Monday MLS Breakdown: Weighing the merits of a second spell

MLS coaches aren't adverse to bringing a player back to his former club for another stint with the side. League rules provide one particular incentive.

The same impulse that drove Sébastien Le Toux's return to Philadelphia likely prompted the recent meeting between Vancouver coach Martin Rennie and former schemer Davide Chiumiento.

Familiar solutions hold a certain appeal for coaches.

After all, it isn't easy to import new talent. Ask Rennie how his decision to acquire Kenny Miller (now the target of a rather humbling loan entreaty from St. Mirren boss Danny Lennon) and Barry Robson worked out during the second half of the season. Feel free to hold a similar discussion about the merits of New York forward Josué Martinez and D.C. United striker Lionard Pajoy with Union boss John Hackworth, too. Both men can testify to the potential pitfalls of the so-called brighter future.

The moves for Chiumiento and Le Toux dovetail nicely with the usual approach in these sorts of matters when subsequent moves falter or vacancies appear. In fact, they fit pretty neatly into a pattern that also includes Chicago's profitable move for Chris Rolfe, Houston's swoop for Ricardo Clark and New England's return for Andy Dorman.

(Note: All three teams presented genuine offers to their departing charges in order to retain their rights in the event of a return to MLS. When Clark, Dorman and Rolfe agreed to a second spell in MLS, the clubs just had to agree to terms to cinch the deal. It is, after all, far easier to schedule a second act when league rules encourage it. Chiumiento does not fall into the same category because the Whitecaps received a fee for his services when he departed in the summer.)

Revisiting the past isn't some phenomenon exclusive to MLS. Foreign clubs dabble in the practice, particularly in the lower leagues. Notable teams in the four major American sports – check out the number of times Bill Belichick has cut and signed Deion Branch, for instance – follow similar protocols. Talent pools aren't infinite. There are only a certain number of players capable of meeting a certain standard. Most coaches are risk averse by nature. Many of them prefer to turn to a player who has displayed the necessary ability at one time or another.

With all of those points granted, the difficult operating procedures in MLS encourage this sort of behavior. Limited budgets inspire managers to gamble on players uncertain to transition effectively to the league. The success rate in the foreign market isn't as high as most people would prefer for any number of reasons (a dearth of money for transfer fees, for instance). Then again, there isn't anything to suggest that more money equals more success in this department, either. It just means the type of wager shifts to a player higher up the food chain. Those sorts of misses can prove far too expensive for a league functioning in this wage bracket.

And so the focus inevitably turns to players like Chiumiento and Le Toux once more. There are other players available on the world market for similar, perhaps even cheaper, prices. But both of these players hold a particular appeal because they are either available through the domestic trade market or willing to return to the league with a wide-eyed view of its limitations and strictures.

In Le Toux's case, his return to PPL Park brings his tale full circle after a tumultuous year. Former Union manager Peter Nowak used an awkward quasi-trial at Bolton Wanderers and the subsequent fallout to usher him out the door to Vancouver. The French forward failed to reproduce his best form in either British Columbia or New York and found himself on the trade block once again at the end of the season.

Hackworth knows he needs to fix his side's meager output in front of goal and turned to his former player to solve the problem in a rather deft trade with the Red Bulls. Le Toux remains a streaky finisher, but he supplies the veteran nous Jack McInerney needs and works his socks off even when he doesn't score. His popularity with the Sons of Ben doesn't hurt his cause, either.

Chiumiento enjoys a comparable level of support after his fitful initial spell with the Whitecaps. His skill on the ball enthralled fans, but his production did not always fall into the same category. The Swiss international midfielder influenced matches occasionally with his best patch of form occurring shortly before his contract-induced transfer to FC Zürich in the summer.

His potential return – and this move still remains in the talking stage, according The Province and several other reports out of Vancouver – results from an attempt to fill the creativity gap created by his first departure. Vancouver lacked a bit of imagination and a lot of goals once Chiumiento decamped for Switzerland. There aren't any on-board options (no, not even Robson) capable of mustering the sort of imagination Chiumiento adds to the side.

From the perspective of both clubs, it seems sensible now to plump for both players. Why shouldn't it? History provides a warning sign or two. Plenty of empirical examples exist to suggest the second stint – for whatever reason – sometimes pales in comparison to the first one. It isn't hard and fast and each player deserves individual consideration based on his merits, but the school of thought does exist. Alas, it never seems to rule the day. 

In this particular world, those modest risks tend to rank far below the utility of turning to a known and established quantity in times of need. Given the pitfalls of trying to exceed or match that sort of quality elsewhere, it isn't difficult to see why this trend remains in favor with MLS coaches trying to fill their squads with tested contributors in time for next season.

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