Major League Soccer’s salary and roster structures being what they are, sometimes straightforward-looking transactions can hold hidden depths of complexity beneath the surface.
That may be the case with Saturday’s unexpected swap between Vancouver and Orlando City, which sent Brek Shea northwest and has Giles Barnes heading for Florida in return. Though we might not know for a while yet, it seems likely there’s more going on here than just a winger trading places with a striker.
First off: There’s real opportunity here for all parties here, even if it means a third team in six months for Barnes and the departure of a fan favorite from Orlando. Shea’s No. 20 jersey has been one of the Lions' top sellers since their arrival in MLS, but his fortunes in purple took a turn for the worse in 2016. After starting 17 out of Orlando's first 18 league games, inconsistency and injury saw him drift out of the first 11 and he made just two starts over the final two months of the campaign.
A change of scenery – including the exploration of some new fishing spots – could do him good.
Meanwhile, a roving, hybrid sort like Barnes probably fits into Lions coach Jason Kreis’ tactical outlook quite comfortably, and the Jamaican-Englishman has already expressed excitement about playing home games on a natural surface again.
Based on their reported salary numbers, this trade could give the Whitecaps a bit of extra wiggle room in cap terms, and might help clear the decks for the signing of Atiba Hutchinson as a Designated Player, as The Province’s Patrick Johnston noted on Saturday evening. The Canadian international midfielder would bring a useful box-to-box toolset to BC Place and has been mentioned a lot lately as a contender for a high-profile CanMNT homecoming.
Robbo has alternated between a 4-2-3-1, a by-the-book 4-4-2 and derivations like 4-4-1-1 of late, and it’s no accident that this deal gives him more flexibility in that regard, not less. Expect to see Manneh in a central attacking role; he’s played plenty there this preseason.
In more personal terms, Shea – who Robinson conspicuously stated would “bring a different dimension to our attack” in Vancouver’s announcement of the trade – may find a helpful blend of challenge and comfort at his new club. An unconventional character who marches to his own tune without craving the spotlight, Shea will be in the mix for minutes and could even become an everyday starter. But he won’t have to carry the hefty weight of expectations that he did as a showcase acquisition in Orlando.
For both players, this change of address provides personal motivation at the dawn of a new season. If Barnes and Shea can prove themselves to their new coaches and teammates, rapid reward may arrive in the form of regular playing time – and maybe enhanced national-team opportunities this summer, with both Jamaica and the US taking part in the Gold Cup.
And sometimes a burning desire to prove your old team wrong can be the greatest motivator of all.