[MLS] Like the season itself, the MLS evaluation of new players can be broken down into two halves: those who started 2010 with their new teams, and those don’t get onto the field until after the World Cup. Here's a look at Soccer America's ranking of the top MLS newcomers ...
1. Joel Lindpere, New York
2. Alvaro Saborio, Real Salt Lake
3. Juninho, Los Angeles
4. Ryan Smith, Kansas City
5. Jimmy Nielsen, Kansas City
The second half of the MLS season brings a second wave of newcomers, as teams tweak their rosters during the domestic transfer window.
That window doesn’t close until Aug. 15, yet there’s already been a healthy influx of arrivals whose impact could be considerable. A big, robust target man might be just what Seattle needs to move up the Western Conference standings, and by late September, Blaise Nkufo could be right alongside Red Bulls midfielder Joel Lindpere and Real Salt Lake forward Alvaro Saborio; they have been the freshest new faces so far in 2010.
Saborio (7 goals, 4 assists) has taken over much of attacking burden so amply shouldered by Yura Movsisyan, who left champion RSL last winter to play in Denmark. Midfield fulcrum Lindpere (15 games, 1 goal, 3 assists) is re-shaping the holding midfield role into more of a two-way function few players in this league can match. He’s a busy sort – 23 fouls committed, 24 suffered – and to get through half a season in that position with just one caution means he’s either sneaky, or just good.
Also filling important jobs for their teams are Galaxy midfielder Juninho, so far the most impressive of three Brazilians signed during the winter, Dynamo central mid Lovel Palmer and Chicago left back Krzystof Krol. Yet not many offseason additions have dramatically improved their teams.
Ryan Smith scorched foes for the first two months in a Kansas City uniform before fading, and keeper Jimmy Nielsen has been solid if not outstanding in the nets. Smith leads the Wizards with six assists, and Nielsen’s hot-and-cold season encompasses some highlight-reel saves and a few howlers as well.
Expansion Philadelphia plays 12 of its final 16 matches at home, which will give U.S. international defender Michael Orozco and Colombian attacker Roger Torres plenty of moments to contribute. The playoffs are a longshot for the Union but with all those home games it’s certainly possible.
Stephane Auvray is a central cog in midfield for KC, similar to the role Joseph Niouky has taken for New England in the absence of Jeff Larentowicz, who was traded to Colorado. Another Revs newcomer, Marko Perovic, has scored three goals for the impotent Revs, who need other players to take the load off Perovic and Kheli Dube. Perovic, a crafty left-sided player whose adjustment to MLS has been relatively smooth, can upgrade the team’s scoring if given some support.
Former USL Player of the Year Joey Gjertsen has scored just one goal in 11 matches for a San Jose team much improved over its squads of 2008 and 2009, which combined won only 15 of 60 games. Gjertsen’s influence is greater than his stats yet he, and all newcomers, will be tested more severely now that MLS teams have evaluated strengths and weaknesses. Injuries have prevented Javier Robles and Eduardo from adding much to the Quakes.
(Defender Adrian Cann has shored up the middle of TFC’s defense, but as a 2004 SuperDraft pick of Colorado who played two games for the Rapids that season, he’s not eligible for the Newcomer of the Year Award.)
Forwards Collins John (Chicago) and Danny Allsopp (D.C. United) have been disappointing; a recent addition to Chivas USA, Giancarlo Maldonado, has played only 82 minutes of league play yet scored once during SuperLiga competition. In his first two games, Milton Rodriguez boosted the attacking play of FC Dallas, which had been overly reliant on Jeff Cunningham, who scored a league-best 17 goals last year but has only four in 2010.
Several major names are now on the scene. If Nery Castillo can somehow propel the Fire into contention for the Eastern Conference title, or Thierry Henry (New York) or Mista (Toronto) can do the same for their teams, they will merit consideration for Newcomer of the Year.
The most important part of the MLS season is the playoffs, but the second half of regular-season play can dramatically alter how those playoffs turn out, and top-notch attackers are especially valuable as pressure builds and games get tighter.