Major League Soccer's half-day trading window ahead of the December 10 expansion draft included two significant deals by the Union.
The first move sent midfielder Amobi Okugo, the last remaining player from the team's inaugural season in 2010, to expansion club Orlando City. In exchange, the Union will receive a second-round pick in the 2016 SuperDraft, and - more importantly - what I'm told is $150,000 in allocation money. That is a sizable figure by the standards of most MLS transactions.
In a statement issued by the Union, technical director Chris Albright praised Okugo for having "continually represented the organization with class, and we wish him all the best as he continues his career."
Albright wouldn't confirm the specific amount of allocation money in the deal, citing longtime MLS policy that keeps those numbers private. But he did say on a confeerence call with reporters Monday afternoon that "we're really happy with the value we got back in the trade," and that the team has "a good amount of flexibility this offseason to go out and continue to add in position of need."
An agreement between the Union and Orlando was first reported Sunday night by The Philly Soccer Page's Eli Pearlman-Storch. The Orlando Sentinel's Paul Tenorio was first to confirm the specific draft pick that is headed the Union's way.
The second move brought veteran striker C.J. Sapong, who has the potential to help the Union's attack significantly.
Sapong has been in MLS for five seasons. He won Rookie of the Year honores in 2011, and 2012, he scored nine goals. For a time, he was one of the league's most feared young strikers.
But in the two years after that, he fell out of favor at Sporting Park over the next two seasons. Now the Manassas, Va., native and product of James Madison University and Reading United gets a new lease on life.
"When we had the opportunity to make a move for a guy like C.J., we pulled the trigger, and we're really happy to have him," Albright said. "I think he gives our attack a real dynamic element with his versatility, athleticism and ability to score goals. One of the things we talked about was to get a little bigger, stronger and faster in the offseason - he defintely checks all those boxes."
The Union sent their highest pick in the 2015 SuperDraft to Kansas City in return. Right now, that is the No. 10 overall selection, their natural place in the first round. It came as a result of finishing with the 8th-worst record in MLS in 2014. Expansion teams Orlando and New York City FC get the first two selections, followed by the usual worst-to-first ranking.
I was first to report the Union's acquisition of Sapong; the Kansas City Star's Sam McDowell was first to report what Sporting was getting in return.
Union manager Jim Curtin will hope to resurrect Sapong's career in much the same way he proved to be the first MLS coach able to truly unlock Andrew Wenger's potential. Given Sapong's history of success in MLS, that shouldn't be too difficult a task. If Curtin succeeds, he will have solved one of the Union's major problems whether the team signs a Designated Player striker or not.
They are still shopping for a higher-caliber striker, to be sure. Sapong is no slouch, though, and he should fit in Curtin's 4-2-3-1 system quite well.
Okugo's departure will be the bigger news for most Union fans, and understandably so.
it was no secret that wanted to try his luck in Europe. Curtin said as much publicly at the end of the regular season. So the Union made Okugo a contract offer, allowing the team to retain his rights in MLS should he decided to return to the United States.
It's important to realize, though, that had Okugo signed with a team in Europe, the Union would have gotten no return whatsoever on their five-year investment.
Yes, Philadelphia would have had the first chance to sign Okugo had he not caught on abroad. But you can be pretty sure he would have found a team somewhere, most likely in Germany or Scandinavia.
"We had conversations with Amobi and his representation and knew he wanted to test Europe," Albright said. "That's a risky proposition when a guy's out of contract and you could come back with nothing in return. We saw some real value in a deal with Orlando, and to erase some of that uncertainty... I think was something we are very happy with."
Albright added that as part of the transaction, Okugo agreed to a new deal with MLS and Orlando City.
"I don't think Europe is an option anymore," Albright said.
Union fans might not relish the idea of seeing Okugo line up against them next year, but the trade saves a lot of parties from a potentially embarrassing situation down the road.
The ability of MLS teams to hold the right of first refusal in perpetuity on a player who goes abroad and later returns is a terrible thing. I wrote about this in depth last year, and everything I said then still stands now. Here's hoping MLS' new collective barganing agreement, which will be negotiated in the coming months, does away with the rule.
Along with the two trades, the Union declined to exercise 2015 contract options on midfielders Corben Bone and Fred, and forwards Brian Brown, Conor Casey and Cristhian Hernández.
Albright said the team didn't want to extend Brown's loan at the terms on the table, though he didn't elaborate about what those terms were.
