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Morsink in, N'Galula out

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New United midfielder Kurt Morsink tackles Dwayne DeRosario (via <a href="http://i.media.goal.com/g/24376.jpg">goal.com</a>)
New United midfielder Kurt Morsink tackles Dwayne DeRosario (via goal.com)

With the club about to head south for the Mexico leg of training camp, it seemed likely that we'd hear about some moves being made. While there were very few surprised fans when the club announced the signing of Kurt Morsink, it came as something of a shock to see that the recently signed Floribert N'Galula was released. Morsink is the second former Wizard brought over by Curt Onalfo (along with Adam Cristman), while N'Galula joins the long list of African players signed from Europe who failed to make the grade (a list that includes Louis Crayton, Ange N'Silu, and David Habarugira).


How should you feel about these moves? I don't know, but I know what my first reaction is:

The deal for Morsink has been greeted with what appears to be a resounding "meh" by United supporters. While I don't necessarily disagree with that evaluation, I think it may be a function of where he's coming from and what we really want (namely, a playmaker of some repute and another center back). This may be a gross generalization, but the opinion of most United fans towards the Kansas City Wizards is pretty low. The memories of Bob Gansler's ultra-defensive Wizards teams coalesced into something of a myth. The two components of that myth are that the Wizards always play defensive soccer (not true under Onalfo) and that the Wizards never have any worthwhile attacking players (call me crazy, but I think we'd all welcome Davy Arnaud to DC with open arms).

 

There is also word of Wizards fans having a bit of a laugh at all this. Their reaction is somewhat akin to how we would enjoy seeing them sign someone like Avery John. In both cases, we're talking about a player who got much more scorn than he actually deserved. Morsink was never brilliant for the Wizards, but he was not expensive and offered up the level of play one expects in your average MLS role player. Similarly, John came in and usually did his defensive tasks well. Unfortunately, what most people saw when they saw him was a memory of his fouling Moreno while playing for New England, and his lack of ability with the ball. Neither of those meant that John was the wretched waste of space that he was painted as; by the same token, Morsink is not the Kansas City version of Rod Dyachenko.

So, enough about what Morsink isn't. What he is, is a decent enough central midfielder who played for 3 seasons under Onalfo. He knows the system, he knows the league, and he's got a bit of bite to him. That last bit is something often brought up during the commiserations of the last couple seasons. Morsink only really lost his spot as a regular under Onalfo when the club signed Santiago Hirsig, who frankly wasn't that big of an upgrade (despite costing a lot more). He's not going to dominate any game we put him in, and he probably won't be a regular starter. However, he will also not come in and lose us games with turnovers or dumb red cards.

On to Flo N'Galula, and what that particular move means. To keep it concise, I think it's more important to evaluate our contact or contacts in Europe than it is to talk about a player none of us has ever seen play. There has been talk about the hit-or-miss nature of our Latin American signings, and some moderately unfair opinions about what is perceived as a poor draft record. However, it appears to me that our worst connection is definitely whoever is setting us up with European-based African players. How bad is this connection? Every single one of those guys has bombed out, while our African players brought up from USL-2 (Khumalo and Shipalane) have stuck.

Now, a big part of that fact is salary; Goff's article on N'Galula's release mentions his cost-effectiveness as a big factor. That has been true with most of the players in this category: Crayton's salary was too much to justify re-signing him, even though it left us with an inexperienced group of keepers. N'Silu made over $70,000 upon signing, and did nothing to impress on a team that needed some speed up front. Habarugira was an exception, coming in at something close to the senior minimum. Still, the European pedigree drives up MLS prices, even though it's very difficult to get quality players to come from Europe for the wages available here. That's a huge factor on why N'Silu didn't work out; if he was on the developmental roster, he'd probably still be with the club. Crayton, too, would have had a real chance at staying aboard as the backup keeper if he was making somewhere under $50,000. Conversely, if Khumalo and Shipalane had signed for a starter's salary, they'd have been cut loose awhile ago.

Even with that in mind, our track record with European signings is clearly below par. At this point, it would appear that whoever we know in Europe (judging from our signings, it's someone in Belgium and possibly someone in Switzerland...we did play Crayton's old club FC Basel once a few years ago) either has a bad eye for talent or mistakenly believes that MLS is a lower standard than it is in reality. In either case, that's something that has to be improved. It might be hard to sign European players to MLS contracts, but it's also the center of the soccer world. We need someone there who knows how strong MLS actually is, and can judge which players are able to make the adjustment to the league. Other MLS teams are forging strong relationships abroad; the Revs will be using at least three starters signed directly from African clubs. Seattle has two of the best Colombians in the league. Dallas has had at least one starter on loan from Atlético Paranaense for years now. Onalfo, Dave Kasper, and Chad Ashton have gone on multiple scouting trips this offseason, so one would hope that some of their time was invested in building bonds with coaches, teams, and scouts that will want to help us in the future.