Brian Ching is now a member of the Montreal Impact after the Houston Dynamo saw their bluff called. (Getty Images: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Jesse Marsch probably didn’t convert many new Impact fans with the selections he made in Wednesday’s MLS Expansion Draft, but the Montreal head coach certainly made himself plenty of enemies when he selected Brian Ching with the first pick in the Impact’s MLS history. Marsch ignored the threats from Ching that he would retire rather than play anywhere but Houston and chose instead to call his bluff and put the pressure squarely on the Dynamo, who are scrambling to recover from the worst-case scenario of having their captain and the face of their franchise snatched up by another team. The outrage is palpable in Houston (as well as on Twitter), where Marsch is being called everything from heartless to evil. That venom is misplaced. Marsch didn't twist Houston’s arm into leaving Ching unprotected. The Dynamo gambled on the Impact passing on Ching's high salary and injury history, hoping that by doing so they would be able to essentially protect one more player than every other team. Marsch called the bluff. He had every right to do so. He doesn’t owe it to Houston or Ching to respect their wishes to have their captain around for 2012 and the opening of the Dynamo’s new stadium. Marsch’s only loyalty is to his team. That isn’t being cold or inhuman. It’s being a head coach. Now Houston will have to pay a price for trying to keep the likes of Colin Clark and Calen Carr away from the Impact. Just what will that price be? It is no secret that Montreal covets Quebec-born Canadian national team defender Andre Hainault - a stalwart in Houston’s defense for the past three seasons, and a player the Dynamo have no interest in giving up.
The Impact could offer a sizable package, including Ching’s rights, a good draft pick and allocation money (something Houston could use badly), but if Houston doesn’t budge on Hainault, negotiations for Ching’s rights could get messy. If this scenario sounds familiar, it should. In 2006, Real Salt Lake tried a similar move by leaving then-captain Jason Kreis exposed in Toronto FC’s expansion draft, never thinking that the Canadian club would be interested in a 33-year-old American striker on a relatively high salary. Toronto FC wasn’t interested in Kreis, but was fully aware that Real Salt Lake had made Kreis their poster boy heading into the 2007 season. TFC selected Kreis and ultimately forced RSL to pay a $125K allocation to give him back. It may not be as easy for Houston to find a comfortable offer to make Montreal given the Dynamo don’t have allocation money laying around to pass off in a trade (generally, teams that missed the playoffs and expansion teams are given allocation money). Without allocation money to deal, the Dynamo may have no choice but to part with a quality player or a valuable draft pick. Would Montreal really consider keeping Ching? Considering the history between Marsch and Ching - who never liked each other as opponents and barely tolerated each other when Ching was a player and Marsch was a US national team assistant - it’s tough to imagine the Impact really trying to make the injury-prone 33-year-old Ching move to Canada. That is where Montreal also took a risk in taking Ching, who is set to make just above $400,000 in 2012. Could the Impact really afford to not trade Ching and have him suffer through another injury-filled season while his sizable salary serves as an anchor on the Impact’s salary cap?
Ultimately, both Houston and Montreal find it in their best interests to make a deal, because if one isn’t found, both sides could wind up losing badly. Whether MLS winds up having to step in to facilitate a trade or the Impact and Dynamo actually wind up putting together a blockbuster that works for both sides, something needs to be done. It's nearly impossible to picture Ching starting the 2012 season anywhere but Houston, and nobody is buying the notion that Montreal drafted Ching for any other purpose but to trade him back to the Dynamo. The rest of the new Impact
The unfortunate thing for Montreal is that the selection of Ching has overshadowed what was actually a very smart sequence of picks and trades. Montreal added a good mix of talent (including some potential goal-scoring options), some speed, and a plethora of left backs who should provide could trade bait. Here is a closer look at the other players Montreal acquired on Wednesday: Zarek Valentin - The US Under-23 national team defender was the No. 4 selection in the 2010 MLS Draft. It is truly mind-boggling how Chivas USA left a player with this much potential available for Montreal to grab. An athletic and skilled right back, Valentin could develop into an all-star. Justin Mapp - A former teammate of Marsch’s with the Chicago Fire, Mapp is a skillful winger who isn’t coming off the best season yet still provides quality on the flank, albeit at a sizable price by MLS standards. Bobby Burling - A physical veteran centerback who struggled with red cards in 2011, Burling can be called on to start or provide depth in central defense.
Jeb Brovsky - Quietly enjoyed an impressive rookie season for Vancouver, showing glimpses of playmaking ability in central midfield, though it is tough to imagine him being a starter for the Impact. Collen Warner - A former first-round pick for Real Salt Lake, Warner is a dynamic midfielder who has shown flashes of ability in recent years but failed to truly impress when given more minutes in 2011. Another attacking midfield option, Warner should get a chance to fight for a starting role with Montreal. Josh Gardner - An MLS journeyman who enjoyed a renaissance with Columbus in 2011, Gardner gives Montreal some depth on the left flank, though given the other left back options on the Impact roster, Gardner may wind up as trade bait. Sanna Nyassi - A speedy winger who showed off some very impressive moments as a converted forward for Colorado, Nyassi brings the type of pace that can change a game. James Riley - A steady, though unspectacular right back who is a good locker room guy, Riley has already been shown his value. Traded to Chivas USA, Montreal received Justin Braun and Gerson Mayen for the former Sounder. More on Braun and Mayen, below. Seth Sinovic - After being waived by New England, all Sinovic did was get picked up by Sporting KC and take over their left back position. He enjoyed a standout season at the position and is a good bet to start for Montreal unless the Impact wind up trading him back to Sporting KC. Justin Braun - An enigmatic forward/midfielder who was pushing his way onto the US national team radar just one year ago, Braun could wind up being the steal of the off-season and do for Montreal what Sebastien LeToux did for the expansion Philadelphia Union two years ago provided Marsch can help him become a consistent goal-scoring threat. Gerson Mayen - A versatile utility player who also counts Marsch as a former teammate, Mayen provides some left wing depth, but can also plug in at either fullback position. At 22, he is one of the younger players brought in by Montreal, a definite long-term prospect. Tyson Wahl - Yet another left back in the mix, Wahl took over as Seattle’s starting a fullback during the 2011 season and is definitely a solid option at the position, if he says in Montreal. He is not only a steady defender, but also a threat on set pieces, a good draft day trade acquisition for MLS' newest franchise.