Darlington Nagbe - Portland Timbers - 2017
Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

5 biggest MLS trades of the last 5 years

MLS witnessed several notable trades over the past few weeks, most notably Julian Gressel’s move from Atlanta United to D.C. United, a transaction which could rise to over $1 million in allocation money over the next two years.

But where does that deal stack up in comparison to the biggest ones in recent league history? Here’s my take on the top five trades over the past five years in MLS.

Jack Harrison, CHI-NYC, 2016

We’ve all gotten accustomed to New York City FC being a card-carrying member of the Eastern Conference elite and their current roster ranks among the league’s most talented and complete. But it was a whole different picture in the winter of 2015-16, after a woeful debut season marked by dysfunction and underachievement.

In one of their first moves after Patrick Vieira’s hiring as head coach, the Cityzens brokered a draft-day deal in which the Chicago Fire picked Harrison No. 1 overall in the SuperDraft, then traded him to NYCFC for a package of general allocation money and the No. 4 overall pick, which Chicago used to select fullback Brandon Vincent.

Harrison quickly became an impact contributor in New York, earning England youth national teams call-ups and eventually fetching a reported $6 million-plus transfer fee when he moved to Manchester City in 2018. And NYCFC haven’t looked back since.

Jermaine Jones, NE-COL, 2016

Arriving on the back of head-turning performances for the US national team at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, JJ’s time in MLS took him from New England to Colorado and eventually to the LA Galaxy, and was rarely boring. The all-action center midfielder led the Revolution to the 2014 MLS Cup final, only to fall out with the club over his contract terms and get shipped out to Colorado.

Playing with a point to prove, Jones and fellow newcomers Tim Howard and Shkelzen Gashi sparked one of the most dramatic year-over-year turnarounds in league history as the Rapids nearly won the Supporters’ Shield, anchored by a ferociously stingy defense and collective bite under coach Pablo Mastroeni.

Dom Dwyer, SKC-ORL, 2017

Big transactions like the Gressel deal were pioneered by Sporting Kansas City’s bountiful harvest for Dwyer, which reaped some $1.6 million in allocation funds, $900,000 guaranteed and $700,000 in incentive-based clauses. The English-American striker had starred on loan for Orlando during their USL days, making the Lions hungry to bring him back, and Peter Vermes took full advantage.

Widely dubbed a “game-changer” that heralded new levels of intra-MLS transfer activity, the trade was notable not only for the name and sheer heft of assets involved, but also the multi-year spread over which they were distributed.

Ike Opara, SKC-MIN, 2019

Similar in scope to the Dwyer transaction, last year’s big pickup by Minnesota United ended up eclipsing it – because whereas Dwyer largely struggled to match his previous scoring levels and lift Orlando into contention, Opara maintained his elite form with the Loons, and they duly became a playoff team lat season.

Kansas City received $900,000 in Targeted Allocation Money plus another $100,000 in incentive-based compensation which reportedly kicked in when MNUFC qualified for the postseason. It surely felt less satisfying when they suffered in Opara’s absence, however, leaking goals and missing the playoffs for the first time in eight years.

Darlington Nagbe, POR-ATL, 2018

It’s a tribute to Nagbe’s quality and unique skill set that he’s been the centerpiece of not one but two blockbusters eligible for this list.

Picked No. 2 overall by the Portland Timbers in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft, the smooth engine-room metronome became a fan favorite and face of the franchise in the Rose City, especially after he helped PTFC win MLS Cup 2015. So it was a very big deal indeed when flashy newbies Atlanta United shelled out over a million bucks’ worth of allocation money – potentially rising to a total of $1.65 million depending on performance clauses – to bring him to the ATL.

The Five Stripes went even further by winging him and his family into town on a private jet, a blingy touch that sent a powerful message to players and fans alike. Even though he later sought (and eventually got) a nearly-as-big move to his native Ohio to join Columbus Crew SC, Nagbe’s time down south was quite fruitful, encompassing trophy hoists in the 2018 MLS Cup and last year’s U.S. Open Cup and Campeones Cup.


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