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Winners and Losers of MLS Offseason

Today’s the day. It’s finally here. The 2014 Major League Soccer Season is finally here. Now that the offseason is officially over and first kick-off is only hours away, we can finally take a look at the offseason as a whole and see who came out on top. Frankly, this offseason may have been the busiest and biggest offseason in Major League Soccer history. Chivas USA was purchased by MLS, Beckham exercised his option for MLS ownership in Miami, Orlando was granted an expansion team, there was a slew of big signings, and we even had two contract disputes that potentially highlighted loopholes in MLS contracts. It was a certainly a change from the normal MLS offseason, and hopefully will be signs of things to come as the league continues to grow.

Now, let’s get to the heart of the matter. Who were the winners of this offseason? The losers? Which teams exceeded expectations? Which teams didn’t do enough? Let’s first take a look at the Eastern Conference, and which teams were the winners of this offseason.

Who?

Why?

DC United DC United made very smart moves this offseason. They declined options on several players, transferred Jakovic to Shimizu S-Pulse, and did not re-sign Iapachino after his contract ended. DC United essentially cleaned house, and cleaned up their financial books in the process. Eight of the top 10 earners in salary from the 2013 season are no longer with the team. Pontius, who was the second-highest earner with $330K, and Kitchen, who earned $105K in 2013, were the two players who remained on the team. According to the 2013 salary information provided by MLS, DC United freed up $1,776,500 in base salary cap space, which is 57% of the expected 2014 salary cap of $3,100,000. The team has then used these funds to heavily upgrade their roster by bringing in Eddie Johnson from Seattle, Davy Arnaud from Montreal, Sean Franklin from LA Galaxy, Bobby Boswell from Houston, Connor Doyle from Derby County, Fabian Espindola from New York Red Bulls, Jeff Parke from Philadelphia, and Steve Birnbaum from University of Cal-Berkeley. Boswell, Espindola, and Franklin were required via the Waiver draft, while Arnaud, Johnson and Parke were acquired via trade. The team’s starting 11 and bench look entirely different, and will use this new-found talent to greatly improve on what was one of the worst single seasons in MLS history.
Philadelphia Union Philadelphia, who has typically been a quiet team during the offseason, made some key player additions in the past couple of months. The Union signed two designated players, US international Maurice Edu and 27-year old Cristian Maidana, and also brought in Vincent Noguiera, who has seven seasons and 114 games of experience in Ligue 1. The team freed up $1,001,885, which is 32% of the 2014 salary cap, in base salary cap space with seven players leaving the team. They didn’t do as much of a roster purge as DC United did, but they did waive Kléberson and trade Jeff Parke, who were the first and third highest salary earners from the 2013 season. The two players alone freed up $700K in base salary cap space for Philadelphia (Kléberson – $495K, Parke $205K). Waiving Kléberson freed up their only used designated player slot. After using two of their three designated player spots, Philadelphia is left with one remaining designated player slot, which they can use to sign a player during the summer. Philadelphia didn’t lose much, but added three potential starters that will fit well into the team’s 4-3-3 system. The added talent will certainly help the team in their push for a playoff spot, and they could well end up finishing in the top three of a wide-open Eastern Conference.
Toronto FC Everyone has heard the noise Toronto FC has been making, and everyone has seen the cash they’ve been spending. The hopes it’s big-name additions will allow the team to rise from the cellar of the Eastern conference, and push their way into the MLS Playoffs. Since December, Toronto has added nine players, with four of them being very newsworthy. Gilberto, Jermain Defoe, and Michael Bradley all signed designated player contracts while Julio Cesar signed a full season loan. They’ve been able to add all of these players because they parted with 12 players from last year’s roster, freeing up $2,651,699.88 in base salary cap space, which is roughly 86% of the 2014 salary cap. Toronto FC has used the financial power their owner/investor group has to bring in players who will play a very key role in bringing this team into the spotlight. After spending as much money as they did, they’ll expect nothing less than making the playoffs and contending for the MLS Cup. If they’re able the gel and find chemistry quick, then those expectations may become a reality.

For every winner, there must be a loser. When looking at each team, I looked at who the teams let go, who they brought in, and what impact these moves made. Here’s the one team from the East that was this offseason’s loser.

Who?

Why?

New York Red Bulls New York Red Bulls acquired some players and parted with some players, but what makes them the loser of the Eastern Conference is what they didn’t do rather than what they did do. I already talked about what DC United, Philadelphia Union, and Toronto FC did to improve their teams, but other Eastern Conference teams improved as well. Chicago added some depth to their back that struggled last season. Columbus brought in a slew of new players as Greg Berhalter begins his first season as their head coach. New England Revolution added a starting goalkeeper, and depth to their attack. NYRB didn’t improve, and that’s what may hurt them. When there’s rumors of players wanting to come to MLS, NY or LA are mentioned as preferred destinations. NYRB certainly could have added players to keep up with the rest of the offseason moves that happened in the East, especially with one designated player slot available to use. NYRB is the reigning 2013 Supporter’s Shield Champion, but that doesn’t mean a number of these upgraded teams couldn’t overtake them.

 

Now, let’s move on to the Western Conference. Just as I did when looking at the East, I chose three teams that were the winners of this offseason.

