What were the most influential trades and transfers of the freshly-closed MLS Primary Transfer Window? Here’s my top five moves from the final week of the window:
1. David Accam to Columbus
He’s now going to a team that desperately needs both of those things. Crew SC might be the best defensive team in the East (or at least until goalkeeper Zack Steffen leaves) and one of the best possession teams. They do not, however, create or finish chances well. Add in a player like Accam, and you have a potentially complete team.
It’s not a slam dunk. Columbus tried this last year – resurrecting an attacker who had lost confidence – with Justin Meram, and it didn’t work out. But given Accam’s ability, the Crew’s needs and the wide-open nature of the Eastern Conference, this could be the move that changes the league’s landscape the most.
INFLUENCE: Makes Columbus a contender for top seed in the East.
2) Brian Fernandez to Portland
In some ways, the deal makes perfect sense. Fernandez is a talented attacker entering the peak of his career. Portland are at the cusp of a transition – Diego Chara, Diego Valeri and Sebastian Blanco are all over 30 – and they need to be aggressive about avoiding a dip.
Why isn’t one of the most expensive moves in league history the biggest move of the window? The Timbers don’t exactly need Fernandez right now. The likes of Andy Polo, Andres Flores and Jeremy Ebobisse, one of whom will move to the bench with Fernandez's arrival, got Portland to an MLS Cup.
The team has also won three straight now that they’ve figured themselves out. The Timbers have rarely played pretty soccer in the past 12 months, but they’ve also almost never lost when they’ve bought into their defensive identity. They were capable of making MLS Cup even without Fernandez.
Given the impending transition period, signing Fernandez was probably the right decision. I don’t have much doubt that Fernandez is a talent upgrade for the Timbers’ starting XI, but I’m also not sure that a talent upgrade makes the Timbers better over the next six months.
INFLUENCE: Could make Portland a top-three team in the West, or could diminish everything they’ve built in the last year.
3) Francisco Calvo to Chicago
The Fire have been the biggest sleeper in the league through the first 10 weeks. They’ve shown moments of brilliance followed by periods of impotence. It’s clear that there’s a complete, dynamic team in there. But it’s hard to achieve that when you’re constantly forced to mix and match in the back. It’s hard to reach your potential when you’re always changing your back four – or making mistakes that cost goals.
They desperately needed a left-sided defender, and Calvo desperately needed to get out of Minnesota. The Costa Rican international has the skill set to be an elite defender. Chicago got him for an initial price of $400,000 in allocation money that could rise another $125,000 in performance-based bonuses. If the Fire can figure out their new 3-5-2/4-3-3 hybrid system, they have the pieces to move up the East standings.
INFLUENCE: Could make Chicago a top-three team in the East.
4) Benny Feilhaber to Sporting KC
Everything Sporting do revolves around passing. Their ideas around both scoring and stopping the other team from scoring depend on the ability to keep the ball. If they can’t sustain controlled, methodical control of the ball, they are dead in the water. Over the last few weeks, without Roger Espinoza and with curtailed minutes for Ilie Sanchez, Sporting have been poor on the ball and gone more than a month (0-2-3 since the start of April) without a win.
Maybe Kelyn Rowe’s form will improve in Espinoza’s spot – Rowe definitely has the passing ability in him – and maybe Ilie will get past his injury spell, but those are “maybes” with SKC’s season on the line. Feilhaber negates those maybes. He can play in either Ilie or Espinoza’s role and provides another passer with understanding of Vermes’ system. Feilhaber doesn’t necessary raise the ceiling, but he probably keeps the floor from falling out.
INFLUENCE: Could salvage SKC’s season.
5) Jonathan Lewis to Colorado
Lewis has become the microcosm of an issue that many MLS fans find frustrating: A young domestic player not getting the number of second chances that high-priced internationals receive. Lewis hasn’t played well in his NYCFC starts, but he hasn’t necessarily played worse than Yohan Croizet, Valentin Castellanos, Pedro Santos, etc.
Croizet et al, though, got ample opportunities to work through their struggles.
It’s true that Lewis has struggled with his first touch. It’s fair to say that he hasn’t been the most diligent defender. But how does a young player work through those deficiencies without getting minutes? Lewis hasn’t had the chance to get on the field, play through his growing pains and reach his potential.
Lewis, when he gets on the field for the Rapids, is playing for more than his own career. He’s playing for young domestic players across the league. Give me minutes, and I’ll show you growth.
I remain committed to the idea that Lewis is best as supersub, but I certainly won’t have any gripes if he proves me wrong.
INFLUENCE: Could change the way teams approach young domestic players.