Saturday, May 26, 2007

Cunningham for Esky... A Good Move?


Yankee Hooligan has an interesting look at the Cunningham - Eskandarian trade, albeit one I disagree strongly with on many points. Essentially the argument is that this is a good move for RSL and a bad move for Toronto.

Why? Well, the argument goes :
a) Cunningham has had 3 clubs in 3 years which shows that he has a bad attitude and is inconsistent and lost a step.
b) Alecko Eskandarian is young and upcoming and has lots of potential.
c) This is a good move for RSL since they free up cap room for a big signing
d) etc, etc, etc

The problem I have with these arguments are that they are either not true to only skim the surface. Yes, Toronto is Cunningham's 4th club in the last 4 years. But that doesn't mean that Cunningham is a locker room cancer. Sure, Rapids coach Fernando Clavijo would love you to believe that. But Fernando's also mysteriously put other players in his dog house such as Eric Denton, Ritchie Kotschau and Hunter Freeman. Had Cunningham been a left back for the Rapids we would know why Clavijo ditched him. But Cunningham wasn't and was cast off with FC implying that he was a locker room cancer. But if that's the case why bring Jeff into the team in the first place? Columbus did not get rid of him for those reasons. He was there for years because he was willing to be a team player and do his job whether it was as a starter or coming off the bench. Any personality issues were either known or at least Clavijo should've known of them.

More so if Cunningham has attitude problems and that is why Clavijo trades him away, why do it to bring in Clint Mathis? Mathis spent the first 2 years of his 3 year guaranteed (i.e. if you cut me, you still have to pay me full wages) contract doing nothing but causing trouble. The Rapids couldn't start him because he wasn't in shape to play (yes, the claim of the niggling groin injury was cover for this issue). He's not the sort of professional that will practice very hard when he has to practice, let alone take extra time to work on his game. Previously at RSL Clint picked up a stupid RC on Chivas USA's Romo, was suspended by the team for getting into a fight during a team practice session and was frequently seen spending more time heckling the referee and teammates than actually playing the game. If Cunningham was being dealt away for this issue, why did Clavijo bring in a player who was not only clearly more of a locker room issue than Cunningham but worse not producing on the pitch? Because Clavijo didn't want Cunningham around. It wasn't about logic but his own personal preferences.

The same holds true with Kreis. Cunningham had been doing just fine this year. He had 3 goals in 7 games on a team that was playing like crap. The word from Real Salt Lake insiders is that Kreis and Cunningham have never seen eye to eye. And with him coach now it was time for him to get rid of Cunningham. Had RSL already won 3 or 4 games, this likely wouldn't have occurred. But despite public statements of how much talent the team has and that making the playoffs in 2007 is a goal, Kreis and RSL has already conceded that 2007 will not be a play-off year but yet a 3rd year of building a team that can honestly compete for a play-off spot. Look at it this way, if Cunningham was such a cancer, why did RSL bend over backward in the off-season to get him a nice big fat pay raise, 10-15%, and a new contract?

Like John Wolyniec, Alecko is a decent striker for the MLS. But he doesn't have the style nor the skill to score the sort of goals that Cunningham can. Has the injuries played a part in that? Sure. But keep in mind that Cunningham's 16 goals and 10 assists in 2006 came while playing for the worst team in the West. Alecko's not that type of player. His skills and style are suited to being a good compliment to the main goal scorer. He's the type of player that will get his nose in there and get the job done. Will he score some goals? Sure. But he needs someone alongside him to finish the job. Attiba Harris, Chris Brown and Jamie Watson are not those players.

Getting back to Yankee Hooligan's blogging on this issue. Yes, Jeff Cunningham is 31. But the few times I've seen RSL this year I fail to see how he's lost a step. I have seen him get frustrated and seemingly disappear from a game because of it. But I saw that a couple years ago in the US Open Cup game against the Thunder. It's nothing new; that's how Cunningham is on the pitch.

What I find puzzling is the idea that given his age, Cunningham doesn't have many years left and that given Alecko's age, 25, he has plenty of years ahead of him. So having any player that doesn't have the best years of his career ahead of him is bad and the more years before a player peaks, the more valuable the player? I don't believe Yankee Hooligan meant to be overly simplistic but that's how this argument comes across. We all know it's not that simple.

The single most important thing in the MLS is how much production per salary cap dollar you can get out of a player. That's why a generation Adidas player is valuable. It's not because they are young and have potential but that they can get a few goals out a player that they don't have to personally pay nor goes toward the team's cap. So a player like Dan Gargan who's still playing for developmental is very valuable. He's not good enough to play on the national team, even given 5 years time. But for less than $20k, they a guy who can start games without looking completely lost. And that is one of the problems I have with this trade, the money. Toronto needs someone who can score goals. They get that with Cunningham. Sure, he may not be scoring 15+ in 2 years but Toronto doesn't need that to win games in 2007. They need goals right now. And in Cunningham they get someone who can not only do that but on paper looks to be the perfect foil for the big, biting (literally!) Danny Dichio. Cunningham isn't cheap but he can scores the goals that Toronto's missing and should fit in well with the team on the pitch.

