Thursday, February 9, 2012

MLS offseason winners and losers

Not going to waste too much time on expository dialogue when we can hop right into this one with guns blazing. I'll reexamine this list in about a month when the season starts and we'll come back with a final tally to see if anything's changed.

One note. I like Montreal's offseason. A lot. But I'm excluding them from this discussion because our frame of reference is skewed without the perspective of an actual season played together. Expansion sides are generally in a league of their own because the offseason is skewed toward allowing them to stock their roster. That said, picking up Zarek Valentin, Justin Braun, Sanna Nyassi and Donovan Ricketts in one offseason was a coup.

No need to miss this dude.

Los Angeles Galaxy

The Galaxy's offseason could've been pulled in so many different directions, but here we are. Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane will both return from successful loan spells in England. David Beckham chose common sense over fashion sense. Edson Buddle, the team's 2010 golden boot winner, will replace the rotating cast of second strikers up top and pair with Keane as the best 1-2 scoring punch in the league. But the unsung signing, the one that will fly under the national radar, was this week's reacquisition of Juninho, who had his loan from Sao Paulo extended to a third year. Juninho operated as the Galaxy's beating heart last year and would've been sorely missed in the middle in more ways than one. LA will be torn asunder with a congested fixture list this year - Marcelo Sarvas and Pat Noonan are both unavailable for the CCL, while Keane, Beckham and Michael Stephens could all miss time with various Euro and Olympic duties. Meanwhile, LA has a potential 56 games on the docket this year, so Juninho's return was vital. The only question mark is Omar Gonzalez's replacement. LA acquired center back Leonardo from Sao Paulo on a free transfer, and they must now wait for him to heal his damaged knee ligaments. The addition of Philly's Kyle Nakazawa also adds options and depth.

Portland Timbers

With all apologies to Edson Buddle, SPL wunderkind Kris Boyd was the league's biggest splash of the offseason. Boyd is Kenny Cooper's upgraded model, an iPhone 4 to Cooper's non-HD flip phone, so Portland's only real offseason loss was a net gain. Portland even pocketed some cash in the transaction. But the nice underlying signings are a pair of defenders who came on board in the span of a week. Portland shrewdly picked Connecticut rough-houser Andrew Jean-Baptiste eighth overall in the SuperDraft and then inked Colombian central defender Hayner Mosquera about a week later. Portland now has Colombians all up the spine, which is great for communication and... fantastic coffee, I guess. The Boyd signing soothes the lingering lack of a creative midfielder in the run of play and should cover most of the team's finishing issues. Plus, Boyd wants to be there. Something tells me his Scottish upbringing didn't exactly prepare him for swampy Houston summers. With a solid, consistent target to pick out, Jack Jewsbury's set pieces got even more dangerous.

DC United

DC United lost Charlie Davies and replaced him with highly productive Rapid Wien forward Hamdi Salihi, who scored about once every two games in Austria. Salihi, who will take up a DP slot, will presumably need to undergo an acclimation process before he fully settles in, but this was the hole United needed filled. Consider it done. Adding veteran Robbie Russell to shore up the back will likely allow Ben Olsen some leeway with how he uses Perry Kitchen. Moving Kitchen up to his favored defensive midfield role in his second year in the league is the rosiest option, so I'd expect to see him there more often. Getting Chris Pontius back from injury will be an enormous boon for the offense. If he can generate a rapport with Salihi, DC's attack is as dangerous as it gets. An advanced midfield line of Pontius-DeRo-Najar with Bosko and Kitchen in support and Salihi alone up top will have DC fans doing backflips. Olsen also picked up 6-4 Argentine Emiliano Dudar, a bruising center back who can be a terror on corners. If he can stay healthy, all the better. He was dropped into a medically-induced coma in 2010.


Philadelphia Union

Philly's stumble came on late, but it was a doozy. Faryd Mondragon requested his walking papers, and he's now back to presumably end his career in his native Colombia. Mondragon was a brick wall in goal for one of MLS' best defenses in 2011, but it was an excusable (though damaging) move because it was Mondragon's decision, not Philly's. The decision to jettison Sebastien Le Toux wasn't quite so clear. Le Toux, who scored 10 goals in the last 12 league games last season, was cleared off Philly's books and sent to Vancouver for allocation money in late January. Peter Nowak offered a cryptic response to reporters who wondered exactly why a miffed Le Toux needed to go now, but reading between the lines gets you to the heart of it: Philly is strapped for cash and Le Toux was, absurdly, collateral damage. Freddy Adu's bloated salary kneecapped the franchise's wiggle room, and Danny Mwanga's graduation from his GA contract and subsequent overvaluing this offseason ran it through with gusto. So Nowak can ramble about their excitement level for Chandler Hoffman and Mwanga and whoever else, but I see a small glint of panic in those words. Without Le Toux providing goals for the early portion of last season, Philly's offense was absolutely anemic. And now the steadiest piece of the defense is gone. Where does that production come from now?

