Sporting KC, RBNY lead the list of MLS teams having the best off-seasons so far

By IVES GALARCEP

The MLS off-season isn’t quite a month old yet, but several Major League Soccer teams have been extremely busy rebuilding and revamping their rosters ahead of the 2013 campaign.

Sporting Kansas City has lead the way, with some smart moves and some gutsy signings, while the New York Red Bulls have also enjoyed an outstanding December since the 2012 season ended, bidding farewell to Rafa Marquez in one of the best moves of the month.

Though it should be obvious to all, there are still two more months to go in the off-season, and plenty of teams are still lining up their big moves for the coming weeks, but there is no denying that this has been the busiest December in MLS history for off-season maneuvering.

So which MLS teams have had the best first month of the MLS off-season? Here is a look at the ten teams having the best off-seasons so far:

1. SPORTING KANSAS CITY

The Eastern Conference regular season champions looked set to have a dismal off-season with Roger Espinoza heading to Wigan and Matt Besler a free agent, but Sporting KC has enjoyed a dream off-season.

Along with re-signing Besler, KC also traded for Benny Feilhaber and Ike Opara, two classic buy-low maneuvers that could pay off handsomely. They then signed former LDU Quito striker Claudio Bieler as a Designated Player to help give their attack a boost.

2. NEW YORK RED BULLS

If you are a Red Bulls fan you could not have asked for a better off-season after yet another disappointing campaign. The team dumped head coach Hans Backe, then pulled off a blockbuster trade to acquire Jamison Olave and Fabian Espindola. They also added a  playmaker in Brazilian veteran Juninho Pernambucano, who could wind up being the team’s most important acquisition.

The most important move of all though was the disposal of Rafa Marquez, a complete flop of a signing, and a player who the team desperately needed to get rid of. The team has also made a pair of Homegrown Player signings to replenish their empty cupboard of young talent. All in all, a quality off-season so far (which is impressive considering they haven’t signed a head coach yet). How the team fills their open Designated Player slot, and who they hire as head coach, will ultimately determine whether they stand atop this list when we get to March.

3. PHILADELPHIA UNION

Anyone who watched the Union last season knows just how much their attack struggled, and how poor finishing doomed them to an awful season. Head coach John Hackworth has addressed that by trading for Sebastien LeToux and landing Conor Casey via the Re-Entry draft.

The Union also bolstered the defense by adding veteran centerback and local product Jeff Parke. Adding three quality veterans without spending much is impressive, but the Union still have more work to do to return to the playoffs in 2013.

4. PORTLAND TIMBERS

The Timbers have not been shy about making moves since new head coach Caleb Porter took charge, and their maneuvering is paying dividends early on. The acquisition of Will Johnson was one of the best of this off-season, while the addition of Michael Harrington was a smart and underrated move. Their trading of the No. 3 pick in the 2013 MLS Draft, along with back-up goalkeeper Joe Bendik for Ryan Johnson and Milos Kocic was another  good bit of business.

The Timbers also succeeded in re-negotiating Danny Mwanga’s deal to keep him in Portland. They could wind up near the top of this list if they succeed in landing a playmaker and if they succeed in unloading Kris Boyd. The Timbers also made some moves that can help long-term in the acquisition of youngster Mobi Fehr, and the acquiring of the Homegrown Player rights to Akron defender Bryan Gallego.

5. LOS ANGELES GALAXY

David Beckham leaving the Galaxy wasn’t a great way to start the off-season, and Landon Donovan’s future remains uncertain, but LA has still had a solid first month of the off-season. Their signing of star college forward Gyasi Zardes was a major victory for LA, and they cleared the way for Zardes to take on a big role by trading Edson Buddle for allocation money. LA also made a killing in the Re-Entry draft, landing winger Colin Clark and Will Hesmer, two players who could wind up being starters.

