There were a flurry of moves on Monday afternoon, as a number of MLSers found new clubs. What do they all mean?
Lennon to Atlanta: What does this mean for Gressel?
First off: Brooks Lennon to Atlanta for a total of $300,000 in allocation ($150k GAM, $150k TAM) could turn into a shrewd move. Lennon's versatility across multiple positions at RSL – a natural forward who turned fullback in 2018 after impressing in an impromptu shift – is key in modern soccer, particularly helping give Frank de Boer freedom in changing formations. Plus, that versatility will be hugely welcomed as the Concacaf Champions League creates fixture congestion at the beginning of the season.
More to the point, though, is Lennon's skillset is tailor-made for that wingback role. He's a willing defender, but his best assets are in attack. Atlanta were top four in MLS across each of possession (4th), chances created (4th) and total shots (2nd) last season. If he gets a regular run at wingback, Lennon will have more opportunities to fine-tune his end product and flash the skill that convinced Liverpool to acquire him and made him a standout at all US youth levels.
But, the other side of acquiring a player who may thrive at right wingback... Atlanta already have one of the best right wingbacks in the league in Julian Gressel. And it just so happens there are question marks surrounding his future. Naturally, this move leads to the obvious question: What does this move mean for Gressel's future in Atlanta?
Gressel has been public both in his desire for a new contract as well as his frustration with how those negotiations have gone. Lennon could be seen as insurance should Gressel leave ... or his acquisition could allow Gressel to move back to central midfield for the departed Darlington Nagbe. Gressel did start last season in the middle for De Boer, though the team thrived when the formation shifted to a 3-4-2-1 and Gressel moved back to wingback.
Lastly, for RSL: The move frees up some cap space (Lennon's guaranteed compensation in 2019 was $242,578, per MLS Players' Association) and they acquired $300k xAM for a player entering the final year of his contract. He bounced between right back and wide attacker in 2019, where the club already have Homegrowns Aaron Herrera and Corey Baird earning minutes. Lennon started just four of the club's final 13 games and neither of their two Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoff matches.
At 22 years old, Lennon needs regular game time to continue growing as a professional. If he gets that in Atlanta, this quite easily be a mutually beneficial deal for all involved.
Will Dom Badji lead the line for Nashville?
Nashville acquired forward Dom Badji from FC Dallas in exchange for $325,000 xAM ($175k TAM, $125k GAM + a further $75k GAM should incentives be met), giving Gary Smith another attacker to choose from as their roster grows to 21 players. Their inaugural squad is coming together.
Badji, a natural center forward who often played wide for Dallas in his year and a half in Texas, had eight goals 2,620 minutes. Will Smith deploy him predominantly through the center or on the wing? With Hany Mukhtar and Randall Leal highlighting the attack – plus Dax McCarty and Anibal Godoy in the midfield – Nashville are more than capable of playing a 4-2-3-1. With the players currently on the roster, Badji could earn a starting role at center forward.
Badji also fits the mold of a number of other players on the team: Versatile, energetic and direct.
Given that Badji has yet to score more than nine goals in a single season, his box score stats don't scream "lead the line center forward," but his underlying numbers put him slightly above the average finisher, by way of conversion rate. It compares to MLS strikers Gyasi Zardes and CJ Sapong, to name a few, per Steve Fenn.
Dom Badji and his new teammate in Nashville, David Accam have both scored on roughly 14% of their MLS shots so far, but Accam has been shooting & scoring at a higher volume.— Steve Fenn (@StatHunting) December 2, 2019
For context, all MLS strikers scored on 12.6% of their shots in the 2010's. pic.twitter.com/yv9Tq3AW1N
General manager Mike Jacobs has often talked about valuing the undervalued. Perhaps Badji could find another level at his third MLS club.
Luis Robles to Inter Miami almost makes too much sense
You'll be hard-pressed to find a more universally applauded move than Inter Miami's signing of Luis Robles. Sure, this is the internet in 2019 so surely someone has to take exception to the move, but for the most part, it almost makes too much sense.
Another solid 2019 campaign? Check. Awesome locker room presence for any club, particularly an expansion side? Check. Won't take up an international slot? Check. Robles is expected to be the starter while Bryan Meredith, acquired in the Expansion Draft, a capable backup. They also have the Homegrown player rights to Drake Callender. They're set at GK.
It's a no-brainer.
Later in the day, Miami added another respected veteran in A.J. DeLaGarza. The Guam international was a regular fixture in the Houston Dynamo's starting XI when he wasn't injured over the past three seasons and also has trophy-winning pedigree. The club's own press release led by calling DeLaGarza someone who will add to the "depth of the roster," too.
Not a bad spot to have him in.