The evening of Sept. 11, Servando Carrasco was on Alki Beach having a bonfire with his girlfriend Alex Morgan, Lamar Neagle, DeAndre Yedlin and others. We know this because Yedlin tweeted this out. The Sounders were gearing up for a showdown with Real Salt Lake. Before that game would start, Carrasco would be a member of the Houston Dynamo.
Trades are funny things. Constantly judged in the short term, many trades don't truly reveal themselves to be good or bad deals until months after the event. Trades are also funny in that fans often perceive the balance of a trade differently than a front office might. It's easy to look at a trade on the day it takes place and marvel at how a team gave up so much (or so little) to get something in return.
I am firmly in the camp that we cannot judge this trade completely yet. Adam Moffat has not played nearly enough for a judgment to be worthwhile. Carrasco has barely played for Houston.
At this point in the season, though, 31 games in, it's fair to say we have a sample size large enough to notice patterns. Sometimes patterns say more than stats. When we look at league play only, there are some arresting patterns for the Sounders' record with Carrasco and without:
Carrasco starts: 7-4-2
Carrasco plays: 5-1-0
Carrasco DNP: 2-3-2
Since trade: 1-2-2
Put another way, The Sounders were 12-5-2 (2.00 PPM) with Carrasco playing a role and 3-5-4 (1.08 PPM).
It's difficult for a fan without access to players to truly assess the Sounders' swoon. It is jarring, though, to look at Carrasco's game log and see that the Sounders' fortunes this year have a pretty close correlation with him being on the field in Rave Green, even if only for a few minutes.
It makes sense, then, to wonder: did Adrian & Company make one move too many this year? Moves at forward -- adding two DP strikers -- coupled with the emergence of Lamar Neagle have led to concerns over who will start in the long term. The midfield, whose performance is a point of contention in comments on this blog, has unexpectedly been fairly stable. At the start of the year, Steve Zakuani and Shalrie Joseph figured to crowd an already-crowded midfield, especially given that Osvaldo Alonso, Brad Evans and DP Mauro Rosales figured to start barring injury or call-ups. Injuries, however, nixed that. There was some experimentation, but during the Sounders romp (save for a few ugly road losses) from May to mid-September, the midfield was pretty predictable.
In some games, particularly a stretch in May, the midfield was absolutely swarming opposing players and chasing every loose ball. Servando Carrasco got plenty of attention at that point for the role he was playing in the Sounders' resurgence. No one can argue that the Sounders' defense had a much easier time doing its job in that run.
A major hole in my contention that losing Carrasco was the season turning point comes in late July, when he stops starting and, primarily, becomes a late game sub. The Sounders got results in the following month, but let's recall this coincided with a discussion of a "lack of convincing wins" in national media and, with a notable exception of a rousing home victory of FC Dallas, frustrations from many of us over scoring in the run of play.
Carrasco may not be a superstar in this league. It is undeniable, though, that he was working harder than ever this year. Since his departure, except for that RSL win, the team that has hit the field has looked lackadaisical. At best.
Stats will certainly reveal Carrasco to be an average player. But making a major shift to an area of the field that is not only important, but has also been relatively stable in the midst of all the "big" signings the Sounders made this year might have been a mistake. An adequate midfield that has familiarity with one another and good communication can help temper the effects of a forward corps that has been in flux due to call-ups, injuries and personnel changes. A solid, if unspectacular midfield that has chemistry can take the strain off a defense.
We had that midfield.
I posit that since the Carrasco trade, we no longer do.