Last year I wrote an 8,000 word preview on the off-season transactions of the 18 MLS teams not named Chicago Fire. This year, I’m planning on doing all 19 and in the same format as I did last year: East, Midwest, West, but in the reverse order this time. The season is upon us, let’s see how well or poorly the teams fared this off-season. Portland
IN: Mikael Silvestre, Michael Harrington, Will Johnson, Ryan Johnson, Milos Kocic, Mobi Fehr, Steven Evans, Diego Valeri, Ryan Miller, Dylan Tucker-Gangnes, Ben Zemanski, Michael Nanchoff OUT: Kosuke Kimura, Eric Brunner, Lovel Palmer, Steve Smith, Joe Bendik, Steve Purdy, Mike Fucito, Kris Boyd, Eric Alexander, Johnathan Bornstein (rights), Charles Renken, Franck Songo’o
Minutes Starting XI Returning: 5/11 Minutes Gameday 18 Returning: 10/18
Usually when a team loses more than half of its Minutes Starting XI it is a bad thing, but considering how awful Portland were throughout most of the 2012 season, change may be good for them, although Kimura is a decent right back and can add to the attack so his departure to New York is a little disappointing to me. Mike Fucito seems a player that can make something happen through sheer determination and strength while on a paltry $44K salary. Franck Songo’o showed promise at times and may have been worth another shot. The rest of the players directly contributed to Portland’s soft midfield and porous defense and eliminating them will only improve the team. That’s not even mentioning eliminating Kris Boyd’s DP salary.
Thankfully for Portland, the acquisitions in this off-season have been strong ones bringing in new DP on loan, Diego Valeri, a playmaker from Argentina who is expected to provide the flair in a midfield that was completely bereft of any creativity in a stale 4-4-2 bucket from John Spencer’s system. Valeri will infuse a bit of creativity into a Timbers side that has had a more industrious mindset since joining MLS. In addition, Mikael Silvestre has joined Portland on a two-year deal to shore up a defense that conceded 56 goals with only Chivas USA and Toronto conceding more. Silvestre may show his age at 35 years old, but any bit of experience can only help a squad that was defensively hapless throughout most of last season.
Looking to add even more experience, the Timbers traded within MLS for upgrades. Michael Harrington is a solid left back that is unspectacular, but a strong upgrade over Steve Smith from last year. Ryan Johnson is scoring goals by the hatful in preseason, which they hope will solve last season’s inability to score goals. Will Johnson has always impressed me with hard work and just enough creativity to make a difference in a very strong Salt Lake team and will be a good addition for Caleb Porter’s side. Milos Kocic has plenty of experience as a backup and starter from his time at Toronto where Stefan Frei was often injured. He may end up taking the starting job from Donovan Ricketts who didn’t seem to impress the Montreal staff last year. Seeing how Porter will incorporate the new signings in his preferred 4-3-3 will be very interesting.
In fact, Porter’s inclusion may be the most important transaction of the off-season, as he will have plenty of talent with which to work this season and will ultimately be responsible for bringing success to the Timbers Army faithful. Bringing in Harrington and Silvestre will vastly improve a backline that already employs David Horst, an unsung hero from Portland’s disappointing 2012 season, and the added creativity from Valeri and Ryan Johnson will help Darlington Nagbe and Kalif Alhassan get more goal scoring opportunities. Add in Porter’s Akron coaching background and he may be able to get 2011 number one draft pick and former Akron Zip Danny Mwanga’s career back into gear. Expectations are high in Rose City and a playoff appearance has to be the minimum requirement for a successful season.
IN: Shalrie Joseph, Djimi Traore, Eriq Zavaleta, DeAndre Yedlin, Lamar Neagle OUT: Fredy Montero, Jeff Parke, Mike Seamon, O'Brian White, Andrew Weber
Minutes Starting XI Returning: 9/11 Minutes Gameday 18 Returning: 16/18
There’s a lot to hate about this team and the list just got a little bit longer with the addition of Shalrie Joseph. Man, it feels good to hate that guy again. He was just wasting away in the purgatory that is Chivas USA and is now a bonafide villain again. In case you missed it, Seattle acquired Joseph in a trade with Chivas USA where, if it was Christmas day, the Sounders got a shiny new Xbox, a month’s rent paid off, and the choice of where to go on vacation while the Goats got a pack of socks, a Game Boy without batteries and a basket of overripe nectarines. Joseph will either pair with Osvaldo Alonso to create the best (and hackiest) holding midfield duo in the league or provide cover with little drop off.
As much as I would like to continue the Joseph/Seattle hate fest, there's more to talk about (and hate) about what Seattle has done this offseason. Djimi Traore joins Seattle playing for Liverpool, AS Monaco, and Marseille who is a cheaper and younger option than Portland's Mikael Silvestre. Oh yeah, Portland had to trade two supplemental draft picks to Seattle to get him also and everyone on the internets had to make a big deal about it. (I swear these two clubs are like that couple that argues and swears they hate each other but just needs to fuck and get it over with) Eriq Zavaleta and DeAndre Yedlin go to Washington via SuperDraft and Lamar Neagle returns to Seattle after a stint in Montreal. Given the strength of Seattle's midfield and attack, the draftees are project players for the future and Neagle will provide depth and fill in on the flank when needed.
