Kwadwo Poku was one of the few players who could bring Yankee Stadium to its feet, who could make the fans chant his name week in, week out.
And yet here we are, a year-and-a-half after he first joined NYCFC, and one of the Bronx’s cult heroes has quietly moved on.
It may seem like a head-scratcher if you were one of the fans that bought into the Poku hype – and most of us did, to some degree. But rest assured: This move was best for NYCFC and best for Poku.
Starting with NYCFC, the transfer must have been a no-brainer for sporting director Claudio Reyna and his staff. SI.com’s Grant Wahl reported that the Miami FC paid a transfer fee in the $750,000 range, meaning that two-thirds of that would go to New York as allocation money.
If that figure is accurate, that means the club just got about $500,000 that it can now use to improve its roster in any number of ways. That means bringing in another player (or two) to take Poku’s spot, or buying down salaries to create more room in the salary budget.
To get that kind of roster flexibility by selling a player who barely sees the field for your team is the dream of any MLS GM. It’s no wonder Reyna, Vieira and company jumped at this opportunity.
And if you, the NYCFC fan, are looking for another young player to get behind, look no further than rookie Jack Harrison. The young Englishman is not exactly an unknown quantity in the way Poku was – he was the No. 1 pick in this year’s SuperDraft, after all. But he has already shown that he lends a spark to the game any time he’s on the field. Look no further than his first MLS assist, where he used his blazing speed to draw two defenders to him before deftly backheeling to David Villa for the finish.
You may be surprised to learn, even, that Harrison has now surpassed Poku for minutes played in an NYCFC jersey this regular season. He's earned 277 minutes to Poku’s 268 despite making his 2016 debut nearly two months later.
The transfer comes as little surprise, then, given that Vieira has clearly made his thoughts on Poku known. While an unquestionably talented player, he has not always shown the drive in training needed to earn a starting spot. On the field, Poku's impact has been markedly reduced from last season as well, with MLS defenses learning to adapt to his game.
This is not to say Poku is a bad player. Far from it, in fact. But he is getting to the stage of his career where he needs to play game in, game out, which was clearly not going to be option in New York. And that – along with a reportedly steep pay bump – is why this move makes sense at this juncture of his career.
He goes back to a league where he has excelled as a starter, and where he will reportedly make a good deal more than he made with NYCFC. He will be able to learn the finer points of the game from head coach Alessandro Nesta, one of the greatest defenders of his generation and an MLS veteran. He'll also get to rub shoulders with players who still possess plenty of European and MLS experience.
And who knows? If Poku shows us the kind of form that he showed in 2014 with the Atlanta Silverbacks, and demonstrates an ability to improve on the rougher parts of the game, we may just be seeing Poku back on MLS fields sooner rather than later.