By Connor Walsh
The 2012 Major League Soccer is nearly upon us. Indeed– tonight, three MLS sides take to the pitch in the CONCACAF Champions League, all with a chance to do what Real Salt Lake nearly did a year ago: deliver MLS its first continental championship. Back in league play, the 2011 fairytale ending to David Beckham’s final year in MLS was thought to signal the passing of an era in LA and in the league. Instead Bruce Arena has engineered a coup on the west coast, Hans Backe is wallowing on the east coast while the Red Bulls’ rivals gather strength, and the clubs in the Pacific Northwest get set for a battle royal. Here are your MLS offseason winners and losers:
Beckham was on Paris Saint-Germain’s doorstep and Juninho was recalled to Sãu Paulo. Two pieces of the Galaxy’s title run were set to be ripped away from Bruce Arena’s hands. But AEG has worked miracles, resigning David Beckham and re-aquiring the team’s central midfield linchpin in Juninho. Despite the loss of MLS Defender of the Year Omar Gonzalez to an ACL tear on his day-long stint with FC Nurnberg, the Galaxy acquired Brazilian defender Leonardo on a free transfer. Other incoming players are veteran midfielders Marcelo Sarvas and Pat Noonan. LA also re-aquired Edson Buddle from his stint in Europe, who will partner with Robbie Keane for a forward tandem that could be the best that MLS has ever seen. Those two up top, with David Beckham and Landon Donovan delivering balls and Juninho controlling the traffic and you realize the power that LA has become. Minus some questions on the backline, LA looks set for a run to this years’ CONCACAF Champions League final and another run at the Supporters Shield and MLS Cup.
Blah blah blah, D.C. United lost Charlie Davies, true enough. But I think he was more of a detriment to the club than anything. The fantastic story that is his life following his near death in 2009 became a memory, but as the season continued Ben Olsen benched him and some fans vilified him for his on-field antics. United added a veteran forward Hamdi Salihi from Rapid Wien as a designated player and added veteran defender Robbie Russell to help shore up DC’s defensive struggles. DC’s midfield is a scary one, with Dwyane DeRosario, Chris Pontius, and Andy Najar in front and Branko Boskovic — and because of the addition of Russell — U.S. U-23 international Perry Kitchen, behind. New additions also include MLS journeyman Maicon Santos, former Houston sparkplug and U.S.U23 candidate Danny Cruz, Argentine central defender Emiliano Dudar, and Brazilian defensive midfielder Marcelo Saragosa. Ben Olsen has plenty of options heading into the season, and don’t rule out a top three finish in the Eastern Conference and a playoff run.
The second year club is making big moves. The coming of Jose Adolfo Valencia with the Young DP rule was a brilliant move, until it was discovered he’ll be out with a ligament tear. Nonetheless, John Spencer has managed to add Scottish striker Kris Boyd, who with Rangers netted 101 times in 143 appearances, who is considered an instant upgrade over the departed and inconsistent Kenny Cooper. Also added was U.S. Youth prodigy Charles Renken, who returned from a strange couple of years splitting time between 1899 Hoffenheim in the Bundesliga and the Vancouver Whitecaps residency program. Also added was veteran Colombian defender Hanyer Mosquera.
Not to be outdone by their Cascadian neighbors, the Whitecaps made huge news when they picked up Philadelphia Union star Sebastien Le Toux for only allocation money. Le Toux’s partnership with Eric Hassli and Camilo will be an interesting storyline to keep an eye on. Vancouver also added a wealth of international experience when South Korean defender Lee Young-Pyo was added from Saudi club Al-Hilal. He boasts 127 appearances for his country and will likely partner U.S. international Jay DeMerit in the backline. Other additions include a solid backup goalkeeper with MLS experience in Brad Knighton and cult phenomenon and US international Lee Nguyen (he’s big in Vietnam). Watching the pacific northwest teams battle it out this year will be interesting, with Seattle depleted in the offseason and Portland and Vancouver rising.
Can an expansion team really be a winner in the offseason before their first official game? YES. Just look at the team Joey Saputo and Jesse Marsch have put together. Youth and experience in a pretty solid mix, with Jamaican international Donovan Ricketts manning the pipes, Colombian international Nelson Rivas (formerly of Inter Milan) and Italian international Matteo Ferrari manning the center-back spots. US U-23 international Zarek Valentin will hold one of right back or left back, and the 2011 Herman Trophy award winner and US U-23 international Andrew Wenger will be expected to make a smooth transition to the professional game. In the midfield, you have such young talent like Bryan Arguez, Sanna Nyassi, and Collen Warner, paired with experienced players such as Ian Westlake, Justin Mapp, Canadian international Patrice Bernier and Davy Arnaud. They also nabbed Justin Braun for one of the forward spots. Depth could become an issue as the season progresses, but Montreal certainly have some pieces to surprise people this year.
New York Red Bulls
The Taurine Treasure Chests’ effects are wearing off. After all the excitement of the big name players coming in, the Red Bulls are beginning to resemble the aftereffects of their namesake drink. The club has lost its premier defender in Tim Ream to Bolton and replaced him with Wilman Conde, western hemisphere journeyman. They also lost veteran defender and U.S. international Chris Albright and every goalkeeper on the roster as German international Frank Rost and Senegal international Bouna Coundoul were released, Greg Suton moved to Montreal and Alex Horwath was waived. They did add Kenny Cooper, who could pair well with Thierry Henry. Welsh international Carl Robinson retired, who boasted a wealth of experience. They also kept team tumor and U.S. fan favorite Rafa Marquez, who continues to run his mouth to the media and have only otherwise bolstered their ranks with some unknown Scandinavians. This season could be more underwhelming than the last.
Seattle Sounders FC
Few teams have been as decimated as Seattle during the offseason. They lost U.S. goalkeeping legend Kasey Keller to retirement, their back-up goalkeeper Terry Boss also retired, two veteran defenders were lost in James Riley and Tyson Wahl, two veteran forwards in Nate Jaqua and Pat Noonan are also gone, and Swedish international Erik Friberg, who impressed mightily last season, is gone as quick as he arrived after one season. Sure Seattle has made a few notable additions. Austrian international Michael Gspurning joins from Skoda Xanthi in Greece and looks to be the favorite to win the vacant ‘keeper spot. Swedish international defender Adam Johansson joins from IFK Goteborg and Danish U-21 international midfielder Christian Sivebaek joins from FC Midtjylland. Also giving a boost to the Sounders will be the return of Steve Zakuani from a devastating leg injury. Seattle still boasts a solid midfield and an All-MLS forward in Fredy Montero, but a lot of questions will be asked of the defense and goalkeeping.
Connor Walsh writes about MLS and the US National Team for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can, and should, follow him on Twitter at @USAGunnerWalsh.