Saturday, January 31, 2015

Portland Timbers: First Team 1, Second Team 1, Sporting KC 0

I see an....NLS Cup in your future!

What did I learn from tonight's super-early preseason clash between the Portland Timbers and Sporting Kansas City? For starters, I learned that “Fochive” is pronounced “Fo-sheev-ay.” Also, Peay is “pay.” Who knew, right?

Overall, though, I’m encouraged. 2-0 to Portland, and all that. Then again, if someone told me I’m beautiful, I would agree that, yes, I am beautiful. And do go on. (As in, people hear what they want to hear, and see what agrees with their hopes and dreams.) But, no, the wiser course is to slow down, to cool the collective jets, drop the nuts into some ice water and generally view these first 90 minutes of a sweet, ideally strike-free 2015 with the most powerfully clear-eyed prescription known to man.

In all honesty, I don’t have much for notes. The video feed hardly helped, what with the way it looked like Madden circa 2002. Still, I saw well enough to believe that Portland played a pretty solid, energetic game for this year’s first preseason outing. Splitting entire teams between 45-minute halves certainly helps with the energy, but that was smarter, cohesion-wise, than Sporting’s Tale of Three Halves. Which, like, defies physics. Or just science.

Good omens abound, though, when you think about it. The Timbers defended with proactive soccer on the way to keeping the sheets clean. And, holy shit, Portland got a penalty kick? If that’s not Mama Albighetti smiling on the Timbers’ 2015, I don’t know what is!

Anyway, the few notes I have, starting with Portland:

 Portland Notes
1) The first team defense looked amazing enough to foster delusion. Seriously, I’m so sold on the central trio of Ben Zemanski sitting in front of Norberto Paparatto and Nat Borchers that I’m seized by visions of clean sheets in late September, when the club is driving for Glory. Admittedly, I missed 10 minutes of the second half, but I didn’t see KC make much of a dent outside that errand-based blackout. While I’m by no means saying Liam Ridgewell won’t come back to start besides Borchers, I’m comfortable with Zemanski on top of two solid centerbacks of any name and combination when the club hopes to kill off games.

1a) Overall, Paparatto looked good. Borchers looked better. Just really ahead of everything. Here’s to praying to multiple gods, if that's what it takes, that that continues.

2) And, btw, swap in Ridgewell for Paparatto and I can’t help but think that the Timbers fielded the club’s starting eleven during the first half, pending Diego Valeri's and Will Johnson's return. More on this later…

3) Zemanski’s game is shockingly simple. So, so simple. Too simple?

4) I wouldn’t mind seeing Jack Jewsbury return to a central midfield role. Nice pass on the near goal in the second half through Jeanderson, into Urruti, etc. I think we’re deep enough at right back to think differently about what Jack can do, even if it limits his minutes…hmm…

Sporting Kansas City Notes
1) The Paolo Nagamura and Benny Feilhaber central midfield is pretty damn stacked. That’s a serious yin-yang there, people.

1a) I’d trade some crazy shit to land Feilhaber.

2) A 16-year-old kid took the field for KC tonight. He’s not even first team as it turns out, but his name is Felipe Hernandez. Now, physically/aesthetically, the kid looked every inch the pro. Problem was, he never put a ball in front of a player, at least not that I saw. It was like he always passed the ball to where his target stood when he made the pass. He’ll be fun to watch, that one, assuming he figures out how to lead players. I did, however, like the Feilhaber-esque way he’s able to keep the ball in front of him and at his feet while looking for the pass.

3) I didn’t catch that he was out there till he came off, but I do want to see more of Krisztian Nemeth, the Hungarian guy.

Anyway, nice win. I missed the goddamn free kick by Michael Nanchoff. Tell me it was a thing of beauty, something pretty enough to pair with the Sugar Plum Fairy in Swan Lake…

All for now.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Timbers: A MLS Defenders Shopping List

Psst...give Portland Michael Parkhurst.
The whole thing with Heath Pearce shipping off to Sweden reignited a personal obsession with adding defensive depth to the Portland Timbers. Yeah, yeah, it's too late now, there's no evidence that Portland made the effort, no way of knowing whether the front office would have been willing to eat Pearce's $100K guaranteed salary, etc.

Still, Pearce perfectly fits the mold for what the Timbers need at the back: reliable, experienced on both club and country level, and, most crucially, versatile. He could have given solid cover, or even solid starting minutes, across the back-line. This isn't even his first trip to Scandinavia for crissakes. So, the man hated Orlando. Or maybe he hated MLS. In any case, that bird has flown (Note/Confession: being unfamiliar with the English use of "bird," it took me a number of years to fully understand The Beatles’ Norwegian Wood.)

Even with Pearce gone, Major League Soccer clubs have plenty of defensive talent that could be had...for a price. This is tricky because there are some players the Timbers just couldn't get. To give on example, Columbus Crew SC would never give up Michael Parkhurst, because he's too central to their system and formation. And I say that knowing that I'm talking about giving up a lot, as in Parkhurst value. You'll see. With that in mind, this post concludes with a list of defenders on the current rosters of other clubs in MLS, players I'd be happy to see in Timbers Green, or Red, according to the occasion. Most, if not all of them, are central defenders, for that is Portland's greatest need...though I do slip in one wild hair.

All that brings up the obvious question: what would I give for one of these players? For starters, after last season's Defensive Collapse Performance Art series, I'm willing to pay. On the other hand, I'd haggle properly, start low(er than I think - dang) with allocation spots (#6? That's it?), and maybe future draft picks (once I figure out how those work). If it comes to it – and, face it, it would - I have a couple players in mind who bring enough sweet, sweet value to close a deal. It’ll hurt, but one doesn’t get value without giving it. Now the hard part: naming the players.

I've already confessed that I'd give up Darlington Nagbe (even if he's now ready to lead...uh, the only place the word "lead" appears in that article is in the title; wtf?), but here are the rest:

Rodney Wallace
Gaston Fernandez

OK. Short list. I can think of other players – Ben Zemanski, maybe Jack Jewsbury – but that would force the Timbers to bundle in something else, on top of the player and that's pushing into Portland giving up too much. So, that's that...just let me state for the record that, if the Timbers shipped Nagbe or Wallace, they damn-skippy better get something jiffy in return!

