Plenty of trades mooted, but few materialized
Toronto FC director of soccer Mo Johnston and Los Angeles Galaxy coach Bruce Arena shared some drinks and some laughs Thursday night, hours after having enjoyed two of the best performances at the 2009 MLS SuperDraft. You really couldn't blame them for celebrating a bit, because any number of trades could have taken place that would have changed the entire course of Thursday's draft.
Let us start with the steal of the first round, Toronto's choice of goalkeeper Stefan Frei. A player who could have gone as high the second or third pick, Frei began to slide as interested teams proved unwilling to pay the high price for him to be drafted among the top several selections.
It was thought that Frei would be drafted by Chivas USA, but with Chivas midfielder Sacha Kljestan on trial with Celtic this week, setting up a possible transfer to the club, Chivas was forced to take a midfielder to address a suddenly pressing need. When Real Salt Lake grabbed lightly regarded midfielder Jean Alexandre with the 12th pick, TFC gladly grabbed up the best goalkeeping prospect of the past three seasons with the No. 13 pick.
The reality is that Toronto almost didn't have the No. 13 pick. TFC was all set to deal the pick to the New York Red Bulls for Mike Magee on Monday evening during the MLS combine, but New York technical director Jeff Agoos made the decision to honor an earlier agreement with the Los Angeles Galaxy, sending Magee to L.A. for a 2010 second-round pick. It was a curious move because Agoos made verbal agreements with both teams and no official paperwork was signed before Agoos decided to take the worse of the two deals.
With the No. 13 pick still in hand, Toronto got wind of the strong likelihood that Chivas USA would have to take a midfielder at No. 9 rather than Frei, whom the Goats had strongly coveted. Knowing Frei might slide all the way to No. 13, Johnston made the bold move of grabbing injured but highly regarded UConn forward O'Brian White with the No. 4 pick. The pick may have seemed like a reach, considering White will be out until May or June recovering from knee surgery, but teams were ready to grab him before TFC would choose again at with the 13th pick. The gamble paid off, as Frei slid all the way down to No. 13, helping Toronto score what could wind up the best first-round haul in MLS history.
Arena won't complain too much about his draft week because he was able to do many of the things he was hoping to do. He landed the hard-nosed defensive midfielder the Galaxy needed in Dema Kovalenko and a creative midfielder/forward in Magee, while also unloading overpaid left back Ante Jazic and moving closer to landing Honduran defender Osman Chavez.
Then there was Arena's draft, just his second in the past 10 years. Arena passed on a handful of offers for the No. 3 pick and, having already landed Kovalenko, passed on the likes of Sam Cronin and Michael Lahoud in favor of the best central defender in the pool, Maryland's 6-foot-5 Omar Gonzalez. Arena then took one of the most impressive defenders at the MLS combine in 5-8 A.J. Delagarza, who happened to be Gonzalez's central defense partner at Maryland.
Sometimes the best deals are the ones you don't make. Perhaps no team benefited from that concept more than New England, which failed in its attempts to move up in the draft, only to have one of its targets slide all the way down to its No. 10 pick. Kevin Alston had been projected to go between No. 4 and No. 7 in the draft. The Revs had tried and failed to package a later first-round selection and allocation money to move up. However, when D.C. United passed on the Indiana defender, the stage was set for him to slide all the way to New England, which now has a player who can provide cover at both fullback positions.
The Chicago Fire had a pretty exciting draft day, in part for a trade almost made and for one that almost wasn't. After seeing a potential deal with Toronto FC involving Justin Mapp and the No. 2 and No. 4 picks fall through, the Fire scored with a last-minute deal that sent the rights to goalkeeper Matt Pickens to Colorado for an allocation (believed to be between $100,000 and $150,000) and a swap of second-round picks that allowed Chicago to move up eight spots.
The deal almost didn't happen because Pickens needed to sign his own contract with MLS before Colorado would pull the trigger. Pickens did not agree to terms until around the 19th selection in the draft, or just one before the pick the Rapids were set to trade to Chicago. The Pickens contract was signed, and the Fire-Rapids deal was made immediately afterward.
The move allowed Chicago to take hometown prospect and highly regarded playmaker Baggio Husidic, who slid into the second round after a poor combine showing. Now the Fire have a player who not only might provide relief for Cuauhtemoc Blanco but also could be groomed to replace him eventually. (The Fire also have a good-sized allocation they can use to sign another player.)
What other players nearly were moved during draft week? Yura Movsisyan was a Toronto FC target in a potential deal for high draft picks, while Jonathan Bornstein was shopped around by Chivas USA and still looks like a good bet to be dealt amid word that he and head coach Preki aren't exactly seeing eye to eye.
In the end, there weren't as many trades at the MLS draft as expected, but there still was plenty of wheeling and dealing. Some good trades were completed, but other intriguing ones never came to pass. Through it all, Toronto FC and Los Angeles left St. Louis the big winners Thursday, with their performances going a long way toward determining whether Johnston and Arena will have something to celebrate come playoff time in MLS.
Ives Galarcep covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He also writes a blog, Soccer By Ives. He can be reached at Ivespn79@aol.com.