Photo: Paul Rudderow
This week, the MLS version of free agency begins.
The Re-Entry Draft was dreamed up in the last round of collective bargaining as a compromise between the single entity league, which wanted nothing to do with the free market competition of open free agency, and the players, who wanted the ability to move on from a team once the pairing no longer worked.
Here are the rules: Players who are out of contract or had their contract option declined and meet certain eligibility requirements are available in the draft, which takes part over two stages. Teams are effectively bound to a player’s prior contract in the first stage and must either exercise the option or make an offer of a comparable salary. In the second stage, they can renegotiate a new contract with players. Teams pick players in reverse order of the overall regular season standings. Between the two stages, a player made available in the draft can resign a new contract with his 2013 team.
Philadelphia Union have the sixth pick in the draft. Last year, they grabbed Conor Casey in the draft’s second stage, and he went on resurrect his career and become runner-up for comeback player of the year.
Several players should draw interest from the Union, though most teams don’t pick players until the draft’s second stage. Several Philadelphia-area natives are available, and there are multiple options at left back, a position the Union need to fill. Here’s a look at some of the names that might jump out at the Union.
Heath Pearce, left back
There was a time when discussion of the U.S. national team’s left back pool began with Pearce. Injuries have dogged him, however, and last month, Pearce revealed that he has been playing with a torn labrum for most of the last three years. He cut this season short to finally undergo surgery to address the problem. At 29, a healthy Pearce should be in demand.
Why the Union might take him: The Union need a starting left back. Pearce would have to accept a salary at or below $200,000. On a one-year deal with an option year, he’s absolutely worth consideration because a team could minimize risk by inserting the option.
Why the Union might not: Another team might pick him first. D.C. United, Chivas USA, and Toronto all could use upgrades at left back. Alternately, the Union might go in another direction, with Justin Morrow available via trade and Philadelphia native Bobby Convey available in this draft.
Likely outcome: Pearce will almost surely go in the draft’s second stage. Don’t expect him to last past the 12th pick, where Seattle will find him hard to pass up if he’s available.
Bobby Convey, left midfielder
Bobby Convey was the pride of Philadelphia soccer, turning pro at 16 and earning a contract in the English Championship and Premier League, and a starting role on the 2006 World Cup team. Injuries ended his time in England, but he resurrected his career in San Jose, famously producing an all-world performance in the 2010 playoffs against New York. For some reason, San Jose coach Frank Yallop decided Convey belonged at left back the next season, and that began Convey’s spiral from star to journeyman with a prickly reputation. Convey ended up in Toronto this season, and he impressed. However, Toronto wants him back at a lower salary, so they let him go into the Re-Entry Draft while still pursuing a new contract for Convey.
Why the Union might take him: If Convey wants to come home and reconsiders his objection to playing left back, he could be a perfect fit in Philadelphia. Back in 2010, Convey told me on the Philly Soccer Show that he didn’t come back to Philadelphia for the Union’s first season because then-coach Peter Nowak would never have him on his team again after their time together at D.C. United. The feeling seemed mutual. Well, Nowak’s gone, as is his wonderful player relations model. Convey’s reputation for being difficult has always seemed a lot like a Philadelphia guy refusing to take crap from people.
Why the Union might not: Convey still has gas in the tank at 30, but he isn’t as fast as he once was. If he’s not at least willing to play left back — he might play midfield, but he has to be open to playing left back too — then the Union will probably pass. John Hackworth likes players who can play multiple positions.
Likely outcome: This one all depends on discussions behind closed doors between Convey and the Union — or their proxies. The Union won’t take Convey without an assurance that he’ll be a team player. Also, Toronto could resign him. Convey is probably worth about a $160,000 salary.
Steve Zakuani, left winger
We covered this one last week. Take a look by clicking here.
Why the Union might take him: The Union need a left-sided midfielder. Zakuani is available. If he can stay healthy and ever regain the form he showed before breaking his leg two years ago, it’s a gamble worth taking at a salary under $100,000.
Why the Union might not: Someone else might take him first, simple as that. It’s hard to see Portland’s Caleb Porter passing on his former Akron University player in the second stage. Otherwise, there is little down side to taking a shot on Zakuani, who, if he’s smart, will take whatever offer he gets as long as it comes with a chance to break into the starting lineup.
Likely outcome: Zakuani won’t go undrafted. He’ll probably get picked before the Union grab him, but it’s unlikely the Union won’t take a chance if he’s still available once they’ve filled other needs in the draft.
Corey Hertzog, forward
Philadelphia wanted Hertzog when he came out of college — and vice versa — but they couldn’t get the rights to sign the native of Reading, Pa., as a homegrown player. Instead, New York drafted him, never gave him a chance, sent him on loan to USL’s Wilmington, where he starred, and then he went on to Vancouver, where he also got very little chance to play. Hertzog has never really gotten much of a shot to make it in MLS.
