So who got the better of the New York Red Bulls' trade of Macoumba Kandji to Colorado for Mehdi Ballouchy?
Plenty of observers will point to Kandji as the better prospect and chalk up the advantage to the Rapids, but the truth is the deal makes much more sense, and has the potential to do far more, for the Red Bulls than Colorado.
Kandji has shown flashes if brilliance during his three seasons with the Red Bulls, but the reality is he never really grew as a player the way the club had hoped when it signed him from the Atlanta Silverbacks.
Rapids fans will argue that the same can be said of Ballouchy, who has never quite been the dazzling playmaker the team hoped it acquired when it traded away all-star Kyle Beckerman to get him.
While it is true that neither has lived up to expectations, Ballouchy's skill set makes him a much better fit for what New York is trying to build.
For all of Kandji's flash and on-the-ball tricks, he wasn't a consistent threat in the flow of the offense. He isn't a player who reads the game well, or makes well-timed runs or delivers sharp passes. He can't cross the ball to save his life and his willingness to put in defensive work is suspect.
What he can do at times is take defenders on and beat them with quickness and skillful moves. The only problem with that is that while he's busy trying to be a 6-foot-1 Lionel Messi his teammates are forced to watch and wait, a wait that becomes even more frustrating when Kandji's moves don't come off.
That, more than the fact that Thierry Henry and Juan Pablo Angel already play Kandji's preferred forward position, is why Kandji no longer fit in the team's plans. Hans Backe tried Kandji on the wing, to see if his skills could contribute to the attack out wide, but Backe learned what Juan Carlos Osorio learned before him. Kandji just isn't equipped to contribute anywhere other than forward.
This makes the fact that Colorado traded for Kandji all the more perplexing. The Rapids already boast a forward line of Omar Cummings and Conor Casey, which means Gary Smith will very likely try to trot Kandji out wide as well. Kandji stands a better chance of doing well in such a role for the Rapids, whose offense oftentimes can consist of long balls dumped into the forwards on counterattacks. Truth be told, the Rapids might be better off putting Cummings on the wing than Kandji. Cummings is a much better passer, and a Casey-Kandji tandem up top would be a handful for any defense.
While Kandji could fit in Colorado, it had become clear he just wouldn't fit into New York's plans, where the Red Bulls have built a team that tries to play possession soccer and moves the ball around well as a unit. This is why Ballouchy is a better fit in New York. In Colorado, Ballouchy rarely had fellow midfielders to work with in constructing good passing sequences. The brick wall of Pablo Mastroeni and Jeff Larentowicz does a good job of squeezing opposing midfields, but they rarely join in the attack, leaving Ballouchy to try and find Cummings and Casey on his own.
In New York, Ballouchy won't be alone in trying to create. Rafa Marquez and Joel Lindpere are both creative forces, while Henry and Angel are both adept at passing the ball and moving well to create passing options for their midfielders. Throw in a red-hot Dane Richards and Ballouchy will have all sorts of weapons at his disposal. Ballouchy has a deft touch and good passing eye, but he has never been in a system that suited his strengths until now.
This doesn't mean Ballouchy is a can't-miss player, but he is certainly a player primed for improvement after finally leaving Colorado, where he carried the burden of having been traded for fan favorite Kyle Beckerman, who has since gone on to captain Real Salt Lake to an MLS Cup title. Ballouchy gets a fresh start in New York, where Henry, Marquez and Angel get the attention and where he can focus on being the creative spark in central midfield the Red Bulls have been looking for.
A fresh start should suit Kandji as well. If he can stay healthy (his penchant for injuries was another factor in him being dealt) Kandji could still be a factor for the Rapids. That said, he is still a ways away from living up to the European-bound myth some had built him up to be. Kandji is still raw, and still has quite a bit to learn. The Red Bulls couldn't afford to wait any longer, not with a need for a creative midfielder, and not with young forward Juan Agudelo working his way up the ranks.
The Rapids could wind up benefiting from Kandji's arrival, but it's hard to argue against the Red Bulls having won this trade.