OK, with terms and ground rules out of the way, here's the list of defenders. They guys with asterisks beside their name are guys I'd demand in exchange for either Nagbe or Wallace:

Drew Moor (Colorado; risk the injury? Hell, yes.)
Shane O'Neill (Colorado)*
Tyson Wahl (Columbus Crew)
Bobby Boswell (DC United)*
Stephen Keel (FC Dallas)
Zach Lloyd (FC Dallas)(tough get, but he's most Pearce-like)*
Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas)
Kofi Sarkodie (Houston)(I'd swap a full-back here; say, Villafana)
Jermaine Taylor (Houston)
Tommy Meyer (LA Galaxy)
Hassoun Camara (Montreal)
Jason Hernandez (NYCFC)
Amobi Okugo (Orlando)*
Ethan White (Philadelphia)
Clarence Goodson (another tough get)(San Jose)*
Jalil Anibaba (Sporting KC)

Think that’s everyone. Feel free to agree, disagree or add more names. Comments should work.

MLS, Its Middle Class, and the CBA's still about where you're from.
As with most offseason weekdays, the noteworthy news followed players moving from one club to another. In one key case, the story follows a player to a club outside Major League Soccer (MLS). There’s a larger story in there (or I just stuffed it in there to service an argument).

One player who landed on the import side of the ledger was French midfielder Benoit Cheyrou, who joined Toronto FC…just like seemingly every other player coming to MLS this year (srsly, isn’t there a roster limit?). Oh, Juan Agudelo returned to the New England Revolution...even if in something short of triumphal circumstances. Both players headed across the Atlantic, but their stories return and arrival have little in common.

I don’t know much about Cheyrou as a player – i.e. a single tweet contains the sum of my knowledge (it liked him!) - but his is a fairly standard issue signing of an aging European star: Give us your aged, your weary, your players listing toward decline, wanting to play where they can still play well and get good money for doing so. And, of course, yearning to breath free, etc.

Yeah, cheap shot, but signings like Cheyrou and Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, and even some of Europe’s lesser-known lights express a pretty straightforward truth: these are good days for European imports. That's not to knock these players, because most of them will show up and do pretty well, if not pretty damn well. With those older guys, though, there's definitely a catch - namely, that these guys won't be around forever, or even for long. In no small way, they serve as a series of expensive band-aids that the relevant clubs have to replace season after season after season. To concoct another analogy, this approach sacrifices long-term investment by MLS clubs to repeatedly hitting the quarterly targets. Worse, they eat up more cap than others while they're here...and a salary cap, by definition, is zero-sum (e.g. you can’t get what someone else has).

Agudelo, on the other hand, comes back not just without allocation-process bonafides, but on the heels of a long, strange trip abroad, sort of an accidental Grand Tour that somehow detoured into the Cyprian real estate market. Hit that link for the full story, but the short version hints at how hard it can be for an American player to get over to the Euro big leagues. And that speaks to another pretty straightforward truth: "he really needs to play at the highest level" doesn't work like the goddamn State Farm jingle. It's not enough to say it, something the hallelujah chorus that loves that line needs to keep in mind. Just like the league.

Then again, there's always Scandinavia. And there's another truth, even if it's a less straightforward one. Way back, oh, I'm thinking the early aughts, the nagging fear existed that the Scandinavian leagues could bleed MLS of just about any player able to make it there. That notion returned to me today when word came out that long-time MLS defender Heath Pearce gave Orlando City a hearty "so long, and suck it!" and packed his bags for Sweden. Even if it wasn't hostile as all that, Pearce left MLS by way of free agency – i.e., the very same bottom-line right for which MLS players are about to strike. He has only a short-term deal in the end, albeit with an option to extend, but he opted to assume the risk instead of trip over the tangle of restrictions that a trip to another MLS club would require.

If it's not clear by now, yes, I think the players should get some form of free agency. I hate clutter, for starters. I'm for free agency even if it comes with the kind of time-in restriction suggested by Ives Galarcep in one of his recent podcasts (e.g. he threw out six years in MLS as a minimum threshold to earn free agency rights; and, fyi, that's solid, clear-eyed chat). Pearce’s situation does, however, speak to something that bears acknowledging: players do have a form of free agency, but only outside MLS. One could call that a spur to action for those players to take charge of their lives and get over to Europe, but I don’t think that should be the only true freedom of movement available to MLS players. I'm also not convinced it’s in the league's interest.

Pearce is a good player. In fact, he's precisely the kind of player that I would love to see my Portland Timbers sign as cover for that thin back-line. Were MLS clubs given the option, I'd imagine that, between Pearce's experience and reputation, he'd draw competing bids between two clubs, maybe even three. And it would be a simpler process for all involved – e.g. player and agent talking to prospective clubs, with the MLS HQ involved only indirectly by way of a salary cap.

From what I gather, the players find this streamlined process so appealing that they're willing to strike in favor. Visions of extra money dancing in their heads surely doesn't hurt either. The overall equation, however, when reduced to its basics speaks to a truth that covers everyone in MLS, with only the DP superstars excepted: the overwhelming majority of players who come to MLS do so, at least in part, courtesy of diminished bargaining power. I suspect this gets even hairier for American players, who lose still more leverage by way an entirely natural desire to live and play closer to friends and family - something else that gets lost when talking up Europe.

Pearce, and every experienced vet like him, represents MLS's middle class. They play regularly, and typically start, and one MLS club or another will generally pick them up year-after-year. The problem comes with the pretty clear ceiling placed on what they can earn. The players want the bidding war and who can blame them? I suspect that the solid, yet unspectacular player – guys like Pearce, basically - will benefit as much as anyone from free agency. Which seems fair, seeing they're getting screwed as hard as anyone by the current system.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Against the Jermaine Jones Experiment

I have a longer, more thorough thought-piece for the fate and future of the U.S Men’s National Team (USMNT*) in mind, but I'll get that up tomorrow, or over the weekend, because, involved. (*Sorry I keep doing the legal thing with abbreviations...but what if someone doesn't know the acronym?)

For now, I want to dig into the latest proposed major shift to the USMNT set-up – i.e. the decision to play Jermaine Jones in the center of defense. Why? Because this is, without question, one of the weirder debates I’ve followed concerning the U.S. Men. It's not the idea that’s weird – as everyone points out, it has its merits...but the larger, related point is that it also has highly apparent drawbacks.

Soccer By Ives' podcast, the one posted today, I think, offered the sternest defense of his I've heard so far. The general discussion begins with the U.S. experimenting with the 3-5-2 (that's around the 33-minute mark), but it turns to Jones' switch to center back around the 35.30 mark. The key line, or one of them, was this:
“...seriously, why are people having a problem with Klinsmann wanting to build his defense and, potentially, his entire system, around Jermaine Jones in that slot? Like, why is that a problem?"
Ives Galarcep goes on to call opposition to the experiment “bizarre.” He questions whether such people exist, if only because he hasn’t actually heard anyone defend the opinion in word or writing (he’s taking said people’s existence on the word of his youthful ward, Gareth Cleverley). So, I’d just like to say, even understanding that Mr. Galarcep will never read, hi. I see more downside than up in playing Jermaine Jones at center back. And I say that with a lifetime's worth of respect for Galarcep, his knowledge and his work.

