BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Marco Pappa's move to the Chicago four years ago was a quick one. Then just 21 years old and champing at the bit to make a move from club Municpal in his native Guatemala, he said the move to MLS took about a week.
His departure happened just as suddenly.
The Fire announced on Thursday that Pappa would leave the Fire for Dutch Eredivisie side Heerenveen immediately, just 17 days after announcing he’d stay in Chicago until the end of the season before heading to the Netherlands.
“I didn’t expect it,” Pappa said Thursday, wearing street clothes while briefly appearing at Fire practice. “I was thinking I was just going to finish the season. I think they pushed a lot, the Fire, to make this happen as soon as possible. Now I’m looking forward. This is a good opportunity for me.”
The Fire rejected an offer for Pappa’s immediate services from Heerenveen last month, before the Fire traded for Álvaro Fernández and brought in Sherjill MacDonald, but the talks were revisited this week.
“We got a call this week from the Dutch team saying that they were aggressively pursuing him, and they really wanted him to start playing for them right away,” Fire president of soccer operations Javier Leon told MLSsoccer.com. “They made us an offer that was significant, given the fact that Marco was coming to the end of his contract.”
Pappa’s outside midfield position is perhaps the deepest on the team, so the Fire have cover for Pappa’s departure. Klopas used a three-man rotation for the past month to fill the two outside midfield spots, but now it will be up to Fernández and Patrick Nyarko to man the two spots on the outside.
With Pappa also set to miss two games due to international duty as well, the Fire decided to pull the trigger on the transfer rather than wait.
“Opportunities like this come where you’ve got to make decisions, knowing that we would have lost him a couple of more games with the national team,” head coach Frank Klopas said. “It’s hard to lose a guy like that, but now we’ve got to start thinking about how to get better, how to keep the pieces together and also give us an opportunity to make the squad stronger, and this does.”
The move leaves the roster at 26 players if Orr Barouch’s transfer to Bnei Yehuda, which the Israeli club announced on their website, is finalized.
Klopas said after practice Thursday that the Fire are looking to add pieces to their roster, but it’s not clear how big of a move they’ll make.
Over the last week, rumors about defender Carlos Bocanegra’s return to the Fire have spread, but a move would be difficult, given the demand for Bocanegra and Toronto FC’s standing at the top of the allocation order.
While a signing or a trade may yet happen before the MLS roster freeze goes into effect on Sept. 15th, Leon said this move was about long-term flexibility.
“All of the money made from this move is going to be re-invested in the team,” Leon said. “It gives us significant flexibility to address some salary cap issues that we were going to have in 2013.”
Pappa leaves large shoes to fill. The Guatemalan was leading the Fire with six goals this season after leading the team in goals in 2010.
He’ll leave for Amsterdam Thursday, leaving behind a team that’s fighting for a playoff spot.
“The last 24 hours have been crazy for me and my family,” Pappa said. “I have a lot of feelings right now because I’m leaving in the middle of the season after four years playing for the Fire. But this is soccer life. We need to be professionals, and we’re looking forward and always wishing the best for the team.”