The Columbus Crew grabbed the attention of Major League Soccer on Friday afternoon when news broke that the team planned to trade Gyasi Zardes to the Colorado Rapids. Originally reported by ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle, Massive Report confirmed with sources close to the team that a verbal trade had been agreed to, with the Crew receiving $300,000 in General Allocation Money which could increase to $1.4 million if certain incentives are met. The team has since officially announced the trade.
News of Columbus moving Zardes, 30, certainly didn’t come as a shock to Black & Gold fans. Zardes has only started one of the Crew’s seven MLS games this season, despite the team struggling offensively in recent matches. Reports surfaced earlier in the year that Columbus was shopping Zardes, something head coach Caleb Porter denied but left the door open to moving the forward if the right deal came in.
As it turns out, the Rapids offered the right deal. While the initial fee of $300,000 in GAM doesn’t seem like much for Zardes, a semi-regular player for the United States Men’s National Team who has 93 career MLS goals — regular season and postseason combined — the fact that this number can, and quite possibly will, rise by so much could make this trade look much better when all is said and done.
It’s also important to point out that this move is just part one of the Black & Gold’s plan. Sources with knowledge of the move made it clear to Massive Report that trading Zardes, who was not seeing regular playing time in Columbus, is out of contract at the end of the season and hasn’t looked himself in a role coming off the bench, is meant to not only open a Designated Player spot on the roster, but also create money and salary cap space to go out and add an impact player.
While not specifically stated, this player is almost certainly going to be on the offensive end of the field. After scoring seven goals in the first two games, the Crew has seen the ball in the back of the net just three times since. Playmaker Lucas Zelarayan has four of the team’s 10 goals and winger Derrick Etienne Jr. has two. Neither has scored in nearly a month and a half and the team hasn’t scored in the last three MLS games.
There is an argument that Zardes could have helped fix that issue. After all, he was the team’s leading scorer in three of his four full seasons in Columbus. Following the trade ahead of the 2018 season, Zardes scored 19 goals, more than he ever did with the LA Galaxy, the only other club he’s played for.
But in each of the last three years, Zardes’ goal numbers have declined, including just nine last year. While that’s not entirely on him, head coach Caleb Porter has made the decision to go with the younger Miguel Berry at forward this year. So far, this hasn’t worked, as Berry and Zardes both scored one goal for the Crew this season, but a chance to move Zardes and get a sizeable return should be a good investment in the future.
Berry is young but, despite his eight-goal breakout season in 2021, doesn’t appear ready to be a starting MLS forward just yet. With an open DP spot and money to spend, the Black & Gold now can add a proven striker, ideally in his prime, to put the ball in the net while Berry continues to be a player for the future.
Columbus could choose to elect to spend on a winger instead and go with Berry up top going forward, hoping the 24 year old puts it all together, but it seems more likely that a DP spot would be used on a forward.
Now the Black & Gold must get this next signing right. The MLS primary transfer window closes on May 4, which means teams can still add players until that day. Unless there is already a player in mind that is available and negotiations go quickly, it’s more likely that the Crew acts during the summer transfer window, which runs from July 7-Aug. 4.
What’s important now that the team’s third all-time leading scorer is on his way to Colorado is that Columbus finds a player who can consistently put the ball in the back of the net. While the Black & Gold may find goals before a new player can be brought in, if this team is going to make it back to the playoffs and contend for another MLS Cup, a high-level goal scorer is necessary and now, after the Zardes trade, the team has the resources to find that player.