New York Red Bulls

New York had one glaring need entering the offseason: goalkeeper. It has yet to be satisfactorily addressed. New York's only draft pick in 2012 was second-round glovesman Ryan Meara, who is in competition for the top spot with January signing Jeremy Vuolo. Even a journeyman would be a severe upgrade here. Vuolo, a Syracuse product, has a grand total of 24 professional games between the sticks, all of them in the Finnish second division. New York also lost protection when center back mainstay Tim Ream moved to Bolton, which I'm sure will delight notorious malcontent Rafa Marquez. Who has apparently learned nothing from his backbiting past.

“At a certain point in time I was misinterpreted,” Marquez said through a translator, team spokesman Jurgen Mainka. “There were times the media might take one of the comments the wrong way. It would have been easy for me to just call it quits and accept one of the offers (to leave in the offseason). But I’m here and I’m part of this team and I’m very ingrained with what’s going to happen in the future."

How many backhanded excuses can you dole out in 30 seconds? "I was misinterpreted. I'm such an important player because I had offers in the offseason. Marvel at me. The media twists my words WHICH WERE AWFUL BECAUSE I'M AN IDIOT." In case New York fans had stopped worrying, it's time to start again. Until this cancer is gone, the team chemistry will continue to resemble a a Tommy Wiseau script: hilarious, jumbled and universally panned. Addition by subtraction is real.

Houston Dynamo

The defending Eastern Conference champs don't exactly have a barren cupboard, but it's no thanks to an overcast offseason when the body shots kept coming. Franchise glue guy Brian Ching is miserable in Montreal, and Jesse Marsch hasn't yet relaxed his trade demands to allow Houston to get him back. Even if Ching was only a figurehead in his older age (which isn't entirely true), Carlo Costly's impact last year was real, and his loan from Club Atlas ran its course after the MLS Cup. Which leaves a pretty underwhelming cast of forwards to man the front. A lot of pressure now falls to second-year forward Will Bruin, which can't be exactly how Dom Kinnear drew it up. Brad Davis is still Brad Davis, but his effectiveness coming off injury will be tested playing without a decorated forward to serve. Meanwhile, Houston's activity in the signing period has been quiet. Kris Boyd spurned a chance to play in Houston, so unless Nathan Sturgis gets your blood bubbling, you're out of luck. And then there's this mess, which will no doubt cast a pall over the team's preseason camp. Not good.

Offseason purgatory: The 'Caps were the net that trawled up Sebastien Le Toux from a situation turned ugly, and Vancouver is suddenly stocked with scorers. In Eric Hassli, Camilo and now Le Toux, the league's worst offense in 2011 has three players who scored 10 goals or more last year. Nobody else in the league can claim that. Seattle and RSL both consolidated positions by largely staying pat and getting healthier. Neither made big splashes, but neither needed to. FC Dallas lost Marvin Chavez to San Jose but should be able to offset it by the triumphant return of David Ferreira, and George John is out to prove his abysmal end to 2011 isn't a trend. We'll see how SKC deals with the loss of Omar Bravo. Bobby Convey isn't a like-for-like switch, so things might change in how the offense operates. Colorado was a narrow miss on the losers list because of the unnecessary loss of Sanna Nyassi and the turmoil surrounding the front office purge. But getting Conor Casey back from injury in addition to a slew of first-teamers will be a needed boost.

- Will Parchman


Jay said...

Houston just picked up Macoumba Kandji, which probably means negotiations for Ching's return are done and dusted. Don't really see how Kandji fits into Houston's game unless they expect him to run off of Will Bruin's shoulder -- he may be big, but the guy just isn't a target man.

Colorado is going to have a lot of problems this year trying to wedge players like Connor Casey into Oscar Pareja's 4-3-3. Frankly, the move to a new formation makes the loss of Nyassi even worse.

Finally, I think if you look at the comments on the MLSS article announcing Juninho's return, you'll see a lot of fans are extremely happy. So if this news is flying under the media radar, it certainly isn't getting skipped over by the fans.

strago said...

Agreed on Juninho. As soon as I saw he returned I said, well shit, we're about to witness the best team MLS has ever seen, and quite likely it is mid table EPL quality.

As for DC United, I will eat humble pie after calling the FO out. As far as I am concerned, on paper, their offseason moves put them in the top 3 in the league. We'll see how they play during the year, but how can you not be excited about Bosko, De Rosario, Salihi, Najar, and Pontius all running at defenses?

Unknown said...

While I agree that RB need someone more experienced in goal, I think that the centerback pairing of Holgerson and Conde has the potential to be a big upgrade over Ream and Keel (or Marquez). They seem to be addressing the supposed depth issue as well (though we will see if Backe's substitution policy changes).

