Darlington Nagbe - Atlanta United - Close up

MLSsoccer.com's Andrew Wiebe runs the rule over the biggest news of the trade window.

Nagbe, Porter reunite in Columbus

The rumblings started during preseason: Darlington Nagbe wanted to be back in Ohio. It didn’t work out then, but the worst-kept offseason secret in MLS is now official. The time has come for yet another Nagbe-Caleb Porter reunion, this time with the Crew.

Atlanta United traded the 29-year-old to his preferred destination ahead of Wednesday’s trade deadline for $1.05 million in allocation money and an international roster spot, the same total amount the Five Stripes sent to Portland for the US men's national team midfielder in Dec. 2017. This time the split was $700,000 in Targeted Allocation Money, $150,000 in General Allocation Money, a 2020 international roster spot and $200,000 in TAM in 2021.

The price is high, but Nagbe’s talent is unquestioned – the best possession player in MLS, in my book – and his presence gives Porter the piece he coveted to build around in midfield, an area of the squad that could undergo significant change this offseason.

The Athletic’s Sam Stejskal reported last week that Columbus were listening to offers for Wil Trapp, who sources said would prefer a transfer outside the league. David Guzman, another former Timber, is out of contract. Artur started 28 games, but could be a tantalizing trade chip should Porter and GM Tim Bezbatchenko decide for a complete overhaul.

The Crew lost just twice in their final 13 games, but there is work to do to return them to the playoffs and assemble a squad that fits Porter’s preferred style of play. Nagbe was simply the logical starting point. Now that he’s in the bag, Columbus can work forward from there.

As for Atlanta, they’ve now got TAM to work with in order to find Nagbe’s replacement. There may be more roster holes to fill this offseason. Julian Gressel’s desire for a new contract went public during the playoffs, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last week that Gressel and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez are in similar boats in regard to their 2020 options.

Those are big decisions on a pair of starters, plus Emerson Hyndman’s loan is also set to end, and Hector Villalba has talent and a TAM contract going to waste on Frank de Boer’s bench. It appears the Five Stripes are set to be constructed in a way that better fits the Dutchman’s vision. What that means for the current squad as well as new additions, we’ll find out in the coming months.

Why Quintero's move makes sense

Anyone who follows Darwin Quintero on Instagram knew his time in Minnesota was up after 2019, even if it took a little bit of time for his trade to Houston — officially announced on Wednesday evening — to go through. The Colombian was electric on arrival in the Twin Cities, fell out of favor with Adrian Heath and was subsequently benched for the U.S. Open Cup final and playoff match against the LA Galaxy.

It was, it seemed clear, in everyone’s best interest to move on. Time for new pastures for Quintero – and time for Minnesota to get as much as they could in the trade market for a 32-year-old whose “disappointing” season still amounted to 16 goals and six assists in all competitions.

Houston emerged as the odds-on destination for the Colombian last week, and on Wednesday Sam Stejskal and Jeff Rueter of The Athletic first reported that a trade involving a “sizable amount of TAM” was pending contingent on a new contract agreement between Quintero and the Dynamo. MLSsoccer.com's Tom Bogert later confirmed it

ESPN's Jeff Carlisle and Bogert reported that the total amount of allocation money exchanged would exceed $500,000, with The Athletic subsequently reporting that Minnesota would receive $300,000 each of GAM and TAM ($150,000 each in 2020 and 2021), as well as right back Marlon Hairston, in exchange for Quintero and a 2020 3rd round SuperDraft pick; the clubs later confirmed those details in their official announcements.

There’s still a long offseason ahead, but for the time being Tab Ramos has a front five of Quintero, Mauro Manotas, Alberth Elis, Christian Ramirez and Romell Quioto. Even if Manotas or Elis is sold or Quioto traded, Houston now have credible cover at both center forward and on the wing. If Ramos can get through to Quintero and get him back to 2018 form, the Dynamo could have a Best XI-level performer on their hands.

Minnesota, meanwhile, now have an open DP spot and an allocation money haul headed into an offseason in which they must address the scoring issues that scuttled their first-ever playoff appearance. Quintero was the only double-digit scorer on the roster. Ethan Finlay had seven goals from the wing, and Mason Toye and Angelo Rodriguez combined for 11.

It’s a move that makes sense for all parties involved, now all that’s left to do is see how the other dominos involved fall in the coming months.

Nashville quietly, efficiently taking shape

There is but one guarantee for expansion teams. Their roster moves, their team-building strategy, their on-field results will be compared, fairly or otherwise, to those who came before them.

So it was for FC Cincinnati and LAFC. So it was for Minnesota and Atlanta United. So it was for Orlando City and NYCFC. So it will be for Nashville SC and Inter Miami (and the parade of teams lined up after 2020).

Nashville were the busier of the two on Tuesday, taking advantage of the open trade window to acquire veteran midfielder Dax McCarty from the Chicago Fire for $100,000 in allocation money and a 2021 SuperDraft pick, and defender Dave Romney from the LA Galaxy for $225,000 in General Allocation Money.