Matt Doyle, along with a couple tweets he pastes to his "Three Things" article, captures a couple reasons why: 1) Jones' penchant for the "hero ball" (e.g. the pass so sublime that it may not be an viable option); 2) his tendency to "search for the game," (e.g. to wander out of position in search of the ball); 3) the limits of his aerial game. Now, take any soccer fan you know, and explain to him/her how you’ve got this simply incredible player you think will do really well at center back, possessed of heart and experience and savvy to spare, sure, he's older, but there are these further drawbacks, e.g. #1-3 listed above.

How convincing is that argument? Not enough? Does Jones more than occasional trouble with cards tip the scales? No? OK, OK, let’s throw in his age.

I list age last for a reason. Jones will be 36 (and closer to 37) when World Cup 2018 comes around. As a number, that doesn't matter enormously to me. It does matter, however, when understood as a collection of tendencies in how someone plays the game. With the exception of his problems with cards, all of Jones' handicaps as a central defender aren't problems in a midfielder; they're actually net strengths where Jones is used to playing...and that's the point. The man is a midfielder, and a very good one. But it's one thing to retrain, say, a 25-year-old midfielder versus one entering his mid-30s.

Overall, the discussion about shifting Jones to central defense underrates defending as a skill and a mind-set. Playing without a net requires an understanding of timing and circumstances that too many people dismiss too readily. (What do you mean, "who is this strawman?" I've known him all my life!) More to the point, the U.S. player pool includes several players who are solid defenders and they're better in the air and reasonably good at passing out of the back. Without looking, I'd suggest Matt Besler, Geoff Cameron and Michael Parkhurst. Now, turning to a web-page with a list of current U.S. defenders, I feel comfortable adding...well, OK, that didn't produce the list I imagined, but I’d be willing to try Tim Ream or, to pull from a little farther up the field, Kyle Beckerman or Maurice Edu. Even when talking converted midfielders, the latter two are more disciplined at holding their position than Jones. And both pass very well, if not better in the relevant circumstances (That said, I bet it’s a seriously sad push for aerial weakness if one pitted Jones against Beckerman.)

The point isn't that everything about the Jones Experiment sucks. And it's his age as a number matters less than his willingness and capacity to retrain after nearly a lifetime of playing a certain way. Word that he went wandering earlier today – something you emphatically don't want from a centerback - isn’t encouraging. The larger point is that the U.S. pool contains options who do some things better than Jones, even if they do some things worse (and I didn’t even mention Chris Hedges!). But when defending and staying home are key parts of the role, it strikes me as wise to pay attention.

The Red Bull Blockbuster...Now with Context!

So, which one's Oyongo and which one's Felipe?
At one point during ExtraTime Radio’s January 26 podcast (about the 26:20 mark), one of the guys (think it was Andrew Wiebe) asked his co-hosts to name the four Eastern Conference clubs who would fail to reach Major League Soccer's still-lower bar for punching a ticket to the post-season (now 6 clubs of the 10). Red Bull New York's name came up, which isn't great. Things hardly improved when all involved agreed New York was screwed. Well, the Red Bulls made their bid to prove those haters wrong with a trade that strolled into the room with the word "blockbuster" one step in front.

Everyone knows the details by now: L'Impact Montreal shipped attacking midfielder Felipe Martins and their high (top?) allocation spot to Red Bulls in exchange for less-attacking midfielder Eric Alexander and promising left back Ambroise Oyongo. That was that, until today at least. For it was then that Red Bull confirmed that "allocation spot" was some bland code for "Sacha Kljestan." The question then was how the respective fan bases would take it all. That was pretty interesting...

From what I gather from a couple places, the social media freakout erupted over Oyongo's departure. Now, that's interesting because Oyongo is mostly potential – which is to say, the book on him weighs solid speed and flashy technical skills against some reportedly (visibly) dodgy defending. Regardless of where the shouting came from, losing Alexander means more to the Red Bulls. The man put in two solid seasons, with the second half of 2014, in particular, proving his value to the club. I watched New York enough last year to see this first-hand, whether it was pairing seamlessly in midfield with Dax McCarty or playing some slick shit in the final third with Thierry Henry. To flog a horse that (dirty pervert) likes the beating, more than a few people found the heart of St. Michael’s success (that’d be Mike Petke; get working on the fan-art, people) in the mid-season switch to the McCarty/Alexander central midfield. And that will be missed. Or it should.

But here’s the thing: I like Sacha Kljestan. Perhaps immodestly. I liked him enough during his first run in MLS that I sort of adopted Chivas USA (I pick up two, "foster" clubs most seasons). In so many words, once Kljestan’s name entered the conversation, it truly did become a case of “Eric...yeah, yeah, yeah. And Oyon...when's Kljestan coming now?"

In my memory of Chivas USA’s once-ever glory years, Sacha produced solid numbers, maybe even led the club in all relevant categories. Turns out my memory isn't great (or, rather, that it functions with some handicaps), but he definitely made the SuperClasico worth a shit for neutrals. And he looked good enough to a lot of very smart people that he built a nice career in Europe (hey, Belgium counts), and even played some Champions League ball (even if on a team about as likely to win it as your local rec team). So, that's good experience, certainly, and his numbers, such as they are, do compare favorably to Alexander's, a player I've always liked when he wasn't wearing a Timbers jersey. So, yeah, all in all, New York upgraded if one confines the comparisons to Kljestans to Alexanders.

On the subject of comparisons, Felipes don't compare directly to Oyongos. Between Oyongo's relatively small career sample size and the simple fact that I have never adopted Montreal as a club, I don't know much about either player. I can't really add to my second-hand reporting above on Oyongo and I have only people telling me that Felipe’s best year in MLS (and it was pretty good) came under Jesse Marsch. All in all, then, New York got a midfielder I rate pretty damn highly (Kljestan), plus an attacking mid who has done the proverbial business (NOTE: not a proverb) in MLS at least one. Montreal, on the other hand, got a promising left back and a smart, reliable midfielder who, given the right role, is quietly pretty damn good.

To rate it directly, I'd say New York came out better in the near-term; I suspect they did in the long-term as well, but do keep an eye on Oyongo. Maybe the vocally-aggrieved New York fans caught something the alleged smart-set missed.

To bring this thing full circle, did Red Bull do enough with these moves to make the post-season likelier than not? Probably not. Not (as others have argued) without a clear starter in central defense, or absent producing a suddenly polished gem and yanking it out of their backsides. They're probably spotty at forward as well. And they could use some depth on the flanks. Unless, again, they can find some great wide players when they're rummaging around the backsides for that starting central defender.

