Featured / MLS

Califf heads big names available in Re-Entry Draft

Photo: Nicolae Stoian

Second chances don’t often come along in life.

That girl you wished you asked out but never did. What if she was suddenly single at the same time as you?

Or maybe that job offer you turned down, only to regret it two months later when your company announces layoffs.

And then there’s former Philadelphia Union captain Danny Califf, who’s now available in the MLS Re-Entry Draft.

Chivas USA, which has reclaimed from Toronto the title of most dysfunctional MLS franchise, declined to pick up Califf’s contract option. That was no surprise, considering Califf’s $275,000 salary and the fact that Chivas owner Jorge Vergara cleaned out most of his front office, technical staff, and possibly anyone who doesn’t speak Spanish.

Philadelphia Union manager John Hackworth is on record as saying he disagreed with the controversial move to trade Califf to Chivas USA, one of the precursors leading to the firing of Hackworth’s predecessor, Peter Nowak.

Now Hackworth has a chance to get the former Union captain back seven months later.

But will he?

Don’t expect any team to take Califf in the Re-Entry Draft’s first stage on Friday, because that would obligate the club to pay him a salary approaching $300,000. More likely, it would happen in the draft’s second stage a week later, at which point the two sides could negotiate a new contract from scratch. Players not chosen in the draft become available to teams on a first come, first serve basis, as close to free agents as possible for MLS players, so that’s an option as well.

There obviously are complicating factors that could prevent a Union return for Califf, a fan favorite who was planning to settle permanently in the Philadelphia area until Nowak ousted him. Those factors are known as Amobi Okugo, Carlos Valdes, Bakary Soumare, and possibly even Jeff Parke, the Downingtown native who’s apparently on his way out of Seattle. There are big questions with each of those players, and how their individual situations play out could significantly affect the Union’s course of action.

And then there’s Califf himself. I won’t pretend to have regularly watched Chivas in the season’s second half, but he looked like a top center back when he helped right the Chivas defense’s course soon after arriving. But then the team fell apart. How much of that was on Califf, and how much was on a team so lacking in offense that opponents could throw numbers forward with abandon? You’d have to watch the game film to find out.

But on a young Union team lacking veteran leaders and stability, it couldn’t hurt to bring back your old captain so soon after losing him. It would tell players and fans that all’s well in Philadelphia, and you can come home again.

Other options in the Re-Entry Draft

Califf isn’t the only intriguing player available in the draft. Here’s the rundown on some of the others.

  • Rodney Wallace, left back

The 24-year-old Portland fullback is in some ways exactly the type of left back that would have fit the Union’s 4-3-3 to perfection. He’s quick, versatile, naturally left-footed, and attack-inclined. On the down side, he doesn’t track back defensively enough. His $110,000 salary might chase off some suitors in the draft’s first stage, but it’s hard to imagine there being no interest in him after that. The Union have already been burned signing one Costa Rican international to play left back. Then again, they’ve actually seen Wallace play before. Update: Wallace has resigned with Portland.

  • Gonzalo Segares, left back

Chicago exposed one of the league’s better left backs, probably thinking most teams would balk at his $210,000 price tag. They might be right, but good left backs are hard to find. Update: Segares has resigned with Chicago.

  • Josh Gardner, left back

Montreal surprised many by taking this late bloomer in last year’s expansion draft. He started the club’s first five games and then played one minute the rest of the year. He had a very good 2011 season with Columbus and has a salary of just $54,120. Update: Gardner has been traded to Kansas City.

  • Stephen Keel, center back

Who remembers how much New York improved in 2011 once Keel became a regular starter at center back? Keel is a physical presence on the field who would make an excellent third center back and has shown the capability to start his MLS. His $65,000 salary isn’t unreasonable, and he could be one of the few to go in the draft’s first stage.

  • Bill Gaudette, goalkeeper

The bigger names are Kevin Hartman and Will Hesmer, but the latter missed the entire season due to injury and both have salaries too high for the Union to pay if Zac MacMath graduates Generation adidas. Gaudette, on the other hand, is a quality, lower salaried veteran with good shot-stopping ability who grew up in eastern Pennsylvania. He slots in as a reliable backup with the juice to start in this league.

  • Stephen King, center midfield

The Medford, N.J. native lost his regular spot in D.C. United’s rotation mid-season, but he was a reliable spot starter and reserve the prior two seasons. Union assistant coach Rob Vartughian should be very familiar with him, having coached at the University of Maryland while King, a former Academic All-American and Hermann Trophy semifinalist, was playing there. King made $65,000 last year.

  • Julian de Guzman, center midfield

De Guzman is available for salary reasons. He makes nearly $2 million, and no one in MLS will pay him that right now. Still, he played very well after Toronto traded him to Dallas, showing that, when deployed as a holding midfielder, he can be as good as he was when he played in Spain. If his contractual demands are reasonable, he’s a good pickup in stage two or after the draft, depending on how stacked your lineup is at holding midfielder — and on whether Dallas tries to sign him to a new contract.

  • Juan Pablo Angel, forward

Angel, 37, has reached the point in his career at which, if he wants to continue playing in the U.S., he’ll have to do it for a significantly reduced salary. If he’s willing to do so, then he’s exactly the sort of player the Union could use: A smart, experienced, classy veteran who can start a few games, play some holdup and tutor the team’s young forwards.

  • Alejandro Moreno, forward

See Angel, Juan Pablo.

  • O’Brian White, forward

White looked poised for a breakout year after his trade to Seattle, and then he got hurt. He’s missed most of the last two seasons with blood clot issues, but if he ever got healthy again, he’d be worth at least a trial.

Who stands out on the list to you? Weigh in below in the comments section.

10 Comments

  1. If we are looking at CBs, I still would want Opara honestly.

  2. Sorry, did I miss something? The Union coaches never saw P-Lo play before they signed him?

    • Eh, that’s me being a wiseass. Whatever they saw of him, they clearly didn’t scout him adequately, because he’s not the type of player they were looking for at all.

      • That is a rather charitable assessment of his abilities. In the future, I imagine we’ll be able to rate new signings on a scale of “López-to-Valdés.”

      • And so was a new scale created. Look for it in a forthcoming column. Any suggestions for the order of the in-between?

  3. I like the move for Parke (if it can be done). He’s a solid CB and would be a great starter next to Valdes…this is only applicable if Okugo moves to CDM.

  4. What about Conor Casey, Maicon Santos, Khari Stephenson, and Tony Tchani? They’re all decent players, especially if we can get them at lower salaries. I know Casey has had injuries, but he is one of the most dangerous strikers in MLS when healthy, and could pair well with Jack Mac.

    • Interesting names too. I looked at all three (but I had to cut the list off somewhere). Tchani has major upside but hasn’t produced enough in the pros. Stephenson is solid, but he has an inflated contract, as does Casey, so you’re looking at renegotiation. Casey will be somewhere in MLS next year. He could be a very good addition if the Union want a target forward as a regular starter. All depends on what role they want for McInerney.

  5. Would like to see them add a CB like Opara. Wouldn’t be a surprise to see Valdes head to greener (in a dollar sense) pastures at some point.

    • Opara is definitely interesting. I didn’t mention him because I don’t think the Union want to get younger — and I had to cut the list off somewhere. 😉 But he has talent, that’s for sure. Just needs to stay healthy and get used to this level of competition.

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