What is not so strong right now is the defense as they are thin at centerback after letting Jeff Parke go to Philadelphia and Patrick Ianni picking up a nasty injury that may see him miss some regular season time. Traore will likely fill in or Zavaleta will be converted from forward to centerback, which is strange since he was one of the leading scorers in the NCAA last year. The other big departing name is Fredy Montero who
fucks off to goes on loan to Millonarios. Montero registered 13 goals and eight assists last season, yet Seattle hasn't really brought in anyone to replace him. Probably looking to rely on Eddie Johnson a lot more this season, Sigi Schmid may push Steve Zakuani up further into the attack or call upon his youngsters to step up and contribute heavily since Christian Tiffert looks to be on his way out also. Either way, Seattle look very strong in some areas of the field and very thin at others.
IN: Daigo Kobayashi, Erik Hurtado, Corey Hertzog, Paulo Jr., Kakuta Manneh, Brad Rusin, Tommy Heinemann, Johnny Leveron, Nigel Reo-Coker OUT: Martin Bonjour, Barry Robson, John Thorrington, Atiba Harris, Tiago Ulisses, Brian Sylvestre, Michael Nanchoff, Etienne Barbara
Minutes Starting XI Returning: 9/11 Minutes Gameday 18 Returning: 12/18
A frustrating end to the 2012 season saw a Whitecaps team clicking on their way to a playoff spot and suddenly sputtering by getting six points in the last 30 available. Many believe the midseason transfer of Davide Chiumiento was the largest contributing factor, and it's difficult to argue since the creativity was completely lacking in the midfield. Thankfully for Vancouver, they might have his replacement in Japanese midfielder Daigo Kobayashi, an attacking midfielder with great technical ability who is already impressing in the pre-season with that crazy ass goal you've already seen a ton of times. Kobayashi looks up to the task to provide the creativity that is sorely needed in a pretty decent midfield. Another player impressing Whitecaps head coach Martin Rennie is Kekuta Manneh, the number four draft pick in this year's SuperDraft who brings a wealth of pace to a squad that already has another speedy forward in Darren Mattocks. Vancouver also signed their own Cascadia mandated former EPL defensive player in Nigel Reo-Coker. (What is it with the Cascadian clubs, man?) Reo-Coker will likely fill in the defensive midfielder spot along side Alain Rochat who was a left back moved into the midfield at the end of last season. Rennie also reunited with Brad Rusin, who served as captain under Rennie when they were at the Carolina Railhawks in 2009 and 2010. Rusin returns from a stint in Denmark and will provide depth behind the aging Jay Demerit and Andy O'Brien. Johnny Leveron will likely fill the left back spot who captained the Honduran Olympic squad.
Vancouver picked up quite a few valuable pieces while losing very little. Probably the biggest loss was Martin Bonjour who contributed heavily appearing in 28 games and logging almost 2400 minutes in the backline. Bonjour was earning almost $200K and probably would have broken that threshold this season. Barry Robson was an absolute disappointment earning DP status but producing far less than expected. Personal favorite of mine John Thorrington appeared in 19 games and logged over 1,100 minutes, but left the club in the second round of the Re-Entry Draft as his constant injuries and $170K salary became a factor.
The Whitecaps appears to have improved their squad on paper and addressed the biggest need in the form of Kobayashi. The backline is stacked with experience, talent, versatility and depth as most of the defenders on the squad can play centrally or on one of the flanks and the holding midfielders can even drop to the backline. Scoring against the Whitecaps will prove to be very difficult.
The Cascadian rivalry looks like it will be a lot of fun this season as the teams seem to be more evenly matched at the beginning of the season. Seattle has weakened slightly and questions remain as to where Montero's goals will come from and how the center of the defensive line will hold up with Ianni injured and Parke in Philadelphia now. Furthermore, Tiffert still remains in limbo as he has not yet reported to training camp and likely will not as a loan or transfer seems pending. Zakuani is fully fit after a year and a half and may take that spot, but depth on the wing remains a question as well.
Portland has strengthened their squad, but will it be enough to overcome two disappointing seasons in MLS? A lot of responsibility lies on Valeri to spark the attack from a midfield that lacked creativity. Ryan Johnson will have to live up to the preseason hype as he is essentially replacing Kris Boyd. Getting Ben Zemanski from Chivas USA for almost nothing can improve the depth on the bench and getting Milos Kocic from Toronto may pay dividends if he can take the starting goalkeeper spot from Donovan Ricketts. If Horst can stay healthy and Silvestre can stay young, Portland looks to have a much better defense than last season and will earn more points this season.
Vancouver is a bit of an enigma as they were so good in the first half of the season and so bad in the second half. Much of their success this season rests at the feet of Darren Mattocks. If the kid can finish chances set up by Kobayashi, he could pull the 'Caps up the table. Behind Mattocks, though, is an inexperienced or uninspiring forward corps, and that's even if Kenny Miller stays. Miller is rumored to be on his way out also leaving the likes of Tommy Heinemann and Corey Hertzog to back up the speedsters of Mattocks and Manneh. Age will also not be on Vancouver's side as three of the four defenders are over the age of 30. Add in Rochat holding in the midfield and the age count gets higher. Leveron and Reo-Coker bring the average down, but Rusin may get more time than expected if the old bones can't hold up. Should the 'Caps defense stay healthy, they will be very tough to break down, but an injury here and suspension there and the house of cards may come crashing down.
Weekend Matches: Vancouver vs. Toronto Seattle vs. Montreal Portland vs. New York