That only becomes more true when you consider the upgrades and promising moves made by the Chicago Fire, Columbus Crew SC, Toronto FC, Orlando City FC; not to mention where DC United and the New England Revolution start the season...

Monday, January 26, 2015

Toronto FC Drops the Mike, Wins the 2014-15 Offseason

TFC fans would never abandon a sinking ship. NEVER.
Unless some other Major League Soccer (MLS) club embarks on a true drunken sailor spree, I hereby declare Toronto FC the official winner of the 2014-15 offseason. This means retiring the only series of this blog's short life. Sad day and all that, but we’ll have games to talk about soon enough. Right? (Fucking CBA negotiations...just give them free agency, you assholes...)

How does a club "win" the offseason? In short, by making the most, and, by assumption, the best steps to make its first team competitive in 2015. In other words, this isn't about which clubs look set to win it all in 2015 – teams returning strong teams, like the Los Angeles Galaxy and Seattle Sounders FC, look fine there – but instead asks which club set itself up best to improve over their 2014. Or even to challenge for the top of...something.

(And, for the record, I do rule out the two expansion clubs, Orlando City FC  and New York City FC, because, 1) they have no MLS track record and, therefore, no yesterday’s apples with which to compare to today’s apples; and 2) expansion clubs’ rosters are, by definition, ground-up rebuilds. So, of course they've done more than anyone else.)

Back to TFC, their super-signings got plenty of press. Anyone who missed the arrivals of Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco probably doesn't actually think about MLS, at all, so no links for them! The problem was that neither of them addressed the widely-held/likely-safe, assumption that balance issues kept TFC from looking like a contender. Put it this way: till today, the weight of talent for this club rested at the fore of the good ship. Toronto appreciated this problem, so they dropped some weight at the back. And – pow! - they righted TFC's little dinghy. (Who's in the mood for a song? My ding-a-ling, my ding-a-ling! Won’t you play with my ding-a-ling!)

Between some solid experience for former clubs and country, and some nice club names on the ol' CV, Damien Perquis provides enough (apparent) weight to get TFC's boat sailing damn close to level. This morning, much like, oh, let's go with a drug dealer, a man carefully adding and removing his sweet, sweet contraband to the opposite side of the scale, TFC finally (if only arguably) fully balanced the scales with the trade for Eriq Zavaleta. Combine personal biases and how my neurons chat one to the other and this gets TFC over the threshold for me. That's right, just one more tiny piece and they've done enough to get me believing that, holy hallelujah, those extraordinarily loyal fans up north have got the team they deserve. Get cocky, Toronto...

Zavaleta may or may not mean all that much in the grand scheme, but he looks experienced enough to provide depth for one or both of TFC's existing, fairly decent fullbacks, Justin Morrow and Mark Bloom (or, if ignorance means I have him lined up in the wrong part of the back line, eh, he's still depth at the back). Perquis should challenge to a starting role and, as such, he provides the more important service. Worst case, he spells Stephen Caldwell and helps Nick Hagglund grow into the big-boy soccer boots.

So, congrats to Toronto FC and their brain trust. And to the several other nominees considered over the life of this short series – chiefly, the Chicago Fire, Columbus Crew SC, and the Houston Dynamo – thanks for playing and good luck.

In closing, sorry about the jinx, Toronto! And best of luck to you in 2015!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Who's Winning the 2014-15 Off-Season: Part 2...Think of Burning

Because what's funnier than Nazis?
Welcome to the 2nd installment of "Who's Winning the 2014-15 Major League Soccer (MLS) Off-Season"...which really needs a snappier title. Working on it...

Last week's edition crowned Columbus Crew SC the early winners. Even as I’m starting to question that call – see below – it was, and is, defensible. Ives Galarcep talked it up enough in a recent podcast that I can at least argue that it’s not a completely lonely position to take.

So, before getting into the back-sliding, let me remind readers of my personal criteria for weighing new and new-to-you players who come into MLS:
A star DP > MLS player of good reputation > a foreign acquisition with a respectable CV > a known MLS squad hack > a homegrown player > players acquired through the Superdraft.
Plenty of players have come into MLS since that last post (dated, January 18, 2015), none bigger than Sebastian Giovinco. He’s the big ol' shit, the inspiration for chatter and that annual heartbreaking optimism that Toronto FC fans cling to every season until hope, as always, abandons them. Other moves abound, whether intra-MLS transfers, players re-signing with last year's club (probably after a pay-cut), or foreign players with smaller names coming in from solid,  yet less-heralded, European leagues. And players keep coming to New York City FC and Orlando City – which are just like new toys that we all get to share somehow. In short, it's been a good off-season.

And yet I find myself having to walk back last week's awarding of first place to Columbus. It's much less about anything the Ohio club has done, or failed to do. Hell, they even brought in (another) fullback in Hernan Grana, which is enough to make one wonder if anyone will play centrally for that club (of course, someone will…I mean, someone has to).

No, it's about a total failure on my part (shit, again with the retractions!) to fully consider what the Chicago Fire has done since the 2014 season ended. For me, this is a little secret of the MLS off-season: Chicago has rolled over a lot of their team (see the "Out" column on the very first line). And, well, here's to hoping a lot of those come good...if only for Chicago's sake.

Before turning to Chicago, please allow a couple comments. First, the East is winning the off-season hands-down. They're more active, they're digging up more interesting players (see the above personal criteria), and more of them. Yes, this is a function of being the lesser conference in 2014 (fronting), but it's still true (see: Andy Craven and Kyle Bekker...who looks like an extra from Hogan's Heroes (which is on, one channel another, without stopping....ever)

Second, Toronto FC seems the obvious choice to overtake Columbus, what with all those very, very expensive signings. Personally impressed as I am with the Giovinco signing, Toronto has serious issues with least until they sign that Polish defender. Even then, I might not buy their overall project. Bekker going seems like a loss, even if he is/was a project, but I also think Jonathan Osorio gives them enough of something similar that he won't be missed. Anyway, give TFC a second central defender, plus an outside back who can flip, and Toronto crushes the off-season.

So, Chicago. Here's the thing for me: They have all but rebuilt their front-line, bringing in no less than three at least intriguing forwards. Add the...let’s call it the apparent signing of Wigan Athletic's Shaun Maloney (NOTE: not yet on the roster), and the Fire's attack is, according to my criteria, much transform'ed. What I missed before with Chicago is what had me lean toward Columbus: while the Fire had clearly stacked up their attack, virtually all of this came at the forward position; this meant they hadn't done much to improve a defense and/or midfield that was, at times, iffy and/or a collection of parts in 2014. With that in mind, Columbus' latest acquisitions (Kristin Steindorsson and Chris Klute) read like tidy fits for their system. Throw a great far-post attacker like Kei Kamara on top of the team they already had and things looked pretty sunny in Central Ohio.

