Voices: Andrew Wiebe

Three most interesting MLS winter transfer window moves so far | Andrew Wiebe

Remi Walter - Nice - Ligue 1 game

You’ve got to be patient with the transfer window. It’s a crescendo, not a sustained forte.

Moves build as the rhythm of the market establishes itself and deadline pressure increases. For every note played, there is a response. For every harmony, there is discord. Depending on your perspective, you may hear a beautiful melody or ungodly din. By the end of it all, the collective force of the business concluded is obvious to all involved, no matter the final composition.

We’re still in the beginnings of the process this January, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t memorable notes to reflect upon. Here are three of the moves that have caught my eye. 

Corey Baird to LAFC

The release hit our inboxes on Monday morning: Baird, a Real Salt Lake homegrown with three pro seasons, 15 goals and 13 assists and a couple of USMNT caps under his belt, was traded to LAFC for $500,000 in General Allocation Money (GAM) that’s split over 2021 and 2022. There’s an international roster spot and future considerations going to RSL, too.

First impression? There’s gotta be trickle-down here, for both sides.

LAFC are getting a versatile attacker – Baird could conceivably play all three spots across Bob Bradley’s frontline – and a fringe US national teamer who’s about to turn 25 years old and enter his prime. He’ll be a complementary attacking piece, and I mean that in the best way. Baird makes smart, hard runs. It’s a big reason why he got USMNT call-ups. He’s a better finisher than he’s shown during the past year or so, and he understands and is committed to two-way forward play.

That sounds like an instant recipe for success in LAFC’s system, now and for many years to come. Carlos Vela will be the alpha and omega, leaving Baird to simply orbit. If he does what Bradley asks of him, his production will skyrocket from two goals and four assists in 2020, his least productive professional season so far. Put me on the record for 15 combined goals and assists in 2021 (all comps) for Baird. Call it the LAFC effect (and the need to rest Vela).

Here’s the catch: That prediction is going to look silly if Baird doesn’t play significant minutes, and right now his path is somewhat blocked. The trickle-down is the speculation about the future of LAFC front three. What does this move signify, if anything, about Diego Rossi and Brian Rodriguez’s futures? Is one – or perhaps both – likely to move in this window? Perhaps the summer? We’ll have to wait and see. Even if they do, LAFC ought to roll right along with smart moves like this.

On the RSL side, it has to be painful for supporters to see a homegrown sent on his way. The allocation haul is solid, but it’s not jaw-dropping. I can’t help but wonder whether another attacking piece is on the line and needs to be paid for … and how the club’s spending profile might change with new ownership. At the very least, this means Young Designated Player Jeizon Ramirez is going to get his shot. The 19-year-old Venezuelan played 80 minutes in his first season in Utah. 

That is … not enough. The path to playing time is now open, and RSL have some GAM to play with. Will they make it matter?

FC Dallas go to Colombia for goals, and to Spain to keep them out

The moves were quiet in the wider MLS world, but you can blame the holidays for that, not necessarily the quality of the players.

How’s this for bullet-point résumés: The Colombian league’s second-leading scorer (from the wing, no less!) and a left-footed La Liga central defender who started 23 games for the division’s 7th-place club in 2019-20. On the surface, those profiles fit what FC Dallas need most this winter. 

Santiago Mosquera and Fafa Picault (traded to Houston) are gone, and Luchi Gonzalez needed another goal-dangerous attacker anyway. Step in Jader Obrian, who hit double digits in back-to-back seasons for Rionegro Aguilas. Obrian is direct – in other words, the 25-year-old is fast as hell and likes to play vertically – and he’s a late bloomer in front of goal (he also has an interesting stop-start penalty technique). He mostly played on the right wing the last two seasons, which is Michael Barrios territory. Competition is good, and perhaps Paxton Pomykal, who must prove he can stay healthy, and Dante Sealy, still 17 years old, can hold down the left side.

Meanwhile, Reto Zeigler and his magical left peg are gone, leaving a gaping hole next to Matt Hedges in terms of both contributions and leadership. Enter Jose Antonio Martinez, soon to be 28 and in desperate need of new surroundings. Eibar signed him from Barca B in 2018 but apparently weren't interested in playing him. They immediately loaned him to Granada, where he helped the club get promoted and started half their games in an incredible debut La Liga season. Yet it was back to Eibar, where he’s been rooted to the bench. Time for a fresh start. 

So will these very-good-on-paper moves work out for FC Dallas? We’re about to judge their scouting network in real-time once a ball is kicked.

New defensive midfielder in Kansas City

Free is good. 

Remi Walter was free and has a résumé that suggests he shouldn’t have been. So what’s the deal? Circumstances matter. Walter’s circumstance was that when Ligue 1 playing time at Nice dried up, he moved to Turkey. Unfortunately, that move coincided with the pandemic. The move didn’t work out for Walter.

That opened the door for Sporting Kansas City and Peter Vermes to acquire a 25-year-old central midfielder who can play as a No. 6 or provide more of a box-to-box presence. Walter will require an international spot, but he won’t require TAM. The ex-France youth international comes into a team that needs fresh legs and competition in the positions he plays while he needs opportunity and stability. Seems like a good mix, but only time will tell.