Why the Union might take him: Union assistant coach Brendan Burke knows him well from having coached him at Reading United. Hertzog is local, still only 23 years old, relatively cheap (expect him to get and sign a minimum salary contract with someone) and knows his way around the goal. Jack McInerney’s contract expires next season, and a move to Europe could be in the cards for him.
Why the Union might not: They have three starter-quality forwards and two good backups on the roster. Is there space for Hertzog?
Likely outcome: The Union may draft Hertzog in the draft’s first stage. He made just $50,004 base salary last season, barely above the league minimum, and there is likely little need to renegotiate that contract.
David Horst, center back
Horst was a starting center back for Portland before an injury in March knocked him out for the season. (Granted, his hold on the starting job was a bit tenuous, with Pa Modou Kah waiting in the wings.) If he’s healthy, he’s an option.
Why the Union might take him: The Union don’t have a backup center back on the roster. The 6-4 Horst is a native of Pine Grove, Pa., so he’s another local guy. If healthy, Horst would provide solid depth behind Jeff Parke and Amobi Okugo and offer Hackworth the flexibility to occasionally play Okugo in midfield as needed.
Why the Union might not: Concerns about his health. Also, they’ve never really been much for center back depth. (Yes, that was a stab at black humor. Feel free to laugh, even if it hurts.)
Likely outcome: Horst could be one of the few players taken in the first stage, as his salary of $70,000 is probably what he’s worth, even coming back from injury.
Dan Gargan, fullback
Gargan played his high school ball in Chestnut Hill before moving on to Georgetown and MLS. He’s a hard-nosed, versatile defender who can fill in all along the back line, and he ranked second on San Jose in defensive takeaways (interceptions plus tackles) per game (5.2). He’s also a very thoughtful individual with a post-soccer career in the arts likely ahead of him. (Check out his fantastic video of Chicago’s preseason here.)
Why the Union might take him: Gargan would address the need for defensive depth, particularly if the Union trade Ray Gaddis or Sheanon Williams. Also, he’s a local guy who understands the Philadelphia region. After all, it his friends that got into a fight with Union fans at PPL Park when he was here with Toronto back in 2010.
Why the Union might not: Gargan’s primary position is right back, where the Union are stacked. If the Union truly don’t plan to part with Gaddis or Williams, then Gargan is excess.
Likely outcome: The Union will pass if Gaddis and Williams are both still on the roster by the draft’s second stage. If one is gone, Gargan looks good for them.
Mauro Rosales, midfielder
Rosales has been one of the league’s best playmakers since joining Seattle in 2011, totaling 30 assists over the last three seasons. In 2013, he ranked among the league’s top 10 in assists (8), key passes (65) and accurate crosses (72). However, Seattle coach Sigi Schmid soured on Rosales after Rosales went extended cold for stretches of the season. At age 32, Rosales collected a $200,000 base salary in 2013.
Why the Union might take him: The Union need a No. 10 (central attacking midfielder). Rosales could fill the role, although he often played more as a right-sided playmaker for Seattle. The Union have probably budgeted at least $200,000 for the No. 10 they’re seeking, so they can afford Rosales even if he refuses a pay cut.
Why the Union might not: Some have called Rosales an “old 32” due to his intermittent injury problems. (However, he played in 33 of 34 regular season games this season, so that might be hyperbole.) Rosales also often plays on the right flank, where the Union are stacked.
Likely outcome: The Union will probably pass on Rosales, but they’ll certainly consider him if they feel he can play more centrally. The Union have too many right midfielders already, so he won’t play there. Asking him to play more centrally might take him away from where he’s most productive. He could mesh perfectly with Michael Farfan, who often cuts inside from the right flank, or they could end up fighting for the same spaces on the field. If paired with Danny Cruz or Sebastien Le Toux on the right flank, however, they would almost certainly fill the same spaces.
Chris Rolfe, striker/attacking midfielder
After a big 2012, Rolfe struggled in 2013 along with the rest of Chicago in the early going. He moved to attacking midfield when Mike Magee arrived via trade, cuing Chicago’s resurrection, but netted only 4 goals and 1 assist for the year. Rolfe is 30 years old and doesn’t look washed up by any stretch, but his $250,000 salary was more than Chicago wanted to keep with a new coach (Yallop) remaking the club.
Why the Union might take him: The Union need an attacking midfielder. Rolfe is a proven veteran who can score and pass. He would likely accept a salary closer to $200,000.
Why the Union might not: Rolfe just isn’t the true No. 10 the Union would like. He operates best playing in the hole behind a target forward, and with the Union likely to continue starting two-forward formations, Rolfe may not be a good fit.
Likely outcome: Chicago will probably try to bring Rolfe back at a lesser salary, and he’ll probably be amenable to it. He is a fan favorite who has spent his entire MLS career in Chicago, save for a two-year trip to Denmark. He even played for Chicago’s PDL side as a college player.
Dwayne De Rosario, attacking midfielder
Click here for my detailed look at De Rosario last month.
Why the Union might take him: They need a central attacking midfielder. They’ve seen firsthand what De Rosario can do.
Why the Union might not: Toronto may take him first. Also, De Rosario’s age and salary demands will probably scare the Union away.