To some observers, Hernández's departure will be the most notable. He was a homegrown player whose signing by the Union was a significant deal at the time. He also alluded to the idea that there might be some negotiations ongoing to retain Casey on a new contract.
The Guadalajara native was part of the Los Angeles Galaxy's under-15 and under-16 teams in 2008 and 2009, then moved across the country and after doing so joined the northern New Jersey-based Players Development Academy.
PDA is in a swath of territory where the Union's geographical rights on academy players overlap with those of the New York Red Bulls. Despite being located much closer to Red Bull Arena than PPL Park - PDA's registered address is about halfway between Harrison, N.J. and Bethlehem, Pa., 13 miles north of Interstate 78 - the club chose to affiliate with the Union. That raised some eybrows in youth soccer circles.
While Hernández was at PDA, he won U.S. Soccer's U-17/18 Development Academy Player of the Year award in 2011. He made his first appearance for the Union - and scored the winning goal - in the friendly against Everton at PPL Park. But he was not officially signed to the senior team until March of 2012.
Hernández made just two senior-level appearances in his time at PPL Park, both in 2012, and played a total of 26 minutes. He has spent most of his time since then on loan to the Harrisburg City Islanders. We'll never know whether he failed to fulfill his potential or was over-hyped in the first place. The latter may be more likely.
"[Cristhian] is still very young, has a briight future and we wish him all the best," Albright said. He added that the Union has "come to terms on agreements going forward" with fellow homegrown players Zach Pfeffer and Jimmy McLaughlin.
Anyway, back to the present. MLS teams had a four-hour window on Monday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Eastern Time, during which they could make deals ahead of the Expansion Draft roster freeze. If you enjoy trade frenzies, you got your money's worth. Among the notable transactions:
- Kansas City traded defender Aurélien Collin to Orlando for allocation money and future considerations (first reported by the Orlando Sentinel's Paul Tenorio).
- Columbus traded midfielder Bernardo Añor to Kansas City for allocation money (first reported by the Kansas City Star's Sam McDowell).
- Portland traded defender Michael Harrington to Colorado for allocation money (first reported last week by the Oregonian's Jamie Goldberg, among others).
- Portland signed goalkeeper Adam Larsen-Kwarasey on a free transfer (first reported last week in Norway, where he had been playing, with details from The Oregonian's Jamie Goldberg here). Larsen-Kwarasey was the starter for Ghana's national team in this past summer's World Cup game against the United States.
- Portland signed winger/forward Dairon Asprilla on undisclosed terms (announced Monday morning by the Timbers). Sadly, the Colombian is not related to former Newcastle United cult hero Faustino Asprilla.
- Real Salt Lake traded defender Nat Borchers to Portland for allocation money (first reported last week by Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl). RSL general manager Garth Lagerwey made headlines by telling the Salt Lake Tribune's Chris Kamrani that "we let Nat decide where he wanted to go," which you don't often see in MLS' single-entity structure.
- Columbus traded defender Josh Williams to New York City FC for allocation money (announced by NYCFC).
- Orlando signed forward Bryan Róchez, pending a physical (first reported by the Orlando Sentinel's Paul Tenorio). The 19-year-old Honduran has six caps for his national team and scored 20 goals this past season for Real España.
- Portland signed defender Jeanderson Salvador Pereira (announced by the Timbers). The 23-year-old immediately takes up a high place in the ranking of MLS' best names.
- D.C. traded goalkeeper Joe Willis and defender Samuel Inkoom to Houston for midfielder Andrew Driver and a 2016 SuperDraft fourth-round pick (announced by the Dynamo).
- Houston traded goalkeeper Tally Hall to Orlando for allocation money and an international roster spot. The deal was first reported in October by the Orlando Sentinel's Paul Tenorio, but was only completed today.
- Vancouver traded forward Omar Salgado to New York City FC, and both clubs announced that City has a deal in place to sell him abroad (details from the Whitecaps here and City here). The Whitecaps retained the right to some revenue from the transfer, and also gained some allocation money.
Salgado was the No. 1 pick in the 2011 SuperDraft, and came to MLS with much hype after success in the United States youth national team program. But he never really made the step up to the next level. That said, he's still just 21 years old. As Goal.com's Ives Galarcep pointed out, Salgado has been drawing attention from Mexican clubs for a while. We'll see if this move gets him going.
- Colorado traded goalkeeper Joe Nasco and a 2015 SuperDraft third round pick to New England, and received strikers Dimitry Imbongo and Geoffrey Castillion and a 2015 SuperDraft second round pick pick (anounced by the Rapids).