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Doug McIntyre’s MLS column, 24 Thoughts, parses through the latest insights and inside info from around American soccer.
Sometimes the biggest transfers are the ones that don’t actually happen. The following certainly falls into that category: Multiple sources told Yahoo Sports that the Chicago Fire were close to landing former Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany before the Belgian center back decided to return to Anderlecht — the club at which he began his decorated career — as a player/manager after the Premier League season ended in May.
It’s not clear what sort of package the Fire were willing to offer the 33-year-old. But the talks were serious enough that Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez and head coach Veljko Paunovic flew to Europe a few months back to meet with the player, the sources said.
Through a spokesman, the club declined to comment.
1. Landing Kompany obviously would’ve been a huge coup for Chicago, but it probably still wouldn’t have been enough as the club appears poised to miss the playoffs for the eighth time in 10 seasons this fall. Paunovic’s team sits 10th in the East, ahead of only the Columbus Crew and expansion FC Cincinnati.
2. Talking to people around the league, few can explain exactly why the Fire are so bad. There are quality players on that roster. Their goal difference is actually even — the sixth-place Montreal Impact’s is minus-10 — but they’ve won just six out of 25 games.
3. At the top of the East, Philadelphia continues to turn heads. The Union have been in first place for an astounding 14 weeks now, but big-spending defending champion Atlanta United is hot on their heels. So is New York City FC, which is seven points back but with four games in hand. The Union will play both, plus league-leading LAFC, down the stretch. Is Philly for real?
4. “That will be the real test,” Union coach Jim Curtin told me a couple of weeks ago, adding that he’s had the regular season-ending contest against NYCFC “circled on the calendar from Week 1.”
5. Are they for real?
“I think there are questions,” Curtin said. “But having said that, I believe strongly in our group. We kinda have the philosophy that the team working together with all 11 guys can be as good as any $15 million player.”
6. As much as the Union would love to win the East and earn the first-round postseason bye that comes with it, the main goal, Curtin said, is to finish in the top four and secure a home playoff game.The club has hosted just one of those in nine seasons in MLS.
7. Philadelphia’s success this season is even more remarkable considering how many youngsters have been thrust into important roles. Curtin admitted that relaying on kids makes him nervous at times, but there’s a method underpinning the club’s approach.
8. “The next step is, we have to sell one of them,” Curtin said. “Of course we want to win first, but to sell one of our guys, we still haven’t done that as a club. You flip a guy for a couple million bucks, then maybe you can invest in a [designated player].
“If we can get this pipeline going and there is a steady flow of good young players going out for good fees and the money is invested back into our academy and into our first team, I think that’s a sustainable model.”
9. A playoff win or two wouldn’t hurt, either, both as a shop window for home-growns like center back Auston Trusty and midfielder Brenden Aaronson (although both players recently lost their starting jobs), but also to prove that the development model works. “I think if we make a run in the playoffs, ownership is willing to invest,” Curtin said. “It just has to be at the right time for the right players.”
10. Curtin and I sat down a couple days after Josh Wolff was named head coach of expansion Austin FC. The two were Chicago Fire teammates from 2001-02, part of a squad that also included other future MLS managers Chris Armas, Jesse Marsch, Tom Soehn and Peter Nowak, as well as current league assistant coaches C.J. Brown, Ante Razov, Mike Sorber and Zack Thornton. The head man, of course, was current LAFC boss Bob Bradley.
11. “It’s a testament to the environment Bob created in Chicago,” Curtin said. “I was a dumb 21-year-old who got thrown into this locker room where the older guys saw the game as coaches. Bob taught you to become a student of the game. Probably my second year into it, I knew I wanted to be a coach, too.”
12. One thing that strikes me about the many branches of Bradley’s coaching tree is how different they all are personality-wise. While Armas has some of the intensity of his former boss, Curtin is as easygoing as they come. I was curious what parts of Bradley’s no-nonsense leadership style he’s incorporated into his own.
13. “You have to have a relationship with each player whether they make $10 million or they’re from the academy — Bob had a way of making every player feel valuable, not just the top five guys,” Curtin said. “That’s something he instilled in me.
