FC Dallas and the Colorado Rapids announced a trade Monday morning, sending FCD Homegrown midfielder Kellyn Acosta and a second-round pick in the 2019 SuperDraft to Colorado in exchange for Dominique Badji, an international roster spot for the next two seasons and a swap of the teams’ first-round picks in the 2019 SuperDraft. The teams will split the transfer fee if Acosta is sold by the end of the 2020 Secondary Transfer Window.
It’s both “holy crap” news and also not surprising at all. Acosta had been Dallas’s prized product, coming through their youth ranks and then establishing himself as a US men's national team regular. He was synonymous with FC Dallas and everything they stood for.
Recently, though, he’s been struggling to get minutes. He missed the first seven games of 2018 for FCD after undergoing surgery, and other players performed well in his place. It’s left Acosta as one of the most talented players in the league who currently does not have a consistent starting spot. One can understand why both he and Dallas would consider new options.
At the same time, it feels like a serious case of “sell-low” from FCD, doesn’t it? I rate Badji and think he’s a good player who may be a great player in the right team. But 12 months ago, Acosta started for the USMNT at the Azteca in one of the biggest qualifying games the US has ever had. He was one of the valuable assets in MLS. I would have questioned trading Acosta for Sebastian Giovinco 12 months ago, given Acosta’s long-term value. The Plano, Texas native seemed destined for a big-money move to Europe.
One underrated asset in the trade is the international roster slot. Badji is expected to receive his green card soon, meaning the international spot that Dallas is getting isn’t for Badji, but for another incoming player (probably rumored signing Pablo Aranguiz). Dallas didn’t have an open international spot, and thusly couldn’t add someone like Aranguiz without a trade. As such, the deal would be Badji + "New Player X" for Acosta, and if "New Player X" is really good, then it’s another conversation.
On the field moving forward, both Badji and Acosta have reason to be excited about their new opportunities. Badji could fit perfectly into what FCD want to do. With the recent transfer of playmaker Mauro Diaz, Dallas seem to have fully committed to their fast-paced, counterattacking style for 2018, an approach that suits Badji's skillset.
The Texans generally play Maxi Urruti up top – and they won a Supporters’ Shield and U.S. Open Cup with him there – but Urruti doesn’t offer Badji’s pace or movement. Urruti often reverts to hold-up tendencies and checks back to receive the ball to feet; Badji’s at his best when running at or behind defenders.
Badji offers either an alternate option or outright upgrade, depending on how Dallas plan to play on a certain day. The quartet of Badji, Santiago Mosquera, Roland Lamah and Michael Barrios (or Urruti as the second striker) flying forward on the break could be lethal. If FCD didn’t feel they needed Acosta, then Badji and Dallas make a great match.
Meanwhile, Acosta has a chance to shine in his new surroundings as well. In Dallas, he was part of a tightly-controlled system. He fit as a cog into their machine. He was an excellent cog and it made Dallas’s machine better, but it restricted him. We never got to see his full range of talents.
Acosta isn’t a defensive midfielder or a box-to-box midfielder or an attacking midfielder; he’s all of them. He’s a guy that can make perfectly timed interceptions, build possession, drive a 60-yard ball, join the attack, play the throughball, then finish off a cross. We rarely see those players come along. The comparison I’ve always had in mind for Acosta is Steven Gerrard. He can play any of the spots well, but he’s at his best when he’s allowed to do a little of all of them.
Give him the freedom to do it all and he will provide a boost in every area of the game.
In Colorado, Acosta will be the guy. The Rapids don’t have a clear playing style like Dallas do. Acosta will be able to mold the team’s actions to his abilities. He won’t have to overthink what his specific duty is in a given moment; he will be able to just do whatever he thinks needs to be done. We could see a player who blossoms from a nice player to a dominant player. And the Rapids need a dominant presence right now.
It’s a strange trade in a lot of ways, but it’s also one in which everyone could win. Badji moves to a team that fits his talents, Acosta gets a chance to show his full range of skills, Colorado get one of the most talented players in the league, Dallas get a player – maybe two, in the end – that meets their needs.
None of it is a lock-down guarantee, but it’s a trade in which everyone could be better off.