers, Kamara’s play has been about at the same level as with Columbus the year prior.

  • 2017 Ola Kamara – 0.69 xG + xA / 96 minutes, 0.83 key passes per 96 minutes.
  • 2018 Ola Kamara – 0.74 xG + xA / 96 minutes, 1.51 key passes per 96 minutes.

That still doesn’t change that Gyasi Zardes is having a better year, costs less and is on a better team than Kamara this year — and that’s all you have to know to see who won this trade.

The Verdict

Los Angeles Galaxy:  C-

Columbus Crew: A


Big Trade No. 4

New York Red Bulls get Tim Parker; Vancouver Whitecaps get Felipe, $500,000 TAM and an international roster spot.

The Numbers

  • Parker, D, 25, $115,935. Stats: 810 minutes, 1.8 tackles, 2.1 interceptions, 4.3 clearances per 90 minutes, 1 assist, 2 Team of the Weeks.
  • Felipe, M, 27, $425,000. Stats: 1186 minutes, 1.1 tackles, 1 interceptions per 90 minutes, 6 assists, 2.44 key passes per 96 minutes.

The Takeaway

When this trade was announced, my opinion was that the New York Red Bulls overpaid for Tim Parker. I was wrong. Parker has been the perfect fit within the Red Bulls’ system, which requires the mobility to high press and to distribute effectively out of the back. Parker’s play has been the rock in the back the Red Bulls have lacked since Matt Miazga was sold to Chelsea for millions of dollars.

Parker’s stellar play resulted in him getting called up to the United States men’s national team for friendlies in June, two Team of the Week picks and almost certainly getting All-Star recognition. The Red Bulls will certainly try to re-sign Parker to a deal that will pay him much closer to his value and should be north of $500,000/year.

The cost for Parker was high, and Vancouver recouped a large amount of assets. On top of the $500,000 in TAM, the Whitecaps received an international spot (valued between $100,000 – $175,000) and Felipe, an automatic starter in his prime. 

Once the heart and grit of the Red Bulls midfield, Felipe has now become more involved at the offensive end:

  • Felipe 2017 – 2961 minutes, 30 key passes, 5 assists
  • Felipe 2018 – 1185 minutes, 33 key passes, 6 assists

In about a third of the season, Felipe’s offensive output has already surpassed all of 2017.  Felipe is a very good MLS starter and has been balling this year. But Felipe likely won’t ever be at the All-Star level Parker has been playing at this year, which makes New York’s investment worth it.

The Verdict

New York Red Bulls:  A (assuming Parker re-signs)

Vancouver Whitecaps: B+




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