One of the more surprising takeaways from the Houston Dynamo’s first three games has been the complete absence of offseason signing Alejandro Fuenmayor, the 21-year-old Venezuelan that was seen by many as a day one starter. He has yet to play a minute for a team still without starting right back AJ DeLaGarza.
Kevin Garcia has already played 225 minutes this season, more MLS minutes than the 27-year-old had accumulated in his entire career prior to 2018, and there isn’t much doubt that the former RGVFC captain is not an MLS-caliber player. The Dynamo’s backline, with an average age of 32, has not exactly been fleet of foot this season.
Wednesday’s trade for Colorado Rapids center back/defensive midfielder Jared Watts won’t solve the athleticism issue in defense, but he is versatile — adding depth to a d-mid spot that is currently missing Juan David Cabezas — and he can be a legit MLS starter at either spot.
It wasn’t that long ago that Watts was a core piece for one of the better defensive teams in MLS history. He started 18 games alongside Axel Sjoberg in the 2016 Rapids’ central defense and played every minute of their playoff run, helping the Rapids to a second-pace finish in the Western Conference. He’s fallen out of favor a bit since, and new manager Anthony Hudson has yet to put Watts on the field, but in a better situation, he can be a solid player.
The Dynamo didn’t give up too much for the 26-year-old’s services, either. Compared to similar recent signings, the $100k of Targeted Allocation Money going back to Colorado is a fairly cheap amount from a Dynamo perspective.
The exchange rate between General and Targeted Allocation Money has settled around $1 GAM = $1.5 TAM, so the $75k of GAM D.C. United sent NYCFC for third center back Frederic Brilliant (who’s about as good as Watts) is more valuable than the $100k of TAM the Dynamo parted with. In August of 2017, Colorado sent Dillon Powers to Orlando for the same amount Watts drew.
Columbus left back Waylon Francis, who had been out of playing time similar to the way Watts has been, was traded to the Sounders in December for $50k of GAM, so the Rapids may have looked to that transaction as similar to a potential Watts trade. It could be argued that the Villanova product is better than Francis, and more useful due to his versatility, another testament to the Dynamo’s business here.
Last month’s trade of center back Jose Aja to Vancouver provides another benchmark. Aja, a 24-year-old mistake-prone Orlando defender, went for $125k of TAM, which remains a surprisingly high amount. Colorado should have looked at that trade and said, “yeah, we’ll need more than that.” They got less.
On the field, Watts is a more agile Philippe Senderos. He’s 6’1”, an inch shorter than the Swiss 33-year-old, and in Colorado, he was the ball-winning and ground-covering counter to the redwood tree that is Axel Sjoberg. Watts isn’t a great distributor, but he doesn’t necessarily need to be as long as Eric Alexander and/or Cabezas can take on that responsibility.
Given Darwin Ceren’s presence, it seems more likely Watts was brought in to play more defense than midfield, although that could depend on Cabezas’s availability. (Please spare us from the Watts-Ceren pairings, Wilmer.) He could step in and start next to Senderos or Leonardo and allow Machado to shift to right back until DeLaGarza returns.
It’s due time for Fuenmayor to find minutes, though. He was signed for a reason, and if he’s as good or worse than Garcia, the Dynamo need to fire some scouts.
No need to the fire those that proctored this deal. They didn’t give up much for a player capable of playing from the get-go, and you can never have too much depth down the spine.