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Why did LAFC trade down in MLS Allocation Order?

In context, this is a logical move.

MLS: Pachuca at FC Dallas
LAFC took the certainty of Zimmerman over the possibility of another player.
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Los Angeles Football Club got to work on Sunday, with two trades announced involving the expansion side so far in the day. The headline grabbing trade was for defender Walker Zimmerman, acquired from FC Dallas in exchange for $250,000 in general allocation money, $250,000 in targeted allocation money, and an exchange of Allocation Ranking spots, with LAFC moving down to No. 11 and FC Dallas taking the No. 1 slot.

That’s a pretty big haul for FC Dallas in giving up Zimmerman. But he’s a good player to help anchor a defense, all the more if he gets a strong partner in the middle. And I would argue that in terms of the Allocation Ranking, it was a good deal for LAFC.

What is the Allocation Ranking? It’s a list for teams to pick a certain group of players, either U.S. internationals, U.S. youth internationals with considerable upside, or international players who departed the league in the recent past on more than a $500,000 transfer fee. The list of players is updated periodically by MLS, but the current list is publicly available here.

While there are interesting players on that list, I would argue that in nearly every case the players won’t be returning to MLS, either this year or ever. It’s speculative, and it basically results in picking up no more than one player a year for a team, since there’s usually competition to get a player, and once you’ve signed one, you move to the bottom of the order.

So if you have a player in mind that you want to snag, being at the top of the Allocation Ranking among MLS teams is a good idea. It’s how Atlanta United picked up Brad Guzan last year, for example.

But there’s been a run on Allocation Ranking-type players in the last several years. Among others, Guzan, Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Alejandro Bedoya have been regular U.S. internationals who have returned to MLS. That pool of U.S. stars playing abroad is shrinking for the moment, and the likes of Christian Pulisic or DeAndre Yedlin ain’t walking through the MLS doors anytime soon.

And we’ve seen teams sit at the top of the Allocation Order in the past, only to never use it on acquiring a player, which is a waste of assets, because if they weren’t going to use the plum place atop the order, they should have traded down to pick something, anything, up. At the end of the year (in this case, that was yesterday in MLS terms), the order resets, and nobody gets anything out of their placement if they don’t sign a player with the mechanism.

This isn’t to say there’s no value on the allocation list, and of course LAFC can opt to trade back up to near the top in the future, but what they have effectively done is look at the list of players on the Allocation Order, and decided that Zimmerman was a more attractive (and attainable) player to pick up than any of those other players. And in that regard, it seems like a smart bet. We’ll have to see what players are acquired this year in the Allocation Ranking, especially if FC Dallas take someone with the top spot now, but this kind of move seems to demonstrate that LAFC know how roster-building truly works in MLS, and that’s a promising omen.

What do you think? Leave a comment below!