In the preseason, the dream is real -- for all 20 teams. Everyone starts undefeated, but once the games begin, well ... you know what they say about the best-laid plans. It's often recognizing the need and pouncing on the opportunity that elevates a team above the red line, from the fringes to conference contender or Supporters' Shield favorite. As we head into the final weeks of the 2016 MLS regular season, it's a good time to take a look at the key in-season trades impacting the playoff race.
Red Bulls Acquire Aurelien Collin
April 29, 2016
NYRB Trade: Conditional 4th-round pick in 2017 SuperDraft to Orlando City
NYRB Receive: Defender Aurelien Collin
After winning the 2015 Supporters' Shield, the New York Red Bulls staggered to a 1-6-0 start, leaking 15 goals against 4 scored. Though they tagged Orlando with a 3-2 loss on April 24, RBNY turned around and snagged 2013 MLS Cup MVP Aurelien Collin -- also a 2012 Best XI selection and three-time MLS All-Star -- for a late-round SuperDraft selection in what amounted to a salary dump for Orlando City SC, who had moved on to Homegrown Player Tommy Redding.
From Collin's first game, a full-90 performance against Orlando City, the Red Bulls have posted a staggering plus-20 goal differential; they were minus-6 prior. With a roster as talented as New York's, there's a correlation/causation case to be discussed, but don't discount the mental comfort that comes with a steady, experienced presence -- with a penchant for emergency defending -- locking up one of the center spots on a shaky back line.
Crew SC trade Kei Kamara
May 12, 2016
Columbus Trade: Forward Kei Kamara to New England
Columbus Receive: General allocation money, targeted allocation money, New England's highest first round MLS SuperDraft pick in 2017, New England's highest second round MLS SuperDraft pick in 2018, international roster spot for 2016
This one needed to happen at the time. Kei Kamara, after negotiating for a raise and a title, managed to so sour the situation in Columbus that a bout of penalty-kick petulance earned him a one-way ticket to the Northeast -- months after leading Crew SC to MLS Cup for the first time since 2008. With only 6 goals and 2 assists in 19 games, Kamara hasn't proven the final piece for New England, a squad that's somehow struggled until now to put it together for any extended stretch this season, despite returning the core of a squad that made three straight playoff appearances; 3 points below the red line with 3 games to play, even this 4-of-5 win run might prove too late.
In Columbus, the exit of one Kamara opened the opportunity for another, as Ola Kamara rocketed to an 0.76 goals/90 that ranks among the league's top five. Between realizing the potential of the (younger, cheaper) Kamara they kept and all the assets acquired in the deal, this is one we could be pointing to after analyzing a Crew SC ascension in 2017.
D.C. United Acquire Lloyd Sam, Patrick Mullins
July 7, 2016
D.C. Trade: General allocation money to New York
D.C. Receive: Forward Lloyd Sam
July 20, 2016
D.C. Trade: Targeted and general allocation money, along with an international roster spot for the rest of 2016 and 2017 seasons
D.C. Receive: Forward Patrick Mullins
Ground into months of middling results, at 5-6-6 through 15 games, D.C. United underwent a midseason makeover by taking advantage of excess owned by a pair of Eastern Conference rivals. RBNY's Lloyd Sam had been supplanted by rookie Homegrown Alex Muyl, while Patrick Mullins was nailed to the bench for a second season, under a second coach, at NYCFC.
Without sending a player in return (depending on how you factor in sending Fabian Espindola to Club Necaxa via Vancouver), United managed to add 10 goals and 5 assists to the ledger. Throw in Ben Olsen turning the keys over to Luciano Acosta, and you've got a D.C. squad that's lost once in 12 games, riding a three-game winning streak as it firms up a playoff spot for a third consecutive season.
Philadelphia Acquire No. 1 Spot in Allocation Order
August 3, 2016
Union Trade: General allocation money, Targeted allocation money, first-round pick in 2017 SuperDraft, Discovery priority on a player, No. 2 spot in Allocation Ranking Order to Chicago
Union Receive: No. 1 spot in Allocation Ranking Order
All right, this one reeks of #ThatsSoMLS. The Fire parlayed an asset they owned at the start of the offseason -- the No. 1 spot in the Allocation order -- first into a combined 14-spot SuperDraft jump (15 to 12; 33 to 22) only for it to revert to them when Colorado signed Tim Howard, and then the heavy helping of alphabet soup Philadelphia coughed up to ensure Alejandro Bedoya would be crossing the Delaware instead of circling the Loop ... including a second reversion of that top Allocation Rank.
Bedoya's addition kicked off a 3-in-4 run of victories for Philly, who have been middling since (0-3-2). Yet as he does for the US national team, Bedoya has stabilized the Union on both sides of the ball, and their overall balance makes for a strong dark horse candidate in the Eastern Conference bracket throughout the Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs.