Los Angeles clubs fare well, while D.C. United and Philadelphia raise some questions.Who said December was the quiet time on the MLS calendar?
While the common wisdom may have proven this to be true in the past, the introduction of the Re-Entry Process has disproved it in spades.
After its uneventful debut with only two players selected during stage one, the process sparked a flurry of action during stage two on Wednesday afternoon. Eleven players changed addresses during stage two, while a series of related and quasi-related trades resulted in more alterations and more talking points for clubs around the league.
The dust is still settling after a frantic day of movement, but the Friday Five is here to sort through some of the winners and the losers from the chaotic process.
1. Winner – MLS Players Union: When the MLSPU devised this re-entry system, it wanted to do two things for declined option and out-of-contract players: create leverage and facilitate movement.
On both counts, the new mechanism represented an improvement from past years. More players had their contract options exercised than in years past, while other out-of-contract players reaped the benefits of receiving the bona fide offer required to retain a player's rights under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. As an added bonus, players can now plan for the next year off of the field with the accelerated timeline regarding contract decisions and the guaranteed contracts on offer to all process-eligible players.
While players who skirted the process improved their lot dramatically, the progress didn't particularly extend to the players actually mired in the process. The numbers – only two players left the board in stage one and presumably improved upon their 2010 salary, only a handful of players agreed to new deals prior to stage two, and several players may miss out on a roster spot or suffer significant pay cuts in the aftermath – are relatively ugly, particularly with the addition of two teams this year. The uncertainty of the process may have contributed to the bloodletting, but it is by no means certain that the number of players involved will dwindle in 2011.
Despite those relative setbacks, the first edition of the process, even with its pitfalls, marks a incremental step forward for the MLSPU and its members. The new process isn't free agency, but it is better than the frustrating alternative employed in the past.
2. Winner – Los Angeles: As one might expect, Galaxy manager and seasoned MLS operator Bruce Arena worked through the process adroitly. Instead of extending a bona fide contract offer to Jovan Kirovski to keep him out of the process, Arena left him exposed and watched as the southern California native pulled his name out after stage one to agree to a new and presumably reduced deal. Arena then sent the equivalent of a party favor to Houston in order to pick up the fifth pick in stage two. The move worked out perfectly when the first four teams passed on Arena's object of desire, former New York striker Juan Pablo Angel, to clear the way for the Galaxy to select the former Colombian international to bolster its front line. To cap it all off, Arena immediately sent his second pick, Luke Sassano, to Sporting Kansas City for veteran fullback Frankie Hejduk without adding in any additional sweeteners.
While Arena probably deserves demerits for shipping Tristan Bowen to Chivas USA in exchange for allocation money (more on that move later), he plucked two useful players out of the re-entry process as the Galaxy gears up for one last run in the final year of David Beckham's contract. By any measure, the final haul counts as a resounding win.
3. Loser – D.C. United: On the surface, United can say it came away with two much-needed veteran strikers – Joseph Ngwenya and Josh Wolff – to boost its woeful attack. Dig a little deeper and one question emerges: did D.C. obtain the best value for its dollar with its acquisitions? On that count, it's a bit harder to side with United given the sporadic goal production from both players in recent seasons and the six-figure salaries likely offered to entice them to the District. Ngwenya and Wolff may bang in the goals and merit their paychecks in 2011, but the initial assessment suggests D.C. could have done more with its relative position of power in both phases of the process.
4. Winner – Chivas USA: For a team with no discernible personnel structure at the moment, the Red-and-White used the gaggle of contributors on hand to navigate the murky re-entry process waters remarkably well. Jimmy Conrad immediately bolsters a shaky central defensive corps and provides veteran leadership, while Tristan Bowen represents a promising addition for the future in exchange for a dose of allocation money that probably wouldn't make Chivas USA much better in 2011 anyways. Who knew apparent chaos could yield such tidy results?
5. Loser – Philadelphia: Instead of making a move to improve the Union on Wednesday afternoon, Philadelphia manager Peter Nowak decided to pass on the available offerings (with the third pick, no less) and snipe at Los Angeles' approach to team-building. While both choices seem reasonable enough given Philly's specific personnel situation and its ethos regarding roster construction, it also seems fair to note that the Union must now make the right choices in the external transfer market to buttress the appropriateness of its barbs and its decisions. To cap off a rather odd day in Chester and underscore the richness of Nowak's criticisms, Philly also lost the rights to goalkeeper Chris Seitz – a player the Union acquired from Real Salt Lake for a sum approaching $200,000 last winter – to FC Dallas (via Seattle) for nothing.
Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for Goal.com. He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSsoccer.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.
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