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. Montreal
IN: Andrea Pisanu, Andres Romero, Blake Smith, Fernando Monge, Brad Stuver OUT: Bernaro Corradi, Lamar Neagle, Shavar Thomas, Greg Sutton, Josh Gardner, Bryan Arguez, Evan James, Eduardo Sebrango
Minutes Starting XI Returning: 11/11 Minutes Gameday 18 Returning: 15/18
Monteal really didn't do a whole lot this offseason retaining all of their top 11 minutes earners and only letting go of Tyson Wahl, Shavar Thomas, and Lamar Neagle who were in the top 18 of minutes played. The only big money earner that is no longer with the team is Bernardo Corradi who counted for $240K against the cap and only contributed four goals and one assist in 619 minutes played. Keeping what is effectively the same lineup from last season could help the second year club as they finished 2012 seemed to put together a good run of form towards the end of the season.
It should not go ignored that the Impact still finished the season with 16 losses so improvements are necessary yet it doesn't seem like they did enough in that area. Andrea Pisanu may help in the playmaker role if the 31-year old Italian on loan from Bologna can stay fit. Andres Romero joins Montreal on loan from the Brazilian first division and will provide depth at forward. Rookie left midfielder Blake Smith will give the Impact a bit of width that they could really use. Second round draft picks Ryan Monge will add to the central midfield depth while Brad Stuver will assume a backup goalkeeper role.
IN: Sebastien Le Toux, Jeff Parke, Conor Casey, Aaron Wheeler (from KooTeePee) OUT: Carlos Valdes, Porfirio Lopez, Gabriel Gomez, Krystian Witkowski, Zach Pfeffer, Josue Martinez
Minutes Starting XI Returning: 9/11 Minutes Gameday 18 Returning: 13/18
Philadelphia retain a large portion of their squad from last season and bring back a huge part of the successful 2011 season in Sebastian Le Toux. The Frenchman spent time at Vancouver and New York fitting in marginally before heading back to the place where he scored 25 goals in two years. Le Toux will have another large body up top with him as Conor Casey comes in from Colorado via the Re-Entry Draft. Casey will be the battering ram and Le Toux the silk saber with Jack McInerney also providing attacking help at the forward position. Aaron Wheeler adds further depth on the front line as the 6'4" forward transferred from Finnish Ykkonen (First Division) club KooTeePee. What may be the most important addition to the squad is Jeff Parke who arrived in Philly via trade from Seattle.
That trade is important because stalwart centerback and Union player with the most minutes in 2012 Carlos Valdes went to Independiente Santa Fe on loan. Gabriel Gomez, Porfirio Lopez, and Krystian Witkowski were released in the offseason. Witkowski never saw the field, Lopez played very few minutes after it was discovered he was not up to MLS standards, and Gomez managed to produce six goals as a midfielder, but also cost the club almost $300K. With the departures of Gomez and Valdes, the Union save almost $600K in salary, which will surely go towards the expensive pair of Casey and Le Toux.
IN: Danny Califf, Robert Earnshaw, Julio Cesar, Justin Braun, Kyle Bekker, Gale Agbossoumonde, Hogan Ephraim, Emery Welshman, Joe Bendik OUT: Torsten Frings, Eric Hassli, Eric Avila, Milos Kocic, Joao Plata, Ryan Johnson, Aaron Maund, Quincy Amarikwa, Nicholas Lindsay, Dicoy Williams, Ty Harden, Oscar Cordon, Adrian Cann, Keith Makubuya
Minutes Starting XI Returning: 7/11 Minutes Gameday 18 Returning: 11/18
Toronto dropped a whole lot of players as to be expected because the club is a complete revolving door of talent, both on field and on the sidelines. Ryan Johnson put in a decent shift in 2012 as he appeared in 31 games and contributed seven goals and five assists for a club that scored only 36 goals all year, yet he finds himself jettisoned out of Toronto. Milos Kocic played in 27 games while the oft-injured Stefan Frei sat out the season with another injury. Kocic now plays in Portland with Johnson. Joao Plata and Eric Hassli are also with different clubs. Toronto usually seems to have talent on their roster but gets rid of it before taking the time to let it congeal. The only big name that left the club and not on another MLS team is Torsten Frings who retired.
The players coming in for the Canadian club do not look like they are an upgrade with the exception being Danny Califf. Even then, how many teams has Califf bounced around and how long has he been in the league? Can he still get it done at a high level for a Toronto team that desperately needs a stalwart centerback paired up with Danny O'Dea. The addition of Robert Earnshaw is interesting as the Welsh forward may be able to spark some sort of attack that looks very tepid with Danny Koevermans injured and Justin Braun the only other out and out striker. Hogan Ephraim will now patrol the wing as the QPR product joins former QPR centerback and current head coach Ryan Nelsen on loan. Julio Cesar will don the Toronto red shirt and take over the defensive midfield role after Kansas City waived him. Kyle Bekker was the third round pick in this year's SuperDraft and the Canadian rookie has already impressed in preseason and will likely be brought into the rotation right away.
It's hard to see how Toronto's overall quality will adjust to the off-season transactions as the club are still adding pieces and Nelsen is trying to fit in to the role of head coach. New additions Earnshaw and Ephraim will need to lead the club's attack and Luis Silva must add to the five and five campaign from last year. So many changes have occurred that it's hard to think that this will be a solid team this year again; especially when many of the changes aren't upgrades. It's hard to believe, but this club may be in even worse shape this year than they were last year. If Toronto's new attack is better than expected then Koevermans can push this team into being a decent squad when he returns from injury. Picking up Califf will help, but the defense is immobile and will have a difficult time keeping up with the speedier teams that counterattack or bomb down the flanks. The question for Toronto is not if they'll struggle, but how much will they struggle. Another dire year awaits.
Life won't be so bad for the Philadelphia Union, but it may not get any better than it was last year. I'm interested to see how effectively Jeff Parke can fill in for Carlos Valdes who was spectacular last season. Philly will be relying on Sebastien Le Toux to return to 2011 form and Conor Casey to return to 2010 form. In the case of the latter, that's very wishful thinking and will likely not happen. With the former, Le Toux's production won't be as high, but there's no reason to think it won't be there somewhat. Philly will have trouble scoring goals this season and the defense will be reliant on the Parke/Bakary Soumare pairing. Philadelphia will continue to languish behind the contenders in the East.
Montreal may be able to do better as they have the dynamic midfield pairing of Felipe and Patrice Bernier, but the defense and attack is heavily dependent on 30+ year old Italians. Alessandro Nesta will need to use every bit of that beautiful brain of his because the legs just aren't going to work. Marco DiVaio will also have to rely on guile, but if Andrea Pisanu can live up the the expectations of being the class distributor, Montreal has a puncher's chance of creating enough offense stay in the playoff hunt. The backline is still concerning to me and I'm not impressed with Troy Perkins in goal. Furthermore, a lack of pace will cause many problems as the starting lineup needs to shed some years. The pieces are there for a good team, but in the East, good won't cut it.
Weekend Matches: Seattle vs. Montreal Philadelphia vs. Sporting Kansas City Vancouver vs. Toronto FC