It won't be long before the 2020 season's customized transfer window shuts, which means the time for clubs to pull off roster-aiding swaps is running short.
It's never easy to formulate a trade, and there are often variables worth considering that fall outside even the keenest observer's viewpoint. Sometimes a club has a need, but doesn't want to give anything appreciable. Sometimes they have a target, but their quality trade chip doesn't match the need across the negotiating table. Then there's contract numbers and roster slots to worry over. Like I said, it's hard to put together trades.
I only have one thing to say about all that: bor-ing! Let's have some harmless fun and try to rearrange rosters with absolutely no chance of accountability! It's the perfect crime. While this job reads like a fantasy come true for mouthy dreamers like yours truly, we'll try to keep things on the ground re: feasibility.
My great shame from what follows lies not with any of my proposals, but with the fact that I couldn't come up with a good one for FC Cincinnati's top spot in the Allocation Order. I tried to ship that ace in the hole along with Maikel van der Werff's expiring contract to Montreal (who would then use it to land Cyle Larin) in exchange for Maxi Urruti. But the dominoes that everyone would need to fall made it too complicated to qualify for the list, and then the Impact acquired Mason Toye anyway.
No, we want maneuvers that could be pulled off at any moment's notice. These five ideas made the cut.
Disclaimer: Some trade offers may be inexact, requiring minor balancing via other tools in an MLS team's trade arsenal. In other words, go ahead and imagine tacking on a SuperDraft pick or allocation payout when necessary to close business.
Columbus Crew SC-Vancouver Whitecaps FC
Tosaint Ricketts for (insert package here)
If you read my handicap guide on the Crew, you probably knew something like this had to make the list. Columbus are built with contingencies for most situations, but they definitely lack a dependable "pinch-hitter" for Gyasi Zardes. Even when Ricketts isn't providing late-goal heroics (which has happened 11 times in MLS play, mind you), he tugs and pulls at a defensive shape, opening up pockets for underneath runners.
The Whitecaps, who have an outsized selection of forwards, couldn't possibly expect too much for a 33-year-old they probably won't re-sign and who hasn't entered a game before the 89th minute for nearly a month. Just put together whatever combo of allocation money/roster spot/SuperDraft pick gets it done.
D.C. United-Houston Dynamo
Tomas Martinez for conditional 2021 1st round pick
To put it in NHL terms, this is a "rental" situation. Martinez is nearing the end of a DP-deal with Houston, who have essentially eliminated his role in their new double No. 8s midfield set-up. They can flip the 25-year-old for a top-10 protected first-round SuperDraft pick, all without altering the ongoing team evolution under Tab Ramos.
This would allow D.C. to try salvaging the season with some sort of run, plus there's no long-term commitment to Martinez. As you can see below, the Black-and-Red aren't just last in expected goals, they're even falling short of that number in actual goal production. Martinez has been more organizational than explosive as the Dynamo string-puller, but perhaps a little order can spark those in their own attack that are falling well short of expectations.
Via Opta, an overview of xG numbers across MLS for the 2020 regular season so far. Pretty dire for DC and Cincy, but... Atlanta is not too far ahead of them pic.twitter.com/Xd5v4H0KYT— Charles Boehm (@cboehm) September 29, 2020
LAFC-Real Salt Lake
Justen Glad for Bryce Duke
This one's pretty straightforward. Glad could maybe use a fresh view and LAFC desperately need a capable center back if they hold any hopes of finally snaring MLS Cup. I still don't understand dealing away Walker Zimmerman, and this season has been a long case study for why. As for Real Salt Lake, doing this deal means bringing Duke back to Utah to liven up a midfield crew with a lot of miles and avoiding potentially tricky contract talks with Glad come winter.
Perhaps the 23-year-old can reclaim the form that had him sniffing the US men's national team frame a couple years ago, and cure what deeply ails LAFC at the same time. You have to give to get, and Duke is an excellent prospect. That said, LAFC have an overloaded stable of young first-team midfielders blocking his path at the Banc.
Portland Timbers-Colorado Rapids
Nicolas Benezet for Renzo Zambrano
The Timbers can't replace Sebastian Blanco, but they can get other players to provide some of the things he did. Diego Valeri has already snapped up more central playmaking duties, but Portland probably still need someone to inject a few of Blanco's flank maneuvers. Benezet won't hesitate to put defenders on the backwheel or put balls toward the net, which can help disorganize a defense.
Zambrano, meanwhile, is an engine-room guy who has the misfortune of needing to crack a densely-packed Timbers midfield. He seems like the type that Robin Fraser could find a good use for in Colorado.
Sporting KC-Toronto FC
Liam Fraser for Daniel Salloi and Wan Kuzain
What do you do with three young guys who are on expiring contracts and not seeing much game time? Put 'em all on the move as worthwhile reclamation projects! Even if Toronto FC don't seem to agree, I remain a believer in Fraser's ability to move his side quickly and cleanly from back to front (something Sporting KC are struggling badly with) from two different spine positions.
In return, the Reds get two dice rolls. Salloi appeared to break out in a big way two seasons back, but he's since regressed to the point of being a classic "change of scenery could do him good" case. Hey, if anyone can help him find his scoring boots, it's Alejandro Pozuelo. Kuzain is a buzzing traffic director, but never quite broke into Sporting's veteran-heavy midfield clique. Maybe there's room for his ball security measures at BMO Field.