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LAFC’s summer transfer window was an absolute whirlwind

A recap of the many moves that went down.

Leagues Cup Showcase - Club America v Los Angeles Football Club Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Entering the summer transfer window, before a player was signed by LAFC or any moves made, they were atop the MLS standings. Under new head coach Steve Cherundolo, the team was playing well, and while Carlos Vela’s future was a huge looming question for the future of the club, they certainly looked like they were on track to contend for the Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup, while also holding some flexibility in terms of Designated Player slot(s) available.

When the smoke cleared on Friday after the summer window closed, LAFC pulled off one of the most stunning midseason windows in MLS history, especially for a team leading in the standings already.

Here’s the breakdown of who left in the summer window:

  • Doneil Henry (waived on July 3, signed to Toronto FC after)
  • Francisco Ginella (sent on loan on July 18, to Nacional in Uruguay)
  • Danny Musovski (traded to Real Salt Lake on Aug. 3, for $250,000 in allocation money across two years)
  • Ismael Tajouri-Shradi (traded to New England Revolution on Aug. 5 for $400,000 in allocation money)

All four players who departed were depth. Henry was unfortunate that he seemed to lose out to a numbers game at his position, and was moved on for his international roster slot, essentially. That was also a factor in Tajouri-Shradi’s exit, who was hurt nearly the whole time he was on LAFC’s roster, and in finding a trade partner that would pay what LAFC did in the original trade, it was a very sensible deal.

Ginella seems to have been surpassed by pretty much all of LAFC’s midfield corps, and his loan abroad is likely a chance for him to find his bearings and get a sense of what his future can be. And Musovski most likely was a player sought by another club, and I think you can think of the price paid two ways — Musovski is a rare depth player who scores at a decent clip, and he’s a domestic player, but it also seems like RSL got a good price for him. Time will likely tell how much LAFC miss him.

But yes, let’s look at the incoming signings this summer for the black-and-gold and, whoa baby:

  • Giorgio Chiellini (signed June 13 on a free transfer)
  • Gareth Bale (signed June 27 on a free)
  • Carlos Vela (re-signed as a Designated Player on June 28)
  • Sebas Mendez (trade from Orlando City for $350,000 in allocation money on July 19)
  • Denis Bouanga (transferred from Saint-Etienne as a Designated Player on Aug. 5)

Let me say off the top, if you saw that group of players on any MLS team signed in a winter window, you would be blown away. Seeing that business take place in the summer is mind-blowing.

Chiellini was a player courted by LAFC for months and while many wondered why they would look to add a defender nearing his 40th birthday, his initial appearances have shown he’s up for the challenge of playing in MLS, and playing him about an hour each game has been a pretty prudent strategy so far.

Bale, in contrast, appeared to have fallen in LAFC’s lap, and they decided to pounce pretty quickly. In that light, and with Bale signed as a TAM player for 12 months, with the option to become a Designated Player if he stays on beyond that, it looked like LAFC were done with their real shopping in the window at that point. Even LAFC GM John Thorrington appeared to mostly close the door on making any other big swoops in the window when discussing Bale’s signing. He didn’t say a DP signing was impossible, but indicated the likelihood of it happening was not high.

Meanwhile, the Vela situation was itself the most pressing move in the window — the optics of letting the team’s talisman, former MLS MVP and player with the very best attacking season in MLS history walking out the door midseason would have been bad for LAFC, no matter how they tried to spin it. One can wonder if Vela himself pushed LAFC to get aggressive in adding in the summer window, dangling his future as leverage. While nothing has indicated that was the case, it’s safe to say Vela has been very happy with the additions made in his remarks to the public, and he’s been speaking with the press frequently since he re-signed.

While some will question bringing Vela back as a Designated Player, considering both Chiellini and Bale (at least initially) are officially TAM players, it seemed like there was no room to get Vela to take a pay cut sufficient enough to make him a TAM player, too. Plus, it seems a bit churlish, with LAFC already getting global stars on TAM deals (which other teams in the league have grumbled about, publicly and privately), to have expected Vela to become a TAM player too? Nah, the DP situation makes sense here for Vela.

So with Chiellini, Bale and Vela re-up all squared away, mission accomplished for LAFC, right? Nope! They managed to get two more moves done. First was for Mendez, who had fallen down the depth chart at Orlando City and apparently LAFC liked his profile more for midfield depth. He’ll likely get some rotational starts and time off the bench but this was more a move to shore up the squad for the homestretch.

The big surprise at the end was completing the deal for Bouanga. While LAFC had been linked to the Gabonese international for weeks, the logjam over LAFC’s Designated Player situation seemed to preclude a swoop for him. With Vela a DP, Brian Rodriguez still around and a DP, and Bale potentially needing a DP slot in 12 months, could LAFC actually pull off musical chairs to add a third DP for 2022? They must feel confident they can either move on Rodriguez or that Bale will only be around for a short time in order to bring in Bouanga, signed on a 4.5-year deal by LAFC and therefore expected to be around for the long haul.

The stunning point here is Bouanga does not need to hit the ground running, and is unlikely to be thrown into the lineup from the start and asked to play 90 minutes unless he is fit and in good form and chemistry with the team. Cherundolo can and likely will bring him along slowly, like he’s done with Bale so far, and while I’m sure the club want Bouanga to contribute as soon as he’s able, having the luxury of a new DP who is granted some patience is pretty remarkable.

So to recap, LAFC saw four depth squad players leave in the summer window and re-signed their best player plus added three starter-caliber players and one depth piece. In other words, if they all hit the ground running, LAFC leveled up in the summer window. It’s stunning work, really.

But obviously it won’t matter much if LAFC fall on their face this year. They are leading in the Shield and must win that this year, and need to reach the MLS Cup final at a minimum this year. I think even if they lost in the final it would be a disappointment, but the benchmark is set: with this mix of talent together, MLS Cup final is the absolute minimum expectation at present. And with the MLS Cup playoffs a single-elimination format, the margin for error remains razor thin, fantastic squad or not. But LAFC swung for the fences, and now we’ll see how the pieces fit together for the final months of the MLS season.

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