Note: This week, The Goat Parade will offer a series called "Devil's Advocate," looking at some of the big decisions that have taken place for Chivas USA and offering a different perspective. In today's entry, we'll be looking at the Allocation Order in 2011 and the three players Chivas failed to pick up.
One of the rules of MLS is that players who have U.S. Men's National Team experience who come to MLS are supposed to go through the Allocation Order. Now, it seems this rule can change and bend according to the power of the player involved and the desire of the league to work with the player and his preferred team, but generally, players have to go through the order. The way it is constructed is in line with the American professional sports league system, where teams that are worst have the first chance of picking these (theoretically) valuable players up, in order to improve quickly and give even bad teams hope.
In the 2011 season, Chivas USA started in fourth place in the order, behind the expansion sides Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps, and D.C. United. The Whitecaps obtained defender Jay DeMerit, the Timbers picked up forward Kenny Cooper, and D.C. nabbed forward Charlie Davies (on loan), all before the season started. So by the time the season rolled around, Chivas had their pick of whoever came later.We all know the story. Chivas held onto the top slot in the Allocation Order for the entire 2011 season, and passed up three different players: midfielder Benny Feilhaber, midfielder/forward Freddy Adu, and forward Sammy Ochoa. Each situation was a bit different, but Chivas' front office was widely slammed for passing on not one key player, but three. And it wasn't just from the anti-Chivas crowd (which is admittedly substantial), but among Chivas fans too. How could a club that needs to build a sustained culture of winning in the league afford to pass up all three of these guys and get nothing for the rather valuable slot? They could have always flipped it for a player or money, as happened for the Chicago Fire when the Seattle Sounders traded up to get Ochoa in August. That argument, admittedly, still holds true. Failing to get anything in exchange for this valuable slot was a mistake.
But let's look at each player and each situation to show that Chivas might have made the right move on passing on these players after all:
The midfielder played collegiate soccer at UCLA for two years before making the leap to Europe in 2005. He played in the Hamburg system in the first and second divisions in Germany from 2005 to 2007, then moved on to Derby County in the English Championship for 2007-2008, before settling in Denmark at Aarhus from 2008-2011. Through that time, Feilhaber had been a fairly regular player for the U.S. Men's National Team, playing a significant role in the U.S.' victory in the 2007 Gold Cup, and the 2009 Confederations Cup.
But Feilhaber was hurt quite a bit during his time in Europe, and really couldn't settle in with any club, either because of squad depth, injuries, or relegation. He found his options in Europe by the spring of 2011 were thin, so he decided to sign a contract with MLS and join midseason.
Now, bear in mind that players can have bad luck, and conditions beyond their control can derail players' chances at settling in at many clubs. But Feilhaber seemed to have difficulty staying at a club for a sustained period, and did not play a great deal of matches anywhere in Europe. It was far more matches than Freddy Adu (more on him in a moment) but he was still not anything close to an ironman.
On the field for the U.S. National Team, Feilhaber was pretty inconsistent as well. He is a very good passer, and he could show an ability to bring an attacking dynamic to the national team, something that Chivas were certainly starved for at the time. But he was not the kind of player who could be a key attacker on a consistent basis, and so he floated in and out of the lineup. Part of that, again, was due to injuries, but his form also seems to lack a consistency that is obviously appreciated.
Still, it was assumed Chivas would take Feilhaber, but they passed. At the time, it was a bit confusing, but there were rumors "bigger" USMNT veterans could be made available in the summer transfer window, so it seemed somewhat prudent. As for Feilhaber, he went to the New England Revolution, a team that finished joint-bottom on points for the season. He had a decent season statistically, as he ended up scoring four goals and seven assists in 23 games in 2011. He led his club in assists, and was third in goals, so he ended up being an important player on a bad team. One wonders if Feilhaber would have better numbers if he had better teammates surrounding him.
Clearly, Feilhaber feels the same. There are a couple of knocks on his game and demeanor. He usually had a moment every match with the Revs where he would literally have a fit, like a toddler. Throwing his hands up, yelling at teammates, kicking the ball against the advertising boards in frustration, it was remarkably petulant. Now, obviously, the Revolution were a bad team, and on one hand, you have to have a bit of sympathy for him. But there's no doubt he could be more professional about his frustration, and instead of acting like a baby, you know, channel the energy and all that.
He also doesn't like to track back on defense, which is a skill New England could have used in 2011. There are brilliant midfielders who also fail to track back, but Feilhaber is nowhere near the level of quality as say, Mesut Ozil, and so his failure to defend holds a lot less weight. Most midfielders probably don't like playing defense, but you know, it's good for the team.
Finally, Feilhaber's fiery personality is a blessing and a curse. He can play gritty, and that is a skill that teams need in small amounts. But alongside his penchant for tantrums, he can be hard to work with, and reports coming out of the recent USMNT match against Panama had it that Feilhaber did not start the match because he wasn't seeing eye to eye with coach Jurgen Klinsmann. Really? You're trying to get into the new national team coach's good graces and you get yourself benched? Feilhaber has talent, but maybe it's not worth the additional baggage.