The Marquez fiasco seems to have blown over and if he puts a bit of effort in we could see a formidable team.

Phil McCracken said...

Mondragon was great at organizing the Union's defense, but he was anything but a brick wall. In the 2nd half of the season, he didn't perform well and you could see chinks in the armor with his inability to get down on low shots as well as some poor decision making. Plus, his distribution was subpar.

He was a great captain and leader for the team, but for most supporters, they're happy to see MacMath get more time. Let's just hope that he doesn't make the Olympic team.

Andre T'licoe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
UnitedDemon said...

Buddle and Keane are certainly formidable, but I'm going to wait a few games before dubbing them the league's best frontline.

They probably will be, but DC now has last years MVP and resident bad@## De Ro paired with a poacher Rangers and Celtic had a major crush on. That's two potential Golden Boots in one partnership. Buddle may have won the award, but I don't think Keane is as explosive anymore.

It's still highly speculative, but on paper, we've got a race.

Steven Streff said...

Just a quick fyi, Wondo won that Golden Boot in 2010, not Buddle (think Wondo scored on the last weekend to take it 18-17).

Anyways, Keane is in form already, and so if LA can get Buddle up to speed quickly, I see them making a run to the CCL final, and causing terror for MLS back lines.

As for my side, D.C. United, I'm starting to get a bit more optimistic for the upcoming season (excited though, as always). The midfield has the potential to be one of the best in the league -- Najar, Kitchen, Boskovic, Pontius, DeRo -- provided all can stay healthy, and Kitchen can adapt to the midfield well enough.

Still questions in the defense though, mainly, can we find a pair out of McDonald, Jakovic and Dudar to stay consistent enough in defense, and can we find a left back who will suffice for the team.

Only 30 days until the start of the regular season!

Jon Alan Schmidt said...

I agree that SKC's offense will be different with Convey on the left wing instead of Bravo. I expect more crosses into the box during the run of play, trying to find the heads of Sapong and Kamara. The back line, which struggled during last year's long season-opening road trip, should be solid from the get-go this time around. LSP will likely continue to be a fortress.

Cam said...

Love the Tommy Wiseau reference.

Will Parchman said...

My thing is, if you haven't seen The Room, you haven't seen any movies at all.

Unknown said...

How was the end of George John's season any more "abysmal" than any other member of FC Dallas??

You do know he played the most minutes of any player on that team and also started and ended the year as the highest ranked FC Dallas player in the Castrol Index.

A little context next time

Cam said...

"You Are Tearing Me Apart Lisa!"

Will Parchman said...

John's late season swoon was well-documented, and it accelerated past those of his teammates. It just did. Mostly because none of them had as far to fall. He was a different player after his deal with Blackburn fell apart in August. He was a ghost in September and October, and he dragged Ugo down with him. It's not entirely surprising, since a life-altering event was circled tantalizingly below his nose and then yanked away abruptly. Abysmal may have been too harsh, but I stand by my opinion that in his late-season condition last year, John was of little use.

And I'd be a mite careful judging players by the Castrol Index, especially when we're not taking John's entire season into account. Maicon Santos finished 2011 eight spots ahead of Dwayne De Rosario. Osvaldo Alonso finished a hilarious 38th right between Futty Danso and Roger Espinosa.

over there said...

New England has had the worst off-season by far. MLS' worst team failed to markedly imporve. They will be horrific.

Unknown said...

Will let me help you with the facts
1. John played most minutes on the team that travelled the most last season. (what point of year would that start to take its toll?)
2. John played on a team that NEVER ever controlled the possession in any competition all year
3. John played too many minutes late last year with Jack Stewart and Jeremy Hall due to injuries of Ugo and Loyd
(they sucked..Hall especially)
4. Johns castrol rating did drop as to be expected but not more than 90% of his teammates..SHEA included. Go check.

Blaming John for FCD's collapse is horsekaka Will. If John was playing THAT badly he would've been benched just like Hyndman has benched Jackson,Shea,Loyd,Jacobsen, and Chavez at one point or another.

Will Parchman said...

Look, I live in Texas. I know how much John played. I watch a lot of FCD games. I also know how threadbare the back line was for the latter part of the year and I know that Schellas wasn't about to bench a guy like John, even in a slump that took him to the floor of the Grand Canyon, due to injuries and poor form to (bad) players behind him. Hyndman has said this himself, that he was trying to play John into top form. It didn't work. Oh well. Go back to the board and hope the offseason sorts him out. He's a tremendous player who had a really bad end to the 2011 season. I held him to higher standards than any other defender because, um, he's more talented than any of them.

And when exactly did I blame John for FCD's collapse? I said he was in a bad slump in September and October, which I'll stand by until I'm blue in the face, and you filled in the rest.

Jay said...

Can you really call The Room a "movie"? That's like calling a CD of stand-up comedy an album.