Every trade carries an inherent bit of risk. There are so many variables when it comes to making a move, especially in MLS where resources are finite and limited.
Minnesota United’s decision to trade Christian Ramirez to Los Angeles FC is a particularly risky one for the Loons, while the striker’s new home will also face some intriguing questions heading towards a playoff berth.
Since the club’s true surge through the NASL, Ramirez has been the face of Minnesota United. He’s been the team’s best player throughout that run and has handled the jump to MLS all but seamlessly. Yet, the club has a number of forward options waiting in the wings in younger players like Abu Danladi and Mason Toye as well as Designed Player Angelo Rodriguez.
There’s no fault in wanting to erase that logjam in an effort to bet on younger stars. However, you do have to make sure that bet is a smart one and, given what we know, that may not be true in this case.
Since coming to MLS as a top pick from UCLA, Danladi has proven injury prone even if the skillset is there for him to be a top-level striker at the MLS level. Rodriguez joins after competing at a level that is comparable to MLS while scoring double digits just once in his career, making him far from a safe bet to come in and light up the league like his compatriot Darwin Quintero. And then there’s Toye, who has a sample size of a whopping 14 matches, despite the viewpoint that he was one of the steals of this winter’s MLS Draft.
The point is this: Minnesota isn’t betting on anything rock solid and, throughout the past several years, Ramirez has been just that. This season, the Loons have scored 36 goals. Ramirez is second on the team with seven. The trio above? One. Last season, the Loons scored 47 times with Ramirez leading the way with 14. Ramirez is a legitimate double-digit goalscorer with American citizenship, and that’s certainly not easy to come by. Instead, the Loons are gambling on two younger stars and a new DP and, while that gamble may be somewhat calculated, it’s also a major risk.
And then there’s Ramirez’s new home with LAFC, who all but back their way into adding another proven goalscorer. Because of the league’s outdated expansion handouts and the midseason sale of Omar Gaber, LAFC was still sitting on plenty of MLS money and took the chance to add another piece. It’s no fault of LAFC that the rules have given them a treasure chest of money to play with, and they used that money to bring in a proven player, even if it may not be a position of real need.
LAFC currently has Adama Diomande lighting up the league with his nine goals in 11 starts. The team also has Diego Rossi, Carlos Vela, Marco Urena and Latif Blessing occupying forward positions. There are only so many spots on the field, and Bob Bradley will need to figure out how to put that all together.
Ramirez is best as a striker, but could theoretically play on the wing or alongside Diomande in the attack. Vela and Rossi are the team’s big stars and, thankfully, they have the skillset to shift along anywhere in an attacking unit. Blessing’s speed is useful as a supersub and as valued depth. That likely leaves Urena as the odd man out, even if the Costa Rican star was vital to the team’s setup earlier this year.
With Benny Feilhaber and Lee Nguyen still playing deeper midfield roles, LAFC remains a particularly attacking group, and that’s okay, especially if Ramirez helps add an even better layer to the attack.
LAFC spent their money to add a proven goalscorer, and now it’s up to Minnesota United to spend that money in a way that makes them better in the here and now. Pocketing that cash will do little to ease concerns over the team’s push, especially with a number of needs in the midfield and defense.
If Minnesota makes the most of that money and if the other strikers can replace Ramirez’s production, the Loons brass will look a lot smarter for it. If that club swings and misses, though, they’ll be left to answer to the risk of trading away one of the team’s most recognizable and productive stars.