MLS trades open doors for frustrated players

After days of speculation, former USA defender Danny Califf moved from Philadelphia to Chivas USA in exchange for midfielder Michael Lahoud and allocation money, and Chivas USA also sent defender Heath Pearce to New York to acquire U.S. forward Juan Agudelo.

The four players traded Thursday provide a razor-sharp snapshot of the unique opportunities and obstacles presented to American players by MLS.

Assessing the trades by which New York got Heath Pearce, allocation money and future considerations from Chivas USA in exchange for Juan Agudelo and Chivas USA also sent Michael Lahoud and allocation money to Philadelphia for Danny Califf is nettlesome due to the undisclosed amounts of money involved.

Allocation sums are never released officially, and in the case of Agudelo, the Red Bulls will supposedly receive a portion of any transfer fee if he is sold to a foreign club. Red Bulls general manager Eric Soler said the deal provides “a significant amount of financial flexibility,” which translates to more than the minimum allocation trade amount of $75,000.

In each case the player involved has hit a roadblock in his career and has a real chance to break out of a logjam fused by circumstance.

With Pearce, we have a talented player from nowhere – or close enough, Modesto, Calif. – who bypassed MLS to take his shot in Europe, and when his options ran out, signed on with FC Dallas and then moved on to Southern California. Though during the offseason Chivas USA head coach Robin Fraser praised his performance at centerback as well as his usual position of outside back, the coach didn’t hesitate to trade him when a true CB, Califf, became available.

Of course, Fraser is also getting Agudelo, whose rocky stay in New York epitomizes the rough road traveled by many promising young players in MLS. Such players get a lot of hype but sporadic playing time. And in Agudelo's case it was on a club run by a multi-national conglomerate with precious few Americans in positions of power.

So now Agudelo, 19, moves to a club owned by a Mexican entrepreneur whose declaration when he joined MLS would be to “teach the gringos how to play soccer” won’t soon be forgotten. It also runs a player development program successful at getting players into the first 18 but no great shakes at advancing them further.

In its eight years of existence, Chivas USA's best players have not been Mexican-Americans developed in house but college players like Brad Guzan, Sacha Kljestan and Jonathan Bornstein whom it drafted but who moved abroad when they became free agents.

In Agudelo, it has a gifted yet immature talent who teeters on the knife edge of staggering accomplishment or gnawing disappointment. Agudelo has been freed from a smothering existence, now his future is up to him.

During his Red Bulls tenure, Agudelo has been grotesquely mismanaged by an organization that publicly praised his progress yet behind the scenes moved all manner of levers to acquire forwards.

The latest hot rumor has Luke Rodgers overcoming his visa issues to join the Red Bulls in the summer and revive the productive partnership he formed last year with Thierry Henry. If not, there’s a DP slot to be used whether or not Rafa Marquez goes back to his Mexican roots during the summer, as well he should.

In the spring 2011, Agudelo and U.S. Soccer succumbed to pressure from the Red Bulls and instead of him reporting to the U.S. U-20 team for a training camp and Concacaf qualifiers for the U-20 World Cup qualifiers, Agudelo spent a few days with the national team. The U-20s failed to qualify, and when he got back to his pro club, Agudelo chafed on the bench.

Obviously, the Red Bulls had decided Agudelo wasn’t ready to help them. Maybe a pairing with Juan Pablo Angel, a fellow Colombian, will work better than a liaison with Henry.

As many players had done, Califf left MLS (after the 2005 season) to take a stab in Europe, and after playing four seasons for two Danish teams, made his way back to join the Philadelphia Union in its 2010 unveiling. Also as many players who return to MLS from Europe have done, Califf returned to America much more smoothly than he did to America’s soccer league, and suffered through a frustrating season until he found his feet to contribute solidly in Year 2.

As for Year 3, well, who knows? For whatever reason, head coach Peter Nowak embarked on a purge of his 2011 team that reached the playoffs and improved from seventh place to third place in the Eastern Conference. The departure of Califf brings to 15 the number of players who have departed since Houston eliminated the Union in the Eastern Conference semifinals. That’s not turnover, it’s upheaval.

With the Union rooted to the bottom of the Eastern Conference save for Toronto FC, Nowak’s moves are either born of desperation or keen insight that the accomplishments of 2011 were a mirage. Yes, he has cover at centerback, as Sheanon Williams has seen a lot of time in the middle this season, but losing another dynamic presence in the wake of Sebastian Le Toux’s turbulent offseason and subsequent trade to Vancouver, leaves no doubt as to why soccer is no longer so sunny in Philadelphia.

The forgotten man in this deal is Lahoud, an energetic, busy midfielder with good feet who can give the Union midfield an element of pace it has lacked. The Wake Forest product was drafted in the first round by Chivas USA in 2009 and is in the final year of his contract, which may have prompted Chivas USA to trade him.

But exactly what Nowak has in mind for his team remains a mystery. As per the players, Califf gets a fresh start in the area where he grew up, Agudelo has a whole new environment in which to flourish, Pearce joins yet another team who can use his abilities, and Lahoud has a few short months to impress a new team.

4 comments about "MLS trades open doors for frustrated players".
  1. Joe Newsome, May 18, 2012 at 12:39 p.m.

    Hate to see Heath get bounced around the league. He was awesome with FC Dallas, really helped our defense and overall level of play. As for Nowak dismembering a playoff team, remember that starting at the summer 2010 trade window FC Dallas traded away Heath Pearce, Dax Mc Carty, Eric Alexander, and Drew Moore. With the loss of these players FC Dallas has never been as good and never will be a contender. We are at the place we should be, bottom of the table.

  2. Mike Gaire, May 18, 2012 at 1:22 p.m.

    You are certainly not going to endear yourself to the good people of Modesto with that comment Ridge!! Ouch!!

  3. S Rodriguez, May 18, 2012 at 2:49 p.m.

    I think you need to remember that Guzan (Aston Villa) and Kljestan (Anderlecht)were sold to European clubs - not allowed to become free agents. Better to sell them instead of letting them go abroad for nothing. Credit to Bob Bradley for developing those guys out of college - which is more than I can say for the recent busts Chivas has drafted from the college ranks....Gavin, Lahoud, Zemanski, Estupinian, Valentin...

  4. beautiful game, May 19, 2012 at 1:01 p.m.

    "The forgotten man in this deal is Lahoud, an energetic, busy midfielder with good feet." Surely, these are not qualities of a pro-soccer player...same can be said about RBNY Richards, except he is clueless on the pitch.

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