6. HOUSTON DYNAMO

The Dynamo haven’t added a ton of players, but their move to sign several key players to new contracts is a positive move. That isn’t why they made this list though. Houston’s acquisition of Omar Cummings was a shrewd move and classic Dom Kinnear steal. Cummings has endured some injury-hit seasons, as well as Colorado’s poor play the past two years, but now he joins a strong Dynamo attack and could enjoy a breakout 2013 season.

7. TORONTO FC

Paul Mariner’s side needed to shed salary and pulled that off with their trading of Ryan Johnson and Milos Kocic for the No. 3 pick in the 2013 MLS Draft, a pick that should land them a Generation adidas player (GA players don’t count against the salary cap). TFC also added a solid veteran defender in Danny Califf. TFC edges past RSL for the No. 7 slot courtesy of the acquisition of Gale Agbossoumonde via lottery.

Another major move for TFC involved the hiring of Kevin Payne as the team’s new president, which has to be seen as a plus given Payne’s track record.

8. REAL SALT LAKE 

Losing Will Johnson, Jamison Olave and Fabian Espindola isn’t exactly the way you make this list, but a team in dire need of salary cap relief has found just that, while also accumulating more than $500,000 in allocation money to sign new players. They also re-signed several key players to new long-term deals. They still have work to do though, with Javier Morales’ re-signing a key priority along with adding a forward.

9. COLORADO RAPIDS

Parting ways with Conor Casey and Omar Cummings couldn’t have been easy, but Oscar Pareja’s side did bring in Edson Buddle from Los Angeles as well as Atiba Harris from Vancouver. They were able to hold on to Marvell Wynne, and they grabbed Eric Avila in the Re-Entry Draft.

10. NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION

The Revs have quietly put together a solid first month of the off-season. They signed former Rev Andy Dorman, and signed Homegrown Player Scott Caldwell, a standout college player at Akron. The Revs also succeeded in unloading Benny Feilhaber, who they had no intention of keeping anyway, for a tidy haul.

New England also added some depth with the Re-Entry Draft selections of Chad Barrett and Hunter Freeman. Another move made by the Revs before the official end of the 2012 season was the addition of Malian midfielder Kalifa Cisse, a strong midfielder who should step in and anchor the Revs midfield.

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30 Responses to Sporting KC, RBNY lead the list of MLS teams having the best off-seasons so far

  1. 5280 says:

    Colorado, in my biased opinion, should be much higher. At least higher than Salt Lake. Yeah, losing Casey and Cummings…come on, folks, this isn’t 2010. Those guys aren’t what they used to be together. They’ve brought in an interesting cadre of new players who should shake the system up. I’m not booking hotel reservations yet for an MLS Cup final for the Rapids in 2013, but they should be drastically improved.

  2. jc says:

    LA should be a lot lower. A Beckless and a questionable Landon could force LA to not even make the playoffs next season even with the additions of Clarke, Hesmer and an unproven Zardes.

    • Ives Galarcep says:

      Donovan hasn’t made a decision yet and Beckham’s move was known well before the off-season, so not really going to give them a big hit for those. And it’s convenient to call Zardes “unproven” but fact is he’s a highly-rated forward and would be the No.1 pick in the draft if he were in this draft. THAT is why the signing is big for them. They grabbed a No. 1 pick talent for free. They also unloaded an ineffective Buddle for allocation money and they grabbed two quality players in Clark and Hesmer for free. Solid moves so far.

      • A says:

        Never played a game in MLS = unproven.

        How many top picks flame out? Exactly.

      • Brian says:

        I love how everyone thinks MLS bends its rules to allow the Galaxy to load up on talent. Just think how much complaining we’re going to hear when more and more of SoCal’s talent starts showing up on the Galaxy’s roster. McBean and Villareal both saw time, albeit limited, on the pitch and I think Zardes is more MLS ready right now than either of them.

