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Monday, January 23, 2006
Major deals failed to materialize

Ives Galarcep

The 2006 MLS Draft was supposed to provide a day of excitement, of blockbuster trades and of introductions to a new crop of young stars. It did deliver some fresh faces with the potential to be special, but there was little else "super" about an event the league continues to insist on calling a SuperDraft.

The major deals that were supposed to send the likes of Eddie Johnson, Amado Guevara and Eddie Gaven packing never materialized and MLS fans were left with just a group of 48 new players that could be best described as mediocre regardless of what some would have had you believe. Seriously, every single player in the draft can't be a great prospect with huge upside and potential. Someone should have told the draft's television analysts that.

With teams a week away from training camp, the time for rosters to take shape and needs to be addressed is in its home stretch. Friday's draft allowed several teams to try and fill needs, but with trades still on the horizon and foreign player signings expected, the next two weeks should provide some of the sizzle that was missing last week.

So what of the moves that were supposed to take place last week but didn't? Here is a look at some of them:

FC Dallas dealing Johnson -- Just when it seemed like Eddie Johnson was going to pack his bags and head for New York City, FC Dallas decided it wasn't getting enough for one of the league's best players. The club is in dire need of salary cap relief and wasn't going to find it in a Johnson for Amado Guevara swap or a Johnson for Josh Wolff trade. Guevara for Johnson isn't dead, but is on life support. The Metros might be forced to include allocation money to acquire Johnson, although the young forward's injury this weekend raises more questions about his durability and could stall trade talks even further.

So why is FC Dallas looking to deal Johnson. For those who haven't figured it out yet, the club is in terrible salary cap shape and realizes that Johnson is destined to miss considerable time next season on U.S. national team duty and is likely to depart for Europe before 2008. Trading him now can give the team the necessary cap room to be able to re-sign Carlos Ruiz and potentially add another player, which would allow the Hoops to be as strong as possible as they play their first full season at Pizza Hut Park.

MetroStars dealing Guevara -- There may be nothing more certain in MLS than the fact that Guevara won't be a MetroStars this season. The question is where does he wind up. There aren't many teams who wouldn't welcome his services but finding a good fit in a trade won't be easy. Chivas USA made a strong push to acquire him but just don't have the resources to offer the MetroStars. This led the teams to construct a three-team trade involving Chivas, FC Dallas and the MetroStars (Johnson to Metros, Guevara to Chivas USA, Allocations to FC Dallas) but that blockbuster died quickly.

What can the Metros do? Selling him to the highest bidder, be it a Mexican club or European club, is a possibility. The team is more likely to bite the bullet and agree to pay a portion of Guevara's salary in a Guevara-for-Johnson trade. That might be an easier decision to make if, as expected, the Metros receive an allocation for the departure of Michael Bradley, who signed with Dutch club Heerenveen.

Colorado trading Cannon -- One of the more surprising developments last week was word that the Rapids were shopping goalkeeper Joe Cannon and were close to a trade that would have sent Cannon to Kansas City for midfielder Chris Klein. The trade stalled after Cannon balked at signing a new contract, which the Wizards need to be in place in order to trade for him.

So why in the world do the Rapids want to deal Cannon? He is the best goalkeeper in the league, arguably the only one in MLS that can truly dominate a game. Fernando Clavijo must have his reasons and has even begun a pre-emptive spin campaign to counteract the guaranteed backlash that trading Cannon would incite.

Clavijo told the Denver Post last week that the Rapids will trade Cannon if they cannot get him to sign a new contract (Cannon's current deal expires after the 2006 season). What's funny is that sources say the Wizards wouldn't trade for Cannon unless he agreed to a new contract before any trade took place. So which one is it? Someone isn't telling the truth here.

Dealing Cannon would make sense if Cannon were making a salary similar to the one Meola made when he was a max salary player in his prime with Kansas City (approximately $270,000). With Cannon making anywhere between $150,000 and $180,000, depending on the type of contract he agrees to, why would the Rapids trade him? Do they really think there wouldn't be much of a drop off from Cannon to newly acquired Matt Jordan, who was a third-stringer for the Crew? Or do they have a foreign player ready to come in and be their goalkeeper? There really doesn't seem to be a good explanation for it.

A look back at the draft

Here are five observations/predictions from last week's MLS Draft:

1. Mehdi Ballouchy will be a flop -- It is amazing how much opinions vary on the second pick in the MLS Draft, but perhaps more shocking is how some observers are convinced that Ballouchy will be an impact player. Is he skilled? Certainly. Is he a great passer? Sure. Is he physically capable of handling the rigors of life as a central midfielder in MLS? The answer is no. Some coaches questioned his work rate and ability to handle the step up from college to MLS. Will he be able to make an impact as an attacking midfielder playing in a league where referees allow a liberal amount of rough tackling and defensive midfielder is one of the more underrated positions?

