Photo: Paul Rudderow
Forget Eddie Johnson. Let’s talk about Justin Morrow.
Once the MLS Cup final concludes on Dec. 7, the league will reopen the trade window.
Expect teams to make trades in a rapid burst beginning Monday and leading up to the MLS Re-Entry Draft’s first stage on Dec. 11. Last year, there were 10 trades in that similar span. Philadelphia Union made two of those trades, picking up Sebastien Le Toux and Jeff Parke.
With that trade window approaching and rumors putting the Union in the Eddie Johnson sweepstakes, it seemed a good time to look at trade prospects for the Union.
The Union enter this trade season with a decent compliment of allocation money, several unused international roster slots, and seven picks in the first three rounds of the MLS amateur draft. They have largely cleared their salary cap of dead money associated with former players. And they have logjams at right midfield, striker and right back.
Suffice to say, the Union have chips to play with in the trade market. Look for them to use them. A team as young as the Union doesn’t need to spend seven draft picks in three rounds. Union manager John Hackworth will wheel and deal some of them if he can. Hackworth has made clear his preference for acquiring proven MLS players as a means of improving a club. He will do it again, whether via trade or the Re-Entry Draft.
So let’s look at some of the players who may be available to the Union via trade. Readers, if you have any other suggested players and scenarios, feel free to share them in the Comments section in below.
(Note: This column will not cover players expected to be available in the Re-Entry Draft. So we’ll cover players like Daigo Kobayashi, David Ferreira, and Bobby Convey next week, once the full complement of players available in that draft becomes clearer.)
Justin Morrow, left back, San Jose
A year ago, Justin Morrow made the MLS All-Star team and won his first national team cap. This year, he was benched in August in favor of Jordan Stewart after Mark Watson replaced Frank Yallop as San Jose’s manager.
Morrow now has to win back his starting spot, but Stewart played very well during San Jose’s second half resurgence, statistically ranking as one of the Earthquakes’ best players. So Watson has two quality left backs on his roster. Both make over $100,000 a year. And San Jose just extended Stewart’s contract.
In other words, Morrow is trade bait.
The Union need a true left back who can add attacking width on the left side and defend. Morrow can do both and is probably available. He collected a $139,000 base salary last season. That’s affordable for a starting left back. At age 26, Morrow should be at the top of the Union’s wish list.
What the Union could offer/what San Jose might want: Allocation money, draft pick(s), Ray Gaddis or Sheanon Williams. San Jose needs help at central midfield, but the Union don’t have much to offer there. And the Earthquakes are strong at right back and outside midfield, where the Union have players to trade. A deal would probably have to involve allocation money. The wild card here is San Jose right back Steven Beitashour, who is out of contract. If he moves abroad to bolster his chances of making Iran’s World Cup squad, then San Jose needs a replacement, which could make Gaddis and Williams very attractive.
Likely outcome: Morrow will probably be in demand throughout the league, as good left backs are hard to find. There could be a be a bidding war for his services. Unless Bobby Convey has told the Union he’ll play left back and behave if he can come home to Philadelphia after a fairly well-received stint in Toronto still led to his departure, the Union should go all-out for Morrow.
Andrew Wenger, midfield, Montreal
Yes, you read that right: Andrew Wenger, midfield. Not forward, where Montreal has played him.
Wenger has made clear he thinks his best position is midfield, even though Montreal has chosen to deploy him at forward. Unlike the Union’s own positional controversy with Amobi Okugo, Wenger has failed to secure a regular spot in his starting lineup at forward, where he remains buried behind Marco Di Vaio, and he scored just one goal last season.
Montreal may not want to spend over $200,000 ($120k base salary in 2013) for a forward who doesn’t score. But that kind of investment for an attacking midfielder could pay off big time for the right team, such as Philadelphia.
Wenger turns 23 on Christmas Day and hails from Pennsylvania. Union assistant coach Brendan Burke should know Wenger well, having coached him in 2010 at Reading United in the PDL. Wenger’s versatility – he played center back for much of his college career – could attract John Hackworth, who prefers to move players to secondary positions before reaching too far down his depth chart to fill gaps.