In fairness, Chicago added a fair number of unknowns – i.e., guys listed in the third spot for my personal criteria (e.g. "foreign acquisitions with a good CV"). That makes them unknowns, of course, which means they should probably get "doubt" before they get the "benefit" therefrom. Then came, apparently, Shaun Maloney. Yeah, there are issues with what to do with a guy like Harrison Shipp (hat-tip: March to the Match's (tragically) final podcast), but Chicago is trying hard enough and seeking enough upgrades all over the field for me to believe they're really aiming to climb out of their personal Hell in the 2015 season. To personify my oversights in the form of player names, I only caught Adailton when I reviewed the Fire's off-season, but failed to see, say, Joevin Jones' arrival.

I don't know what to expect from Chicago this season, but, goddammit, they're trying. Harder than the entire Western Conference, anyway. So, good luck, The Fire...

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Pa-Modou Kah: When a Former Player Goes to a Rival

I hear nothing, Tovarisch.
I had a complex relationship with former Portland Timbers defender Pa-Modou Kah. "Love/Hate" doesn't fit because I never hated Kah. Find him infuriating? Oh yeah, and on multiple occasions. But Kah also struck me as one of those locker room guys, an angle picked up in this article about Kah's move over the Canadian border. I remember a moment last season when he grabbed Darlington Nagbe in an embrace I can only call fatherly. It hinted at a large locker-room presence that Kah's bearing always suggested.

At any rate, yeah, Kah found himself a new home with the Vancouver Whitecaps. And I do wish him the best, absolutely I do...

...and, yet, at the same time, I look forward to seeing the Timbers exploit the holy shit out of his flaws as a defender. Topping that list: Kah is, hands-down, one of the worst ball-watchers I have seen in over 20 years of watching soccer. Time beyond counting last season, Kah stood transfixed in and around Portland's penalty area, eyes huge and locked on whichever opposition player carried the ball. Distance meant nothing. Meanwhile, behind him, half the opposing team ran and in out of Portland's area like they were putting on Swan Fucking Lake; they flapped their arms like goddamn birds as they called for the ball because they knew they were completely open and not a soul knew about it. Yeah, Kah lost track of his marks with sickening frequency.

Here's to old habits, my friend.

The above image comes to me as I think of Portland's central defense: the ol’ slow-mo walk-away with explosions blazing in the background...only Kah did not leave righteous havoc in his wake. Just the shocked disappointed sickness of....well, fucking up. I'm confident Kah felt that plenty last season.

The point is, Portland’s attacking players should know this failing and very, very well. And they should absolutely share it with the new guys. The Timbers have three games against the ‘Caps this season. Here’s to hoping we can pull nine points out of those games...with a little help from a former friend and mentor.

Hack the bone, people. Hack the bone…

(Look, some days I won’t talk about the biggest story (the USL Pro re-launch tops the shit out of the above), but it’s the thing about a dog-fight in Brooklyn mattering more than a war in Burma. Some news just hits closer to home.)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

MLS Player Acquisitions: Moving to MLS 3.1 (at least)

Giovinco is the shit, yo.
This past weekend, I posted some loose speculation about which Major League Soccer (MLS) club is currently "winning" the 2014-15 off-season (to save folks the click, I named Columbus Crew SC). To explain how I pulled that out of my ass, I typed up the following paragraph on how I rank any given player acquisition. So, from best to worst:
"An MLS player of good reputation is greater than a(n apparently*) good foreign acquisition is greater than a known MLS squad hack is greater than a homegrown player is greater than most players acquired through the Superdraft. I think most of that holds up, but I order the last two the way I do because homegrown players come with the bonus of familiarity with the relevant club and its system."
(* The asterisk acknowledges what I call the Fernandez/Paparrato Clause, which means overcoming a reflexive belief that any given foreign player is automatically better.)

Give any thought at all to that ranking you’ll notice an absence – e.g. the clearly high-end DP foreign acquisition, e.g. your Thierry Henrys, your Steven Gerrards, and (presumably) your Sebastian Giovincos. Barring a hateful, mutant personality, players of that stature rank higher than an "MLS player of good reputation." To provide a personal definition, if a player has a pedigree/CV that works like Ye Olde Lettres of Introducfionne (uh, that's "introduction" spelled fancy), he'll more than likely come good – even if it takes a season to get there. That said, I came across a really cool visual tool (that all of you have no doubt already seen and picked to pieces) that speaks to the relative rarity of DPs of that level. They're more exception than the rule. So, let’s turn to the norms. Or, arguably, what could be a new norm.

One departure and a pair of arrivals capture the shift – specifically, Claudio Bieler's departure from Sporting Kansas City and the transfer of Marcelo Sarvas and Sam Cronin to the Colorado Rapids. While the latter adds to a fairly small sample size – see, DC United's 2013-14 off-season maneuvers – it's following a model that brought eye-catching success to what was an historically shitty team (e.g. DC United 2013). And that should be enough to make you wonder at the very least.

I get a little lost on these numbers, but, for argument's sake, let's define MLS 3.0 as the era that ushered in the lower-level DP – that is, players few American fans have heard of, but who hail from countries with strong soccer traditions. Bieler, an Argentine, certainly fit that mold. He produced well enough through 2013, but, 1) that proved to be a clear high-water mark for his MLS career, and 2) his mediocre 2014 rose questions as to whether his play justified his DP salary. I saw Bieler miss a considerable share of chances, but KC fans (a remarkably forgiving bunch, at least per this sample) didn’t seem to mind. Basically, the model in play rested on an assumption that didn’t hold up: e.g. mo' money brings mo' talent, so teams gambled and paid for it up front. A second assumption held that mo’ talent was found among those playing abroad.

DC's 2013-14 off-season challenged that model: they went out and got players blooded in MLS, guys used to the physicality, inconsistent refereeing, and running, running, running. And...hold it...this goes back even further. If you really think about it, Real Salt Lake built their golden years on the same formula. Reclamation projects, in so many words, players who knew the league and played well in it – just not well enough for their then-clubs to necessarily agree with their assessment of own worth.

Before digging into the Sarvas and Cronin, allow me to recant some of the silly things said in my earlier post on that: as it turns out, Sarvas was eager to join the Rapids. And, yes, his prior relationship with Pablo Mastroeni, during that fleeting season with the LA Galaxy, played a larger role than Mastroeni's sensational, sensual mustache. And Sarvas is younger than I thought, etc. So, yes, I suck. (And, yes, this is how I roll: I will never shy away from admitting a mistake, or even a blown interpretation. Just might take a while.)

