A most curious move: The Gabriel Farfan trade

Photo: Nicolae Stoian

Well, that wasn’t the trade we were expecting.

Here we were, waiting on this supposed Bakary Soumare trade. Then Philadelphia Union shows us they can still surprise with personnel moves.

Gabriel Farfan?

Gabriel Farfan.

One of the Union’s most entertaining and dynamic players, who’s been inexplicably stapled to the bench much of this season while three players he’s outplayed started in front of him?

Yeah, same guy. Gone to Chivas USA for a first round pick and allocation money.

Union manager John Hackworth sounded less than convincing Tuesday when I asked him during his weekly news conference whether Gabriel Farfan was competing with anyone other than his brother for a starting spot — in particular, Keon Daniel and Danny Cruz. “Sure, absolutely,” Hackworth said.

Little did we know he was trading Farfan away.

The Union’s use of Farfan has baffled this year. He was initially billed as the starting left back. That ended when Ray Gaddis became the surprise opening starter and held down the position until Saturday, when he moved to right back in the absence of Sheanon Williams and allowed Farfan back into the lineup at left back.

Farfan, of course, has always been a true midfielder, but every time the Union tried to put someone on the field in front of him, Farfan always outplayed him. That remains the case this year, when Daniel, Cruz and Gaddis have been the Union’s most underwhelming starters. Gaddis lacks a left foot, Daniel lacks attacking instincts, and Cruz lacks a role in the short passing game because he’s always looking for runs behind the defense.

Hackworth said last week that Farfan’s lack of playing time this year was largely due to his competition with his brother for playing time. But why was he competing primarily with his brother? Why was Michael Farfan even at left midfield when he has played far better on the right and even in the center? It seemed so simple to just slide Michael Farfan back to the center or right and insert Gabriel Farfan at left midfield at the expense of either Daniel or Cruz, who have had occasional good games bracketed by extended periods of ineffectiveness.

Or not.

The Union received a first round pick — which will probably be in the top 5 — and an undisclosed amount allocation money for Gabriel Farfan. That is typically good value for a player who isn’t starting regularly.

It may prove otherwise in this case. In no major North American professional sport are draft picks worth so little as in MLS, where many of the best players don’t enter the league through the amateur draft. And the allocation amount is probably under $100,000.*

Farfan was one of the Union’s most dynamic and fearless players. No Union player not named Farfan can do the things he can with the ball at his feet. He creates offense, turning nothing into something. He can actually flourish in an attacking role on the left flank, unlike anyone else on the Union roster. And he’s versatile enough that he can probably play all four midfield positions and both outside back spots. Sure, he could seem like a red card waiting to happen, and his occasional dives were maddening. But given time at his true position, wide midfield, it seemed inevitable that he would blossom.

And he probably will, somewhere else.

Many Union fans have criticized Hackworth, his midfield choices, and the midfield’s disjointed play this season, but I have consistently given him the benefit of the doubt in the face of the usual Negadelphia routine. After all, his team is winning games and earning road points — albeit against bad teams. The team sits in a playoffs spot — though a murderous seven-match stretch (New York, Dallas, Salt Lake, Houston, Chivas, Portland, and Vancouver) starting June 23 could change that. Hackworth has done a decent job fixing the bad personnel decisions of his predecessor, Peter Nowak, that have handicapped roster flexibility. (Kleberson looks like  a contract that expires sooner than Freddy Adu’s, nothing more.) And he has brought a touch of class to an organization that Nowak disgraced.

This trade is Hackworth’s most questionable decision yet. It subtracts an exciting player who had been part of the team’s young foundation, doubles down on Cruz (and possibly Daniel), and could shake Farfan’s twin, who hasn’t exactly benefited from moving to yet another midfield position. This feels an awful lot like the Union’s trade of Andrew Jacobson to FC Dallas, where he has become the key midfield fulcrum of the top team in MLS.

Gabriel Farfan will probably welcome the deal because he may get the chance to start regularly in midfield for Chivas, not far from his hometown.

But he should be starting for Philadelphia Union. At the very least, it would make them more fun to watch.


  1. I agree with everything completely.

  2. Trade Farfan who is versatile and young and keep Daniel who….oh yeah does nothing well except grow dreads and watch his man run into open space and score goals.

    • Not sure Daniel has much trade value since he takes up an international spot and has been poor as a starter.

  3. I don’t feel like this trade is all that big a deal. He’s a very average player at best. A first round pick alone would have been fair enough but allocation on top of that is exceptionally well for him.

