MLS’s trade market has gone a bit crazy over the last year-plus — particularly deals involving some of the league’s top American center backs — and Sporting Kansas City head coach/technical director Peter Vermes was more than happy to take advantage of one team’s desperation… again.
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Vermes shipped Ike Opara, the 2017 MLS Defender of the Year and one of the two or three best defenders in MLS over his six-year stint in Kansas City, to Minnesota United in exchange for $900,000 in targeted allocation money with the potential for that figure to rise to $1 million after incentives. ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle reported that the additional $100,000 is contingent upon Minnesota qualifying for the playoffs for the first time in its brief MLS history.
Opara made it known during the offseason that he would like to be paid more than the $325,000 base salary he collected in 2018, and requested that Vermes consider any trade offers that might allow him to do so elsewhere.
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While the potential of a seven-figure sum of Garber Bucks™ sounds like a massive amount of intraleague money — and it is — it’s also a fair price for a domestic defender of Opara’s quality.
- December 2017: LAFC acquired Walker Zimmerman from FC Dallas for $500,000 in general allocation money, plus the no. 1 spot in the allocation order (the allocation spot was then traded to Orlando City SC for $400,000 in TAM)
- March 2018: New York Red Bulls acquired Tim Parker from Vancouver Whitecaps for $500,000 in TAM, plus an international roster spot and midfielder Felipe Martins
- January 2019: FC Cincinnati acquired Nick Hagglund from Toronto FC for $200,000 in GAM, $100,000 in TAM, plus the no. 1 spot in the allocation order
For the first time since bringing the Loons to MLS in 2017, head coach Adrian Heath has the foundational defender he’s sorely lacked en route to conceding 70 and 71 goals in successive seasons. While it’s a steep price to pay — calling it an “overpay” isn’t unfair — given Opara’s age (he’ll turn 30 before the 2019 season starts) and injury history, it’s a risk worth taking for Minnesota who are set to open a brand new stadium, Allianz Field, and desperately need to put forth a competitive product in year three. The case for “overpaying” being a worthwhile risk under these circumstances is an easy one to make.
As for the Sporting KC side of things, it’s yet another victory for world-renowned asset flipper Peter Vermes, who 1) acquired Opara for a second-round SuperDraft pick before the 2013 season; 2) enjoyed four-plus (healthy) seasons of one of the league’s best defenders while winning an MLS Cup and two U.S. Open Cups; 3) raked in a windfall of cash to be used in future signings and/or trades. Similar outgoing trades involving Dom Dwyer (up to $1.6 million), Benny Feilhaber ($400,000) and Diego Rubio ($300,000, plus midfielder Kelyn Rowe) have earned Vermes a reputation as a shrewd negotiator and maximizer of assets.
It remains to be seen whether or not Opara will get the raise he wants (and so thoroughly deserves), but one would assume Minnesota wouldn’t part with such a sum of money without intending to resolve any unhappiness which ultimately led to Monday’s trade.