With just a few days left in a transfer window in which those inside the club insisted they were madly working the phones trying to get some deals done, the San Jose Earthquakes have roared to life with the trade of Adam Jahn to the Columbus Crew and now this bombshell from Julie Stewart-Binks:
O'Hara, who spent last season in the English Championship with Fulham FC, is currently out of contract. A trial is also a non-contract engagement in which the club will evaluate both whether the player is a good fit to help the team and whether or not they can negotiate a deal that makes sense for both sides and fits in under MLS salary and roster rules. Trials, of course, can end in different directions, as seen in Quakes trialists from the summer of 2015: Marc Pelosi and Matheus Silva both ended up with the team, while Mathieu Coutadeur did not.
In terms of what the Quakes could be getting, O'Hara is a pugnacious, hard-working central midfielder with a left foot that would absolutely improve the technical quality of the side. While by English standards he would fit in more as a water-carrier through the middle of the park, in MLS he may well fit in a more advanced, creative role. He's not particularly quick, but he can contribute in most phases of the game, registering above average stats in tackles, interceptions, and key passes in his last two seasons. In fact, WhoScored has him rated significantly higher overall (and even as an attacking force) than Simon Dawkins when comparing each of their past two Championship seasons directly, registering a total of 3 goals and 11 assists. He also spent three seasons before that time as a regular starter in the Premier League, putting up strong statistics for bottom-dwellers Wolverhampton Wanderers.
One of the main issues with this trial is not the player's quality, but rather how the club will manage to add him. According to the usually-reliable FootballManager database, he was making the equivalent of $750k per year last year for Fulham. That would put him squarely in the Designated Player range, where the Quakes are, of course, already maxed out through Dawkins, Matias Perez-Garcia, and Innocent Emeghara. O'Hara could be brought in on an equivalent contract at a half-year rate ($375k) and the half-year DP charge against the budget ($228k). While the Jahn trade brought in some TAM, and there should be some still left over from their original allocation, the minimum charge it could be bought down to would be $150k, requiring $90k in space to be freed up under the cap.
That presents a huge problem since, according to the spreadsheet that I maintain with player salaries, the club is already significantly over the cap before General Allocation Money is factored in. Based on my knowledge of league rules, however, they're unlikely to have more GAM than is necessary to be currently solvent, let alone adding almost six figures more under the cap. That means that further moves would be required to add O'Hara. In terms of roster and international slots, however, the club can sign O'Hara without any other changes.
Aside from the successful on-pitch contributions, there are a few off-pitch red flags. The top Google results of the midfielder, for example, have quite a lot more to do with his alleged extramarital affair than his footballing. He has also served a three-game suspension for violent conduct in 2013, and appeared to have a prickly relationship with Wolves fans at the time. Finally, he has endured some major injuries throughout his career, although he has enjoyed a few consecutive years now of good health. Surely, the club medical will be a major part of the due-diligence project.
In terms of my own thoughts, I think that his intense, hard-working personality type will be an excellent fit in San Jose. However, his positional and tactical fit is a mystery. He could be an enforcer-type #10, increasingly popular amongst pressing-type teams, both of which would require a shift in tactics from coach Dominic Kinnear. Another possibility is that the club is worried that Marc Pelosi may not return and contribute this season, and wants more than just two reliable deeper central midfielders. It wasn't clear when Anibal Godoy signed, either, how he would fit into the team, and the system immediately changed once he joined, but I trust the formationally-agnostic Kinnear to find a way to get him on the field if they can make the money work.