Last Friday, Chivas USA midfielder Shalrie Joseph was spotted at Seattle Sounders' training camp. The Sounders made it clear that Joseph was on a two-day trial, and they would evaluate him after that. Apparently, Joseph failed to impress, as Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said that Joseph was "very much physically behind." That lack of fitness, coupled with his enormous contract, meant he was predictably unappealing. Add to that the fact that the player insisted he would be happy anywhere he was a starter, and it sounded like a poor fit.
From Chivas USA's perspective, this has to be a disappointment. Obviously telling the world a player is unwanted, then letting a rival team kick that player's proverbial tires means any potential leverage is thrown out the window. But Chivas are hamstrung here. They have until March 1 to figure out how to get rid of Joseph, and if he's still on the roster at that point, his salary will go on the books and a roster spot will be occupied.
When Joseph went to train with the Sounders, I surprisingly found myself in a variety of arguments on twitter regarding his tenure with Chivas. The fans (of other teams), bloggers, and even national writers painted a collective portrait of Chivas USA as supremely incompetent in regards to Joseph's situation, and that the player was an unfortunate victim of a terrible situation. As I had to argue time and again, if one actually watched the games featuring Joseph in the red-and-white, a very different picture emerged. To be fair, there were many colleagues who agreed with the assessment I expressed of Joseph's stint wit the Goats, but I couldn't quite believe the amount of abuse I received. As a result, I'm writing this post to help set the record straight. Is it subjective? Of course. This is my take. But lest you think I'm dead wrong in my assessments, I'll ask you: did you actually watch him play last year? In most cases, only the most diehard fans, or people being paid to write about the team, watched Chivas at the end of 2012, since it was that awful. Still, here goes.
Fact or fiction: Shalrie Joseph joined a team that had already taken a massive nosedive.
Fiction: When Joseph was traded to Chivas August 1, 2012, the Goats were in 6th place in the Western Conference, seven points behind the LA Galaxy in the last playoff spot, but with four games in hand. Chivas won the last game they played before Joseph's arrival, a 1-0 win to complete the season sweep over the Portland Timbers July 28. From there, Chivas played 14 games, 12 with Joseph in the lineup, and they never won again in 2012. They went from just outside the playoff spots to a complete nosedive that saw them spiral to last in the conference, and the tide turned after Joseph was traded.
Was Joseph the culprit of all of Chivas USA's problems? Of course not. However...
Fact or fiction: Robin Fraser played Joseph out of position as a center back.
Fiction: Joseph has mostly played as a holding midfielder during his MLS career. Despite repeatedly expressing an interest during his time with New England to move higher up and play as an attacking midfielder, his skills and the team's needs meant that defensive mid became his primary position. However, Joseph did play from time to time as a center back with the Revs, to the extent that a few years ago, there was talk that he could move back there permanently. Evidently, Joseph's reluctance to make the switch permanent meant he mostly played spot duty in defense.
In hindsight, Robin Fraser played a remarkable number of players out of their most comfortable positions while coach of Chivas, and seldom to positive effect. However, the Joseph move to center back was not one of them.
Fact or fiction: Joseph's presence in the lineup disrupted the rest of the squad.
Fact: In the final 14 games of the season, after Joseph's arrival, Oswaldo Minda, the player who was arguably Chivas' best outfield player in 2012, only started six games after starting 14 of the first 16. I can understand why Fraser might have tried Joseph for a couple of games, but it was immediately apparent that Joseph was a liability and that Minda would have been the better option, yet Fraser stuck with Joseph. And when he moved Joseph back to CB, and reinserted Minda into the lineup, it was at the expense of Danny Califf and Rauwshan McKenzie, who were both better defenders than Joseph but who were benched late in the season when the team needed them most.
But why did Fraser insist on playing Joseph when there were better options on the bench?
Fact or fiction: Chivas USA's previous regime completely screwed over the current regime on Joseph's contract.
Fact: Kyle McCarthy previously broke the news that in order for Joseph's contract to be guaranteed for 2013, he had to play a certain number of games in 2012. In the end, he played...30 total games. Does 30 sound like the magic number? Sure sounds like it to me!
I assume Joseph didn't want to be traded at all last year, but he also wanted his deal to be guaranteed for 2013, so he agreed to the deal to Chivas under the condition that he play enough matches to reach the benchmark. I understand the desire to do right by a player, and in a vacuum, it looks like Fraser did that. But that ignores the fact that Joseph was terrible and does not deserve to be paid in the range of $495,000 base salary.
McCarthy has another insightful article on the matter today. In discussing the situations of Joseph and Freddy Adu, two players whose contracts are guaranteed but who get paid far more than their market value, the chances of a team getting rid of these players in a trade are low.
Let's consider an alternative scenario: Joseph didn't reach his benchmark in 2012. He would have likely been upset at Chivas for failing to come through and guarantee his 2013 contract, but both parties would have had far more leverage. If Chivas wanted him, they could have renegotiated a much lower and more appropriate deal. Of course, we know that Chelís had no interest in Joseph, so alternately, Joseph could have gone on the market and probably found a team by now. Since he's tied up with such a high contract, I bet no team wants to touch him. I'd be shocked if any team will trade him straight up, both because of his skills and his deal.
Fact or fiction: Joseph is going to stay home and get paid for 2013.
Fiction, maybe: Chivas certainly have options. As McCarthy and a number of other writers have noted, the team has two clear options at the moment. First, they can trade Joseph and pay a portion of his contract. That share is likely to be substantial, and given Jorge Vergara's reputation for not spending, and Chelís' evident confusion about how the salary cap works, I'm guessing the front office wants to avoid this.
The other option isn't much more palatable, but it may be best for all parties: Chivas can buy out Joseph's contract, and according to McCarthy, one buyout a year doesn't go on a team's salary cap hit. Presumably, the team can pay off Joseph, but both sides have to agree to this and agree to a buyout amount. Between the pride and apparent stubbornness on both sides, this could work, but both sides would have to swallow some pride, and that isn't necessarily a given.
Joseph stays on the books and gets paid his full salary by Chivas while staying home
Joseph gets reintegrated into the team and ends up playing some for Chivas, since hey, he's getting paid anyway
Chivas work out a trade for Joseph, with a variety of bargaining options
I'd love to see this resolved one way or another by March 1, but given the new staff in place, I'm not counting on it. The circus will probably continue, and there may be no happy parties for quite some time.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!