Minnesota United swapped one young, diminutive reserve-team prospect for another when it traded away MLS Next Pro's Best XI midfielder Aziel Jackson and acquired LA Galaxy's Cameron Dunbar in November.
Loons technical director Mark Watson called the two moves both separate and a "package deal" that makes his team better by adding a dynamic, elite athlete and a humble, hardworking talent.
Listed at 5-4, Dunbar played 18 games with the Galaxy first team and another 48 games in the last three years for the Galaxy II reserve team. Born and raised in California, he also played with the U.S. U-17 team in 2018.
All of it before his 21st birthday, in October.
"For a young kid, he has played nearly 20 games for the Galaxy," Loons coach Adrian Heath said in a video conference call with reporters from Florida training. "Whatever we think of the Galaxy, they've been the standard-bearers of the league for the last 10-15 years. We were quite surprised we could get him for what we did. We think it's a great value."
Dunbar called his three seasons in and around the Galaxy first team a confidence-building experience he can continue in Minnesota.
"There are good players here I can learn from," he said. "Football is football and it's not all meant to be played the same way. We saw that in the World Cup: Morocco killed it this year playing a very different style. I'm really enjoying it here so far with the gaffer [Heath]. He has given me a lot of confidence with the ball, and I feel like I can just play my game.
"I love running at defenders, causing problems in the final third, whether it's crossing the ball or driving at the backline with it."
Dunbar's game uses his speed and ball control to vex opposing backlines. Heath praises Dunbar's quick feet as well as his technical skills and understanding of the game.
"The one thing about the kid, he can run the ball," Heath said. "He can dribble. He has an eye for the goal. He looks like he has a goal in him and that's something that we spoke to him about."
Dunbar nearly scored on what Heath called an "unbelievable effort" that required star goalkeeper Andre Blake to make an "unbelievable save" in a 2-2 preseason friendly draw with Philadelphia.
In Florida training these last two weeks, Dunbar impressed Heath by at times filling the playmaking midfielder role that absent Emanuel Reynoso usually plays, saying "little Cameron Dunbar" showed "little glimpses" playing that No. 10 role.
"Can we consistently get him in really good spots in and around the penalty area because he can maneuver the ball," Heath said. "He has two really good feet and he can get a shot off really early. Getting him for a third-round draft pick, we felt was good business. It remains to be seen whether it was or not."
The Loons traded that third-round pick (77th overall) in December's draft to LA as well as conditional $75,000 in general allocation money (GAM). They received $150,000 GAM from new St. Louis City SC for Jackson.
The Galaxy passed, declining to use that 11th-to-last pick in the draft.
"We've been really pleased with Cameron since he has been here," Heath said. "I think he will contribute for us this year."