    He’s not the fastest player, not the smartest, best offensively, nor defensively. He didn’t offer much. He’s probably top 5 players on the team on the ball/ball skills, which I won’t deny but who cares when he tracks back lazily to foul a player within 30 yards of net?

    He’s not a true left back, nor is Gaddis, and if we were to trade either of them, Gabe would have been my first choice to go too. What we need to do now is pick up a true left back so that we don’t have to live with Gaddis starting the rest of the season.

    Always sucks to see a player go, but when you get more than his value in return, it’s all fine. Chivas isn’t doing well, and a top 7 or so pick would be fantastic.

    Still think Hackworth is a moron, not for this trade, but just week in and out. He’s not a head coach.. We need a true manager who will get a true left back and maybe appoint a true captain. That’d be fantastic.

    • McMohansky says:

      I’m with you. NBD. Over-rated player. Hopefully it does shake up his uninspired brother.

    • Scottymac says:

      “What we need to do now is pick up…”

      Dude, we traded Harvey for magic MLS beans in July 2011. We’ve whiffed on two drafts for LBs, the last one was even more egregious with Hacktics passing up on LB , saying we liked Damani. We then cut Damani. What makes you think we got better? They’ll use the Chivas magic beans to pay down Klebersons salary, not fill an already thin position.

      This smells like salary movement to pay Kleberson. The only winners are Garfan for escaping that FO and Cruz for removing one more threat to his cemented role.

  4. I agree with almost everything, but this in particular jumped out:

    “In no major North American professional sport are draft picks worth so little as in MLS.”

    I think it’d be possible to argue that NBA picks are worth less. Outside of number one, and sometimes number two – except when the Sixers get it, apparently – the NBA draft is a giant crap shoot. For sure, there are very good players taken; but there are also a whole lot of misses. Whether you draft at 5, 8, 13, or 21 doesn’t have much say in whether or not you’re getting the superstar your organization needs.

    Otherwise, good piece. I’m still not sure how I feel about the trade…

    • Steve l. says:

      I agree with the draft being least worth it in America, you are right bout both being a crap shoot, but the only way into the NBA is through the draft, but in MLS you can get in multiple ways. I think that’s what he’s getting at.

    • I’m too lazy to look it up, but I’m pretty sure at least 4 of the top 7 Superdraft picks from this year are regular starters.

    • Dan Walsh says:

      Interesting point about the NBA. Not sure I’d agree, but I don’t follow the NBA nearly as much as I used to. (i.e. If this was 10-15 years ago, I’d say hell no, you’re wrong, but it’s not, so I’ll say interesting point, and thanks for the props otherwise. 😉 )

  5. sieve!!!!!! says:

    I dunno how they are gonna sell season tickets next year. Dude calls me like once a week as is. Next year I think he’s gonna show up to my house with flowers.

  6. If the loss of Gabe Farfan keeps people from renewing their season tickets, god save the human race.

    • Well it is a cumulative effect. The Union says it wants to develop young players, that this is the long and patient road to championships, nay dynasty. But after rebuild after rebuild after questionable even obstinate lineup choices they trade one of the very players they should be developing a player who could be a building block to this bright theoretical future, but also one who could make the team demonstrably better in the hear and now.
      We a sports franchise goes into a death spiral it is never just one thing. If losing Garfan enough… no. But this has been 2+ years of this. 2+ years of the fans more or less holding up their end of the bargain, and people can take only so much.

      For all I know the kid we draft will be the next American Chicharito and that is important, we should have all of the American Chicarito’s. But it is a punt, a reset, a best guess that will take at least 2 years to figure out and it will beg the questoin if you guys couldn’t find a way to make a player like Garfan work what makes you think you’ll do better with this guy.

      So people may choose not to renew.

    • I agree 100% Wevy. If fans are going to be fair-weather fans about it, let them go right ahead. My initial favorite Union player, Jordan Harvey, got traded away the game after I finally got his signature on my jersey. Did I stomp my feet and refuse to go watch a game that I love and a team that I love just because they let my favorite player go? Absolutely not, and the Harvey trade actually had a huge negative impact on the team hence the gaping hole at left back since he left. Trades happen, especially in this sport above all others.
      To all who bought Gabe’s jersey and are now butthurt that he is gone: I am sorry for your loss, but you will have to get over it. Who knows, what if the U use that draft pick and/or money to pick up your next favorite player whom you like even better?
      I guess you could always hope the Union buys him back in a year after he bounces around multiple teams at double the price so that he can personally call you and beg you to re-up…