When the Colorado brain-trust wrapped their heads around last year's (clearly serious) shortcomings, their first instinct was to look inside MLS for solutions, not outside. And it wasn't just guiding the youth they wanted - though that played a role (see: Burling, Bobby; Harrington, Michael) - but they also replaced the departed Spaniard, Jose Mari. Yes, the kind of foreign player that seemed very much in vogue in 2013-14.

For what it's worth, I believe teams will go internal often as they're able in the near-term, and probably beyond. Drafting from within the league simplifies scouting: coaches see those players more often, for one, and the video is easier to come by besides; moreover, the scouts get a fairly immediate and thorough sense of how these players will actually play in MLS. They already know the culture, they've managed the travel, the level of play, the schizoid refereeing, etc. etc.

Hasty as that original post might have been, I also confessed to a blind-spot when it came to Sarvas. With all the stars on LA's roster, he didn't shine as brightly as he might have. And isn't that the point of the reclamation project - i.e. showing what the average fan, and maybe even his coaches, failed to see. Cronin’s arrival was different, so I got that move right away. He's a classic MLS d-mid: a eager runner and hard tackler, a guy who keeps it simple and makes everyone else the hero. A helluva a fit for me, in that he'll make what stars the Rapids field with him better – including Sarvas.

And don't get me wrong. I don't begrudge Bieler his shot in MLS and I respect his 2013. It is worth noting, though, just who it was who replaced him and how he came into KC’s squad. That was Dom Dwyer...who came up through the USL. And that's the wave of MLS 4.0, people...

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Portland Timbers Desperate Need; One Man's Desperate Solution

Even this beats nothing....
I like where the Portland Timbers added depth this off-season, whether it’s the older new guys signed to back up Rodney Wallace (Dairon Asprilla) and Jorge Villafana (Jeanderson), or the six guys the Timbers picked up in the MLS Super- and Lesserdrafts: e.g., two central midfielders - one going forward (Seth Casipie), one covering the defense/distributing (Nick Besler); one left back (Andy Thoma...who the roster links as an "M"); one rather large defender (Anthony Manning); and two forwards (Kharlton Belmar and Christian Volesky). Various tweets and articles tell me that the team did all right with all six selections and the club is getting depth where it needs it for the most part. And that is great, it really is. Just...great...

Unfortunately, the team goes into 2015 with, to my mind, two issues left to resolve. Sadly, one of these issues has no solution, while the other has no easy solution. Neither issue automatically spells D-O-O-M, fortunately – e.g., a(nother) missed post-season, but one of them does threaten to impose tangible limits on the season ahead. That’s a round-about way of saying No Trophies for Timbers. Yeah, there’s no easy solution, but there is a solution, so, let’s sort that shit out.

So, the thing that can’t be altered is our tragic, broke-dick Diego Valeri. The Timbers’ star man will miss the beginning of 2015, in whole (that is, total absence) or in part (that is, working his way to match fitness). I think the Timbers Community has chewed on this long enough that the extent of the problem should be self-evident. So, get well, Diego. Now.

The second issue – i.e., the one with no easy solution - lives in that familiar Boogey-Man Haunt, the place where all Timbers fans dread to look: yes, the central defense. The Timbers have done, uh, literally, a thing or two to address this: apart from Manning, they hauled up instant pro-credibility in the person of the wily, the bearded The Borchers (or just Nat Borchers). Between Manning drawing favorable comparisons (to MLS legend and all-around calming influence Eddie Pope), and what I know of Borchers, these are good moves. But are they enough?

The two guys named above join the following cast of central defenders: Liam Ridgewell, Norberto Paparrato, Taylor Peay, and, possibly, Besler, who could slip back into central defense in a pinch (right?). To rate all of those, respectively, that’s a good veteran in an unfamiliar place (Borchers), a DP who had "moments" of all sorts in 2014 (Ridgewell), a player with, oh, a third(?) of a decent season under his belt (Paparrato), one relatively unknown (Peay), one basically unknown (Manning) and one totally unknown (Besler), perhaps playing out of position. Now, this could be the pessimism talking, but I see a ceiling for that combination starter/depth combo. That is, we need a bigger step from 2014. So, how to take that step...

My first choice would be to trade for one proven MLS vet for central defense. I’m not talking top-drawer, bank-breaking talent; I’d be satisfied with a steady, generally reliable vet a la Stephen Keel. The question, then, is one of which player, or players, or player-plus-financial/allocation incentive Portland can put on the block to get that kind of player. Here’s the tough thing: I'm really attached to our (apparent) depth. Characterizing this as a security blanket, and with all the baggage implied thereby, and you’re not far off. I having the bodies.

The trouble is, the Timbers can’t get that level of defender without coughing up some value – and probably someone above the depth level. Well...shit.

There are other options, of course. The club can get serious about blooding Peay, Manning, or both of them, and hope 1) that they come good; and 2) that Manning, if he’s the choice, doesn’t suffer freshman burn-out. This solution strikes me as pretty high-risk, low-upside in the near-term; on the plus side, it could be the tits (or balls) over the long-term. So, call this option "Unterrible."

Option 2 is the most traditional in the world: dig up a quality defender in another league. Hmm...this feels expensive, for one, what with the scouting, the flying, the negotiating, maybe a transfer fee, maybe biding time till the club can pull off a free transfer. After that, you’re left waiting to see if you didn't just put in all that work for another Paparrato. Then again, Paparrato Dos probably beats handing the keys to the heart of the Timbers defense to a noob, so let’s call this "Double-Plus Unterrible."

All the same, I think intra-league trade makes the most sense, I find comfort in known quantities, etc. So, assuming money doesn’t bring the honey to attract the bees, who would I trade?

Well, I can putz around further or just throw Darlington Nagbe on the auction block. The fact that almost certainly won't happen is the only reason I hesitate to argue for it, but there are all kinds of upside to this. For starters, Nagbe would likely bring in a better defender - someone above Keel's level. Second, he's – what? A four-year pro? (Yep) – and the club is no closer to figuring out where or how to play him. This last piece makes the further argument in that anyone else I can think to trade – Rodney Wallace, say, or Alvas Powell – has a clear position that he plays well; in other words, I can make sense of both players' roles on the field...Nagbe, not so much. Of course, I’ll miss those insanely silky ball skills, the just plain touching humility, and, yes, he will almost certainly tear the Timbers' collective sacks in the uniform of some new team, because anger. Yeah, I get it. I still say roll the dice.

Failing that unlikely solution, maybe we can throw a couple depth players into a sack, bundle some allocation money around them, along with our current spot in the allocation order, and see who makes a call. I dunno. All I’m saying is that I’m pretty desperate for a solid defender who can plausibly press for starting, trading-a-team-centerpiece desperate.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Incredible Weight of Sebastian Giovinco

Giovinco! Oh, YEAH!!
Some days, there are stories you just can’t avoid...even when you want to, say, post on your own team's future (and barring the signing of another Italian International, and in his prime, that post on the Portland Timbers' future goes up tomorrow). It is damned hard to duck Toronto FC’s signing of Sebastian Giovinco, an Italian player in the prime of his career, and one a minimum of three months away from suiting up for the Azzurri (see the date on the video in this article...speaking of...).