Likely outcome: De Rosario will probably end up in Toronto, now that a sane management team has recognized how they wronged the Toronto native by not paying him when he earned it. If not, then Los Angeles or Houston are his most likely destinations. Houston could use an attacker to play centrally between Brad Davis and Oscar Boniek Garcia, and they know De Rosario very well from his time with the club. Los Angeles could deal with De Rosario’s ego just fine.
Joel Lindpere, midfielder
Lindpere didn’t record a goal or assist this year until June 22. His central midfield partnership with Jeff Larentowicz clearly wasn’t working. But after Mike Magee and Bakary Soumare arrived in Chicago via trade, he moved out to left midfield. From June 22 on, he produced 2 goals and 8 assists in 14 games.
Why the Union might take him: The Union need a creative left-sided midfielder, and Lindpere’s ability to also play centrally will be something John Hackworth likes. He’s a proven veteran, cut from the Conor Casey mold, who plays hard and delivers on a regular basis.
Why the Union might not: Lindpere is slow. Not just slow. He’s slower than Heinz ketchup dripping from the top of a building. He also isn’t known for his defense. At 32, he is probably still in his prime, but he isn’t getting younger.
Likely outcome: Someone will like Lindpere, and it could be the Union if they can find a good attacking left back to overlap when Lindpere cuts inside. He’d probably warrant a salary a bit less than his 2013 base salary of $180,000.
David Ferreira, center attacking midfielder
Ferreira has long been one of the league’s best playmakers, and he still ranked among the league’s best in assists and key passes this year. However, he made $730,000 in 2013, and that just wasn’t an investment Dallas could renew for a 34-year-old player with injury problems.
Why the Union might take him: At his best, Ferreira is exactly the type of playmaker the Union need. If he can stay healthy, he could fill the role for another two years.
Why the Union might not: As with De Rosario and Rosales, Ferreira’s best days are probably behind him.
Likely outcome: Ferreira can still play, and he likely understands he’ll have to take a major pay cut to do it in MLS. The question is just how much of a pay cut that will be. Someone will probably take a shot at drafting him, but if they can’t agree to a contract — and no team is likely to pay him more than $200,000 a year — he could return to South America.
Brad Knighton, goalkeeper
Knighton has played fairly well the last two seasons with Vancouver, and he played fairly well in limited duty for Philadelphia in 2010, including recording the team’s first ever clean sheet. However, nobody seems to think he can hold down a starting job.
Why the Union might take him: The Union need a backup goalkeeper. Knighton is certainly capable of the job, and Hackworth and goalkeepers coach Rob Vartughian know Knighton well enough.
Why the Union might not: Knighton wants a legitimate chance to compete for a starting job, and he won’t get it in Philadelphia, with Zac MacMath cemented as the starting backstop. [Editor’s note: A few hours after this post was published, Goal.com reported that Knighton had been acquired by the New England Revolution, his club before his single season with the Union in 2010.]
Likely outcome: The Union will pass on Knighton. They let him go once. No point in bringing him in to be held back from a starting job once again.
Other notable names
This column could go on for quite a while longer, but since I haven’t got the time and you haven’t got the interest, here are a few quick hits on some other notable names.
Bobby Boswell, center back: Boswell is unlikely to agree to a salary within the Union’s price range for a backup. He’ll either return to Houston at a renegotiated rate or go elsewhere as a starter.
Daigo Kobayashi, attacking midfielder: Kobayashi isn’t in the Re-Entry Draft, either because he doesn’t meet the eligibility requirements, Vancouver plans to resign or trade him, or he’s heading back overseas. He could be a great pickup, however, based on how he performed late this year after finally being played in the No. 10 role he was signed to play.
James Riley, fullback: Riley can play on both flanks, though he’s a right back naturally. He could be a good depth signing, like Gargan.
Sean Franklin, right back: Franklin is a quality right back who can play midfield. The Union won’t take him because they’re stacked on the right, and he will demand (and get) a starter’s salary from someone.
Josh Saunders, goalkeeper: Quality goalkeeper who could go to the Union if he’s willing to accept a backup role. However, his past performances have been solid enough that he might add pressure on MacMath that Hackworth wants to avoid, which doesn’t fit the prototype that the Union want in a backup. This is not the droid you’re looking for.
Khari Stephenson, attacking midfielder: Solid attacking player who won’t solve all the Union’s problems but might help with a few.
Kenny Cooper, striker: Not happening. Some team will seek him to start at forward, but it won’t be the Union because they’re stacked there.
Daniel Woolard, left/center back: Woolard is a decent but slow left back. He’s also a decent center back who lacks strength and leaping ability. He could be a worthy backup at both positions, which could draw the interest of the Union, who have been seen Woolard play many times for D.C. United. Of course, they also know exactly how to beat Woolard, which could make them wary.
Brandon Barklage, right back: Barklage played very well for New York in 2012, but new coach Mike Petke wasn’t as high on him this year. He would provide solid depth and is good enough to start for some teams. He can play midfield as well.