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.

No comments:

Post a Comment