The tall claim in the title of that article/video kicked off a I call them threads? (Sorry, old.) Does Giovinco possess "a level of overall talent yet to be seen in MLS"? Smart and lively as the man looks in that video, and then there’s the pedigree to consider, the short answer is....I don't know. Part of me wonders why anyone would bother with the question. What point does it serve to determine precisely how tall Giovinco stands in the historical hierarchy of MLS DPs? (And who’s bringing the crates, because 5’ 4”?) The man will show up, he’ll do his thing and...well, we'll see won't we? Maybe he's a prick and his teammates will hate him. Maybe he’ll inspire Toronto to their best season ever (NOTE: low bar). Time will tell.

OK, yes, I get what animates the question: does Giovinco's arrival further legitimize MLS's global brand? Again, and sorry, but I don't know. The more immediate concern comes with what his salary(!) does to the Collective Bargaining Agreement presently under negotiation (and does that get capitalized, or does it just warrant capitalization). That’s a big, complex issue that 1) I can't really get my head around at the moment, and 2) the league will undoubtedly keep the final settlement secret, so, let's just hope it all works out and everyone gets richer. Right?

My favorite angle on all this came from (probably) the Toronto FC front office, notably the claim that Giovinco "completes [the TFC] puzzle." Maybe. Or it could be that TFC loves its shiny toys very, very much. Too much, possibly. Pull up TFC's roster and you'll see those eye-catching signings. What you'll also see are a bunch of defenders that are a year older and a midfield that didn't do an excellent job of covering them. I base this on the fact that TFC tied for fourth-worst defense in MLS (58 goals against) – and while playing in an Eastern Conference that is, generally, regarded as the weaker conference.

The take-away from all this is pretty straightforward. Toronto very likely did get one helluva player in Giovinco - and his signing does look pretty amazing in context. Even allowing for the usual adjustment period, consider his numbers and an entirely respectable level of play in one of the world's undisputed top leagues, as well as a solid number of caps for one of the world's undisputed top national teams: details like that speak volumes, at volume. The question, for TFC fans in particular, is one of balance. Do they have too many great parts in too few places to really compete?

To put the entire weight of the answer on one man's aging legs: can Steven Caldwell manage a defense of relatively unheralded parts competently enough for all the (undoubtedly) beautiful work at the other end to hold up? Come next November no signing, no matter how big, will paper over another missed post-season.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Who Is Winning the 2014-15 MLS Off-Season?

Yep, definitely going with Milwaukee...
The idea for this came, 1) on a slow news day (weekend; i.e. day when media is chillin’); and, 2) when I got it in my head that the Houston Dynamo had “won” the off-season by stopping up all the right holes on their roster.

Look, it was late, I was "tired," etc. The idea did stay with me long enough to want to confirm that thought about Houston. Trouble is, I’m not sure I can anymore.

Before declaring this week’s Kings of the 2014-15 Major League Soccer (MLS) Off-Season, I should lay down some ground rules, acknowledge some biases, and generally admit that, based on the preceding factors, I’m pretty damn close to guessing, darts at a board, etc. I’m very deliberately avoiding organizing all this into rankings. Once the sorting on those things goes to any team outside the clearly best and the clearly worst, the distinctions don’t mean all that much. Especially in a parity-driven league like MLS. OK, moving on:

Ground Rule
While this investigation takes into account the team with which each club ended 2014, it focuses on what each of those clubs have done since to improve. In other words, this is more about what any given team has added versus what it has already got (e.g. so "stacked" teams (see: Galaxy, Los Angeles; Sounders, Seattle)) will only show if they've done something big).

Conceptual Biases
When considering what a new player brings, especially an unknown player (e.g. a solid majority of them), I rate them as follows:

 An MLS player of good reputation is greater than a(n apparently*) good foreign acquisition is greater than a known MLS squad hack is greater than a homegrown player is greater than most players acquired through the Superdraft. I think most of that holds up, but I order the last two the way I do because homegrown players come with the bonus of familiarity with the relevant club and its system.
(* I call my skepticism of this kind of signing the Fernandez/Paparrato Clause.)

So, what did I see as I picked through transactions, rosters, and the surprisingly useful Superdraft previews (all clubs show at the bottom, btw)? First, I noticed that few clubs have so far made big, eye-catching moves. Just about half the league have so far come pretty damn close to standing pat. And two clubs – i.e, the expansion teams – don’t count due to fact they’re building from the ground up for 2015.

OK, next step: which teams do I have in the running? The short list:

Chicago Fire, for their bevy of new forwards, plus one sexy-sounding Romanian;
Columbus Crew, for some late additions from last season (e.g., Emanuel Pogatetz, affectionately dubbed "Pokertits" in this space (please adopt this, Crew fans) plus some Icelander and Chris freakin' Klute;
Houston Dynamo, for the aforementioned savvy way they filled holes at forward and in defense;
Portland Timbers...and not just because I’m a homer; Porter seems to have done some smart things with depth...and Nat Borchers can't hurt...right?
San Jose Earthquakes, well, barely...I like some of their intra-league moves;
Sporting Kansas City, for intra-league stuff, bringing back Roger Espinoza and my perhaps misguided belief that Hungary still produces top-drawer players; and
Toronto FC, again, barely, due mainly to some heavy-lifting at forward.

Rather than go through team-by-team to say why I looked past any of the clubs above, I'm just going to declare the winner and be done. (I don’t think I have the readership to invite people to challenge my opinion in the comments, but any visitors should feel absolutely free to do so.)

And, so, without Freddy Adu, your winner for the first week of the first Kings of the 2014-15 MLS Off-Season...drum-roll...a long one, like the one that plays out on Boston’s Fore Play/Long Time on the first Rock Band...

The Columbus Crew!

Look, this was close and the teams I have for honorable mention (the Chicago, Sporting KC, Houston, and, yeah, San Jose) can all jump ahead of the Crew with only a signing or two. Most of them with just one (especially Houston and KC). In other words, this ain’t over. It’s not even close (as in stay tuned for next week).

So, what sells me on Columbus' rebuild? Not standing pat on an-already-solid base for one. Two, the dreamy way Chris Klute should fit into Gregg Berhalter’s system. I also rate the acquisition of Kei Kamara because his "weird" should blend nicely with the Crew’s generally quirky approach to attack. Pokertits should settle in this season and the Crew’s defense did all least until New England ran them over in the post-season, and they milked the Swedish pipeline for players who performed well in that country; Icelander Kristinn Steindorsson, in particular, seems like he was only getting better with each passing year in Sweden, so yeah.

