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Comparing the Opara Trade to the Waston and Hagglund Trades

Ike Opara has been traded, but did Sporting KC get good value in return? We dive deeper.

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Sporting KC Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

You may have been sitting down for a later dinner or maybe even getting ready for bed (or in bed) when the Ike Opara trade from Sporting Kansas City to Minnesota United was announced last night. You may not have even found out until this morning. The initial shock may not have even worn off yet, even though we knew this was a distinct possibility.

Well, even though the ink isn’t dry on the deal, it’s time to compare the Opara trade to other similar trades across Major League Soccer. Since we are talking center backs, it’s not fair to compare the deal to the massive money spent on players like Dom Dwyer, Darlington Nagbe or others of that ilk. Instead, there are two trades that have happened this offseason that are like for like comparisons.

The trade of Kendall Waston from the Vancouver Whitecaps to FC Cincinnati. And the trade of Nick Hagglund from Toronto FC to FC Cincinnati. Both trades were very recent and both trades were for center backs. First, let’s look at the trades next to each other. For those not in the know about Garber Bucks Allocation Money, it comes in two forms, General Allocation Money and Targeted Allocation Money.

Trade Comparison

Player GAM Received TAM Received Other Compensation
Player GAM Received TAM Received Other Compensation
Ike Opara 0 900,000 100,000 TAM*
Kendall Waston 450,000 300,000 Int. Roster Spot
Nick Hagglund 200,000 100,000 #1 Allocation Spot
*Sporting KC will received an extra $100,000 in TAM if Minnesota make the playoffs.

First, TAM versus GAM

Without getting too deep in the weeds, every dollar of GAM is worth 1.5 dollars of TAM. If you want to get the in’s and out’s of why that is, we’ve got you covered.

So while Ike Opara’s number initially clearly looks the highest, that may not turn out to be the case when we start multiplying and doing math.

It’s also worth mentioning, before we move on, what GAM and TAM can be used for. I’ll let Matt Doyle give a simple version.

To quote him, “GAM = make ‘almost’ pieces fit” and “TAM = get big fancy new pieces entirely.” That’s because GAM can basically be spent on nearly any player, no matter where they live on the roster. While TAM can only be spent on players that would make above the league maximum budget charge (approx. $530,000 in 2019) and approximately up to $1.5 million.

While Sporting KC’s roster is loaded with ‘almost’ pieces, the glaring hole most fans and pundits see is a striker. Maybe they have a new piece in mind (which is baseless speculation from me since Vermes told me they don’t, but he also told me Ike was “hurt”).

What About this “Other Compensation” Category?

Sporting KC can get another $100,000 in TAM. That’s simple enough. It gets complicated when we break down what an international roster spot is worth and what the #1 allocation ranking is worth.

Allocation Ranking Value

First, what is the allocation ranking? Well, essentially it gives MLS teams the rights to players currently outside the league looking to enter who are either “(a) select United States Men’s National Team Players, (b) elite youth U.S. National Team players or (c) former MLS players returning to MLS after joining a non-MLS club for a transfer fee greater than $500,000.”

A recent example of that is none other than Sporting’s own Krisztian Nemeth. SKC sold him to a team in Qatar for somewhere between $1.5 and $3 million and in 2017 he returned to MLS so he went through the process. Sporting tried to get him but the price was too high. Instead, the New England Revolution made a series of trades to get him and paid somewhere between the equivalent of $762.5K (best case) or $812.5K (worst case). Because of the exchange rate between GAM and TAM, it’s hard to be sure, but here is our breakdown of how we came to that based on the figures at that time.

And let’s not forget that Toronto went from last to first in the allocation ranking. If it’s worth as much as New England paid (which it probably isn’t), Cincinnati got fleeced (which most pundits universally agree they did). The other key is, what does Toronto do with that allocation spot? They are rumored to be using that spot on USMNT striker Terrence Boyd. He’s scored 69 career goals in his career but has a significant injury history.

The huge numbers New England gave up aren’t typical though for that spot. Toronto FC actually moved from sixth to second in the order in a deal with the San Jose Earthquakes for $75,000 in GAM and $75,000 in TAM. They then traded that spot along with a second round pick to Cincy for the first spot in which they picked up Laurent Ciman. So the value of this spot is all over the place. Using 1.5 times the GAM in that deal (and valuing a second round pick at nothing — because they are nearly useless) means the spots could be worth as little as $187,500 in allocation money.

International Spot Value

The value of these spots are a little more stable outside of the occasional overspend. The most recent two trades were in August. D.C. United bought one from the Colorado Rapids for $50,000 in GAM and the Montreal Impact paid the same six days later to get one from the Portland Timbers. But that’s a short term rental of a slot which reverted back in January.

Go back less than a month and Montreal paid $100,000 in GAM to San Jose for an international spot. Early in the year Sporting KC dealt a spot to the Rapids for $100,000 in GAM. Montreal bought one from Orlando City for $100,000 in GAM as well. The outlier is $175,000 going from New York City FC to the Philadelphia Union right around that time as well.

So this is probably only worth about $100,000 in GAM or $150,000 in TAM.

Let’s do the Math

Opara’s value is the easiest, no conversions necessary, it’s worth a guaranteed $900,000 in TAM. Minnesota looks to be very improved in 2019 with Opara, adding another DP and getting back the likes of Kevin Molino and Ethan Finley. That extra $100,000 in TAM isn’t out of the question.

Assuming the 1.5 TAM to 1.0 GAM ratio, Waston’s value is simple too. If you convert the GAM and international roster spot to TAM, his trade was for $1,075,000 in TAM.

Hagglund’s deal is tough. On the low end it could be $587,500 in TAM. But if you factor in that massive overpayment by the Revs for Nemeth, it could be as much as $1,212,500 in TAM. Crazy! I tend to lean towards the lower number as Nick Hagglund just isn’t in the same conversation as Opara and Waston.

Overall Assessment

It’s likely Ike Opara is the best player of the bunch but Peter Vermes may not have been able to get full value for him. Or more likely, FC Cincinnati has so much allocation money, they are looser than any other team could have possibly been with their allocation money. If only Vermes had made a deal with Cincinnati he probably would have gotten more. But alas, they already made two center back trades, so they probably messed up the whole thing.

Remember, just a year ago, Laurent Ciman was dealt from Montreal to Los Angeles Football Club for a middling defender and a prospect midfielder/winger. He’s a former MLS Defender of the Year just like Ike. So values have shot through the roof since then, also thanks to Cincinnati overpaying.

It wasn’t long ago when players were never traded for anything close to what we are seeing now. After the Dwyer trade, many players have been above or near the million mark including Fanendo Adi, Darlington Nagbe, Christian Ramirez (he went for a bit more than Ike when you factor in GAM/TAM but that seems like a missed opportunity), Justin Meram and David Accam. And those are all attacking players.

Either way, Vermes got good value for a guy who was going to likely be unhappy without a raise, especially considering Sporting likely have three starter-level center backs still on their roster with Ike gone.