Columbus sources sure seem intent on ensuring that the Colorado Rapids overpay for central defender Lalas Abubakar. And why wouldn’t they? The Ghanaian was out of favor for the first two months of the Crew’s season – only managing one appearance before arriving to Denver on loan. If a club has a chance to garner an obscene fee for a bench player they’re going to take it every time.
The attempted price gouging in-and-of-itself isn’t necessarily unexpected. What is surprising is how deliberately obvious the Crew’s strategy is regarding the transfer. When Ben Ferree published “Colorado Rapids willing to spend over $1 million to get Columbus Crew CB Lalas Abubakar” in Pro Soccer USA earlier this month, I immediately knew that the sources would either be from the Crew’s camp or completely unattributed. Though the Columbus-based journalist chose to cite the latter, the fact that it was Ferree’s work and not the outlet’s Denver correspondent certainly indicates that this story came from the Crew’s side. After all, the same piece made it clear that Columbus believes Colorado to be one of “several teams” interested, a claim repeated nearly verbatim in the Columbus Dispatch – and nowhere else – weeks later (notably, according to the defender himself, it’s Colorado or bust).
At this point you should be asking yourself: “How would the Crew’s camp know what the Rapids are willing to pay?”
The possibilities are limited. Either General Manager Pádraig Smith told the Crew personally that the Rapids would be willing to drop seven figures on the transfer or Crew sources are lying to drive up Abubakar’s price.
I understand that a certain sect of Colorado’s fandom harbors longtime cynicism and resentment at how the club has been run since the Rapids hoisted MLS Cup in 2010. A subset would certainly have no problem believing that Colorado’s General Manager was so bad at arranging a transfer that he inexplicably let the Rapids’ upper price limit slip mid-negotiation.
To those I say: let reason prevail.
I won’t tell you that Pádraig Smith hasn’t negotiated some poor deals for the Rapids. I won’t tell you that every signing he’s made for the club has been excellent. I won’t tell you that he has never overpaid for a player.
However, I will tell you that Smith is not the kind of General Manager to brazenly botch basic negotiations in such a way. I’ll also submit that if other clubs were truly interested in signing Lalas Abubakar, such interest would have been made abundantly clear already. The inherent vagueness behind the claim that “other teams are interested” quite honestly reeks of bullshit. When coupled with the ludicrous price figure for an statistically average MLS center back, it’s enough for me to balk at the story in its entirety.
I assume quite a few readers might have done a double-take upon reading “statistically average” in the previous paragraph, so let’s delve into that a bit further.
Lalas Abubakar arguably might not even be the best defender on Colorado’s roster in 2019. In particular, Keegan Rosenberry beat Abubakar in every major defensive statistical category on the season apart from clearances.
|Rapids Defender (>1500m)
Key: Tck – Tackles; Int – Interceptions; Clr – Clearances; Fl – Fouls; * – Denotes League Top 10 at Position
It’s worth noting that Rosenberry’s interception figure on the season was the highest in MLS, as was Abubakar’s clearances per 90. Both perform important, but unique tasks for Colorado’s back line. I don’t think it’s unreasonable at all to argue that Rosenberry is – at minimum – on the same level as Lalas Abubakar in terms of their importance to the team. In fact, Rosenberry’s tackling and interception rate places him in the same conversation as well-known MLS right backs like Steven Beitashour (2.2 tkl/90; 1.3 int/90), Kevin Leerdam (2.3 tkl/90; 1.3 int/90), Michael Murillo (2.4 tkl/90; 2.0 int/90), and Romain Métanire (1.8 tkl/90; 1.9 int/90).
Abubakar’s key stats, however, place him in conversations among lesser-known-but-still-average MLS central defenders like Harold Cummings (1.9 tkl/90; 1.9 int/90), Frédéric Brillant (1.6 tkl/90; 0.9 int/90), and Bill Tuiloma (1.6 tkl/90; 1.4 int/90)
That begs the question: what was Rosenberry worth? The fullback was brought to Colorado during the offseason last winter as a result of a trade that netted the Philadelphia Union $150,000 GAM and $50,000 TAM in 2019, along with $100,000 GAM in 2020 and $100,000 worth of incentives. That’s $400,000 total in MLS funny money for a fullback (a notoriously difficult position to get ‘right’ in MLS) who had more than double the experience in MLS than Abubakar when he joined the Rapids.
It’s also worth adding that Philadelphia’s selection issue with Rosenberry was very similar to Abubakar’s situation in Columbus. While the American fullback found himself behind Raymon Gaddis in Jim Curtin’s plans, Abubakar is decidedly stuck behind the Crew’s three-man center back rotation of Aboubacar Keita, Josh Williams, and Jonathan Mensah.
Lalas Abubakar had a fantastic season with the Rapids, but Pádraig Smith should walk if the Crew demand a seven figure fee. It’s easy to get tunnel vision when you witness a center back better than Tommy Smith and Danny Wilson for the first time in two years, but it’s not too difficult to find someone at that level when the entirety of the global transfer market is at your disposal. If other MLS sides are interested as the Crew claim, it’s in Colorado’s best competitive interest for them to overpay instead.
Image Credit: Colorado Rapids