The topic that has everyone in MLS talking this week is the departure of Amado Guevara from the New York Red Bulls. So why exactly did Bruce Arena trade Guevara?
Why did the Red Bulls effectively deal away one of the best players in Major League Soccer for what amounts to a big chip in the unpredictable poker game that is the soccer transfer market? Was Arena telling the truth about doing it out of necessity, or should we believe some conspiracy theorists who insist that Arena was forced to get rid of the team's most recognizable and talented player?
Anyone who believes that Arena didn't want to get rid of Guevara must not have been paying attention during his short stint as Guevara's coach. Yes, the Honduran midfielder played well, and showed flashes of his MVP form, but he also made mistakes, enough mistakes to keep Arena from ever really praising his team's captain, even as others seemed so eager to credit Guevara for salvaging a season that once appeared lost.
Nobody forced Arena's hand. There was no memo from Austria. Arena has a plan to build his version of the Red Bulls and that plan never once included Guevara. In the new vision of the Red Bulls, Arena wants star players who can play great soccer but who can also provide the intangible of either being a box office draw or a locker room leader. Guevara can play, of that there is no doubt, but no one would ever accuse him of providing the other traits.
Some will insist on comparing Guevara to D.C. United legend Marco Etcheverry in their attempt to lend credence to the notion that Arena couldn't possibly have wanted to get rid of Guevara. Both were Latino playmakers with a penchant for petulance, but brilliant enough to make you forgive their trespasses. Yes, there are similarities, and you can definitely say that Guevara never had the talent around him that Etcheverry had, but Etcheverry was twice the leader Guevara ever was. Etcheverry was capable of embracing his teammates in a way that Guevara never seemed able to do.
But if Arena sees Guevara as incapable of giving him what he needs then why would Bob Bradley, just as respected a coach as Arena, take a chance on the temperamental Guevara? The answer is simple. Chivas USA is not Red Bull. The Goats are not looking to swarm Times Square billboards or take the country's biggest market by storm. The owners of Chivas USA want a winner that will attract soccer diehards, having learned in 2006 that you don't have to spend tons of money to find impact players in MLS. For proof, they had to look no further than watching Ante Razov and Jonathan Bornstein outperform Francisco Palencia and Juan Pablo Garcia for a fraction of the cost.
That realization made it much easier for Chivas to part with the Designated Player slot most would have expected them to use to sign another high-priced Mexican. If the deal showed anything, it is that Bob Bradley has control of the club and the confidence of owners Antonio Cue and Jorge Vergara. Now it will be up to Guevara to make the gamble pay off.
Bradley is confident that Guevara can thrive with Chivas USA and he very well may be right. Guevara always gravitated toward his Latino teammates during his time with the Red Bulls and MetroStars and now he will be in a locker room where he will certainly feel more comfortable. Playing in the more wide-open Western Conference and in a warmer climate should also help Guevara, who joins an attack tailor-made for him.
So whom will the Red Bulls sign with their two designated player slots? Several names have been linked to the club but none appear close to happening. Ronaldo has been the most popular name mentioned but there has been nothing to suggest that he is close to joining the Red Bulls. Luis Figo was also a possibility but Arena is believed to have passed on him.
Claudio Reyna is a very good bet to join the Red Bulls in the summer, despite his recent denials that he is leaving Manchester City, but Reyna would be more likely to come via the team's remaining allocation dollars from the sale of Jean Philippe Peguero than through a designated player slot.
So in summary, Figo isn't coming at all, Reyna isn't coming until at least the summer and Ronaldo is no guarantee ever to set foot in Giants Stadium. This has left many a Red Bulls fan feeling a bit panicked at the prospects of seeing a Dema Kovalenko-Seth Stammler central midfield taking the field for half the 2007 season. Arena knows this all too well, which is what makes it very likely that he will land a central midfield in the January transfer window.
That sort of urgency makes you wonder if Arena hasn't already pegged Guevara's successor. Reyna seemed like the perfect player to step in and hold things down for the season's first half until some Ronaldo-types arrived in July and August. Now that Reyna has insisted he won't leave England before July, Red Bulls fans can only hope Arena has a trick up his sleeve. If Arena has identified a player to bring in during the winter, you can expect him to keep the information buried until at least January. Until a contract can be signed and until Arena knows that news leaks won't jack up the price on the player, Arena's winter target will remain unknown as will his summer reinforcements.
Why the summer? It has to be the summer because that is when Red Bull will have its best chance to get a good bang for the designated player bucks. There will be far more players available come July 1st than during the winter, considerably more players to choose from and more players who won't require transfer fees. This applies to all teams looking to use designated player slots this season. The pickings are slim during the winter transfer period, at least they are for the type of players MLS was hoping the new slots would help land.
If Arena doesn't have someone lined up to sign and have ready for the season opener in April, then he and the Red Bulls truly have gambled by letting Guevara go. The gamble seems easy enough to make when you're just asking whether Arena can find a player better than Guevara using a designated player slot and Red Bull's deep pockets. For all of Guevara's quality and success in MLS, he is still a player who drew nary a sniff when he snuck off to England a year ago in search of a Premier League deal.
However, when you throw in the possibility of the Red Bulls playing half the MLS season shorthanded while we wait to meet the team's new stars, then the odds of the Guevara trade working out for the Red Bulls don't look nearly as good, at least not in the short term.
Ives Galarcep covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He is a writer and columnist for the Herald News (N.J.) and also writes a blog, Soccer By Ives. He can be reached at Ivespn79@aol.com.