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Monday, July 13, 2015

Rumor roundup: Curtin weighs in on Zelaya, Dittborn, Barnetta

El Salvador forward Rodolfo Zelaya, front, battling
U.S. defender Clarence Goodson in a quarterfinal match
of the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup, is on trial with the Union.
It’s the summer, which means that transfer rumors hang as thick as the humidity coming off the Delaware River at PPL Park. Monday afternoon, after chatting about the upcoming friendly with AFC Bournemouth, Philadelphia union manager Jim Curtin shed some light on a handful of players recently linked with the club.

Curtin confirmed that the trial for Chilean midfielder Santiago Dittborn had ended after one week, as anticipated, but that the club’s interest in the 22-year-old remains.

“Santiago came in on a trial and did very well,” Curtin said. “He impressed every day, so again, a lot of times guys come in on trial and have one good day and then fade. He was consistent every day.

“We’re exploring different options with him, but he was impressive. When you get good players in in good form, the idea after a trial is to hope that you can make something work.”

Money, cap space and international spots seem to be at a premium for the Union, and some combination of those factors is likely obstructing a move for Dittborn. Based on Curtin’s appraisal, he sounds like someone the Union want to keep around, but if they can only add one or two players this summer, it would require a high level of certainty to jump at the first guy on the radar.

Curtin was understandably vague about the behind-the-scenes machinations, but here’s what he had to say: “There’s always moving parts. There’s obviously salary cap restrictions and there’s roster number restrictions, so we have to be smart in managing that and doing what’s best for the club moving forward. Yeah, a couple of things will have to fall into place before we can make additions, but we’re working hard behind the scenes to do that.”

It sounds as though roster subtractions, *cough cough* Rais M’Bolhi *cough*, are necessary before significant additions.

Also in camp this week is Rodolfo Zelaya, who wasn’t in camp last week. The 27-year-old Salvadoran has a bit of a checkered past. He’s been linked with MLS on numerous occasions and has scored prolifically with El Salvador, bagging 17 goals in 30 caps. His last club was Alianza in his home country.

Curtin didn’t have much to say about Zelaya, as Monday was his first day with the group. He’ll be in camp for the week, which features an unusual schedule with the Tuesday friendly and a Friday trip to Toronto for Saturday’s game. Curtin got only a limited look at Zelaya thanks to Monday’s heat and the fact that most of the regulars rested, spelled by members of Reading United.

One thing that stands out to Curtin about Zelaya is the fact that he’s different from anyone on the Union roster, even if that makes the second striker an odd fit for the Union’s 4-2-3-1 formation.

“Rodolfo is a guy that we’ve had our eye on, previous Gold Cups, he’s done well with El Salvador obviously,” Curtin said. “He’s a guy that’s a little different kind of forward than the ones that we might have. We’ve got a lot of target forwards.”

Two complications here: The first is the fact that Zelaya was suspended from soccer for one year for match-fixing in Oct. 2013, part of a widespread sweep of corruption among dozens of El Salvadoran players, something Curtin declined to talk about.

The second is more germane to MLS: Curtin stated that FC Dallas owns Zelaya’s MLS rights. That’s likely a discovery claim by Dallas, where Zelaya trialed for a couple of weeks in June and has been linked to them on several occasions, giving them right of first refusal if Zelaya attempts to sign in MLS and entitling the club to compensation if another MLS club inks him to a deal. Here’s the language in MLS’ roster rules:

If one or more clubs try to add the same player to their Discovery Lists, the club that filed the claim first will have the priority right to sign the player. If one or more clubs submit a discovery request on the same day, then the club with the lowest points-per-game in the current MLS regular season (all clubs must have played a minimum of three regular season games) will have the priority right to sign the player.

If a club attempts to sign a player on its Discovery List and is unable to do so, the club retains the Right of First Refusal to acquire the player in the event he is later signed by the League.

If a club wants to sign a player on the Discovery List of another team, it may offer the team $50,000 in Allocation Money in exchange for the right to sign the player. The team with the player on its Discovery List will then either (i) have to accept the Allocation Money and give up the right to sign the player or (ii) make the player a genuine, objectively reasonable offer.

In real terms, you’ll recall the Union having to shell out allocation money to Vancouver under this process to acquire Steven Vitoria on loan.

Finally, Curtin had little to say on the rumors about Swiss international Tranquillo Barnetta, who last week was linked with the Union and reportedly visited Philadelphia. The 30-year-old winger, who has been capped by Switzerland 75 times and played in each of the last three World Cups, is out of contract after three seasons at Schalke 04, a team with which the Union has close ties and played in a friendly in 2012. Barnetta spent one of his three seasons with Schalke on loan to Eintracht Frankfurt.

“We’re interested in all good players and strengthening our squad right now,” Curtin said. “He’s a player that we do know of and is on our radar, but no decisions have really been made on a player of his quality. But again, national team player, yeah, we would love any player of his quality to bring in.”

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