The transfer window is always an interesting time for soccer fans, whether in the MLS or international. It's a time to hope for your team to sign that big name to push them over the top, or for your favorite team to sign a player you really like. It can also suck because there are TONS of rumors everyday, with teams getting linked to player after player. In reality, most of those players are never contacted by said club, but the papers need something to write. One interesting rumor popped up recently involving my two favorite teams: Chicago Fire and Newcastle United. In specific, the rumor says that Newcastle is interested in bringing Marco Pappa in for a trial next season. Although I don't think he's anywhere close to ready for the Premier League at this time, Newcastle does currently have need for a midfielder that can score. Join me after the break for a bit of analysis.
Newcastle is set to lose 2-3 midfielders this offseason. Joey Barton, Kevin Nolan, and Jonas Gutierrez all may leave. Of the 3 listed, Jonas Gutierrez will stay I think. There haven't been that many rumors of him leaving. If he does leave, he is more replaceable than some of the other Newcastle players. Think of him as a Nyarko type player. I think he only had one goal this year. He is a good winger, and plays some good defense, but doesn't shoot much at all (kinda like Nyarko). He's good with the ball at his feet and has good vision, and is good with crosses.
Barton is a great set piece guy, but not a big threat to score. Think of him like Paladini. He will take free kicks, and although he is not quite at the level of David Beckham's legendary free kicks and service balls, he is close. Andy Carroll had quite a few goals before he left Newcastle because of Joey Barton. He is 28, and wants a longer contract than Newcastle is willing to give, so he is likely gone. The guy seriously has some skill at putting balls to the heads and feet of teammates. If we had his corner kick ability on the Fire, the operative words would be "holy shit". Then we would just need guys to finish on the other end.
Kevin Nolan has said he wanted to stay, but then turned down a contract recently, thought to be because too little pay was offered. He was Newcastle's top leading scorer last season with 12 goals, but the offense doesn't focus at all around him. He is not a pure scoring threat as he is a midfielder, but he has a knack to be in the right place at the right time, like an early season Diego Chaves. His defense is decent, and passing, vision, etc. is good. Basically, he is kind of good at many things but doesn't really stand out at any one thing. He is a leader and is well liked, so think of him like a Logan Pause on the likability (only with actual offensive ability) and a CJ Brown on the leadership part. He got quite a few goals earlier in the season because of Andy Carroll and defenses keying on Andy, which opened space up for Kevin.
Newcastle just confirmed the signing of Yohan Cabaye, a highly rated midfielder from French top division champions Lille. He is a good passer, can score some goals here and there, and is rated as one of the top midfielders in all of France's top division. That will help to fill the void of the departing players, but Newcastle could still use another midfielder as well as a few other key areas too. Newcastle needs a left back, and possibly a right back. Their main need is in regards to strikers, but they have 35 million pounds from the sale of Andy Carroll to fill those spots. Plus there are rumors of other attacking midfielders they are looking at (Charles N'Zogbia being a strong one). Thus, the offensive ability of Marco would be a definite need for the Toon.
The reason why I explained all the above is in respect to Marco. I love the Fire and Marco, but I don't think he is Premier League worthy right now. I don't think he's even close right now, at least as a starter on a big club like Newcastle. It is possible he could develop into that in the future though. Marco is young, and he has great scoring abilities. His skill set doesn't mimic any of those above in my opinion, which is why, if he was ready, Newcastle could use him. The only current Newcastle player right now that could be comparable is Hatem Ben Arfa. He is a winger, but is a dangerous dribbler and has a great shot. He had a double leg fracture in early October from a nasty slide tackle and missed the rest of the year. If I had to compare Marco's style of play to one current Newcastle player, it would be him.
Aside from Ben Arfa, none of the above Newcastle players can slide up to true forward. In an emergency, Nolan could, but he doesn't have the skills to be a forward every game, and only ever slid up that far when Newcastle had more injuries than the Cubs normally do, if that's even possible. None are known as definite scoring threats either like Marco. They can put the ball in the net, but if defenses key on them, it's not to prevent them scoring as much as to prevent them from helping others score. Marco is not known as a table setter generally like they are. He is a target. I think all players listed above are definitely better with the ball at their feet, and I think are better passers and have better vision. This is not a knock on Marco, just a reflection of how different the leagues are. I would describe the MLS as tough and gritty, and not usually pretty. The EPL would be high flying, fast, flashy, and in-your-face. One thing Marco would have trouble with is trying to dribble through 3 to 4 guys. There is SO MUCH more passing in the EPL, and that's how many teams are dangerous with the ball. Yes, you will have your guys that can dribble through multiple guys, but the defenses are so good that you don't see it a lot.
Although seeing Marco as a Newcastle player would be neat, I don't think he is good enough yet. I hope he stays and grows with the Fire, at least for now. The quality of the MLS is growing, but it's still light years away from the large international leagues.
UPDATE: We asked Robert Bishop of Coming Home Newcastle, SB Nation's Newcastle United blog, what he thought of the Marco Pappa rumor. Here's what he had to say:
Newcastle's midfield is very much in flux right now due to the rumored departures of Jonas Gutierrez, Joey Barton, and Kevin Nolan, and though the exit of all three appears unlikely, Alan Pardew is planning for that eventuality. As a result, seemingly every available midfielder has been linked to the club in the last month or so. The fact that Pappa is capable of playing up front gives me enough reason to look twice at this rumor; however, Premiership-ready talent is the clear priority (when the signing of 25 year-old French international midfielder Yohan Cabaye was announced, it was dismissed as extraneous), and as you said, Pappa doesn't strike me as a player that would force his way into a starting spot.
In short, though the need for midfield help is very real, the Magpies have plenty of depth type players to sit behind the starters, whomever they might be. That fact, coupled with chief scout Graham Carr's general inattention to North America, means that if there is any link between these two parties, it is likely tenuous at best.