That big Marco Pappa versus Erik Friberg talk we had on Wednesday? Come Thursday, it was irrelevant. Friberg had signed with Bologna, eliminating one of Seattle’s options. Instead of potentially luring the former Sounder back to Major League Soccer, Seattle could either take the already signed up Pappa — returning for a failed 16-month spell in Holland — or trade the first pick in the allocation order. Either way, they had to decide by Friday at 4p.m. ET.
Hours ago their decision became official, with Pappa becoming the latest addition to the 2014 Sounders. Though Seattle did try to trade the pick, the price they were asking amounted to due diligence. If nobody was willing to give them beyond Pappa’s value, Seattle appeared happy to add the Guatemalan international.
If they’ve acquired the same player Chicago sold to Heerenveen in August 2012, Seattle’s got another All-Star caliber player to an attack that already features Clint Dempey, Obafemi Martins, and Kenny Cooper. With Osvaldo Alonso and Brad Evans also likely starters in the team’s front six, the Sounders’ offseason shakeup has left them with an enviable group in front of defense. And of course, that defense has added Chad Marshall and Stefan Frei, albeit at the cost of Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Michael Gspurning.
If, however, Seattle get a player that’s regressed at Heerenveen, they’ve got another a Eddie Johnson-esque restoration project on their hands. When the U.S. international returned to MLS, he’d rarely played during his final days at Fulham (or, his various loan destinations). Sigi Schmid, however, made him into an All-Star, a transformation he may have to repeat with Pappa. Languishing at club level (283 league minutes in 16 months), Pappa has also seen his production drop for Guatemala.
To get him on track, Seattle may have to abandon the idea of a midfield diamond, a formation they seemed to be leaning toward as the likes of Mauro Rosales and Steve Zakuani left this summer. With those players, though, there with other reasons for leaving the team – details that had nothing to do with how Schmid planned to set up his team. Though the squad and Schmid’s use of Dempsey implied Seattle would stay with a diamond, nothing’s set in stone.
With the acquisition of Pappa, Seattle has a significant incentive to ditch an approach that became a hinderance during last year’s postseason. Best when deployed wide and allowed to come in, Pappa doesn’t fit in the setup Schmid used at the end of last season. Any attempt to squeeze him in might complicate Seattle’s ability to get him back on track.
If, however, Schmid goes back to flat midfield, everything all of a sudden falls into place. He’s got Alonso and Evans in the middle, Martins and Cooper up top, and Dempsey and Pappa wide. Everybody’s playing their natural positions. Schmid goes back to a setup that’s worked recently. The offseason shake-up could lead to a refreshingly back-to-basics approach.
It’s also an approach that gives Seattle the best chance to make this pick worthwhile. Whether he excels or falls on his face, Pappa’s worth this ‘gamble’ (which only required giving up the top spot in allocation). But that gamble has a much greater chance of succeeding if Pappa’s put in a natural spot.