This past winter saw the Fire and Seattle Sounders partially press the reset button on their backlines. Both teams leaked goals in the 2013 like waterbeds abounding with holes. In exchange for Jalil Anibaba – who found neither a home on the right, nor in the center of defense – Frank Yallop and Brian Bliss acquired Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Patrick Ianni. After suffering a torn ACL in 2010, Hurtado was a relatively consistent starter for Seattle. On the flipside was Ianni who had only played in nine games after suffering a broken foot. What the Sounders received was a young player who wasn’t quite deserving of being called “budding” but wasn’t exactly a bust. Anibaba had almost stagnated.
It’s nearing the midpoint of the 2014 season and Seattle are atop the overall MLS standings. This trade for them is a wash. The question is: what did the Fire gain from this trade? Has it worked out? Did they “win” the trade?
Jhon Kennedy Hurtado is indisputably the most valuable piece of the January transaction. He has played every minute of all 12 games thus far. The team has conceded 22 goals, which is level with last years’ Supporters Shield winners New York Red Bulls, and five fewer than the Houston Dynamo, who currently occupy fourth place in the East. Hurtado also has one goal to his name.
Hurtado: 12 appearances, all starts; 22 goals conceded; 1 goal scored; 2-3-7 record
Patrick Ianni looked as though he had supplanted Bakary Soumare as starter. A poor team performance against Columbus, and not being in the 18 versus Los Angeles has cast doubt on that. His season debut came in week 2 at Portland. As a substitute he came on for Lovel Palmer at rightback only to stand idly as Gaston Fernandez powered home the game tying header. Ianni would not feature for the next six games. On May 10, Ianni started his first game in the 5-4 goal fest at Red Bull Arena. His next two starts came against a depleted Sporting Kansas City side, in a 2-1 victory. Two wins in two games was a shining beacon of hope for the Hurtado-Ianni partnership until a loss in Columbus the following week put a damper on that.
Ianni: 4 appearances, 3 starts; 8 goals conceded; 2-1 record as a starter
Jalil Anibaba has largely been an afterthought within the Sounders setup. Seattle has a league leading 29 points. Despite being fourth in the west in goals conceded, an MLS leading 29 goals have made up for it. Through 13 games Anibaba has only been given three starting nods. In fact, he didn’t see the field until week 4 in a 2-1 loss versus Columbus, coming on for Kenny Cooper in the 60th minute. Much like Ianni, Anibaba’s first start came in a goal fest, as the men in electric green drew 4-4 in Portland. Sigi Schmid had seen enough in that game and relegated his number four to the bench in Seattle’s 3-2 win the following week against FC Dallas. It would be a while until the California native would see the pitch again, coming on as a 90th minute sub on May 7, in a 2-1 win against FC Dallas yet again. His most impressive outing came the following week when he went a full 90 in a 1-0 win versus San Jose. A start would come in the next game as well – a 2-2 draw in Vancouver. He would not feature this past weekend in Seattle’s 4-0 demolishing of Real Salt Lake.
Anibaba: 5 appearances, 3 starts; 9 goals conceded; 1-0-2 record as a starter
Verdict based on performance: Fire win. Chicago received a consistent, every game starter in Hurtado and a decent third CB in Ianni. Comparing Anibaba to only Ianni, the goals conceded are nearly identical but the Fire were able to pick up six points in Ianni’s starts to Seattle’s three with Anibaba getting the nod.
Salaries are an interesting element in the trade. Both Jhon Kennedy Hurtado ($210k) and Patrick Ianni ($150k) make more than Jalil Anibaba ($119.62k). Anibaba looks to be due a bonus of $50,000 since his guaranteed compensation is actually that much higher than his listed base salary. Ideally, the trade would have been more of a straight swap with the Fire acquiring Hurtado, giving up another draft pick (more on that later) and saving some cap space. Seattle were only going to make it work if they can offload Ianni as well, and supposedly that is what worked within the confines of the salary cap for both teams. Fire fans were left somewhat confused by the subsequent departure of Austin Berry – traded for the ever-important allocation money.
Verdict based on capology: Sounders get the win in this category. They were able to offload two defenders who contributed to an all-around leaky unit from a season ago. In exchange they got younger on their backline and at a smaller cap hit. Naysayers who still take issue with the poorly-worded transfer rules might argue Seattle doesn’t need to worry about the cap in their quest for player like Clint Dempsey. Regardless, they did a good bit of business with this transaction and saved some space. The new Fire brass of Bliss and Yallop inherited a downright miserable cap situation from the previous regime, and this trade was just a small part in freeing up space, while rebuilding an equally leaky backline from last season.
Long Term X Factor
An almost-forgotten part of this trade was the swapping of draft picks. Seattle, having dispatched with the reliable Hurtado, got to move up to number 8 in the first round of the MLS Super Draft. With the 8th selection the team chose Generation Adidas defender Damion Lowe. The Kingston, Jamaica product is the son of Onandi Lowe, who represented Jamaica at the 1998 World Cup. The selection combined pedigree with great potential. Lowe however, has yet to see any MLS action this season. Moving down to number 13 in the first round, the Fire selected defender Marco Franco. Many pundits stated Franco had no glaring weaknesses and that he was amongst the most MLS ready prospects, it’s rather difficult to say that Franco also has not seen any MLS action outside of the reserve league. Perhaps his weaknesses are not glaring, but it appears his attributes have no place in the game day 18 just yet.
The answer to the ultimate question of who “won” the trade is not only subjective but forward-looking; the deal cannot be fully analyzed until seasons end, or perhaps even over a longer time frame with the draft picks in mind. If the Fire continue getting production from Hurtado and successful spot starts out of Ianni, they will have certainly gained the upper hand in the short term. But if Seattle keeps scoring, and Jalil Anibaba’s role on the team continues to be of little effect, and they march onto MLS Cup and win, then the trade is essentially moot in the time being. It would depend on the long term success or failures of Damion Lowe and Marco Franco. As it stands, the Fire are better with Hurtado and Soumare in the center of defense then they were with either Berry or Anibaba paired up with Baky. It’s good to have Ianni on the roster to keep challenging the starters and not allow complacency within the starting center backs.
How do you feel? Will Seattle ultimately rue the day they got rid of Hurtado in favor of a player they don’t seem to rate highly? Will the added salary have ill effects on summer transfers for the Fire? Did anyone get the leg up on this trade, or will we have to wait and see?