The Trade: Portland Says Goodbye To Dike, Hello To Urruti
One of the aspects of being an American soccer fan that I find fascinating is how “Americanized” the game is when compared to other nations. Not only has American soccer leagues tried to alter the game as seen in the original NASL’s and the now defunct A-League’s penalty shootout that was more like a one on one with the keeper, they have initiated a playoff system and allowed trades. Transfers as seen in much of the world do happen but they are usually done in MLS when a player is “discovered.” My case in point however for this column is the trade made recently by the Portland Timbers where Bright Dike was sent to Toronto (as well as a draft pick) for Maxi Urruti.
I have to be honest, when I first heard of the trade, the first thing I said was, “Who the hell is Max Urruti?” I did what most fans would normally have done. I Googled his name. Low and behold I found out he was that player from Argentina that was a member of Toronto FC. I then started to really get confused. This was because Toronto had just acquired a player that had been injured all season and was injured for most of the time that PTFC has been in MLS as well. When not injured, Dike was sent on loan to LA Blues, a team in the USL, where he basically dominated and scored a ton of goals (6 goals in 10 games).
His time on the top bill in MLS was pretty good as well. He scored 6 goals in 23 appearances (I actually was surprised by that number of caps). A goal every 4 appearances on average is pretty good and desirable. Especially for someone who had an Achilles injury that forced him to sit out for an entire season and a long rehabilitation schedule prior to this year’s knee injury. One thing that does matter in this trade is the reputation of Dike within the fan base. He was beloved by many. As a member of the USL Timbers, he managed to score some goals that required a second look. His future with the club looked very promising.
I personally know people that were sad that he was traded. Some were flat out mad while others were kind of upset that he never blossomed into what his potential indicated. Obviously I would not have taken the time to do some research and put this together if I was not scratching my head. I really believe that Dike could and will be something to reckon with. Remember he was being considered for the Nigerian National team and most recently the nations Manager went on the record he was curious to get him possibly back in camp with the squad. But we will get further into Dike after taking a look at what Portland got in return.
So the $25,000 dollar question at the moment is who is this fellow that the Timbers just acquired? It is really not that simple to explain without really digging deep into the controversy that recently has been taking place in the Toronto front office. Yes, we need to take a look at what has been going on in Toronto because I firmly believe that context matters on and off the pitch when it comes to player acquisitions. Just ask Portland or Seattle fans (Kris Boyd and Freddy Ljunberg for example as players that just didn’t work out as planned).
Here is the obvious fact, Toronto has been absolutely poor this season. Their club has been a revolving door for coaches and players. And most recently, their GM Kevin Payne was sacked due to the team’s performance and other administrative benchmarks that were not met. So my first feeling about Urruti was more or less around whether Payne was just off base with respect his pursuit of the Argentine. Was he really as good as Payne said he was? Reports indicate that Payne had seen him in action and was in adamant to adding him to the roster for months. In addition, the contract was only finalized literally less than a full month when the trade occurred. I have been watching professional soccer for over 20 years, very heavily for more than a decade and I have never seen such a thing. At first glance, this began to make me start to waive red flags and wonder if there was something fishy going on.
Tim Leiwicke was hired to be the President and CEO by the parent company of Toronto FC to re-build the brand in late June of this year. Known as Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE), the company owns and operates the Toronto Maple Leafs of Hockey and the Toronto Raptors of the NBA. To soccer geeks reading this his name is more than familiar. While being the head of AEG, the entertainment group that owns the LA Galaxy, he was pretty much the person responsible for getting Beckham to come to MLS.
As the CEO now in Toronto, Leiwicke has been rumored to be pulling the strings to bring in the top talent for TFC and by the looks of it Urruti was someone that definitely did not fit this description. Portland fans may disagree with that but I am talking about world class players. Names such as Diego Forlan had been floating around the soccer media for some time as his target. This somewhat of a no namer from Argentina definitely seemed to be interesting to the fans but not so with management. So basically, the fact that Payne was propping up Urruti as the next big thing must have made some waves within MLSE and especially Leiwicke.
Chatter around the internet indicates that this could have been a battle that cost him his job or at least was one of the factors. To summarize this, Urruti was a dead man walking once Payne was let go of his duties as a GM. He was never really wanted by the top brass at TFC so they let him go the first chance they got an offer that seemed reasonable. My gut tells me that it has nothing to do with his skill. Nothing to do with his salary. Nothing to do whether he has a bad attitude or if he is an arrogant jerk (maybe he is a really nice guy so no offense to him or his fans). It all has to do with the following:
Urruti was never in the long term vision of TFC’s interests. He may have in the eyes of Payne but when it comes to Leiwicke, he was never considered to be that guy who was going to turn the team around. They didn’t want him and he was trade fodder.
Once I made this connection, as well as some others on various discussion threads and or articles online, it was obvious what was taking place. Urruti was essentially traded as a sign of the end of the Payne era and Leiwicke now runs the show.
As for Portland, what they essentially have said to their fan base, and the rest of the soccer fans that support MLS, they do not pick or choose favorites when it comes to the roster. It is a bitter pill to swallow but that is how it appears to me. They are serious and intend to build the best team possible. Dike is one hell of a striker and to let him go more than likely was evident based on the current depth of the roster at the forward position. With that said, does Urruti’s addition make them better? Was letting Dike go, who could become an opponent next year (if his contract is extended for Toronto next year), a good idea? I think the answer to that will be revealed over time.
So who actually is Maxi Urruti? Doing a google search gave me very little. A Wikipedia page was just created recently and it was crap. All it stated was a regurgitation of the promotional information that the Portland Timbers have on their website. And it was a very shortened version. Youtube was a bit better. The video footage showed him to be a shrewd attacker that could beat you with the shot or the pass depending on the situation. He showed a keen sense of where he was located on the pitch as well as his opponents. He looks to be a very smart and intelligent player. But, when I translated what I saw on video with the stats provided I was not really sure of whom this guy really is.