    • bottlcaps says:

      LA will have one DP spot open, and you can bet that the winter transfer season which starts next week will see the Galaxy busy. If Mourinho takes Kaka off the market, the European papers have linked several stars with moves to LA including Didier Drogba (highly improbable), Carlo Cudicinni (Why?) Frank Lampard ( a big maybe, but doesn’t fit into LA’s stated goal of getting a player who could appeal to the Hispanic sports base in LA.) If they do leave the DP spot open, I guarantee it will be filled with a player commensurate with Beckham in the next summer transfer period.

      I think that LA’s eyes were open on what an excellent winger can do to open up the center of the field. Wilhelmmson’a crosses were spot on, but he was easily injured and still had miscommunications and rust, that lack of playing time indicated. The Galaxy still have to get Juninho back, a game they play with Sao Paulo every year. I think the Galaxy will need a midfielder to fill Beckhams’s slot AND another forward, preferably a big, lune forward type. Donovan is up in the air (but the Galaxy seem to think he’s coming back..no problem) and they dealt away Barrett and Buddle and McBean has shown promise, but at 18, it’s a bit early to put pressure on him.

      I don’t think you have heard the last of the Galaxy in the “silly season”

    • The Imperative Voice says:

      Re Zardes you never know if the homegrown is the next Agudelo or the usual roster filler. Heck, if they follow through on the rumored USL deal maybe he’s even playing for someone else this year. So we’ll see.

      Colin Clark, though, is a “nothing” addition. Much as I hope Cummings is the speed striker the Dynamo need, we have a history of picking up injured Rapids players who don’t do much here. Clark had a modest 2011 and disappeared in 2012. A primary problem is he is slow post-knee-op. He’s a technical crossing type wing these days but he needs a jetpack to get open to hit the cross. If you are a crosser who can’t get open to cross, what’s your value?

      Hesmer, also hurt, that feels like flailing about, but LA’s won two with Saunders, and while I think they are uncomfortable with him, I think they like the idea of moderating GK expense while using experienced players. Which has worked the last two years well enough.

  3. Al_OC says:

    Any team getting Chad Barrett shouldn’t make the top 10.

  4. Aljarov says:

    I think the fact NY hasn’t appointed a head coach should be a black mark against them. They also lost a LOT of depth with the departures this winter (most notably of Solli, Tainio, Le Toux, even guys like Guadette/Keel). Marquez departure is putting rose-tinted outlook on this.

    TFC – who I do support, but seldom have anything good to say about – should be much higher. New President is a massive move (and arguably bigger than any), Califf and Agbossoumonde good additions, and trades so far have been mostly good.

    • Ives Galarcep says:

      Solli and Tainio weren’t nearly that productive in 2012 and LeToux was never a factor and not in their plans. That leaves Gaudette and Keel. Gaudette was never going to see the field with Robles and Meara around and Keel is fourth choice behind Olave, Holgersson and Pearce. Never saw the field in second half of 2012. As for the coach thing, they aren’t playing games soon so why exactly should that be a “black mark”?

      As for TFC, I moved them from 8 to 7 thanks to Agbossoumonde. As things stand right now though, not ready to put them much higher. Califf is far from a sure thing. For my money he’s on the downslide. His new salary number will tell the tale of just what sort of value TFC is getting there. I could see how some might put them as high as 5, but there’s no way I see them higher than 5 as things stand right now.

    • The Imperative Voice says:

      I like the Olave and Espindola moves. I think the Marquez move freed up a lot of cap space and potential for better team spirit. But I think signing a middie who will be 38 before he kicks a ball was a classic NY backward step. I also think that to the extent the Cooper trade rumors had a kernel of truth, they also poisoned that well somewhat, which I didn’t think was wise considering Henry had fewer goals and has to start going downhill sometime. And I’m a little bit concerned that as the combine and draft start to approach, there is not an announced coach as the European window dwindles, as well as a clear sense the “ins” and “outs” reflect his teambuilding sense as opposed to people Houllier likes. Though Juninho will likely still be able to do free kicks, my definite sense is he will be in over his head physically in MLS at his age. That reeks of Houllier to bring in a fellow Francais with no seeming inkling of the requisites to play MLS ball on a weekly basis.

