Marco Pappa back to MLS: Talking the former Fire star’s potential fit with D.C. United

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According to reports from various foreign sources, former Chicago Fire standout Marco Pappa has had his contract terminated in the Netherlands. After just 16 months with Heerenveen in the Eredivisie, the Guatemalan international is looking for another job, his failure to make an impact with Michael Bradley’s former club sparking speculation about the 26-year-old’s next stopping point. Having enjoyed four-plus successful years in Major League Soccer, it’s natural to ask if a return to MLS is in the cards for the former MLS All-Star.

After such a poor showing in Holland, a move to more familiar footing would certainly make sense, and according to sources in Guatemala, Pappa is keen on returning to a league where he’s had so much success. By the time Pappa had left Chicago last August, he’d recorded 26 goals and 16 assists in 106 games. Over his final three campaigns, Pappa averaged seven goals per season – strong production for a player used mostly as a winger. In the Netherlands, however, Pappa was unable to summon that production, finishing without a goal in 283 minutes spread over 12 appearances.

Still young, presumably still talented, and proven in MLS, Pappa seems like a potentially strong acquisition for somebody back in North America, though unless a club’s willing to shell out Designated Player money, he’s going to have to go through allocation. Chicago sold him, thus relinquishing his rights, so if Pappa’s going to go back to his MLS future, D.C. United will have first crack – a potential blessing for a goal-starved team that finished with only three wins last season.

D.C. United blog Black and Red United does a great job of adding context to the debate, the underlying theme being opportunity cost. If Pappa comes back (and hits the allocation list), he’d clearly be a huge addition to a rebuilding United roster. But is he worth giving up the top spot in allocation, and thereby forgoing any other players that could potentially return during 2014?

source: Getty Images
Queens Park Rangers’ Oguchi Onyewu, seen here with the U.S. Men’s National Team, is one of the players linked with a move to Major League Soccer this offseason. Does Marco Pappa’s potential availability via allocation justify D.C. United passing on the chance to snare Onyewu, Edu or another prominent player looking to move to MLS? (Photo: Gettty Images.)

It’s a tricky proposition. If a player is too good, they’ll be a Designated Player (DP) and skip allocation. If they’re not good enough, they may not justify either their pick, the salary, or the effect they’ll have on your roster. And who’s to say the next player made available to United will fit as nicely as Pappa, a player who you could easily imagine playing wide in Ben Olsen’s setup.

The only tension here may be the cost. If Pappa isn’t going to be a DP, the price a team likely pays will be justifiable, yet during his final days with Chicago, it seemed like the Guatemalan was already looking beyond MLS’s shores. Intent on moving to Europe, Pappa didn’t seem to be putting his talent into practice as often as you’d like, his ambition seemingly undermining his consistency. Though he was still effective by the time he left Toyota Park, Pappa’s departure came with the feeling his time had come.

If that outlook’s changed, this could be a great pickup for United, even if the dollar figures put his potential salary at the high-end of the non-DP scale. Pappa lacks the kind of dynamism United lacked while Dwayne De Rosario aged. With the team presumably set to play through newly-acquired Eddie Johnson much of the time next year, Pappa provides a nice alternative. When teams are focused on trying to limit the U.S. international’s influence, Pappa provides the ability to beat players one-on-one wide, creating chances when ‘Plan A’ is just isn’t clicking.

Maybe failing in Europe will refocus Pappa, solving that consistency problem – assuming there’s a problem at all. If Pappa was distracted during his final season in MLS, it’s certainly not reflected in his numbers (averaging a goal every 273.5 minutes). But if those numbers are grossing over some consistency issues, Pappa’s cap number may determine whether this is a boon or a risk for Ben Olsen’s club. Ultimately, the Guatemalan’s value may come down to whether he wants to be in MLS more than he did at the end of his run in Chicago.

Mourinho: Mkhitaryan “disappeared” during games, got dropped

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It would appear that Henrikh Mkhitaryan has become the new Luke Shaw, who not so long ago became the new Juan Mata, who had become the new Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos and Pepe, who all previously become the new Kaka and Mesut Ozil — players previously perceived to be undroppable, only to fall out of favor and be dropped from Mourinho’s side.

[ MORE: Carrick back in training after operation to fix irregular heartbeat ]

Similarly to many of the aforementioned stars of Manchester United, Chelsea and Real Madrid sides of the not-so-distant past, Mourinho recently singled out Mkhitaryan for not working hard enough for the team and failing to meet expectations with his performances.

Mkhitaryan last featured in Man United’s 1-0 loss to Chelsea on Nov. 5, prior to the most recent international break. He played just 62 minutes, to follow an UEFA Champions League appearance of just 45 minutes against Benfica. Mkhitaryan was then absent from the substitute’s bench for a victory over Newcastle United and a defeat to Basel.

[ MORE: Pochettino sees Sanchez as one of world’s best defenders already ]

In Mourinho’s mind, Mkhitaryan hasn’t merited a place in the team — quotes from the Guardian:

“I was not happy with his last performances. I’m not speaking about one or two, I’m speaking about three, four or five. He started the season very well and after that, step by step, he was disappearing. His performance levels in terms of goalscoring and assists, pressing, recovering the ball high up the pitch, bringing the team with him as a no. 10, were decreasing.