That’s it for this week. I’ll check back into this next week to see if anyone MLS club has done anything to move the needle.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Jozy Returns: Good, Yet Not Triumphant

Welcome home, Jozy. Brewski?
The big news of the day – that is, Jozy Altidore’s return to Major League Soccer (MLS) – doesn’t feel so big as it once might have. That’s less a knock on Mr. Altidore* than a subtle acknowledgement that signings of “big” American players don’t ripple across the league as a whole the way they used to. And that’s a positive step, even as I’m certain that news likes this hits heavier closer to home (i.e. Toronto FC fans must be tickled; Red Bull New York fans less so).

It’s also worth noting that some number of MLS clubs passed on Altidore due to the high asking price. I heard a big number for Jozy’s salary (can’t recall where) – something like $6 million – but that’s unconfirmed thanks to league policies that bar the fourth estate from talking pesos. Whatever the dollar figure, I hardly begrudge Altidore for asking or taking it. Get paid, son. I do, however, feel a certain quiet respect for my Portland Timbers for passing on what seems to be a bloated salary. Goals are great and all, but who likes paying too much for anything?

Toronto, ever reliable when it comes to spending, bolted past such quibbles. They’ve mastered the trappings of ambition, at least; and yet they’ve taken strides to creating a roster-as-metaphor for U.S. wealth inequality. Fascinating...

* To pick up that asterisk above, Jozy’s probably a good bet to make the over proposed by Taylor Twellman: 12.5 goals in 2015 (thanks, Soccer by Ives’ podcas!). Altidore will be a good player in MLS, maybe even a little better than his service. So, welcome back and all that.

The other side of the transaction, i.e. the piece that sent the long-disgruntled Jermaine Defoe back to (the shittiest little-big club in) England, is no less interesting, in that it brings in a couple current themes. Defoe’s arrival last season, coming as it did in his earlier 30s, offered an encouraging counter to the typical “retirement league” trend/perception that still attaches to MLS. A little echo of the notorious Frank Lampard Situation can be heard in there, too: if one can still play in the top flight, why the flipping hell would one stop doing so? Lampard answered that question – or Manchester City did on his behalf – just as Defoe arguably did with this move. That says a couple things about MLS’s global rep, the implications of which...aren’t so good.

The mini-glut of returning Americans says something as well. It could be roughly the same thing that Mexicans players’ long-standing tradition has said for years and years and that’s...not terrible (e.g. our guys value comforts of home). There’s also the Cheers Effect (going where everyone knows your name).

Like just about anything between now and when the thing is signed, the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) comes into the picture. No, MLS can’t compete with Europe’s glamor leagues, neither in quality or the grandness of the stage. No matter, what MLS Commish Don Garber says, it won’t likely be able to for a decade. If we’re lucky. But what the league chooses to pay players – and this is total compensation (some details mentioned in this very good article) whether for designated players or the regular guys – will definitely influence the extent to which MLS start picking higher quality players from Europe, or even Mexico. I don’t see how more can’t be better for everyone except MLS owners, but even they could ultimately reap greater rewards. Investments, man...

It should be clear now that American players have some in-built motivation to return to the States to play. They’re people here, if nothing else, and able to command cash and respect. Drawing good, younger players from Europe (or Mexico) constitutes the next big step. And what happens with the CBA definitely matters there.

The Sarvas Trade: The Tale of a Goal-less Draw (that a shoot-out may yet resolve)

Follow the look into my eyes and see your future!
(Photo credit: Pablo Maurer)
Did Colorado Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni twirl the ends of that glorious mustache whilst discussing the trade that brought Marcelo Sarvas from the Los Angeles Galaxy to the Rocky Mountain side? I imagine he did because this deal is weird enough going both ways to feel a little sinister..., let us never speak of that mustache again. Don’t wanna get the vapors.

OK, first, who thinks Sarvas likes this trade? It’s enough to put a Brazilian in Colorado, but after a couple years in sunny LA? Factor in the slumming element of going first to virtually-worst and one has to imagine the man is packing one article of clothing at a time, glumly, and over the course of several days.

The deeper question, though, is how all this work on the field for both clubs.

For Colorado, this move brings in “winning” and with savvy to a shell-shocked club. Apparently, Sarvas will also cover an anticipated departure: I read somewhere (can’t recall where) that Spaniard Jose Mari is on his way out. So, far so good. The man has his fans among pundits I trust (Mr. Analyst; no, I don’t read super-widely anymore), but he’s one of those players I can’t get my head around. This suggests talents that are both efficient and unspectacular. As such, expect Sarvas to do the yeoman thing – e.g. to work to make his alleged betters better – but that introduces the issue of age. Sarvas ain’t exactly young, which begs the question of how he’ll hold up; that looms larger with each piece of physical/cognitive/emotional stone he’ll be asked to carry for the Rocky Mountain’s most grabastic club.

All the above is a long way of saying that I get what Colorado gets out of the trade, but, were I a Rapids man, I’d have wanted Juninho’s legs and long-range cannon..maybe Mr. Mastroeni twirled the wrong side of the ‘stache? (Ach, vapors! Swoon!)

With LA, this boils down to replacing one old-timing player (Sarvas) with another, higher-profile old-timing player (Steven Gerrard; say, anyone interested in a really colorless story about how he was acquired?). Now, I’ve heard it argued (somewhere in this podcast (hope that link works)) that fans/concerned citizens shouldn’t worry about Gerrard’s legs because he’d have Juninho and Sarvas buzzing around behind and/or around him. Well, there goes half that working theory. Appointing some younger legs to run in support provides the obvious solution, but no obvious names appear on LA’s current roster. Maybe Kenney Walker’s ready for that role? (And welcome to the limits of my knowledge of LA’s roster!)

In this blog’s short history, I admitted to not being sold on the Gerrard signing: I suspect that he’ll have just one well-adjusted year in a Galaxy uniform, by which time he will definitely be old. I get that LA wanted and/or needed a big name and that Gerrard can still ball...for now. Those of us of a certain age know how quickly, cruelly, and absolutely your body turns on you; in that scheme, two years is a long time. LA shipped Sarvas too early if you ask me...

To go the other way, lord knows Colorado needs composure - any team that collapses thoroughly as they did in 2014 needs layers of security blankets – but it’s hard to see what on-field attributes Sarvas brings to the club beyond that. If the legs aren’t able, your club has arguably just drafted an something closer to an assistant coach...but one who's on the field, taking up a spot...

So...did anyone win this thing? LA, but only if they bring in Sacha Kljestan (though that leaves open the question of where they play him).