  7. Steve l. says:

    I just don’t get it, if nothing else this weekend taught us we need more defensive cover, yet alone that gabe is the best LB on the roster. For those who argue his ability, that’s not the point of most people’s Niger I’ve talked to. The whole LB thing has been so mishandled this season it’s ridiculous. First we don’t draft a LB because we have the kid from T&T I believe, then he gets released. Then gabe is the starting LB, first game of the season Gaddis is there and has been since which is only kind of working out at best. Gabe gets to finally play LB because of suspensions and injury, plays better than Gaddis has and gets traded away a few days later. I’ve been a supporter of Gaddis, and have repeatedly reminded people that most teams from USMNT to Manchester United have problems getting good LB, but this is starting to be the worst case I’ve seen.

  8. Jaap Stam says:

    Sad to see Gabe go. He bled for us. Fearless on the pitch. Hackworth wasn’t going to start him so he’s better off at Chivas playing 90 min every game. Here comes Don Anding.
    The Union should win the championship of selling the team’s most popular players! No other MLS Front Office repeatedly guts it’s squad of fan favorites like our FO. Thanks Hack & Sak!
    Too early to be sellers. We should be adding talent! This just feels wrong!

  9. The Right Lineup says:

    We don’t need him. We have Damani Richards.

  10. Nowak all over again

    • Not by a long shot. Nowak was selling players at below market value out of spite. Hackworth saw an opportunity to get more than market value out of the worst-run team in MLS (which is finally not us), and took it. It’s sad to see Farfan go, but I’ve got no problem with the trade.


  12. The Duke says:

    Am I crazy to think this might be a part of a bigger deal in the works with Chicago and LA?

    Robbie Rogers is going from Chicago to LA. That will allow Chicago to get some allocation money to pay down Baky’s salary. With Robbie Rogers and (probably) Frank Lampard arriving, LA will need to deal some cap space.

    So, possibly a decent signing from LA coming our way? Maybe?

  13. I would have bet any amount of money that we were going to see Torres traded to Chivas. Chelis has been talking for a while about getting both Farfan twins (they are a great marketing tool for the Chivas fanbase), but I never thought that would happen. My guess is they really wanted him and gave the Union an offer that was above Garfan’s value, so they made a pure business decision. Too bad, I always that it was amazing to see twin brothers play for the same professional sports team. Has that ever happened before in the US?

  14. Jaap Stam says:

    We are so friggin’ thin on the left side of the pitch that this deal reeks…!!!

  15. George H says:


    I totally agree with you on Garfan.

    The parallel on Jacobson is a good one, but I thought we left him unprotected in the expansion draft and Portland essentially packaged him to Dallas for Dax McCarty.

  16. JediLos117 says:

    Nothing curious about this move…maybe bad timing but nothing curious.
    G. Farfan has played 312 out of 900 possible minutes and while he may have been our best option at LB he still under-whelmed against the fire in that role.
    Plain and simple this is good business by the FO and coaching staff.
    Overly dramatic bunch round here. We gonna do this for everybody that leaves?

    • +1. It’s fun to complain about things, otherwise we wouldn’t have much to talk about, but people act like its the end of the world. The fact that people are comparing Hack to Nowak is ridiculous! I wish everyone would spend some of this energy and passion on bringing a couple new fans to the game. I’m already feeling embarrassed about what the attendance is going to look like tonight against the defending MLS champs who are set to play two absolute stars of the game. Never thought Philly would produce such fair-weather fans.

      • No this isn’t Nowak, this is a fresh hell. At least under Nowak players would get their chance on the field at least once to prove their worth. Under Hackworth the same players will get put out there for arbitrary reasons known only to him. They will stay out there despite any and all evidence that whats out there isn’t working and there are better options available.

        I think I might prefer Nowak.

      • WilkersonMcLaser says:

        Fair weather fans? What a ridiculous thing to say. I said it during the darker days of the Nowak era and I’ll say it again. I cheer for the team, which is made up of players, and not for the corporate ledger or brand. When you strip the team of those individuals that make it special, with little regard for opinions of the fans, all that’s left is checkbook and a hollow branding campaign.
        We aren’t quite there yet, thank goodness, but this is exactly how it began under Nowak. Nowak was absolutely a punk, but it’s fair to say that the common denominator between he and Hack is a certain guy named Sak …

    • If moving players around like poker chip gaining allocation money is good business then yes it works.