“That was enough [to drop him] because the others worked to have a chance. Everybody works to have a chance. It’s as simple as that.”

“I don’t know if Mkhitaryan will start but, for sure, he will be back in the group. For him to be back to the group, it means that somebody is going to leave the group.”

Davinson delights Pochettino, who predicts “massive” strides

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It’s still very early days for Davinson Sanchez as a Tottenham Hotspur player, but the early returns are extremely positive as the Colombian center back has featured in 14 of the club’s 17 games in the Premier League and UEFA Champions League this season.

[ MORE: Spurs beat Dortmund again to win group with Real Madrid ]

What’s more encouraging than Sanchez’s initial performances? The 21-year-old’s “massive” room for improvement and the expectation he’ll one day soon be one of the world’s best defenders, according to manager Mauricio Pochettino.

After signing for Spurs in August, Sanchez went straight into Pochettino’s starting lineup, slotted in between stalwarts Toby Aldeweireld and Jan Vertonghen, who together last season led the defense with the PL’s best record (26 goals conceded in 38 games), as part of a back-three. Sanchez has taken to Tottenham like a duck to water, in Pochettino’s estimation — quotes from ESPN FC:

“You saw against against Dortmund how many times he was with [Pierre-Emerick] Aubameyang one-versus-one. How many central defenders can play one-versus-one and escape and go, be tight and press? If you run, I run because I am so confident when running. I think not many center backs in the world can do this.

“Or against Swansea against Tammy Abraham: how many times he was one vs. one and the ball was behind him, he was on the halfway line and running was not a problem? And against Cristiano Ronaldo, too?”

“We expect more from him, but I am so happy with him. He is doing well, very well. He’s only 21 years old, but he shows more maturity [than that], and he’s so aggressive when he’s marking, his concentration [is good] and then with the ball he’s good, but I think he can improve.

“There is massive scope to improve potentially, it’s massive for him. In only a few months, he’s showing he’s doing a fantastic job for us. [He can improve in] every single aspect, tactic, physical condition, technique.

“We need with him one and a half months or two months preseason every day, and then I’m sure he’s going to show a different level. I think he’s one of the best today, but has potential to improve a lot more.

“Because he’s so clever, and he’s very humble, and he’s very open to learn, he’s a player when you tell something his reaction is to be open, and be critical with himself, and that is a massive skill from a player, when he’s so open to improve, and then the conditions he has are amazing to be one of the best center halves in the world.”

To state the completely obvious, Pochettino was wise to utilize Aldeweireld and Vertonghen as training wheels for Sanchez, if you will, upon his arrival. His athleticism and pace make him 1) the ideal complement to a pair of players who read the game so well; and, 2) perfectly positioned to operate as the last-man, emergency defender on the rare occasion either Belgian is breached.

[ MORE: Liverpool host Chelsea in massive top-four clash ]

For the first time all season, Sanchez started out wide in Alderweireld’s absence (hamstring) against Arsenal last weekend, and for the first time since his arrival, he appeared a flawed — which is to say, human — defender. To his credit, Sanchez gave a quality account of himself on the whole, and finished the game much stronger than he’d started.

No one was more aware of this than Pochettino, though, as he slid Eric Dier into Aldeweireld’s spot for Tuesday’s Champions League triumph over Borusia Dortmund, again deploying Sanchez in the middle. With Aldeweireld expected to miss a couple more weeks at minimum, the Tottenham teamsheet should routinely read Vertonghen-Sanchez-Dier from left to right until he returns.

Lille appoint four interim managers to replace Bielsa

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LILLE, France (AP) A four-man coaching team will take provisional charge of French soccer club Lille in the wake of Marcelo Bielsa’s dismissal.

Lille says Fernando Da Cruz, Joao Sacramento, Benoit Delaval and Franck Mantaux will be in charge of the team until further notice.

Lille announced earlier this week that Bielsa had been suspended “as part of a procedure started by the club” following a 3-0 loss at Amiens.

The northern side is in 19th place and next travels Saturday to Montpellier, which has the best defense in the league.

Bielsa joined Lille this season but failed to make the club competitive. After finishing a disappointing 11th last season, Lille hired the coach – affectionately known as El Loco Bielsa (Crazy Bielsa) – with the aim of returning to the Champions League.

Irregular heartbeat the cause of Carrick’s recent absence

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Manchester United captain Michael Carrick hasn’t played for his club since Sept. 20, a confounding period of more than two months now, and the reason for the 36-year-old midfielder’s absence has finally come to light: an irregular heartbeat.

[ MORE: Mourinho slams critics (again), gives injury updates ]

The condition, which Carrick announced himself on Friday, was first detected after Man United’s League Cup victory over Burton Albion. He has since undergone a cardiac ablation, a procedure to scar or destroy tissue in your heart that’s allowing incorrect electrical signals to cause an abnormal heart rhythm, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Carrick was named the new United captain this summer following the departure of Wayne Rooney. As told in the above statement, he is working toward full fitness and once again being available for selection in Jose Mourinho’s side.

Hooray for modern technology and medicine, which allow otherwise baffling medical conditions to be diagnosed, treated and recovered from in a matter of weeks or months.