  5. The Imperative Voice says:

    Far as KC is concerned, Bieler is either the sniper they need or not. Whatever people may think of KC’s style of play, the key to their success will be signing someone who can precisely finish in, say, a playoff situation.

    I like Philly’s offseason because if you go back to their expansion year, it was a good team that was going to be a beast until Pescadito left. Then they lost LeToux and weren’t even a playoff side. I think they have an interesting bunch of young players in their middle lines, what they need is no Adu and then some finishers up top.

    Portland, I would be more impressed if there was one elite player in the bunch. I think they are building back up but nothing about their acquisitions screams contender. Maybe if they’d gotten Diskerud, but that’s disappeared from the radar.

    Ditto Toronto, the team I was watching just seemed light on talent like it was as bad as it should be. I don’t know if you resolve that with draft picks and Danny Califf. I think they needed young MLS vets who are upgrades from what they have.

    Houston, depends on whether Cummings is the stud he used to be or broken down. I’m also a little concerned we’re standing pretty pat with an ageing roster….Ching and a long list of other players are near or past 30. This may be another one of those, wait til next summer to judge Kinnear jobs. I think we still need a CAM and some backline upgrades to push for a title, and still nothing on those fronts.

    RSL, cap room is nice but it’s all about how you use it, I think from a practical perspective a team that strips down its roster has weakened itself until the subsequent acquisitions show otherwise.

  6. Nate says:

    I’m so glad NYRB are having such a great off-season! I wish them the best off-season this and every year! Hopefully it makes up for the crappy in-season they had last year. And the year before that. And the year before that. Etc. And I hope they are happy and well rested for the many crappy in-seasons to come! Happy holidays!!

  7. AMPhibian says:

    love the content here, thanks ives. there is so much going on with mls, ea sports needs to give it a game of it’s own. i want to do superdrafts, supplemental drafts, re-entry drafts, and even expansion drafts, and fantasy drafts!

  8. Chicago Pete (annoyed) says:

    So is Chicago going to sit around and do nothing again in the off-season? Oh wait, they will lose a a bunch of points during the season then try and put bandaids on the team and try to convince people here in Chicago that they are a contender. How about a preseason tournament or two? Oh wait, they don’t do that either. How about showing some signs of life in the off-season? Oh wait, NOPE!!!!!!!!!!

  9. Sean says:

    For me, getting rid of Roy Miller at NYRB would be the icing on the cake of a very good two months since the club’s embarassing exit from the playoffs. That would mean that just about every move was done right for a change. Positive stuff.

  10. Benny Dargle says:

    Galaxy also signed another home grown product in Oscar Sorto, who is currently on the U-20 US roster. He’s not going to set the world on fire from right fullback, but he could provide quality depth and permit Franklin to slot in at right midfield in some games. Sorto played a lot of reserve games for LA last year while still an Academy player, so he has already started the integration process into the squad. It’s just another indication that the Galaxy isn’t only playing the DP game, but has invested well in its youth set-up. It clearly has advantages over other MLS clubs with the homegrown rule because of the hotbed of talent in Southern California, which is probably the key for a team to maintain prolonged success under the salary cap.

  11. el paso tx wants NASL says:

    Kaka is not coming bcus his boss at real madrid is playing with his mind, poor guy. Drogba should come to mls since seattle, red bull, galaxy, chicago…..well in other words any mls team would love him but I’m sad ronaldinho decided to stay in brazil. In other news, mls should go for 4 or even 5 dps in 2014 Due to the world cup effect, since many players who will not make the world cup, can sign witfh mls and for those who make the world cup, they can sign after. For example, torres, ronaldinho,kaka, iker, tevez, lampard, terry, maybe raul or trezegue can come to mls. Mls should target 2014 for a higher salary, new dp rules, maybe new name for the league and logo because for sure cosmos or orlando might be in the league by then.

