For experienced Fire supporters, the first utterance of "it's not easy" is a rite which signals the approach of spring. We're told that foreigners visualize the USA as New York and Los Angeles, separated by 3,000 miles of shotgun-toting, Bible-quoting savages, and that the rare foreign player who can see through this prejudice is likely to ask for payment in gold bullion, body slaves or orphan tears.
So the prospect of acquiring Marco Pappa, lately of Heerenveen's cozy, upholstered bench seats, is both a welcome sign of the return of the sun's warmth - because, we are told, such acquisition will not be easy - and a sought-for break from the poor-mouthing of our city. Surely there's no recruitment issue here! Marco came to prominence in Chicago. And, as far as we can tell, his contract requires neither inexhaustible gold supplies nor association with slavery cartels.
What it will require, unfortunately, is a deal with Seattle. Now that Philadelphia has made off with Mo Edu, the Sounders hold the top spot in the allocation order, and it is they who will play the role of troll in this scenario, sitting under the allocation bridge, demanding payment in the form of tender player-flesh. "Fee, fi, fo, fun - pay me, or no allocation, son," they croak. And the thing is, trolls don't get distracted. They want what they want. And the fact that the Pappa-in-limbo saga is more than a week old indicates that whatever the Fire's intial offer was, it wasn't persuasive; glass beads and pretty melodies are mass-produced overseas nowadays.
So the question becomes, what should the Fire give up to get Pappa? The Sounders greatest needs are in the center of the park, where the Chicago roster is thinnest; it is likely they will want depth and competition on the wings - exactly the role they see for Pappa - in exchange. In other words, any deal is likely to be a like-for-like swap: Meaning Patrick Nyarko, Chris Rolfe, or Dilly Duka going the other way into rave green. So the question before us today is, which one?
First up: Marco Pappa, an appreciation
Pappa was a tremendously exciting player on a clear growth curve in his first stay with the Fire. It's easy to forget how great Marco could be when he played well - but in fairness, he made it a little too easy with his play in the months leading up to his transfer. His fixation on securing a transfer made him into a sort of footballing narcissist, choirs of angels throwing their voices skyward in his praise as he heroically tried - unsuccessfully, again - to solve a 1-v-3 attacking move from the left wing. Maddening.
That said, the younger, less mercenary Mr. Pappa was a hell of a player for MLS - pacy, quick, clever, relentless. He could play 90 minutes consistently in a physically demanding position in a physically demanding league two years ago, and he's just 26 now. Anyone wanna guess that Frank Yallop knows how to communicate his wishes to players like Marco?
He's been through an experience that had to be disorienting and maybe harrowing; he's never not been first choice, much less out of the team for long stretches. He's got talent and a whole lot to prove. If I'm Seattle, I take him and watch him produce what they hoped they were getting with Steve Zakuani. Pappa will create lots of chances.
On the block: Dilly Duka
Thing about acquiring a quick, tricky two-footed left winger is we've already got a younger one starting: Mr. Dilaver Duka, 24. Wouldn't Duka have to go to make playing time for Pappa? It's possible to imagine the front office feeling this way, and pushing for this deal over the other two.
On the other hand, Duka has never proven himself as a 90-minute player at the pro level; there will be minutes aplenty on offer. Each player is two-footed; either can play on either wing. And Duka has a stated preference for playing in the hole behind the strikers, implying that he and Pappa could attempt to co-exist in a three-man attacking line, should that be a thing the team tries.
On the block: Chris Rolfe
Rolfe just signed a ‘less-money, more-years' contract extension, presumably to finish off his top-level career as a member of the only MLS team he's ever played for. So, of course, the completely nut-kicking reality of it is that including Chris Rolfe as the player in this deal makes absolutely perfect sense. Rolfe just turned 31, an age where an attackers' future begins to be measured in months - many months, let-us-hope-to-be-sure-and-knocking-on-all-available-wood, but ... months. And last year's numbers weren't promising.
But ... I've rewatched a lot of last year, as I imagine Yallop has been, and it's not like Rolfe was bad. He was very good for stretches, and found a way to play as a wing forward that complemented Magee's deeper-lying game well. He just couldn't finish; watching the season quickly, his case of the yips seems obvious. And if I'm Yallop, that's exactly the kind of thing I think I can fix.
On the block: Patrick Nyarko
Which leaves the most unthinkable target of all: Patrick Nyarko, 120 pounds of bruises and wiggle, the most consistent chance creator in the Eastern Conference over the last three years or so. Nyarko can't play in the middle, can't play on the left, and has only one trick - but it's a hell of a trick. Put the ball at his feet, and he'll leave humiliated fullbacks in his wake; from there it's a sprint to the endline and a cross powered in knee-high. Often, the challenge when playing with Patrick is for the forward to imagine a way to finish in the split-second between the trajectory of Nyarko's cross coming clear and the arrival of the ball.
That image may be sufficient to scuttle this deal. Imagining Nyarko doing his Nyarko thing 20 times a game in rave green, and centering to Clint Dempsey? Yikes. I like Dempsey's chances to find the proper moment of inspiration. Pappa for Nyarko is also the trade that is closest to pure like-for-like in terms of talent, which seems a bitter pill to swallow for seven stinkin' places in the allocation order.
Late news: Friberg to return?
This morning, I read that Erik Friberg wants to return to Seattle - but, like Pappa, is subject of allocation. He fills a need for the Sounders, but doesn't seem like the kind of talent the rest of the league would pounce upon; could a deal be swung with CF97? If I'm in the front office, I'm feeling out everyone above us about Friberg; if they're cold, offer the Sounders a swap of allocation spots and some depth?
If you were in charge, what would you do?