This is an index taking into account the full measure of every MLS team's offseason to this point. That includes draft, player signings, coaching moves and lunch choices (saw that plate of chicken and waffles you downed at Roscoe's, Chelis. No, no). And I think you'll enjoy #5.
|I'll be damned if Chivas USA didn't hire an entertaining coach.|
Kind of a no-brainer. Yes, I had them here a month ago, but the actions of the rest of the league haven't changed anything about my thoughts since then. Most notably, SKC had the kind of draft mid-to-late-round pickers only dream about. The SKC war room had all but taken Mikey Lopez's name off their board because they expected him to be gone when they picked at No. 14. Indeed, Chelis rumbled loudly about the possibility of taking Lopez at No. 2 overall (Chivas USA, obviously, decided against this).
So when Lopez fell, and kept falling, eventually coming to rest at No. 14, SKC perked up and duly snapped him up. SKC had a single glaring need this offseason after losing Roger Espinosa to the EPL and Julio Cesar to the Joke of the Great White North; defensive midfield. Lopez probably won't be ready right away, but SKC has the warhorses to dip him into the fire at select times early in the season. And if Lopez develops into a Rookie of the Year-type player by the end of the summer, SKC is literally a team without weakness. Peter Vermes is, at present, taking a lilac-scented bubble bath to reward himself.
#2. Chicago Fire
Chicago was built like a bullet train last year. Which was great for counters and breaks, but not so good for maintaining possession and influencing play. Ghanian ground-busters Patrick Nyarko and Dominic Oduro are both incendiary talents, but they're best when pushing forward and, really, being pushed forward by someone else. Having a midfield behind and around both of those blazing cornerstones was, in essence, the main thing holding Chicago back from being an Eastern Conference wrecking ball again. I'm of the mind that consistent scoring will fall only after that domino fell first.
Chicago brass answered the bell. Less than a year after signing Arne Friedrich to solidify the back line, the Fire went midfielder-centric this offseason with the signings of Joel Lindpere and Jeff Larentowicz. And that doesn't include inking hold-up forward Maicon Santos, who had spurts of sublimity in DC. The Fire fleeced New York for Lindpere - they only gave up an international spot for a player that can expertly fill a variety of roles in midfield. There were stretches where, in New York, Lindpere held a flagging Red Bulls group together. Larentowicz was an equally sly move, while Flaco is silky (when he wants to be) and Santos can get goals when he's on. Plus, this doesn't even take into account the acquisition of Rich Balchan, who has massive potential if he can clear his injury turmoil.
#3. Houston Dynamo
As the Galaxy have learned the hard way this offseason, there's real value in huddling together your nucleus and keeping it safe from the hawks of the free market. Houston have not only done a fine job of this - Brad Davis is still nestled snugly in his swampy Houston bed, is he not? - but they've added subtle pieces to the puzzle that won't overpower the Dynamo's already beguiling style of play (by the end of 2012 they were as attractive a team as MLS had on offer). Bringing in Omar Cummings was a sly move that I don't think got enough play (he's Ching, like, three years ago), and the Dynamo had an excellent draft. GenAd forward Jason Johnson and left back Jimmy Nealis (ah ye rare left backs, how I love the sight of thee) were both adroit moves. There's something to be said for being active even in times that don't require it. Give the Dynamo some praise for shooing off complacency.
But Houston's oft-overlooked ability to keep a group together is the main reason why the Dynamo deserve to be this high. Few organizations have enjoyed such benign stretches of power, and there' s a reason. Yeah, the stars are still around; Davis, Moffat, Rico, Boniek, TallyHo. But Houston is deep, and watching the maturation of guys like Giles Barnes and Will Bruin will be more than interesting. If you look at their ages, Houston is in great shape, reaping the benefits of years of shrewd calls. This offseason ranks as one giant one.
#4. Colorado Rapids
I love what the Rapids have done this offseason. Though very little of it has captured overt headlines, few teams have solidified themselves into a singular mindset as have the Rapids, who are being molded into one of the league's finer 4-3-3 experiments. The loss of Omar Cummings was more than offset by the acquisition of Edson Buddle, who now has a chance to flourish out from under the crushing weight of LA's depth chart up top. Colorado had an excellent draft, arguably the league's best with the pickups of Deshorn Brown, Dillon Powers and Kory Kindle, the draft's best left back. All three could play this year.
Midfielder Atiba Harris was a sly pickup that could very well pay dividends. Oscar Pareja helped coach Harris through his last good season in 2010 as an assistant in Dallas, where he was a solid utility player with the ability to push high. And Pareja also signed two skillful South Americans in Diego Calderon (Ecuador) and Kevin Harbottle (Chile). Both are champion-caliber players in South America. Calderon played on a Copa Libertadores-winning side, and Harbottle won the Copa Chile with Universidad (and he's been capped by Chile). Both will fit like gloves in a 4-3-3 that looks increasingly dangerous.
#5. New York Red Bulls
I'm reading your mind and I can already see the grape shot you're hauling into your mental trebuchets. The Red Bulls? The team that a million coaches turned down? The team run by proxy from a bunker embedded in the molten core of the earth?? Yeah. Those lunks. The New York Red Bulls have had one of the league's best offseasons. And, as an admitted piler-on, I have no issue doling out the credit. I'll spend a bit longer on this one because I feel I need to explain myself.
While everybody piled on New York for another failed season and its inability to find anybody willing to endure Thierry Henry's endless stares, the Red Bulls silently got to work. Nearly everything has flown with the stream. The club signed free kick maestro Juninho, who is ancient but won't be asked to do much more than bang in set pieces, a tactic that worked out okay in LA with Becks in the latter part of his tenure. They also signed Fabian Espindola, a forward I've always liked, and Jamison Olave a year removed from making the final ballot as MLS' top defender. Pairing him with Heath Pearce should make them stout at the base of the spine. And I liked the draft pickup of Ian Christianson.
Let us of course not forget about the most important move of all - allowing Rafa Marquez to walk. I will leave this without much comment, because losing probably the most hated player in MLS history is such ridiculous addition by subtraction that my computer's calculator just locked itself in fear. NY is still a bit slow of foot in central midfield, but few teams in the league addressed so many issues in such a short amount of time.
To the coaching situation. It's my belief that removing the interim tag from Mike Petke's name was the only correct decision here. It was the only option available to New York that made even an iota of sense. Petke was around for all of New York's offseason dealings and has at least spent a season working with Henry, who can be notoriously tough to reach as a coach. Petke has presumably both learned and absorbed what worked between Backe and Henry and what did not. But there's also the solemn fact of continuity to consider. New York is now on its 14th coach in 17 years. That's staggering, and not at all insignificant when you survey their empty trophy case. Petke knows the culture as well as anybody. Nobody in club history has played more games. As for his age, I don't hear many in DC crowing about Ben Olsen. Do you?
So yes. I'm willing to stick my neck on the block, arm you with Timber Joey's ax and say that New York has had one of the best offseasons in the league. And I feel good about it. Come at me, bro.
- Will Parchman