They’re impact moves – let’s say 1.5 starters – from general manager Mike Jacobs, who has been on a heater since August, when he landed Hany Mukhtar, the club’s first Designated Player, and followed up a month later by snagging Costa Rican international Randall Leal from Saprissa as a Young DP.

Extratime discusses the McCarty and Romney trades prior to them being official

It’s a far cry from July – before McCarty, Romney, Leal and Mukhtar – when pundits (MLS soccer dot com included) were openly wondering whether Nashville would spend their first year closer to Minnesota United (moments to remember but a fatal flaw) or Cincinnati (coaching change, bottom of the table by 10 points). In other words, most figured they were destined for a rude awakening.

The $650,000 in GAM sent to San Jose for Anibal Godoy felt like a overpay. Another $450,000 for David Accam? Might have been a stretch, too. Both 29 years old, both injured in 2019 and seemingly on the downslope of their prime. Derrick Jones has something special, but only 11 MLS starts to his name. How much is reasonable to expect from Daniel Rios (Best XI for Nashville in the USL Championship) or Cameron Lancaster (25 goals for Louisville in 2018)?

Those were, are and will be question marks to varying degrees. But they’re not the only names on the roster anymore. The picture is becoming a little clearer. Here’s Matt Doyle:

Wiebe, I’ve said this to you before face-to-face and I’ll say it again here: I like a lot of what Nashville have done in building this team so far. A deep-lying midfield trio of two veterans (Dax and Anibal Godoy) and a high-upside young player (Derrick Jones) is a nice starting point, and I’m betting on both Leal and Mukhtar to be above-average MLS players at their respective positions. They obviously still have to sort out the entire defense and center forward, but I’m in on that midfield core.

McCarty ought to help keep things steady. Nashville is a fresh start on the field – his first expansion experience as he prepares for his 15th year in the league – and a comfortable landing spot for his young family given the proximity to his hometown of Orlando. He’s 32 years old, but he’s started at least 25 games every single season since 2010. Captain material.

Some context … McCarty cost Nashville $300,000 less than Benny Feilhaber two years ago. He cost $100,000 less than the discovery rights to Emerson Hyndman last summer. Nashville paid the same price Atlanta did for Mo Adams and Columbus for Romario Williams. He cost less than a lot of teams paid for international roster spots!

So why did he come relatively cheaply? Chicago wanted a fresh start, too, more concerned with shedding McCarty’s TAM contract from the books than getting a massive haul in return. He wanted to go to Nashville, they wanted the cap space and the deal got done. They did right by the veteran and continued building roster flexibility. That’s now McCarty, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Nemanja Nikolic and, I’m guessing at some point, Aleksandar Katai and Nico Gaitan out ahead of the Fire’s downtown move.

Romney isn’t exactly Ike Opara, but he’s left-footed and can play outside back and center back. At 26, he’s entering his prime with 69 career starts and 6,520 minutes played. His cap hit in 2019 barely hit six digits. He’s basically Nick Hagglund – same age, same level of experience when traded – but cheaper and better on the ball. He ought to benefit from leaving the Galaxy’s defensive chaos behind. It won’t be a disaster if he plays 2,000 minutes.

It’s early still, but the prevailing narrative around Nashville is changing. And yes, it helps when you sign proven players.

No, they’re not going to be as “sexy” as Atlanta or LAFC, who dropped eight figures on incoming transfers, but Nashville have a plan. Jacobs knows what a winning organization looks like from his years in Kansas City. What they lack in flash, they make up for with a quiet confidence and a faith they’re following a sustainable path to success.

How about a little context via comparison. Such is the fate of an expansion team, after all.

FC Cincinnati spent $3.2 million in allocation, an international roster spot and the No. 1 spot in the allocation order to acquire the following eight players, all MLS veterans, ahead of the 2019 season: Fanendo Adi, Fatai Alashe, Alvas Powell, Victor Ulloa, Kendall Waston, Greg Garza, Kekuta Manneh and Hagglund.

How’d that investment pay off for Cincy? Only Waston, Ulloa and Hagglund started more than 20 games. Only Manneh scored more than one goal. The whole front office turned over.

How about LAFC? Walker Zimmerman, Lee Nguyen, Tristan Blackmon, Feilhaber and Christian Ramirez cost $2.7 million in allocation and the No. 1 spot in the allocation order. Two of those players are no longer in LA. Ramirez was traded for a fraction of the purchase price. Only Zimmerman is a lock starter going into 2020.

McCarty, Romney, the rights to Mukhtar, Jones, Accam and Godoy cost Nashville $1.55 million in GAM, $150,000 in TAM and a 2021 second-round SuperDraft pick. They’ve got another $1.5 million to spend before they match the FCC’s outlay. Another million or so before they hit LAFC’s trade spend.

In other words, they’re not done. Not even close.

There’s still goalscoring to address (kinda important), an entire backline outside Romney, a goalkeeper, depth across the board. They still have the Expansion Draft to navigate. SuperDraft, too. They’ve still got a DP spot to play with, plus the No. 1 spot in the allocation order. They’ve still got all their Targeted Allocation Money socked away.

There is still work to be done, but Nashville are writing their own narrative now. Their 2020 story will be written over the next 12 months. There is just one guarantee. It’ll all be subject to comparison.