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. D.C. United
IN: Carlos Ruiz, James Riley, John Thorrington, Rafael, Casey Townsend, Syamsir Alam, Kyle Porter, Marcos Sanchez, Michael Seaton OUT: Andy Najar, Emiliano Dudar, Branko Boskovic, Mike Chabala, Maicon Santos, Stephen King, Long Tan, Lance Rozeboom
Minutes Starting XI Returning: 9/11 Minutes Gameday 18 Returning: 13/18
D.C. retains much of their lineup from a very good team last season. The biggest loss is Andy Najar as he was transferred to Anderlecht in the January transfer window. Najar's burgeoning talent will be missed, but the depth on the team will carry through. Maicon Santos started the year strong but his form dropped considerably in the back half of the season and is no longer with the team. Branko Boskovic contributed a goal and seven assists, but just not good enough at $400K. Emiliano Dudar didn't even get to 900 minutes so D.C. dropped his $225K salary as well.
Much of that money may go to returning forward and poster boy of unrelenting hate Carlos Ruiz. The dirty fish will battle for playing time with Rafael, a 20-year old Brazilian who will be a DP and only count $200K against the cap. Head coach Ben Olsen seems very exited about the young DP and may want to get the most bang for his buck by playing the kid. D.C. United practically stole James Riley from Chivas USA only giving up a second-round 2015 Supplemental Draft pick. Chivas USA still has to pay for most of Riley's $125K salary. United also added depth in Casey Townsend and John Thorrington, the former from another Chivas USA fleecing and the latter joining the club via Re-Entry Draft. If Thorrington can contribute off the bench and on a rotation basis, that's a big win for D.C.
IN: Kalifa Cisse, Chad Barrett, Andy Dorman, Andrew Farrell, Matt Horth, Blial Duckett, Jose Goncalves, Scott Caldwell, Gabe Latigue, Donnie Smith, Luis Soffner OUT: Benny Feilhaber, Blake Brettschneider, Blair Gavin, Fernando Cardenas, Alec Purdie, Michael Roach, Flo Lechner
Minutes Starting XI Returning: 11/11 Minutes Gameday 18 Returning: 15/18
Usually when a team returns almost their entire Gameday 18 that can be considered a good thing, but not for a team that finished ninth in the East with 17 losses. The losses of Feilhaber and Shalrie Joseph will clear almost a million dollars off from the salary cap in hopes to bring in a DP or start a fund for a new stadium. (May as well start a kickstarter fund.) New England also mostly dropped little used players to trim the books in Gavin, Purdie, Roach, and Lechner.
Kalifa Cisse joins on a free transfer from Bristol City to help shore up the defensive midfield. Chad Barrett comes in to continue to miss chances and be an all around pest and Andy Dorman returns to New England after leaving for the Scottish Premier League. Dorman will take back his old right midfield spot. He's now 30 and played well before he left in 2007, but a lot has changed in the league and I would not be surprised to see him return well off the pace. Andrew Farrell is a name going around the league for Rookie of the Year as many are impressed with this year's number one pick in the SuperDraft. Farrell should get time at fullback and will need to learn the MLS system quickly for New England to have any chance at putting together a decent season. Jose Goncalves will likely marshall the defense as he joins from Swiss league club FC Sion. Goncalves' addition will be very important if head coach Jay Heaps decides Bobby Shuttleworth will be the number one goalkeeper going forward.
IN: Fabian Espindola, Jamison Olave, Juninho Pernambucano, Kosuke Kimura, Jonny Steele, Eric Alexander, Josue Martinez, Amando Moreno, Ruben Izquierdo, Ian Christianson, Michael Busamante OUT: Kenny Cooper, Joel Lindpere, Wilman Conde, Victor Palsson, Sebastien Le Toux, Rafa Marquez, Mehdi Ballouchy, Stephen Keel, Bill Gaudette, Teemu Tainio, Jan Gunnar Solli, Corey Hertzog, Jeremy Vuolo, Tyler Ruthven, Jonathan Borrajo, Jhonny Arteaga, Jose Angulo
Minutes Starting XI Returning: 7/11 Minutes Gameday 18 Returning: 10/18
So much roster turnover to talk about. Let's start with who's out. Actually, how did New York fit all these guys under the cap? It's like a full salary cap right there. Anyway, Rafa Marquez finally leaves MLS and the league is all the better for it. Except fans who don't like New York because watching him torpedo that club was some entertaining shit. Another embarrassing trainwreck was Wilman Conde who was serviceable at best. Conde leaves after appearing in 17 games all last season and takes his $125K with him. Other big paycheck clearances were Jan Gunar Solli ($185K), the Finn Teemu Tainio ($200K), and Joel Lindpere ($170K). All these releases without even mentioning the role players who contributed a considerable portion of minutes without any fanfare such as Stephen Keel, Medhi Ballouchy, Bill Gaudette, and Victor Paulsson. They also cleared out a bunch of jabronis who didn't see time.
Just as they cleared out big name players, they also added big name players. Of course they did, its New York. This time they added quality players from the league, most notably the trio from Real Salt Lake Jamison Olave, Fabian Espindola, and Jonny Steele and Kosuke Kimura from Portland. The main event signing was Juninho Pernambucano who has played for Lyon in their seven straight league titles and for Brazil in the 2006 World Cup. The Red Bulls also signed their two draft picks Michael Bustamante and Ian Christianson. Spanish 20-year old midfielder Ruben Bover Izquierdo comes from the Spanish Segunda and will command the wings.
New York's season really relies on the oft-injured Olave, notoriously streaky Espindola, and 38 year old legs of Juninho. I mean, Thierry Henry and Dax McCarty will really cake this team to the next level, but in order to keep the team in the hunt throughout the season, the three big additions must play the majority of the season and stay on top form throughout. The East is stacked to the hilt with top talent and New York can't just rely on scoring buckets of goals to get them far. Olave is the real lynchpin here as he is one of the best centerbacks in the entire league. Markus Holgersson is a considerable drop in talent and if the big Columbian goes down, New York could be exposed.
New England my find themselves exposed all over the park as there is a lot of youth on Jay Heaps' roster. Andrew Farrell, AJ Soares, and possibly Bobby Shuttlesworth are a youthful group taking on the leagues best strikers and I would be concerned if I were a Revolution fan and going through all sorts of self-loathing because I would be a Revolution fan. Jerry Bengston and Saer Sene are a dangerous duo, but not in the elite ranks of dangerous strike forces, although the kid Diego Fagundez could continue his development into a dangerous striker. Lee Nguyen had a great season in 2012, but Andy Dorman may struggle upon returning to MLS. The depth looks young and shallow and unless Heaps has something figured out in the academy or a summer signing, there could be a long season ahead.
Expect pretty much the opposite from D.C. United who are looking at a really fun 2013. A strong team last season gets stronger and a year wiser as they only suffered one major roster casualty in Andy Najar. The attack looks razor sharp as any time Dwayne DeRosario is on the field opposing defenses must watch out. Chris Pontius will continue to develop, Lionard Pajoy may continue to surprise and earn starts, and Carlos Ruiz will still be a hatable character. Perry Kitchen is an underrated defensive midfielder and will disrupt attacks all season long. Defense is United's only weakness so if they can bring in a quality fullback or two, they will become even more dangerous. Bill Hamid is a very good goalkeeper and should have a stronger season. D.C. will be back at the top of the list in the East and Ben Olsen will have his guys hungry for silverware in 2013.
Weekend Matches: Houston vs. D.C. Portland vs. New York New England has a bye week.