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...

No comments:

Post a Comment