By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON DC (May 16, 2018) US Soccer Players - The winter between the 2017 and 2018 seasons was flush with high profiles moves for a number of established players in Major League Soccer. New resources for clubs opened up the market and led to many of them dropping significant amounts of allocation money on big-name players.
With a host of teams now one-third through their regular season schedules, it seems like a good time to take stock of those moves. We've seen enough games to have some idea is the trades have worked out for both player and team.
While they don’t represent the full total of players traded, there are seven names that stand out. Here’s a look at how each is faring with his new club so far.
Nagbe’s trade to Atlanta United came as a bit of a surprise after his long run as a crucial part of the Portland Timbers system. A uniquely gifted on-the-ball midfield, Nagbe’s exit was one of the more interesting developments as new coach Giovanni Savarese took over in Portland.
In Atlanta, Nagbe has a cadre of talented attacking players who carry the goal-scoring load. That leaves the midfielder to do what he does best, namely link the defense and attack with smart passes and a special ability to keep possession in traffic. Per Opta, Nagbe is passing at an 89 percent rate while averaging 42 passes a game, numbers that speak to his effectiveness as a conduit in the middle of the field. Nagbe isn’t asked to be a volume passer, but when he does move the ball, he does so wisely.
Atlanta’s style fits Nagbe’s game. Given license to push forward with the ball at his feet, Nagbe has been excellent for Atlanta. He's met the measure of his trade for a record allocation money haul back in December.
After a disastrous 2017, the LA Galaxy went looking for a target striker who could put the ball in the net efficiently. To acquire such a player, LA decided to ship out Zardes for the Crew's Ola Kamara. The 26-year old Zardes scored a total of 14 goals over the last three seasons in California for a bad team.
So far, so good in Columbus. The Crew’s outside-in style plays perfectly to Zardes’s strengths. Already on eight goals through 12 matches, Zardes is in a tie for the league lead with Josef Martinez of Atlanta United. Several of Zardes’s tallies have been simple tap-ins created by his runs and the work of his teammates, but the forward is also showing more confidence than he did in LA in recent years.
Belgian center back Ciman went from Montreal to LAFC in a trade that angered the player and prompted concern about his ability to integrate into Bob Bradley’s expansion team. The special circumstances of his family needs and the league’s trade market made for a problematic move west.
Contrary to any concern, however, Ciman has been an important part of LAFC’s best-ever MLS expansion start. The 2015 MLS Defender of the Year is showing why he won that award, why LAFC coveted him, and why experienced defenders are crucial to a new team’s success.
Ciman has even chipped in with a pair of surprising free kick goals. One of them was the winner in LAFC’s inaugural game at Banc of California Stadium.
The Red Bulls habit of trading away their captain continued in the winter of 2018. Midfielder creator Kljestan went to Orlando City for a pair of younger players. Kljestan is one of the best chance generators in the league over the last five seasons. In Orlando, that means feeding Dom Dwyer and slashing wingers in the Lions’ attack. That revamped attack is key to pushing the Florida side into the playoffs.
After missing the first two games of the season due to a suspension, Kljestan hit his stride quickly in Orlando. His contributions were key in the club’s six-game winning streak. In eight appearances, Kljestan has two goals and three assists. His 2.8 key passes-per-game puts him seventh in the league. A remade Orlando team pushing hard for a postseason berth is so far benefiting greatly.
Ola Kamara wasn’t the only elite-level attacker traded by Columbus. Meram, a 29-year old winger who scored 13 goals and collected five assists in 2017, asked for and got an exit from the Crew. Joining Kljestan in Orlando, Meram is part of a high-octane attacking group playing for head coach Jason Kreis.
Eight games into his Lions career, Meram is playing effective, if not flashy, soccer. The goalscoring that made him so important to Columbus’s run to the Eastern Conference final last season is not evident, but his nearly 3-shots-a-game average means he’s getting looks on net. With a bit more luck, Meram figures to increase his output from the one goal he has so far. He's already doing more than enough work on both sides of the ball to justify his place in the team even without a big goal number.
The man sent west by Columbus in the swap for Gyasi Zardes was Norwegian striker Ola Kamara, one of the league’s most proficient forwards over the past two seasons. In the two years he spent with the Crew, Kamara scored 16 and 18 goals, respectively.
When Kamara made it known he wanted a pay raise and requested a trade, LA swooped in to grab him. Part of the Galaxy rebuild under Sigi Schmid, the expectation for Kamara was to be the main goal-scorer ahead of players like Giovani Dos Santos, Romain Alessandrini, and Sebastian Lletget.
So far in 2018, Kamara has four goals in nine matches, including three in the club’s last three games. Now paired with Zlatan Ibrahimovic up top, Kamara is reaping the rewards. Unfortunately, each of those last three games was a loss, putting pressure on Schmid to figure out the Galaxy’s balance issues and perhaps sacrificing Kamara’s place in the lineup.
After spending five seasons as the linchpin of the Sporting Kansas City attack, Feilhaber moved to LAFC via trade in the offseason. Head coach Bob Bradley coveted the midfielder for his skill on the ball and the vision of his passes. With the new project off to a strong start, it’s easy to see why.
Though his role at LAFC differs somewhat from what he did in Kansas City, Feilhaber remains adept at finding teammates in space with an opportunity to create danger in the attacking end. Midfield partner Mark-Anthony Kaye is doing much of the dirty work, freeing Feilhaber to pick his head up and provide passes to players like Diego Rossi and Carlos Vela.
Two goals and an assist in 10 matches don’t seem like a lot for a player thought to be a creative force. However, it’s Feilhaber’s work setting up the pass-before-the-pass that makes him important to his new club.
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(Photo by Michael Janosz - ISIPhotos.com)