Goal takes a look at the best players thriving with new MLS teams after being dumped by other teams in a league known for reclamation projects.
In MLS, success isn't just about signing big-money designated players, or developing homegrown players, or even about landing gems in the MLS draft. Two of the biggest keys to building a strong club are finding gems on other teams' rosters and avoiding giving up players cheaply who wind up being gems for other teams.
All you have to do to understand the impact successful reclamation projects can have on a team is look at D.C. United. The four-time MLS Cup champion hit rock bottom in 2013, winning a league-record low three regular season matches. A year later, after successfully adding several proven veterans from the proverbial discount rack, D.C. United has won 14 matches, taken over first place in the Eastern Conference, and is in line to pull off the biggest turnaround in MLS history.
Teams like the New York Red Bulls, Houston Dynamo and Vancouver Whitecaps sit on the other end of the spectrum. They're all currently outside of the playoff picture and all watching former players light it up on teams gearing up for postseason runs.
Unearthing gems from other rosters is a long-standing tradition among MLS teams, with players such as Chris Wondolowski, Kyle Beckerman, Nick Rimando having found glory with new clubs after being unloaded by previous teams.
So who have been some of the best reclamation projects pulled off in the past few years in MLS? Here is a rundown of the 10 best from the past three seasons, based on their current form, what they cost to acquire, how much they have improved from their form before changing clubs and what they mean to their new teams now:
10. Max Urruti, Portland Timbers
Urruti wasn't exactly a cheap pickup, costing the Timbers a 2015 first-round pick, Bright Dike and allocation money, but the Argentine has been productive since joining Caleb Porter's side. He's helped the Timbers finish 2013 strong and has returned in 2014 with a team-leading nine goals so far this season.
9. Quincy Amarikwa, Chicago Fire
Very much a journeyman when he was acquired by the Fire before the 2013 season, Amarikwa came to Chicago after six MLS seasons that saw him score just four goals. After some flashes in 2013, and a then-career high three goals, he took off in 2014 and has scored a team-high seven goals. He's also added three assists to help keep Chicago's slim playoff hopes alive. How much of a bargain was Amarikwa? He was acquired for a first-round pick in the 2014 MLS supplemental draft, which was eliminated.
8. Will Johnson, Portland Timbers
In terms of talent, Johnson would be much higher on this list, but he was already an established standout when RSL dealt him away. He also didn't come cheap to the Timbers, costing a large amount of allocation money (believed to be in the $300,000 range). What the Timbers acquired was a captain, All-Star, and ideal midfielder and leader for Caleb Porter's system. It's tough to be too hard on RSL, which made the move for salary cap reasons, and because it had the midfield depth to make the move.
7. Luis Silva, D.C. United
A first-round pick by Toronto FC, Silva enjoyed a very promising rookie season before falling out of favor in 2013. TFC cut the cord quickly, unloading him to D.C. United midway through last season for allocation money believed to be between $75,000-$150,000. After taking some time to settle in, Silva has flourished in 2014, scoring eight goals and adding four assists. All that production has come in the team's past 12 matches, with D.C. United compiling an 8-4 record during that run.6. Sebastien Le Toux, Philadelphia Union
Another player who could be a bit higher in the list if he had not been dealt away by the Union just three years ago, Le Toux was brought back to Philadelphia for Josue Martinez (who played just 11 minutes for the Red Bulls) and allocation money. His two years away from the Union saw him struggle and manage just five goals and two assists. In his two years since rejoining the Union he has produced 14 goals and 18 assists, and has the Union pushing hard for a playoff spot.
5. Benny Feilhaber, Sporting Kansas City
Acquired for draft picks and allocation money before the 2013 season, Feilhaber joined Sporting Kansas City after a lackluster season with New England, and it was unclear just what Sporting KC would get out of the enigmatic midfielder. What they got was a quality midfielder who helped them win a MLS Cup. This year, Feilhaber has taken on an even more important role in midfield, and has produced three goals and six assists, though those totals don't tell the whole story of what he has brought to the table this season.
4. Fabian Espindola, D.C. United
Unhappy with the New York Red Bulls in 2013 despite contributing nine goals, Espindola was cut loose and wound up heading to D.C. United in the MLS re-entry draft. Talk about getting something for nothing. Espindola has been the lead forward D.C. was hoping Eddie Johnson would be, providing nine goals and a career-high nine assists as his team's most effective attacking player despite missing six matches because of injury.
3. Bobby Boswell, D.C. United
Another MLS re-entry draft gem, Boswell was forced out of Houston because of his large contract and wound up landing where his pro career first began. Boswell has been a revelation for a once-porous D.C. United defense, providing vital leadership and organization and a strong presence that has helped D.C. develop into a title contender. Seeing the Houston Dynamo defense also fall to pieces helped offer a good idea of just how important Boswell was to the Dynamo.
2. Joao Plata, Real Salt Lake
When TFC unloaded Plata to RSL, it was at a cut-rate price that left some fans up north scratching their heads. RSL general manager Garth Lagerwey made a shrewd move with the pickup of the electric Ecuadorian, who was a big part of the team's push to the 2013 MLS Cup Final. This year, Plata has become the most productive member of RSL's potent attack, notching career highs in goals (11) to go with five assists and earning a call to the national team.
1. Lee Nguyen, New England Revolution
When the Vancouver Whitecaps won the rights to Nguyen in a weighted lottery in December of 2011, most observers believed the onetime PSV Eindhoven man would be a welcome addition. The Whitecaps cut him just three months later. New England wasted no time grabbing him up and Nguyen repaid that faith by becoming a fixture in the starting lineup for the next three seasons. This year, Nguyen is playing at an MVP level, with his 12 goals tops among MLS midfielders and tied for fifth in MLS. He doesn't just score goals, he helps set them up as well as a highly skilled creator who has been the driving force behind the Revs' push back up the Eastern Conference standings.