It’s always like this with a new coach - no one knows what to expect, and aside from brief big-picture statements from the front office, supporters are left searching vainly for a pattern. We’ve been searching, all of us who care about these things; what connects these deals?
In the 10 weeks since Frank Yallop was named head coach of the Fire, the connecting rationale has seemed fairly simple: We’ve got a good thing here, and let’s not screw it up. The roster which rallied bravely but fell short of the playoffs has largely been carried forward, with the only signings being a veteran backup defender and a couple of Homegrown prospects. The emphasis seemed more buttressing and less reconstruction.
Well, that idea appears to be out the door.
Total-MLS is reporting that Yallop and technical director Brian Bliss are in talks with the Seattle Sounders about a deal that signals a willingness to remake the starting XI even before preseason, trading starting right back Jalil Anibaba to Seattle in exchange for center backs Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Patrick Ianni so they can pursue former Fire winger, Marco Pappa.
The rumored deal would clear cap space for the Sounders, which would come in handy should reports prove true that the club is pursuing returning winger Marco Pappa. Hurtado and Ianna were on the books last season for $190 and $150K, respectively.
Anibaba, 25, was a first-round pick for the Fire out of North Carolina in 2011, and quickly became a regular starter with the club. In three seasons, he amassed 96 appearances for the Men in Red, scoring four goals. A natural centerback, the California native gamely worked to refashion his game to a new position when then-Fire head coach Frank Klopas moved him to right back, with some success. With Seattle, he can comfortably compete for a starting center back spot, as the Sounders boast starlet DeAndre Yedlin on the right flank.
The 29-year-old Hurtado is a different kind of defender than last year’s starters in the center of the CF97 backline - a glider, a cover man, albeit a combative one. A native of Palmira, Colombia, Hurtado joined the Sounders in 2009 before their inaugural MLS season and immediately was in the conversation for the MLS Defender of the Year. A knee injury early in the 2010 season seemed to rob Hurtado of some of his searing pace, but he remains a speedy cover back with tremendous experience in the league. He also holds a green card, so he will not occupy an international slot on the roster.
Ianni, 28, is another guy who joined Seattle before the Sounders kicked a ball in MLS. The very model of ‘no-nonsense defender,’ Ianni has slid ever further out of the starting picture for the Rave Green since his peak with the team in 2010 (25 appearances, 24 starts). A seventh-year pro, the UCLA product won MLS Cup with Houston in 2006 and 2007.
Instant reaction to this rumor: Wow. I’ve written repeatedly about the team’s need for a cover-back to pair up with its plethora of aggressive stoppers, and if this happens, Hurtado would be that in spades. He’s had health problems, but when healthy and on form is a Best XI caliber center back. Clearly, Yallop was not enamored of Anibaba’s body of work as a right back; this move gives Jalil a chance to start over as a center back. Ianni is sturdy, no-nonsense depth for what is suddenly shaping up as a vicious knife-fight for playing time in the center of defense.
Where does this leave the Fire at right back? At this point, Lovel Palmer is your starter, and the backup is … likely someone they’ll pick up tomorrow in the SuperDraft. Eric Miller of Creighton, how do you feel about wearing red?
One thing is certain: The sense that the 2014 roster will be simply be "2013 & Friends!" is now dead.