Union offer: International roster spot(s), allocation money. Montreal will probably always need extra international roster slots, thanks to owner Joey Saputo’s fascination with the Italian league. The Union have several international slots to spare.
Likely outcome: Montreal will probably give Wenger another year, with Di Vaio’s retirement possible at any time, but with Saputo constantly seeking Italian players, he may need the salary budget space that Wenger’s departure could free up.
Steve Zakuani, winger, Seattle
Zakuani was a star in the making until Brian Mullan’s horror tackle in 2011 fractured Zakuani’s leg and ascent to stardom. Zakuani has played in just 16 games since then, as an assortment of other injuries (sports hernia, etc.) have dogged him on his comeback.
Few teams would risk much on Zakuani because of that injury history. And his contract situation remains unclear, so he could be available in the Re-Entry Draft. Seattle can’t afford dead roster spots for players making over $100,000, as Zakuani does, when they plan to burn one-third of their salary cap on designated players.
At the right price, Zakuani could be a gamble worth taking. The Union need a wide midfielder to play on the left side. Before his injury, that was Zakuani. He’ll be 26 years old in February. The question is whether he can ever replicate his pre-injury form.
Union offer: Allocation money or a draft pick. Zakuani could possibly be acquired for cheap, as there may not be many teams offering much. Seattle would love Jeff Parke back, but that’s not happening. Mike Lahoud is another possibility because of his versatility, but his injury problems in 2013 might scare off suitors.
Likely outcome: Zakuani could return to Seattle at a reduced salary, but some teams must be kicking the tires a bit, knowing that Clint Dempsey often functions best playing a left-sided attacking midfield role.
Eddie Johnson, striker, Seattle
Well, we have to touch on this one, don’t we?
Johnson is one of the league’s best forwards and can also play wide on the left, cutting inside as an auxiliary striker.
However, he probably wants to be paid at least $350,000 and is likely asking for closer to $500,000. He is a potential locker room problem, as one could tell from the various veiled references from the Sounders and the very explicit banning of Johnson from practice at one point during the season. He also turns 30 in March and will miss part of next season on national team duty.
Johnson has warning signs all over the place for a team like Philadelphia, which doesn’t have a ton of money to spend. He’s probably a better fit for another team with deeper pockets.
Union offer: Conor Casey or allocation money. There probably isn’t enough room in Philadelphia’s lineup for Casey, Johnson and Jack McInerney. Casey could be a perfect fit for Seattle though, giving Clint Dempsey and Lamar Neagle a target forward to play off.
Likely outcome: Johnson will probably go to a wealthier team, like Toronto or Los Angeles. He would fill clear needs for either team, and they should have the money to afford him. (Los Angeles would have to buy down his anticipated high salary figure with allocation money. Toronto has designated player slots open.)
Darren Mattocks, striker, Vancouver
This mercurial talent is buried beneath Camilo on Vancouver’s depth chart, and he may have talked his way out of town. There is no denying his talent after an impressive rookie season, but John Hackworth puts a lot of stress on character when he goes shopping for players. Add to that a $120,000 base salary in 2013 that will likely rise next year.
Union offer: Ray Gaddis or Sheanon Williams. Vancouver needs a right back after the retirement of Y.P. Lee. Gaddis is starting quality, he’s cheap, and he’s exactly the model citizen and perfect teammate that Mattocks isn’t. The same goes for Williams, but the Union may be more willing to part with Gaddis.
Likely outcome: Portland is a more likely trade partner. Mattocks’ college coach, Caleb Porter, could use a breakout striker. But Vancouver may not want to deal Mattocks just yet. Plus, Hackworth may not want Mattocks because he’s not the model teammate that Ray Gaddis is.
Servando Carrasco, midfielder, Houston
Carrasco looked to be having a breakout year with Seattle, as the team played better when he started (7-4-2) than when he didn’t (8-8-5). But Seattle unexpectedly traded him to Houston for Adam Moffat.