      If having players on the field that cause excitement, help win games and make fans want to come out to the stadium and give you their money is their business then it isn’t.

      you tell me and while you are at it tell the Union because I don’t think they know any more.

  17. Buzzkill_Ed says:

    Chivas gave them an offer they couldn’t refuse. Tough to blame the Union here.

  18. Great One says:

    This is a complete and utter disgrace. The FO makes so many moves based on money, rather than the good of the team, it’s ridiculous. Best of luck to you Gabe, I sincerely hope you come back and beat the crap out of us, just to show the FO and John Crapworth they know nothing.

    • Ives is reporting that the Union FO has just traded two-week temporary cotton-candy huckster Johnathan Doe to McDonald’s. A petition to fire Hackworth is starting to circulate.

    • The Black Hand says:

      While this trade doesn’t necessarily suit our needs, it isn’t the worst thing in the world. Chives paid very handsomely for Farfan. More than his performances, to date, are worth. Gabriel is a talented player, with a good bit of upside, but the reality is; he has been completely mediocre throughout his time with the Union. This deal does leave us thin on the left side of the pitch (I want to think that Hack n Co. have a plan to remedy that…yeah right), but it really wasn’t an awful deal, only because of the price Chivas paid. A top 5 pick, is pretty good for Garfan. The money is gravy.
      Good luck Gabe!

      • Great One (Gretzky?) says:

        I agree, its not the actual deal that is bad. We got fair to great compensation for Garfan. It’s more the idea behind it all and the fact that we already have no LB, have a horrendous midfield, and have no answers on the bench. It’s depressing from a fan’s perspective knowing that its going to be more rebuilding. And this just reeks of the FO trying to save some money on salary this year.

      • Just like we didn’t draft a LB because we had a plan for that right? I’m never going to believe they did something with a plan in the works after that one.

  19. WilkersonMcLaser says:

    This stinks of Sak all over. Still, I have defended Hack since he took over, but no longer. Open fuckin season.

  20. How much is Garfan? $50,000? I’m hoping they received a bit more in allocation money. In reference to the “SUPERDRAFT”, that entire entity is completely overrated imho. Many are in their early twenties that should have been in an academy system much earlier to be seasoned professionals at 21 or 22. I’m sad that he’s going to a clusterf*** like Chivas, but hopefully he’ll get the playing time he needs and deserves. It’s a push for me.

  21. Dan Walsh says:

    One thing to note that I didn’t expressly spell out in the post above: We don’t know how much allocation money Chivas gave. I wrote the Union probably got under $100,000, and that’s based on what I’ve learned of other trades around MLS. However, it could well be that Chivas dumped a ton of allocation cash on the Union. If so, obviously that tilts the scales a bit.

    • Only so much. I would be surprised if the cash did anything but pay down Baky or Klebersons salary. Same problems no hope for any change in the future

  22. When chivas completely implodes this season this could be the first overall pick. Have we completely ignored that possibility

    • Chivas already has 11 points this season. Do you really think DC United can catch up to them?

      • Its a long season and I actualy like the talent on DC a lot more than on Chivas. Plus a 7 point difference is 2 wins and 1 tie. Very managable with 28 games left

  23. Andy Muenz says:

    Trades happen in sports, but it scares me when we trade someone who plays a position without a lot of depth for money and draft picks. What are we going to do when Sheanon or Ray has a yellow or red card suspension? Is Albright ready to go 90 minutes?

  24. Jaap Stam says:

    We have exactly ZERO Left backs on the squad right now. Gaddis will be a stud RB in the future but he’s a liability on the left side right now. That is my biggest problem with this trade.
    That Cochrane guy in L.A. could have come in handy right about now! No plan? Sure looks that way!

  25. neck label says:

    i think the reason LA lost last week is because the leftback got beat twice. maybe im not remembering correctly

  26. I agree 110% !! Gage might have been a little hot headed but his skill level is far superior to Cruz or Gaddis, even Daniels. What’s the real reason he was traded is the real question? I really pissed he was traded!!

  27. I also agree for the most part, but let’s not go all teary-eyed about Garfan. Not sure if I would say he would turn “nothing into something” on any kind of regular basis, and I don’t think calling him one of the Union’s “most dynamic and fearless” players is saying anything at all.

    My hope is that there’s a benefit in terms of a purchase or a contract for a hidden diamond in the academy behind the scenes that outweighs Garfan’s value on the team. But this is all too typical of the kind of trade/sale the Union has pursued in the past, and there isn’t really any precedent for hope, unfortunately.

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