With a goal tally of 12 goals in 57 games did not really impress me. Not quite the same average as Dike, having almost 5 games per goal caused even more curiosity to what kind of a player he is. Yes, having 30 plus appearances more than Dike shows experience and playing in Argentina is no cake walk but you really have to take this perspective. Being a striker from Argentina, I was hoping to see numbers a bit higher. Nevertheless there was one huge factor that makes Urruti seem very appealing.
Noticing who he played for started to ring bells. As a member of Newell’s Old Boys, he was coached by the current coach at FC Barcelona Geraldo Martino (who also had a very long playing career in Argentina). If anyone has seen any of FCB’s games as of late they use a very similar style of play as seen in Portland (no I am not comparing the two teams at all). Both use a similar style of possession based play where more or less the team takes an approach similar to the Total Football method. Urruti’s addition, as long as he acclimates with his team mates, could pay off in a good way.
In addition, he was a member of the same youth program that helped create players such as Lionel Messi, Gabriel Heinze, Gabriel Batistuta and Maxi Rodriguez. So he has been properly taught how to play the game and has essentially been raised as a footballer. So with that said (yes his goal numbers are not as impressive) when it is put into context, Portland got a player that someone can basically call a creation of a football factory. Not just any factory. One that is known to have produced some very and I mean very talented attack minded individuals and some defenders as well. I had to see what he can do and I was glued to the television when he was called in against Chivas USA.
In that first appearance, fans were really not given the full picture of what he really was. His service was poor and the pace and flow of the game was pretty stagnant and one of the more underwhelming performances by the Portland Timbers as a whole. Diego Valeri’s equalizer was quite epic but that was pretty much it for that match. Questions started to loom about him and what was going to happen for the next home match against Colorado. Coach Caleb Porter seemed to take a page out of Bruce Arena’s playbook and not answer who was going to start. All he would say is things such as “That is a good question. I got options now where a while back I didn’t due to injuries or call ups.” What Porter was indicating is that neither Valencia nor Johnson had the spot locked in. To me, this was going to be Maxi’s game to show the fans what he was really made of.
After Chivas match, I had two observations. He is a player and a quite smart one. He is not the normal forward. He can play like a striker but also like an attacking mid. So from a position of being versatile, this was very appealing. Dike on the other hand was like a steam train. He used himself to get through those in his way and really did not show the finesse that Urruti already has. Maxi also showed that he can play defense. The pressure he showed against Colorado is proof of that. The pressure he put on Colorado’s backline on the goal Valeri scored was credited by Porter in post-game comments. His ability to quickly acclimate himself with his team mates was another positive. The idea that good players make other good players even better seemed to totally be in effect during this match but there was a concern that I have to comment on.
MLS is not a league for diving hacks, especially the type that normally can be seen in an Argentine Apertura match or in the Copa Libertadores. Yes diving takes place but not the kind that Urutti tried to do. It was kind of embarrassing. His scrappy attempts of grabbing his opponents frustrated me. I can understand that the game is physical but that is not going to work here in MLS. He will need to step up his defense a bit more when he decides to play physical and not take stupid yellow cards, like the one he was given against Colorado.
I do not think Porter will accept this as well. I am sure things will pan out. He will have a talking to about this I am sure and I hope the next time he goes to ground, it was due to being hacked and not the other way around. When it came time for the game against LA, there could not have been a better platform for he and the club. Dike recently scored for Toronto and had looked like he hasn’t missed a beat. He even Dike’d one of DC’s defenders like he always had. So in a nut shell, there had to be a positive sign.
Not only did Urruti impress me by the time he was substituted out of the match, the commentators on the TV gave their seal of approval. At one point however, it was hard to see if he tried to pull a dive off of a challenge against LA’s Omar Gonzalez. Regardless the grabbing that was seen in the Colorado game was not going on and he seemed to have a cool head on his shoulders. The goal he scored was the only of the match (and his first in MLS) was pure genius. Some may say it was lucky but sometimes some of the best out there rely on luck. I got to be honest; it is a bit hard to describe what he did to score. The best I can do is say he stuck his right heel in the path of the ball off of a Will Johnson corner kick and essentially deflected it towards the goal. Here watch.
Is the verdict out on Urruti? I am not sure. I like the guy. I enjoyed his hustle and the passion he shows when he plays. The look in his face after the goal when he made eye contact with fellow Argentine Diego Valeri is proof he loves this game. As a former striker / left wing I can say there is no better feeling than scoring a goal. Yes, I never got to the same level but I can tell you the feeling is an instant rush of emotions. Fans in Portland will agree, this is what is needed for PTFC to succeed. Skill matters. But passion burns deep and is hard to overcome regardless of whom the opponent is.
After this weekend’s matches, regardless of the fact that both players have scored a goal, they have both earned stupid yellow cards in one of their matches. With that said, the questions that still remain are this:
Will Dike continue to play kind of reckless and physical (which led to his most recent injury) or will he turn into the player that he showed potential to become? Will Urruti step it up like he did against LA and show Portland what Payne originally saw and desired for such a long time or will the diving hack come back and be a dud? I sure hope it is not the latter.
Another weekend of MLS is approaching soon and I am not sure when, but I think we may have some answers soon. But for now, I got more soccer to watch and there is nothing better than a Cascadian rivalry match…Portland plays Vancouver this next round. Who will be the hero this edition?
Let me know how you felt about the trade or my perspective. If I am wrong or off base in any way I would like to know. Was Dike someone you really liked or are you similar to me, sometimes the bottom line for the team needs to be met?