Brad Smith’s trade to D.C. United was made official on Thursday, and to say it worked out better than expected from a Seattle Sounders perspective is probably a gross understatement. Let’s break it down:
What are the terms of the trade?
Smith moves to D.C. United along with his nearly $600,000 salary-cap hit, while the Sounders open an international slot and get $750,000 in General Allocation Money — all of which arrives immediately — as well as 10% of any transfer fee D.C. collects if they move him outside of MLS.
What’s that mean for the Sounders?
First off, this is biggest allocation-money haul in Sounders history. It’s more than they got for Eddie Johnson back in 2014, it’s more than they collected after transferring DeAndre Yedlin to Tottenham Hotspur later that year, and I don’t think any move since has come anywhere close.
Combined with the money they move off their books, the Sounders have created about $1.35 million in new spending capacity. They’ve also freed up an international roster spot — giving them two open spots with the possibility that they’ll open another if João Paulo’s green card application gets approved.
That’s a lot of flexibility. Prior to trading Smith, the Sounders were effectively maxed out on the salary cap and were effectively out of GAM for both 2022 and 2023. Even if they had wanted to use their one open international roster spot, they’d have had few options aside from using it on someone like draft pick Achille Robin. Even if they really liked Smith, I think buying him out had to at least be under consideration.
Now, they can do a number of things. Even if they were to fall in love with someone like Robin, they’d know they still have room to make an international signing over the summer. If João Paulo can get his green card, they’d even have the ability to trade a spot and collect another $200,000 or so of GAM. Put it all together, and they can make an international signing in the summer who hits the cap at like $1.5 million. That’s a potential season-altering signing.
Did you say the Sounders also got a 10% sell-on fee?
Yes, I did. Considering Smith is almost 28 and has already bounced around England, I wouldn’t expect that to ever pay off but it is a nice little touch ain’t it? Like Garth had to put that in there as a way of showing how bummed he was to be letting Smith go for so cheap.
Can you explain João Paulo’s situation?
The Sounders defensive midfielder is currently in Brazil while he awaits a decision on his green card application. While it seems reasonably likely that he’ll get one, nothing having to do with immigration paperwork these days should be taken for granted. The deadline for that to be finalized one way or another is Feb. 25 and the Sounders say they are willing to wait as long as it takes for it to be resolved. It seems unlikely, but there’s at least a chance this stretches out long enough that he’d miss both legs of the Sounders’ Round of 16 encounter with Motagua in Concacaf Champions League.
How does losing Smith affect the Sounders lineup?
The beauty of this trade is that for all of Smith’s attributes — and I don’t want to diminish them here — there’s a decent chance that he was going to be Seattle’s third-choice left back. Assuming the Sounders move back to a 4-2-3-1 — and that’s how they started in their first preseason game on Wednesday — Nouhou is probably the starter. Nouhou, as you may have heard, is not currently with the Sounders because he’s busy holding down the starting spot for Cameroon at the Africa Cup of Nations. This is the same Cameroon who are probably the favorites to win that tournament.
Based on what they both did while playing left wingback last year, I think you can argue that Jimmy Medranda would have been ahead of Smith, too. A quick comparison at FbRef.com shows Medranda scored at a better rate, assisted at about the same rate and was about three times more active defensively.
Remind me what the ideal starting XI looks like.
My best guess is something like this:
Every outfield player in that group has either been named MLS Best XI within the past two years, was an All-Star Game starter last year or is a regular for their national team. Stefan Frei, somehow, does not claim any of those honors but was named as a finalist for Goalkeeper of the Year in two of the past four seasons. That’s a pretty good lineup.
OK, but the bench must be pretty thin, right?
Even without Smith, the Sounders are going to have some intense competition to make the gameday roster. Medranda, Will Bruin, Fredy Montero, Leó Chú, Kelyn Rowe, Josh Atencio, Danny Leyva and Stefan Cleveland could all probably be starters for a lot of teams. Assuming MLS uses a 20-man gameday roster again this year, that leaves youngsters Sam Adeniran, AB Cissoko, Reed Baker-Whiting, Dylan Teves, Andrew Thomas and Obed Vargas just fighting for a spot.
Who knows how often all those players will actually be available, but I think you get the point.
Why would D.C. United make this trade?
The first thing to know is that D.C. just got flush with GAM after trading Paul Arriola to FC Dallas for $2 million in GAM and, more pressingly, collecting another $1 million in GAM after transferring left back Kevin Paredes to Wolfsburg for $7 million. They needed a starting quality left back badly and there aren’t a ton of teams willing to trade one.
Even if Smith was a third-choice left back for the Sounders, his numbers were pretty good. Compared to other fullbacks, he ranked in the 90th percentile or better in a host of offensive categories and as recently as 2019 was among the best fullbacks in G+, according to American Soccer Analysis.
D.C. United fans seem reasonably happy with the move and he might work out wonderfully for them.
When he’s healthy and paired with the right type of player, he can be a highly effective offensive weapon and his defensive deficiencies can be masked in the right type of system. It would not be at all surprising to see him put up a season on par with 2019, when he had six assists in less than 2,000 minutes.
Is Garth a magician?
I don’t have any evidence to refute that, but I’m not surprised his Dungeons & Dragons character was a mage. In the last two years alone, he’s collected at least $1.25 million in GAM without losing a player who was projected to be a starter and in some cases wasn’t even likely to make the roster.
- In 2020, they sent Handwalla Bwana to Nashville SC for Medranda and $225,000 in GAM.
- Last year, they got $50,000 from Nashville for the Homegrown rights to Nick Hinds; and $50,000 from D.C. United for the MLS rights to Tony Alfaro.
- This year, they got $50,000-$100,000 from Charlotte FC for the Homegrown rights to Chris Hegardt; $50,000-$100,000 from the Columbus Crew for the Homegrown rights to Jake Morris; and $75,000 from the New York Red Bulls to move down from the No. 20 spot in the MLS SuperDraft to No. 43.
That’s a lot of added cap space when you consider those players were all effectively surplus assets. As much fun as it might be to sit across the table from Garth, I don’t think I’d want to play poker with the guy.