Orlando City was the talk of the league this week following a blockbuster trade with Minnesota United that sent longtime midfield linchpin Kevin Molino north, along with recently drafted goalkeeper Patrick McLain, in exchange for $650,000 in allocation money ($450k in General, $200k in Targeted). Now that the initial impact of losing a fan favorite and the only remaining original Lion from the 2011 roster has had time to settle in, it’s time to break down why Orlando City actually came out on top of the deal with Minnesota.
All That Money
While Molino was an integral part of Orlando’s attack since the club’s inception and turned in a very solid season in 2016 (11 goals, 8 assists), $650,000 in allocation money is an incredible amount for a player who has turned in just one season of significance in the American top flight.
The money exchanged matched the MLS-record total that D.C. United shelled out to acquire Eddie Johnson in 2013, and Johnson was a well-established veteran by the time that transaction occurred. Johnson had over 60 MLS goals to his name at that point, along with several seasons playing abroad in England as part of Fulham’s organization, both with the Cottagers and on several loan spells elsewhere in Europe. That the Lions turned such a deal following one season of great production from Molino is pretty remarkable.
We should note that there was another player included in the deal (whom Orlando has already replaced with a veteran MLS keeper), unlike Johnson’s deal. And the affinity Minnesota United Head Coach Adrian Heath has for his longtime pupil almost certainly played a role in how much the Loons were willing to shell out for Molino, but that’s a hell of a deal nonetheless. The Trinidadian has several years of his prime left, but that kind of money is a great haul, especially for a player who had made it clear that he didn’t want to remain in Orlando — as our Gavin Ewbank wrote this week, that kind of money has incredible value in a cap-structured league. Bearing in mind the Lions will also get a percentage of any sale of Molino outside of MLS and the deal is potentially even sweeter.
Was His Performance Sustainable?
I recently wrote about Molino’s 2016 season and argued that he certainly was deserving of a pay raise. We don’t know how much he was asking from the club, which repeatedly offered him new deals that he turned down, but his 19 total goals and assists was deserving of more than the $110,000 base salary he received last year.
However, an analytical line of thinking from American Soccer Analysis shows that Molino’s production was a good bit above his expected goal (xG) and expected assist (xA) output. xG determines how many goals a player should score based on the theoretical goal value of the shots he takes, while xA is the sum of expected goals off shots from a player’s key passes.
Molino's 11 goals last year were 2.42 more than his xG & 8 assists were 3.76 more than his xA. It will be tough to replicate that in 2017.— AnalysisEvolved (@AnalysisEvolved) January 26, 2017
While xG and xA, like all advanced stats, are valuable, it’s worth noting that they aren’t infallible. However, as ASA notes, the best strikers MLS has to offer tend to meet their xG over the course of their careers, not exceed it — much less exceed it by 2.42 as Molino managed to do in ’16. Molino wouldn’t need to exceed his expected numbers by that much again to have more productive seasons, but these figures demonstrate how tough it would be for The Original to have turned in that kind of elite-level season again in ’17, making the $650,000 in allocation money look all the better long-term.
Questionable Fit Under Kreis
As dynamic as Molino is in attack, most of his production last season came prior to the arrival of new Head Coach Jason Kreis in the summer. While Kreis showed that he isn’t necessarily married to any one formation with the different alignments he rolled out with his new team in the second half of the year, there’s no question that his preferred formation is the 4-4-2 diamond, a formation that Molino isn’t a the best fit for.
That’s not to say that Molino couldn’t play effectively in one of the side positions in a narrow diamond under Kreis, but there would be some acclimation as Molino could’ve had to shift a bit deeper and accommodate the likes of Kaká and Matías Pérez García in midfield. Defensive work rate is also not something Molino is known for, and, with the fullbacks getting up the field to provide width, he wouldn’t be an ideal option to race back and thwart counter attacks in the event of a giveaway. Unlike the 4-2-3-1 that Heath loves to operate out of, there can’t be two strong defensive mids like Darwin Céren and Cristian Higuita behind to provide cover and handle such tasks, as there were in the early days of Heath’s MLS Lions.
A player of Molino’s caliber certainly wouldn’t be useless in this system, that’s for sure. But when he isn’t fully committed to the cause and is unhappy, that makes the imperfect fit seem even less ideal. Now Kreis will be able to decide if he wants to pursue a replacement for Molino, one who would presumably be tailor made for the coach’s preferred system.