It's always fun to look back at the personnel moves that had the biggest impact, which is exactly what we aim to do by ranking the most important trades of 2019.
A majority of these picks were done early enough in the year to have fine effect on the 2019 season, but there are a few late entries that make the list with an eye solely toward the future.
Before we dive into the countdown, let's tip our cap to the honorable mention pick-ups and the teams that bartered for their services: Derrick Jones (Nashville SC), Brooks Lennon (Atlanta United), Dax McCarty (Nashville SC) and Justin Meram (Atlanta United).
No. 10 Real Salt Lake lands Zac MacMath
Zac MacMath in action with the Vancouver Whitecaps | USA Today Sports Images
With club icon Nick Rimando hanging up his gloves at season's end, Real Salt Lake were in need of a new starting netminder. For the piddly sum of $50,000 in Targeted Allocation Money, they grabbed an experienced, quietly steady 'keeper to smooth out the transition. Over his last 101 starts spanning seven seasons, Zac MacMath has a goals against-expected goals against (GA-xGA) almost exactly at zero. That means he typically stops the shots he's supposed to stop, which should be just the tonic for an RSL team that is stingy at conceding chances (only 12.8 shots allowed per game in 2019).
No. 9 Minnesota United acquire 15th overall SuperDraft pick
Ah, the last-minute draft day trade-up. It seems like such a crapshoot maneuver, and yet it actually pays off rather often (see: Mason Toye, Jeremy Ebobisse, Cristian Roldan, Will Bruin, etc.). On this occasion, Minnesota swapped a measly $50,000 to Chicago in order to grab Chase Gasper midway through the first round of the SuperDraft. All the left back did was put in a rookie season good enough (nearly seven defensive stops and one key pass per game) to help the Loons achieve their first playoff berth and earn himself a USMNT call-up in November.
No. 8 Jonathan Lewis to Colorado Rapids
Jonathan Lewis had a breakout season with the Rapids | USA Today Sports Images
The Rapids spent $650K plus an international roster spot to rescue the young winger away from New York City FC, where his pitch time had a habit of drying up despite solid production. Jonathan Lewis then enjoyed more minutes on the field in 16 Colorado outings (899) than he had in more than two years in the Bronx (776), and responded with five goals and three assists. It seems likely the US international is only getting started in the Rockies. Spoiler alert: This is far from the last time the Rapids will be mentioned in the list.
No. 7 Atlanta United acquire Emerson Hyndman
Though only in existence for three seasons, Atlanta United have quickly become known for shrewd dealing. This past summer, they shipped $200,000 to FC Dallas in order to secure Emerson Hyndman on loan from Bournemouth. The youngster fit in right away and ended up making 14 starts in 21 appearances on the way to raising a pair of trophies. Hyndman scored to cap their US Open Cup semifinal win at Orlando City and bagged the fast opener in their Campeones Cup defeat of Club America. And for an encore, he completed a permanent move to the Five Stripes, where he looks set for a greatly enhanced role due to the departure we'll discuss next.
No. 6 Columbus Crew SC land Darlington Nagbe
After missing the postseason, the Crew wasted little time reinforcing their squad. Three days after MLS Cup, they reunited head coach Caleb Porter with former Akron and Timbers charge Darlington Nagbe by sending an allocation money package in excess of $1 million to Atlanta United. It was a bold move for a team that likes to use possession as a cudgel. By teaming the two-time MLS Cup winner with Wil Trapp, they will now have two of the league's best midfield distributors to keep their flank runners and new playmaker Lucas Zelarayan well-fed.
No. 5 Colorado acquire fifth overall SuperDraft pick
Remember the 15th SuperDraft pick we mentioned above? Before it ever got to Minnesota, Colorado used that very same pick (along with $100,000 in allocation cash) as bait in a trade up for Chicago's fifth overall selection. The Rapids did that for the express purpose of grabbing Andre Shinyashiki out of the University of Denver. Of course, the Brazilian went on to make 18 starts, score seven goals and add three helpers on his way to the Rookie of the Year prize.
No. 4 Darwin Quintero heads to Houston Dynamo
Darwin Quintero is expected to make a big impact in Houston | USA Today Sports Images
A few days after MLS Cup, the Dynamo dealt Marlon Hairston and $600,000 in total allocation money over the next two seasons in exchange for Minnesota United's veteran dazzler. Will Darwin Quintero prove to be a bargain or a bust at that cost? We don't know the answer to that question just yet. What we do know is Houston's flank-driven attack now has the horsepower, skill and ingenuity to wreak havoc up the gut, which in theory will create extra time and space for the already scary likes of Alberth Elis and Mauro Manotas (for however long they stick around, that is).
No. 3 Colorado acquires the right to hire Robin Fraser
For the low, low price of $75,000 in General Allocation Money to Toronto FC, the Rapids got themselves a new head coach capable of lifting the club out of their recent doldrums. Fraser only had seven late-season games to build on the momentum sparked by interim boss Conor Casey, but he certainly made the most out of them. Colorado went 5-2 under the former US defender, scoring over two goals per game while also posting three clean sheets. Four of those victims were playoff teams, including soon-to-be champs Seattle, who were outshot 25-5 in a 2-0 loss at Dick's Sporting Goods Park.
No. 2 Rapids make Lalas Abubakar loan permanent
Lalas Abubakar helped tighten up the Rapids defense | USA Today Sports Images
There's one last nod for the Rapids, and I'm betting it's the most fruitful of all their fine 2019 swaps. On the heels of a 22-game loan spell from Columbus that saw Lalas Abubakar break out in a big way, the big center back moved straight back to Colorado on a $400,000 permanent transfer that will probably look like a major steal in the years to come. How good was the 24-year-old in 2019? Without Abubukar (who led the league in clearances per game), the Rapids leaked 2.33 goals per game, a rate worse than FC Cincinnati's. With him on the field (working 90 minutes each time), they conceded 1.59.
No. 1 Minnesota United lands Ike Opara
The Loons shelled out a cool $1 million for the veteran defender all the way back in January, and he was worth every penny. Ike Opara routinely dominated in and around the Minnesota area, chalking up more than nine total defensive stops per game and his second Defender of the Year honor. While old side Sporting KC saw their goals against total jump by nearly one per game, Minnesota saw theirs drop by .81 goals per game en route to the first playoff invite in franchise history. What a difference an Ike makes, indeed.