  12. WorldCitizen says:

    Too bad roughly half of the players Ives is rather laughably touting as worthy acquisitions above are nothing more than brutally mediocre MLS journeymen who at best might be able to make their new teams just average enough to emulate Colorado’s embarrassing (for MLS) 2010 feats. Those (like myself) who truly wish to see MLS succeed appear to be left yet again to hope that MLS eventually pulls its head out and realizes that 4-6 truly quality players per team just isn’t frickin’ good enough!

    • Ives Galarcep says:

      We get it, you don’t rate MLS. That doesn’t make any of your exaggerated statements about the league’s lack of quality any more legitimate. Nobody’s calling MLS La Liga, but many of those MLS players you have questioned as being below average are players Klinsmann has taken repeated looks at. Guess he sees something you don’t, and I’m guessing he’s not alone.

      • WorldCitizen says:

        Hey, genius — if I “don’t rate MLS,” then why do I care about its success? I never said MLS sucked, because *that* would be exaggerated (and untrue). Quite the ego you’ve got there, Ives, that you can’t even tolerate a little criticism of your choices without getting your panties in a wad. MLS is a fine little circuit on the whole, but where it can and should do better, people ought to say so. Of course, you’ve never demonstrated the courage to do that, so…’nuff said.

        • Ives Galarcep says:

          So defending my selections is “getting my panties in a wad”? If you say so (though not really).

          Nobody ever called MLS the finished product, or a top league, but it’s better than you give it credit for being. Your disdain for MLS is pretty clear for all to see in you comments, even with your cute “I care about MLS” claim. It’s all good though. No one ever said anybody had to like MLS.

      • WorldCitizen says:

        And BTW, Ives, several of the players I was referring to are barely on Klinsmann’s radar (if at all). And as for those who are, it strongly suggests instead that he sees something *you* don’t — that the U.S. player pool, even after nearly two decades of MLS, remains so sadly shallow that such average players are somehow still among the best Klinsi has to choose from!

  13. las manos siempre en los bolsillos de su gaban says:

    what ive heard from argentinians is skc shouldnt expect much for bieler. guy was highly touted when making the move to racing and he bombed out badly. it is still a running joke (like vancouver and jarju, or dallas and the brazilian)

    His numbers for liga de quito are good but they say its inflated due to liga de quito being the best team in ecuador and much weaker competition.

    food for thought! overall, i hope the best for a team that plays attractively!

  14. Paul Miller says:

    D.C.? They still do have a front office, right? I mean, I know there’s no one in that office space, but the office is still there, isn’t it?

    Good article. I’ll be pretty interested to see Zardes in the MLS. Thought he was going to try overseas. There’s a couple others coming in I’ll be interested to follow, like defenders Farrell, Zimmerman and Woodberry (homegrown with Dallas).

  15. WorldCitizen says:

    Also, the idea that the Red Bulls are having a great offseason is a straw man just waiting to be torched by the flames of reality. For the fact remains that RBNY is once again being run by pedigreed show dogs (G. Houllier, A. Roxburgh, quite possibly G. MacAllister) whose knowledge of MLS and American soccer is roughly zero — a long-standing recipe for MLS failure. Any idiot can see that they’re better off without Rafa “El Trenwreck” Marquez, but Thierry Henry’s antics are not much classier, and he will remain a prima donna problem child holding his teammates in contempt and loath to accept any coaching. Olave is at least something of an upgrade in the back, but Espindola offers no more than LeToux did and Juninho will likely prove unable to cope with the speed and unchecked physicality of MLS. Even so, there are probably just enough teams that are worse to see RBNY make the playoffs again, but once again, the operative question won’t be “can they win it all?” but rather “how will the wheels come flying off this time?”