Juan Pablo Angel, Jimmy Conrad Re-Entry
The inaugural MLS Re-Entry Draft kicked off to lofty expectations last week with a first round that was more a preamble than anything else, as just two unheralded players found new homes.
But when Wednesday’s second stage began, the player movement mechanism most certainly found its legs.
During the rapid-fire draft’s nine-minute second stage, 11 players, including high-profile veterans Juan Pablo Angel, Jeff Cunningham and Jimmy Conrad, saw their rights shipped to new clubs in the innovative event that emerged thanks to last offseason’s collective bargaining agreement.
While teams selecting in the first stage were bound to certain contractual obligations, the second go-around provided more freedom to negotiate down the salaries of expensive veterans, thus opening the personnel floodgates.
The most attention-grabbing move came courtesy of Bruce Arena and the Los Angeles Galaxy, who acquired the Houston Dynamo’s fifth overall pick and selected Angel, formerly of the New York Red Bulls. A lethal striker with an impressive pedigree and infallible MLS track record, Angel was widely expected to be claimed by a goal-starved squad looking to add a proven commodity up front.
Instead, the Supporters Shield winners claimed him in hopes of reinforcing an already prolific attack. At 35-years-old, however, Angel no longer warrants the designated player money he made in New York. So the clock is now ticking on Arena to convince Angel he should decline opportunities abroad and take his talents to Long Beach for less money.
In order to make acquisitions such as Angel official, front offices must negotiate a new salary with selected players within seven days. Drafting clubs retain the rights of any players chosen who do not sign new contracts, while the 21 players who were passed over (such as Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Jaime Moreno, Richard Mulrooney and Nick Garcia) are available as free agents to any team.
There was also wheeling and dealing after the fact Wednesday. Two draftees, Frankie Hejduk and Luke Sassano, were traded for each other, with Sassano heading to Sporting Kansas City and Hejduk packing his bags for Los Angeles. And later, Seattle Sounders FC shipped Chris Seitz to FC Dallas for a fourth-round SuperDraft pick.
Now, enjoy a player-by-player breakdown of Wednesday’s selections below.
D.C. United — forward Josh Wolff
With the likes of Conrad and Cory Gibbs available, many figured United coach Ben Olsen would pluck a teammate of his from the United States’ 2006 World Cup squad with the top pick. But few thought the 33-year-old Wolff would be that player. It is now apparent the Olsen regime has made restocking a listless attack its first order of business. (The Black and Red scored 10 less goals than any other team in 2010.) Might Wolff’s entrance show a lack of faith in goal-shy forward Pablo Hernandez, whose pricey loan deal expires midseason? Wolff has already signed a contact, so stay tuned.
Chivas USA — defender Jimmy Conrad
After United passed on Conrad, Chivas USA gleefully snatched up the 33-year-old center back’s rights. Known for his vivacious personality and positive locker room presence, Conrad could insert energy to a team severely lacking leadership following former captain Sacha Kljestan’s summer transfer to Anderlecht. Of course, adding an established defender to a leaky back line that ranked among the league’s worst last season would be another plus.
New England Revolution – defender Ryan Cochrane
Considered perhaps the best bargain in the draft when factoring in his expected price tag, Cochrane could fill the void left by Gibbs and partner with athletic youngster Darrius Barnes in the middle of New England’s defense. A consistent performer who flew under the radar in Houston, Cochrane is a vintage Steve Nicol man.
Los Angeles Galaxy – forward Juan Pablo Angel
In hindsight, the move really shouldn’t be that surprising. Arena is famously fond of filling out his roster with aging veterans (also reference Hejduk, Frankie), and the former U.S. national team boss expressed his desire for a second striker to partner with MVP finalist Edson Buddle in an interview with MLSsoccer.com just this week. If
Angel is going to take a significant pay cut to stay in MLS, no team offers a more inviting package than the Galaxy. Even if Los Angeles doesn’t add Ronaldinho, as has been rumored, what back line can contain an attacking nucleus of Angel, Buddle, David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Juninho? MLS defenses, be warned.
Chicago Fire – defender Cory Gibbs
Once a promising talent destined for a starting spot with the U.S. national team, Gibbs has seen injuries and inconsistency relegate him to journeyman status. Still, he is only 30-years-old, and he offers the flexibility to play both centrally and at left back. Already inked for 2011, Gibbs will help Chicago recover from the loss of All-Star defender Wilman Conde to Mexican side Atlas.
Sporting Kansas City – defender Frankie Hejduk (traded to LA Galaxy)
If there is a big individual winner from today’s proceedings, it’s the surf-loving Californian who was drafted by Kansas City (landlocked city, rebuilding team), only to have his rights traded to Los Angeles (waves aplenty, MLS Cup contenders) hours later. The ever-vigorous Hejduk now seems set to join a long line of declining U.S. internationals to reunite with their former coach. Although he is closer to 40 years old than 30, his fitness has always been the least of his concerns. Hejduk could compete with Todd Dunivant for the left back role while also giving Arena the flexibility to occasionally shift speedy right back Sean Franklin to midfield.
Seattle Sounders FC – goalkeeper Chris Seitz (traded to FC Dallas)
Trading for an understudy to the 36-year-old Kevin Hartman while dumping unreliable backup Dario Sala is logical for Dallas. Even though the already-signed Seitz showed he isn’t ready for a full-time MLS gig during his 23 erratic starts in Philadelphia this past season, the former U.S. youth standout is still just 23 years old. As Hartman himself proves, that makes him an infant by goalkeeping standards.
Columbus Crew – forward Jeff Cunningham
It only seems appropriate Cunningham might end up breaking Moreno’s all-time MLS scoring mark back in Columbus, where his career began in 1998. His 62-goal total for the Crew is still the highest among his five MLS stops thus far. With the departures of Schelotto and Jason Garey, Columbus can offer minutes up top aplenty for Cunningham to claim.
Los Angeles Galaxy – midfielder Luke Sassano (traded to Sporting Kansas City)
After passing over Sassano for Hejduk during the draft, Kansas City had an apparent change of heart and traded for the 25-year-old’s rights after all. A versatile player who got lost in the shuffle during New York’s star-studded overhaul, Sassano could immediately compete for minutes as a holding midfielder, assuming he recovers from the ankle injury that cost him much of last season.
Colorado Rapids – defender Tyrone Marshall
While Colorado coach Gary Smith is set with converted fullbacks Drew Moor and Marvell Wynne anchoring his defense, the trade of Julien Baudet to Seattle left the unit lacking depth and experience. Enter Marshall, a 36-year-old former All-Star with 13 years of MLS service to his name.
New England Revolution – midfielder Fred
Some of the dynamic Brazilian playmaker’s most impressive performances have come against the Revolution, so it’s easy to see why Nicol would pounce on him. Fred hasn’t come close to matching the solid numbers he posted during his 2007 campaign with D.C. United (seven goals, eight assists), but he could add some much-needed spontaneity in the attacking third to the Revolution’s lethargic offense.