Prior to the 2011 Gold Cup, I bet any team in MLS could have had Adu for a sack of magic beans, but a cameo in the knockout match against Panama and a very good start against Mexico in the final reinvigorated his career. After starting his career with D.C. United and then Real Salt Lake, Adu got a transfer to Benfica that seemed to bode very well for him. He was the bright young thing of U.S. Soccer, and hopes were high. But if Feilhaber failed to settle on most of his stops in Europe, multiply that by a million for Adu. He went on loan four times, and never played more than 11 league matches on any of his stops, nor did he stay on any team more than a year. He was a wanderer, not for Bolton or Wolverhampton, but in the true sense of the word, going from Portugal to France to the Portuguese second division to Greece to the Turkish second division. Basically, the guy was this close to washing out entirely, and returning to MLS seemed to be the only sensible option for him. Following his surprisingly good showing at the Gold Cup, it seemed like his return to the league through Chivas was going to work out, only for the club to reverse course, reportedly at the 11th hour, and pass Adu up. The Philadelphia Union selected him, and Adu was reunited with his first professional coach, Peter Nowak.
At the time, it seemed Chivas had no clue what they were doing, and allowing a potential franchise guy to slip through their fingers was enough to send many Chivas fans into the depths of despair. Why wouldn't a team like Chivas need a guy like Adu? He could be the player to put the club on the map once and for all.
I have a simple counterpoint: this article from Scott Kessler over at the Philadelphia Union blog The Brotherly Game. Oh, hey, here's another article on the same blog, from another writer, titled "Why if Freddy Adu Leaves for Spain, I Never Want to See His Face Again."
If Adu makes it through the 2012 season as a Philadelphia Union player, it will be a make or break year for him and his team. In 2011, he had two goals and an assist in 11 matches (6 starts). His tendency to be a Eurosnob and overvalue himself, alienating himself from the tough but loyal Philly fans in the process, seems to be remarkably stupid. Now, he will be one of the leaders on the attacking end for the Union, alongside Roger Torres, Jack McInerney and rookie Chandler Hoffman (and possibly Danny Mwanga, but it seems he's being shopped right now). With team talisman Sebastien Le Toux traded today to the Vancouver Whitecaps, Adu has a very big opportunity to shine in 2012, but it seems his own fans have already written him off. Another talented player? Yep. But a player with trunks and trunks of baggage? You bet. Maybe he's getting paid more than a half million dollars, but he has a long way to go to prove he's worth it. Maybe Chivas made the right choice after all.
This one is the outlier of the trio. Yes, Ochoa was included in the allocation order, although it's somewhat unclear why. He has only played for the U.S. National team at the youth level, and not even that many games. So while Feilhaber and Adu, along with Cooper, Demerit, and Davies, were clearly part of the regulations for the allocation order, Ochoa was not. Bear in mind, as well, that Lee Nguyen, who actually has senior team caps with the USMNT did not go through the allocation order this offseason, but instead a weighted lottery, which was won by the Vancouver Whitecaps. So that thing I wrote about the shady nature of these rules? Here's a classic example.
Not much was known about Ochoa, as he spent his entire career with Estudiantes Tecos, a Mexican primera team that is very much the third team in Guadalajara. On top of that, he hardly played with Tecos, so he was a player that most folks wouldn't know a great deal about. There's your prime argument from Chivas' perspective right there - this guy could be a superstar or complete washout, but not much was known about a 25 year old who had been buried at the only club he ever played for. So they passed on him, and Seattle traded up to get him.
Chivas had just gotten Juan Pablo Angel prior to Ochoa's signing with the league, and the move for JPA worked out very well for the Goats in 2011. Ochoa was probably considered surplus. Also, picking Ochoa up would have driven the belief that Chivas was trying to be "the Mexican team" despite finishing the season with only two Mexican players (plus a Mexican American player). I don't think any kind of racial politics were at play for Chivas for the decision, but still.
I have to say, this could be the move Chivas regret the most. There are so far no indications he is petulant and/or overconfident, like the first two guys, and he makes close to the league minimum ($44,500 in guaranteed compensation in 2011). He is a bargain, again assuming he can play. In limited action (4 matches, 100 minutes) he scored two goals, including a brilliant headed goal that nutmegged Dan Kennedy in the 2011 season finale. Like Adu, 2012 will be a big year for Ochoa, so he can demonstrate he can be a good MLS player on a team with a lot of depth.
All three of these moves need to be looked at over a long period. Part of only one season is not enough to fairly evaluate these players and Chivas' personnel decisions. But while fans were upset to pass on all the players that were available to Chivas in 2011, it may have turned out that the front office deserve more credit than many of us were initially willing to give.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!