Now that the Union's addition of Maurice Edu is no longer dragging on and the Sounders' perch at the top of the allocation order is officially official, the big question is what we should do with it. And the immediate question is whether we should use it on Marco Pappa, who is by all accounts coming back to MLS imminently.
For Seattle, this is a big opportunity, but it's also a risk. It's very early in the season and most of the leagues where allocation targets are playing (mostly in Europe) are still in full swing. So it's entirely possible that one or more players will become available in summer when those seasons are over. Pulling the trigger on Pappa now could cost us a better opportunity later in the season. On the other hand, he might be the best available player this season despite how early it is. So I thought it'd be worth looking at what the options might actually be.
To recap what we know (or think we know) about the allocation order, it is used for incoming US National Team players and players who left the league for a transfer fee. The first category apparently has some exceptions, as we saw with both Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley. I'm not sure the league has officially explained them, but it sounds like the rule is that if the player is a DP and the league helped pay for a transfer fee, they don't go through allocation. Which is itself probably just a technical way of saying that if the player is a really big deal, they get to skip allocation.
The National Team
So first, let's look at the US national team. Obviously that's a fluid concept as players are called in and out, but for our purposes I'll say anyone with at least one senior national team appearance counts. And as a guide I'll use Wikipedia's list of players that have been called in in the last 12 months, which includes 57 players with at least one cap. First, we can obviously exclude players who are already in MLS:
|I'm In Ur League (28)|
|Tony Beltran||Justin Morrow||Carlos Bocanegra||AJ DeLaGarza|
|Jeff Parke||Michael Bradley||Maurice Edu||Clint Dempsey|
|Will Bruin||Alan Gordon||Edson Buddle||Nick Rimando|
|Sean Johnson||Bill Hamid||Clarence Goodson||Michael Parkhurst|
|Brad Evans||Omar Gonzalez||Matt Besler||Benny Feilhaber|
|Kyle Beckerman||Graham Zusi||Brad Davis||Dax McCarty|
|Eric Alexander||Landon Donovan||Eddie Johnson||Chris Wondolowski|
Then I'll exclude any players who seem clearly to me to be players who can 'write their own ticket' in the vein of Dempsey and Bradley, however the league wants to justify it structurally. My standard for this is players who are regularly starting on a team in a Top 4 league or on a regular Champions League team (like AZ). Obviously there's some subjectivity in 'regularly starting', so there's room for argument here
|I'm Kind of a Big Deal (11)|
|Tim Howard||Brad Guzan||Geoff Cameron||Timmy Chandler|
|Alejandro Bedoya||Jermaine Jones||Sacha Kljestan||Fabian Johnson|
|Jozy Altidore||Terrence Boyd||Aron Johansson|
That leaves 18 players, and I'll further pare down these for various reasons:
- Mixx Diskerud - Already rejected being allocated once
- Juan Agudelo - Just left the league
That leaves 16 national team players who could plausibly join MLS and go through the allocation rankings.
|The USMNT Candidates|
|DaMarcus Beasley||John Brooks||Eric Lichaj||Michael Orozco|
|Edgar Castillo||Tim Ream||Oguchi Onyewu||Alfredo Morales|
|Brek Shea||Joe Corona||Jose Torres||Daniel Williams|
|Stu Holden||Josh Gatt||Bobby Wood||Herculez Gomez|
That's an interesting list for MLS as a whole, but keep in mind that if we're talking about Seattle, our real need is in midfield. We could potentially use a left back if we feel we can improve on Leo (keeping in mind that he was one of our best defenders last season). Or perhaps a center back if we're willing to push Anibaba to the bench. But an impact signing would be a midfielder who's likely to be better than Pappa. At least for me, that list is Joe Corona and Stu Holden. Corona is an interesting case because he's stopped getting playing time with Tijuana after years of being a regular starter. Holden is still trying to get back from leg injuries he suffered when Bolton was still a Premiership club. But it's possible he could be loaned back to MLS to get his fitness back. If either seem available, I think that's a reason to consider holding off.
The other potential allocation candidates are players who transferred out of the league for a fee. I'm using Wikipedia transfer data as a source for this, so it's possible (likely) it's not 100% accurate. And I only have players who've transferred out since 2008, but that seems like a reasonable set of players anyway. Once I remove Pappa and all of the players who have retired, who have already returned to MLS (a long list that includes the likes of Juan Toja, Carlos Ruiz, and Joseph Ngwenya), or are already on the USMNT list, that leaves 17 players. It's a surprisingly short list that's heavily skewed towards the last 2 years. Previous to that, MLS just didn't have the player quality to frequently earn transfer fees from other leagues other than for national team players.
I'm also going to exclude players who transferred out of the league this offseason, since it's unreasonable to expect they'll come back so soon. That includes Zarek Valentin, Michael Farfan, Rafael Baca, Dejan Jakovic, and Camilo (haha).
The remaining 12 players are:
|Marcos Gonzalez||Bryan Arguez||Will John||Gaston Puerari|
|Erik Friberg||Anthony Ampaipitokwong||Davide Chiumiento||Dane Richards|
|Ryan Smith||Andy Najar||Alain Rochat||Kei Kamara|
That's a pretty mixed bag. The first handful of players are the only remaining eligible players who transferred out from 2008-2010 and they're not players the Sounders would mess with. Ampaipitokwong didn't succeed in San Jose and will probably be staying in Thailand. The remaining 8 might be of interest to Seattle, and they've all been in the league in the last couple of years so we should be familiar with them (some more than others. . FRIIIIBERG!!)
Among the midfield prospects, Chiumiento stands out as a player who played well in MLS and was a skilled playmaker (and therefore potential backup to Dempsey), but might not have the defensive consistency to run the left midfield for Seattle. Smith and Richards are speedy wingers who don't seem to fit in Seattle's midfield, plus Smith burned his bridges with MLS. Najar would be interesting and isn't getting much playing time, but Anderlecht just paid $3 million to acquire him last January. I could maybe see him coming back on a loan.
And then there's Friberg, who would seem to be a really good fit as a solid box-to-box midfielder who's played for Sigi before and left on good terms with the club. But is he substantially better than Pappa and therefore worth the risk of passing on him? I don't think so. The only midfielder who I think might be worth the risk would be Najar.
So from the full set of available players, I think there's really only three players — Holden, Corona, and Najar — who would be a better fit for Seattle than Pappa. So if I were with the Sounders I'd send out some feelers. And if it seems unlikely that any of the three will join MLS this year, then I don't think we're going to be able to do anything better with that No. 1 allocation spot than take Pappa.