“A lot of coaches maybe bulls*** you and tell you what you want to hear whereas Bob was always straight and honest,” he continued. That’s something I try to be with my guys, too.” Seems to be working so far.
14. How about Minnesota United? The Loons have won five and drawn two in their last seven league matches, and they outlasted Portland Wednesday night to reach the U.S. Open Cup final. The atmosphere at Allianz Field was a great advertisement for a tournament that needs all the exposure it can get. And it could be even better for the Aug. 27 finale against Atlanta United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, especially if the home team can sell out the building.
15. So the LA Galaxy finally closed the deal on Argentine winger Cristian Pavon, who arrives from Boca Juniors on a season-long loan. And apparently they only had to move one roster player, Ema Boateng, who was traded to D.C. United for $250,000 worth of targeted allocation money, or TAM. One report had Norwegian Jorgen Skjelvik possibly leaving for Swedish side Hammarby, in which Galaxy owner AEG has a 45-percent stake.
16. My understanding is that another defender, Dave Romney, drew serious interest from former Galaxy coach Bruce Arena, who wanted to bring Romney to his high-flying New England Revolution.
17. Montreal improved its squad considerably on Wednesday. The big news was acquisition of former Barcelona, Roma, Milan and Ajax playmaker Bojan Krkic, who is still just 28. Krkic has been slowed by injury problems in the past, so let’s hope MLS referees don’t allow him to get kicked to bits. Krkic shouldn’t have any problems adapting physically, not after playing more than 70 Premier League games for Stoke City.
18. The Impact also brought back 20-year-old winger Ballou Tabla on loan from Barcelona B, where he found playing time hard to come by after leaving Montreal early last year. Tabla, who was not named to Canada’s Gold Cup roster earlier this summer, had two goals in 21 games (11 starts) in 2017.
19. Tabla’s international teammate Alphonso Davies is faring better with one of the game’s elite clubs, according to former MLS defender Lothar Matthaus. “Coming from MLS to one of the biggest clubs in the world is a big step, but Bayern Munich really believes in him,” Matthaus told ProSoccerUSA. Davies scored a late equalizer for Bayern in last week’s Audi Cup final loss to Tottenham, then came off the bench again in the German Super Cup loss to Borussia Dortmund.
20. It was a little surprising how much time the Players Association spent talking about charter flights during a presentation to national reporters before last week’s All-Star game in Orlando. Clearly this issue is important to the players and, because it’s one the public can easily understand, is something a number of outlets (including this one) focused on afterward. That said, I get the feeling that the sticking point in this negotiation will come down to drastically changing or eliminating outright the use of TAM.
21. Sky Sports reported this week that Mario Balotelli — who is out on contract and available on a free transfer — is close to signing a 2 1/2-year deal with Brazilian club Flamenco. Too bad. The 28-year-old former Azzurri forward could help a lot of teams in MLS. Would’ve loved to see someone take a chance on him with an incentive-heavy contract.
22. I would’ve bet good money (if I gambled) a few years ago that Mexican striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez would be in MLS by now. Austin FC owner Anthony Precourt said in June that the expansion club will “be active in trying to recruit him in the years to come,” but Hernandez will be 33 when the club kicks off in 2021, and after turning down Orlando City a few years ago, you have to wonder how interested he’ll be then.
23. LAFC’s Mark Anthony Kaye has been a revelation this season and deservedly earned an All-Star nod a year after suffering a broken leg in a match. “I had a good support group around me at the club, with the staff, the players,” Kaye told Yahoo Sports after the MLSers lost 3-0 to Atletico Madrid. The medical staff had a plan for me and I stuck to it. Sometimes it was pretty depressing not being able to play. You can’t walk. You can’t run. But just being around the guys helped keep my spirits up. I really owe it to them for helping me push through.”
24. I was curious about Kaye’s relationship with Bradley. Curtin said he was “terrified” of his first professional coach and kept his distance, but also said that modern players are less shy about requesting direct feedback from above. “He’s open. He wants that communication to happen,” Kaye said. “I’m not afraid to talk to him. I understand that he’s going to be hard sometimes and you might not like how it sounds, but at the end of the day I know he has your best interests at heart.”
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