A pair of major trades went down on Wednesday, both involving the Colorado Rapids. Colorado acquired a pair of young center backs in Auston Trusty and Lalas Abubakar, from the Philadelphia Union and Columbus Crew SC, respectively.
To acquire Trusty, the Rapids traded $600k in total allocation money, along with an additional $150,000 if he hits certain performance metrics. The Union will also receive a percentage of the transfer fee if Trusty is sold. Colorado were already familiar with Abubakar, who played with the Rapids on loan in 2019, and they got him back for $400,000 in General Allocation Money and an international roster spot.
What the trades mean for Colorado
Rapids EVP and GM Padraig Smith likely looks at these two center backs as the foundation he can build off of for the next 5-10 years. Both are under the age of 25, Trusty is just 21, and both have experience in MLS — with each hovering around 50 games played in the league. An experienced MLS center back has been the bedrock for almost every MLS Cup champion (except for this year) and both have the potential to be that player.
Colorado know what they are getting in Abubakar. The Ghanaian started 22 matches for the Rapids in 2019 and he emerged as one of the top center backs in the league. MLSsoccer.com's Bobby Warshaw placed him at No. 3 in his center back rankings at the end of the season. The numbers with and without him in the starting lineup are pretty stark.
|Stat||With Abubakar (22 games)||Without Abubakar (12 games)|
|Goals Conceded per Game||1.55||2.42|
While a team's performance should never be tied directly to one player, it's hard to argue that Abubakar wasn't a big difference maker in 2019. He will look to continue that trend in 2020.
The first player to ever graduate from the Union academy to the first team, Trusty heads west after a disappointing end to his career with his hometown team. The 21-year-old started every match for Jim Curtin in 2018 and continued to be a fixture in the starting XI for much of 2019. But he did not appear in a match after July 27, losing his starting job to Aurelien Collin and Mark McKenzie.
“Some stuff happened in the last fourth of the season. I can’t really get into it right now, but at some point in the future, you guys will find out the truth," Trusty told media earlier this month. “I think the last fourth of this season, I developed my personal self more, I think — learning more about how soccer goes, the business of soccer and just how everything goes within the soccer realm. I was naive, and I didn’t really know much about it.”
The left-footed center back has all the physical tools you would want in a player at his position, but has sometimes struggled in the technical and tactical aspects of the game.
You could argue that the skills of Abubakar and Trusty overlap, with neither being exceptional on the ball, but with Robin Fraser likely opting for a more defensive posture in his team — as he did in his short spell at the end of 2019 — these two fit his style to a tee.
Tommy Smith paired with Abubakar for much of 2019, but will most likely see his option declined. Kortne Ford, who was out for all of 2019 due to injury, is a reliable backup behind the Rapids' two new acquisitions and can even push for a starting role.
What trade means for Philly
This is likely not how Philadelphia envisioned seeing Trusty leaving town. They probably saw him leaving on a transfer, as they recouped 100% of the fee after signing the Homegrown in 2016. Not all stories end the way you hope.
Trusty had already lost his starting role to McKenzie, who Tanner said "simply better" than Trusty down the stretch on a conference call with media on Wednesday.
Tanner also said that Trusty was entering the final year of his contract in 2020 and the club had been trying to negotiate a new contract with him for much of 2019. Instead of potentially seeing him walk away for free next offseason, they got a healthy amount of allocation money and a percentage of the transfer fee if he is sold down the road.
McKenzie and Jack Elliott, who signed a new contract through 2021 back in May, are the Union's starting center back tandem of the future and McKenzie's potential is among the highest of any center back in MLS. Tanner and co. will want to bring in someone to challenge the pair, but they should be comfortable going forward with these two in their starting XI.
What trade means for Columbus
This is how intra-league loans should work. While Abubakar started 20 games for the Crew in 2018, Caleb Porter handed him just one start in the first two months of the season and loaned him out to get more playing time. That playing time saw him increase his value and the Crew were able to net a major haul for the 24-year-old that was likely much higher than they would have gotten prior to the 2019 season.
All that said, it's surprising to see Abubakar not given a chance to be a starter for the Crew. There's only one center back (Jonathan Mensah) you would write in pen in the starting XI at this point, with a promising prospect (Aboubacar Keita) and a veteran backup (Josh Williams) also on the depth chart. The cost in acquiring another starting-caliber player will probably be more than they received from Colorado — though a new contract for Abubakar probably would have to have been considered as he made around $145,000 last year according to the MLS Players Association.
We'll see if that ends up being the case or if the Crew prefer their in-house options.