Who?

Why?

Chivas MLS In my opinion, this team should be an obvious choice as a winner of the offseason. The team has changed drastically since December and these changes may be related to MLS buying the team in late February. The team will then be sold to a new owner, and rebrand prior to the 2015 season. As I mentioned last week, league officials have been feeding advice and opinions to the Chivas MLS front office for the past two years. The roster transactions, both players going out and players coming in, may have been a result of MLS coming closer to full control of the club, and results of advice from the league. The team parted with 15 players total and freed up $1,059,624 in base salary cap space, which is 34% of the 2014 salary cap. New players were brought in; both young, promising players, and older, experienced players. Several players were brought in and will play key roles as starters, or reliable substitutes. Andrew Jean-Baptiste was traded from Portland, Mauro Rosales was traded from Seattle, Thomas McNamara was acquired through the draft, and Leandro Barrera signed on from Argentinos Juniors. Agustin Pelletieri, Luke Moore, Tony Lochhead, Daniel Fragoso, and Adolfo Bautista were also transferred in. Jorge Vergara is gone and so is the influence of CD Guadalajara. All of the seven players on loan from the mothership team, except Erick Torres, returned to Mexico by the end of the 2013 season. The new 2014 Chivas MLS will no longer feature Corona and will go without a sponsor as the league continues to separate itself from the Mexican identity and heritage the club was centered on. The offseason proved to be one of drastic changes for Chivas MLS, both in terms of front office moves and roster moves. The improved roster and league-ran front office will bring good fortunes as the team hopes to improve on their last place finish in the Western Conference. The team could contend for the final playoff spot, but I’m not sure if that’ll happen just yet. That and more could certainly be in the club’s future, and the roster built in this offseason lays the foundation for the club’s future.
FC Dallas FC Dallas was able to quietly make splashes this offseason, which is a great thing. With eyes on Toronto, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Miami, Dallas was able to bring back an important figure to the team, and add talented, young players. Dallas was able to lure Óscar Pareja, who played for the team from 1998-2005 and was an assistant from 2005 to 2011, back to the team to become its new head coach. Pareja is very familiar with the organization and its ownership, so he won’t need time to adjust to a new organization or setting. The team freed up $1,800,526, which is 58% of the 2014 salary cap, in base salary cap space as 10 players left the team. The team then brought in Hendry Thomas from Colorado, Adam Moffatt from Seattle, and former University of Virginia standout Brian Spann, who spent two seasons in the Swedish first division. David Texieria, a 22-year old player who’s played in the Eredivise since 2011, was signed as a young designated player and Andres Escobar was signed on loan from Dynamo Kiev, but he will also occupy a designated player spot. Dallas brought in young talent to sure up their starting 11, and added depth to their attack. Dallas started the 2013 season of strong, and with an attack like theirs, I wouldn’t be surprised if they duplicate that and continue it throughout the season. This team has playoff capability, but they can’t let themselves become their own worst enemy as they did last season.
Portland Timbers Portland won the Western Conference last season, and finished second in the` Supporter’s Shield race. They then lost in semi-finals of the MLS Cup Playoffs to Real Salt Lake. Portland sees 12 players leave the squad, but only one, Ryan Johnson, logged significant minutes. This is very positive for the team as they freed up $889,847, which is 28% of the 2014 salary cap, in base salary cap space without losing much. They didn’t lose much, but they added two projected starters in Gastón Hernández and Norberto Paparatto, and a third key player in Steve Zakuani, who could also see a significant amount of playing time. Hernandez is a facilitating forward, but he also has the potential to score 10+ goals. Paparatto will organize the backline, which had the tendency to develop large gaps last season. Portland added more than they lost, and were able ti fill team needs that will greatly benefit the team going forward. This may be the most complete team from top to bottom in the league, so this season is certainly promising for the Timbers.

 

The loser of the Western conference was the loser for very different reasons than why the New York Red Bulls were the loser of the Eastern Conference. New York didn’t go forward or backwards, but this team went backwards—in a big way.

Who?

Why?

Colorado Rapids Colorado has a similar case to New York Red Bulls. Almost every team in their conference improved, while they didn’t do much. Colorado lost its coach, and two starters in Atiba Harris and Hendry Thomas. Colorado did make some additions of its own, but they were mainly SuperDraft picks who have yet to play a game in MLS. The subtractions outweigh the additions in this case. They didn’t do enough compared to other teams in their conference, and if last year’s rookies Dillon Powers, Deshorn Brown, Shane O’Neill, and Clint Irwin have sophomore slumps, then the team may struggle. Colorado barely made it in to the playoffs by way of a tie-breaker over San Jose, so they may easily miss the playoffs if the absences of Harris and Thomas show, and if their star players have slumps.

 

Now, take this all in, and enjoy the weekend. I’m assuming you already have your calendar marked, but the season kicks off at 3PM EST as Seattle hosts reigning MLS Cup Champions Sporting Kansas City. My two must watch games for this weekend are Portland Timbers hosting Philadelphia Union at 10:30PM EST, and then Chivas MLS hosting Chicago Fire at 3PM EST on Sunday afternoon. It’s going to be a wonderful weekend of soccer, and I can’t wait to see which team truly shows why they were the winners of this offseason.




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