What's worse is Real Salt Lake officials have suggested that Ballouchy will see considerable time next season. If anything, he should be brought along slowly. Real Salt Lake coach John Ellinger is surely going to feel the pressure to win and the pressure to prove that he made the right call with the No. 2 pick in the draft, which could lead to Ballouchy being thrown to the wolves much earlier than he should.

What will it take for Ballouchy to flourish and live up to the billing some have placed on him? Upping his fitness and working on his non-existent defense will go a long way toward helping him adjust to life as a professional. The real question is whether Ellinger will still be around to reap the rewards of drafting Ballouchy so high. There may come a day when Ellinger can take credit for drafting an all-star central midfield tandem of Ballouchy and Nik Besagno (last year's No. 1 overall MLS draft pick), but it seems unlikely that he'll be around in three or four years, when that scenario would play out.

2. Chivas USA did not get robbed in the No. 1 pick trade -- As expected, the Goats were roundly ripped for trading the No. 1 overall pick in the MLS Draft for the No. 5 pick and defender Jason Hernandez. What needs to be considered is just what the club was being offered for the selection.

Chivas USA coach Bob Bradley came into the draft looking to trade the pick for a pick and a player who could start for him. When he found himself unhappy with the offers that were made, Bradley came up with his own. He approached former assistant Mo Johnston with an offer that Johnston pounced on faster than a dog on a mailman.

The trade didn't go quite as Bradley would have hoped because Kansas City stepped in and took forward Yura Movsisyan, the player Bradley was hoping to select. Sacha Kljestan was the consolation prize, not a bad player at all but not the player Bradley coveted.

So why wasn't it a bad trade for Chivas USA? They needed two players who could contribute this year. Hernandez showed late in the 2005 season that he could be an effective right back in a three-man defense, which is what Bradley plans to run. Hernandez, who Bradley compared to a young C.J. Brown, is young, athletic, Latino, and has a low salary, the ideal combination for Chivas USA.

When you consider that Kljestan was regarded by some as the best offensive player in the draft you suddenly can understand why Bradley made the deal instead of keeping the No. 1 and taking Marvell Wynne, who sources say Bradley wasn't completely sold on.

3. Josmer Altidore will be a star -- Yes, he is only 16, and still hasn't even graduated from high school, but the MetroStars' second-round draft pick has the size, skill and swagger to develop into a star. At about 6-foot-1 and a solid 170 pounds, Altidore already has the build of a professional center forward. What was almost as impressive was the air of confidence he showed at the draft, a level of confidence not seen in many of the players who attended the draft. Whether you call it a swagger or the "it" factor, Altidore has the type of personality to take full advantage of playing in the country's biggest market.

So how did such a quality young prospect fall all the way to No. 18 in a weak draft? According to league sources, teams were turned off by word that Altidore wouldn't become available until the 2007 season because he wouldn't finish high school until December of this year. One source hinted that the story was planted in an effort to have Altidore fall to the Metros, a theory that seemed to be confirmed based on reactions from Metros officials when asked when Altidore would join the team. Metros coach Mo Johnston could barely hold back a sly grin as he stated that Altidore would not miss the entire season.

When can we expect to see Altidore? Look for him to finish school at the U.S. Under-17 Residency Program by April and join the team by May. Pencil him in for three goals this year before a coming out party in 2007.

4. Steve Nicol will look like a draft genius again -- The biggest reach of the first round appeared to be New England's selection of UAB midfielder Leandro de Oliveira at No. 11, but the selection might just add to coach Steve Nicol's reputation as a draft day genius.

De Oliveira wasn't considered a first-round caliber player by most draft observers, but Nicol saw enough to take him a full round earlier than anyone could have imagined him going. According to one league source, Nicol didn't have much interest in what was left in the draft pool after the top four or five and centered in on taking de Oliveira, an attacking midfielder who is expected to provide cover in midfield and forward for a team that could have several players take part in this summer's World Cup.

5. Sigi Schmid is building a winner -- The new Crew coach is known as a master scout and he has compiled an impressive collection of young talent this month. From the acquisition of left back Tim Ward to the drafting of Jason Garey, Kei Kamara and Jed Zayner, Schmid has established a nucleus of youngsters on a team that desperately needed an infusion of new blood. He even managed to fool some people into thinking he was desperate to draft Marvell Wynne and Jacob Peterson when he coveted Garey from day one.

So why all the young players for the Crew? There isn't a coach in the league with more job security (New England's Steve Nicol has as much) so Schmid has the luxury of building for the future because he knows he will have several years to establish his own squad. What will make Schmid's first offseason as Crew coach complete? If he can finish the long-discussed Eddie Gaven for Edson Buddle trade, Schmid would go a long way toward helping Columbus return to the playoffs.

Ives Galarcep covers MLS for ESPN.com and is a writer and columnist for the Herald News (N.J.). He can be reached at Ivespn79@aol.com.


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