The expansion club’s whopping trade for the hometown defender has left many around the league baffled
Imagine holding a garage sale, and trotting out the goods you no longer had use for and had no plan on keeping, only for a deep-pocketed buyer to come along and offer you a bag of cash for the same stuff you were going to get rid of anyway.
Now you know how Toronto FC probably felt when FC Cincinnati handed them a jaw-dropping trade package for defender Nick Hagglund, a player who was likely competing to be TFC’s fourth center back in 2019, assuming he was even going to stick around.
Cincinnati traded $300,000 in allocation money and the top spot in the MLS allocation ranking, a valuable asset estimated to be worth another $250,000 in allocation on the trade market, for Hagglund, a Cincinnati native who will be expected to fill the team’s need for a central defender next to Costa Rican giant Kendall Waston.
Wanting Hagglund was understandable for Cincinnati, which sees a chance to add a local product with an MLS Cup on his resume, and one who, at 26 years old, could be a building block for the expansion team. Going after him made plenty of sense, but the exorbitant price paid left many around MLS baffled.
An informal survey conducted by Goal of general managers/technical directors around MLS yielded a near unanimous reaction to the trade, with phrases ranging from “nonsensical” to “just plain dumb” being used to describe the price Cincinnati paid. As one general manager noted, expansion teams overspending isn’t a new phenomenon considering the amount of allocation money they start out with, but Cincinnati exceeded even that standard by a wide margin.
Cincinnati isn’t likely to care, not when it now has a hometown player it can market, and it’s not like Hagglund isn’t talented. He showed his quality as part of TFC’s run to the 2017 MLS Cup title, but he had a bad year in 2018, failing to capitalize on the opportunity to shine when TFC’s defense was decimated by injuries. Instead, Hagglund struggled badly when he did play, and that helped doom TFC to the unexpected fate of missing the playoffs.
TFC’s acquisition of Laurent Ciman made it clear the club was serious about upgrading its defense, and it also likely meant that Hagglund would be on the way out. The market for Hagglund after the 2018 he endured likely consisted of just Cincinnati, which wound up overpaying anyway.
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The move has already had repercussions around the league, because it has raised the bar for what teams are seeking in trades, specifically those involving central defenders. Sporting Kansas City defender Ike Opara has made it known he either wants a new contract or a trade. Several teams had already been looking to pry the former MLS Defender of the Year away from SKC, which has stocked up on central defenders and is well positioned to deal Opara. Only now, Sporting KC can point to the price paid for Hagglund and ask for considerably more.
That probably won’t stop Opara from being traded, but the fee paid for Hagglund has put him in the unenviable position of having to live up to his hefty price tag. Perhaps Hagglund rebounds in 2019, and reaches his potential thanks to the motivation of playing in his hometown. Cincinnati has put together a solid defense for him to be a part of, though you can make the argument that a Waston-Hagglund center back pairing may not be ideal given the reality that neither is a true organizer.
Consider just one element that Cincinnati traded away: the top spot in the MLS allocation order. Right now the list of players eligible to be acquired via the MLS allocation order list includes Geoff Cameron and Omar Gonzalez, two World Cup veterans who are both possibly returning to the league in the near future. Not only did Cincinnati give up the chance to acquire one of those two, but also the chance to benefit from a bidding war for the top spot if one of the high-profile players on the list decides to come to MLS this year.
Instead, Cincinnati helped a strong TFC get even stronger, while the expansion team has been left looking overmatched on the trade market once again. To be fair, Cincinnati has also made several good moves this winter, including the signing of Waston and recent addition of Caleb Stanko, but when the dust settles on Cincinnati’s inaugural season, it is a safe bet that several of the deals the team has made will wind up looking like the stinkers they were originally thought to be.
Of course, if Hagglund winds up breaking out as a standout central defender, nobody will care what he cost, and Cincinnati will be left looking like the geniuses who came away from a garage sale with a treasure.