Carrasco could be a solid depth signing, with the potential to break in and replace Brian Carroll in central midfield, as his ability to push up and support the attack is superior to Carroll’s. Plus, Carrasco makes the league minimum salary, so he’s very economical. (We’ll leave his girlfriend out of this conversation.)
Union offer: No, Houston probably won’t take Danny Cruz back, so don’t ask. A high second round draft pick might do it, unless Dominic Kinnear is smart enough (which sometimes he’s not — see Wondolowski, Chris) to see that he has a decent player on his hands.
Likely outcome: A trade is unlikely. Kinnear got a decent deal by dumping Moffat’s salary – he became excess with the emergence of Warren Creavalle and return of Ricardo Clark — and getting a solid, cheap, 25-year-old player and a second round draft pick in return. Carrasco will probably stay with Houston because he’s cheap and good.
Chris Rolfe, attacking midfielder, Chicago
Rolfe’s stats slipped in 2013 after a banner return to Chicago from Denmark in 2012. That may be in large part because he and Mike Magee have similar styles, and Magee’s arrival eventually bumped Rolfe back to attacking midfield. That midfield role, however, could be what attracts the Union and other teams.
Rolfe made about $225,000 in base salary last season. With a new coach (Frank Yallop) in town and Magee potentially rendering Rolfe an expensive excess, Chicago might look to dump Rolfe’s salary, which means he could be available for cheap.
Union offer: Ray Gaddis. Jalil Anibaba has been decent at right back for Chicago, but Gaddis is a more natural fit for the role and would be an upgrade. Anibaba might best as a center back or a utility reserve defender.
Likely outcome: Rolfe will probably return to Chicago.
Zach Loyd, fullback, Dallas
Loyd is a natural right back who can play left back. Yes, the Union have seen that story before, but Loyd has shown a bit more facility on the left, even featuring there for the U.S. national team. This year, injuries marginalized him late in the year, and homegrown teenager Kellyn Acosta played well in his place.
Loyd’s contract expires this year, but Dallas could look to trade Loyd rather than give him up for nothing in the Re-Entry Draft. With a base salary under $100,000 and a previous track record of durability, Loyd would almost certainly be selected in the Re-Entry Draft.
Loyd could project as a starting left back for the Union, though he would not be as ideal a fit as a naturally left-footed fullback would. Either way, he’s a proven MLS veteran, and age 26, he has good years ahead of him.
Union offer: Danny Cruz, allocation money, draft pick. Dallas still lacks a coach, so the team may have some difficulty making trades until they hire one. Still, they have to decide what to do with Loyd. Allocation money would give the team’s future manager more flexibility, so that he doesn’t get saddled with a player he doesn’t like. But Dallas could use some help in the attacking midfield. It’s hard to envision Philadelphia giving up Michael Farfan for a natural right back when they already have Gaddis and Sheanon Williams. However, Cruz might do it, particularly if Dallas views a Loyd trade as a “getting something is better than getting nothing” scenario.
Likely outcome: Dallas resigns Loyd. Yes, Accosta played well, but Loyd played better. Loyd will cost more, probably around $150-180k, so that could still make him expendable. But he’s a solid starter entering his prime.
Marvin Chavez, winger, San Jose
Chavez was all-out nasty in 2012 as one of the league’s best wide players for San Jose, producing 3 goals and 13 assists. In 2013, new coach Mark Watson introduced him to the bench after Chavez netted just 1 goal and 1 assist in 12 games. Chavez indicated recently that he would likely be on the move to another team in MLS. With the ability to play on both flanks, he could fill the Union’s gap on the left side of midfield if he can return to his 2012 form.
Union offer: Same scenario as Justin Morrow above.
Likely outcome: Chavez will likely depart San Jose. It’s just a question of where he goes. The Union have likely at least inquired about his services. At age 30, the Honduran international likely has a few years left, but once his speed fades, he loses a ton of value as a player.