Alecko is talented and isn't old yet. But at 25 he's not a young player anymore. He's at the point in his career where it's not longer about what he's capable of doing but about getting it done on the pitch. With 1 goal from 6 starts for Toronto FC he wasn't doing that. And with Dichio in the team Toronto had their hard nosed, hard working player. Given Alecko's relatively high salary in MLS terms, $150k-175k, he at best wasn't looking like bargain. But then again we already knew that, right? Otherwise why did the DC United trade him to Toronto for just a partial allocation?

That's not to say that Eskandarian is a bad player. He's not the type of player that will put RSL on his shoulders and carry the team. He's not the type of player to score more than a handful or maybe two of a goals in a season. And that is what RSL is going to be missing this year. Cunningham's been responsible for half their goals. And their main issue hasn't been scoring so much as giving up goals. They're worst in the league giving up 2 goals for every game they've played.

RSL is not getting rid of Cunningham for any other reason than Kreis is already looking to re-build the team and he did not want him around. Toronto knows that Cunningham has another year or even five left in him. They know he can score goals for them this year which is what they need to win games now that they've tightened their defense up.

What is RSL looking to get out of this? They free up a tad of cap space, about $65k with this move. But the vast majority of cap space was freed up when Kreis retired and when they quietly ditched Luis Tejada (never should have brought him in). This trade allows Kreis to start to build the team the way he envisions it. Alecko is the hard working striker that will be a pest and get the dirty work done for the main goal scorer. And with a first round pick next year they have an opportunity to bring in a young defender or young midfielder that can add some bite. And the extra cap space should allow them to sign a major allocation. But I don't think all of that says a lot about Cunningham and where he is in his career. It just goes to show how big of a whole Ellinger has put RSL in and the sort of sacrifices they'll need to make to get out of it.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

What's In Salt Lake's Water?

Toronto FC blog is reporting that despite previous reports, including the one on the league's web site, Toronto FC is sending a first round draft pick (their 2nd highest; obtained from Chivas USA) along with Alecko Eskandarian to Real Salt Lake for Jeff Cunningham. Esky has talent but with the type of player he is, he's likely good for 8-11 goals in 30 game season. Even with the draft pick one has to wonder why Real Salt Lake was willing to part ways with their MVP? Cunningham had 16 goals and 11 assists last year. And he already had 3 goals in 7 games this year. What prompted the trade? Was Cunningham too much of a disruption in Kreis' locker room?

What does Toronto FC get out of this? They get a player in Cunningham that has shown he score lots of goals. More so Cunningham partnered up front with Dichio, at least on paper, looks like it should work well. Dichio's aggressive, tough and good at holding up the ball. Combined with Cunningham's pace and ability to get behind defenders it should allow Toronto to better keep their defensive shape and look to those two to counter.

What does this get Real Salt Lake? It looks to be the sort of boldness that Kreis spoke about when he accepted the head coaching position. The spin on this is that it frees up cap space for RSL to bring in fresh blood. And the $70,000 it frees up will help them do that. That's not much with Kreis' retirement freed up another $160,000. That's enough for a major allocation. The problem with that is that the team doesn't have any allocations to use. So why make the move? It could be that the team is resigned to losing Freddy Adu before the 2008 season. If that's the case they may be looking to use their designated player slot when the transfer window opens on June 15th. Who would they move for? Kasey Keller? DaMarcus Beasley? It's not clear either player is ready to come back to the MLS. DMB is still very young. Keller's a great goalkeeper but using the DP on a goalkeeper in a league full of cheap, talented keepers doesn't seem like the best of moves. Have they really already thrown in the towel on meeting their goal of making the playoffs in 2007? Could this be a sign that Real Salt Lake is already looking to rebuild their squad for 2008?

From The Pitch Live Blog

If you're at home now, put on From The Pitch. You can listen to it via the MLS's website []. In the meantime, a few quick notes on some things mentioned so far. Clavijo - Was he kindly hinting that Cunningham may be an issue in the locker room and that's why Kreis traded him to Toronto FC today? Come on Clavijo, live it up, gloat! :) Balboa - Brown didn't have a good game against KC. Cooke did have a good game against KC. Clavijo - Need to get Cooke more involved. But he has been sick.

Monday, May 21, 2007

From The Pitch, May 22nd

If you haven't caught it yet, tune in to From The Pitch with Dino Costa and Marcelo Balboa. It's streamed from the MLS's website & broadcast on AM1060 in Denver. Fernando Clavijo is a great coach to chat with. If you're in Denver and have the time swing by the Westminster Soccer Stop off of Federal and 10th to experience the show live.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Preston's Coming

Preston North End will be playing a few pre-season games here in the USA. PNE has an excellent organization that's been fielding some good teams in recent years. Yank Eddie Lewis played there for awhile and it was Toronto FC's Danny Dichio's club previous to coming across the pond. Props to the Gaffer for getting this news out over at Championship Talk. Seattle Sounders v Preston, July 21, Qwest Field Monterrey v Preston, July 26, Sacramento's Raley Field Portland Timbers v Preston, July 28, PGE Park

MLS Current Playoff Picture

It's too early to be paying attention to this sort of thing. But worse du Nord has decided to do so and got it completely wrong. du Nord has only the top team in each conference with the next 6 best listed. That is not how the league has set up the play offs. The top two teams in each conference qualify along with the next best 4 from the league overall. The MLS lists it's rules regrading this here. Either way it seems a bit too early to be paying attention to this sort of thing. Some teams have only played 5 games; others have played 9.