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MLS's strong get stronger with offseason moves
by Ridge Mahoney, December 19th, 2010 2:50PM

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[MLS] In the wake of the first-ever Re-Entry Draft and a two-team Expansion Draft and a few trades and many options declined, here's a ranking of how teams look based on last year's performance and whatever recent moves they've made. ...

1. REAL SALT LAKE. Though it passed on the Re-Entry Draft, 2009 champion RSL also didn’t lose any players. It stabilized a vital long-term component by signing Alvaro Saborio to a four-year contract and by getting him a green card opened up a senior international slot. Even though he counts $335,000 – minus any allocation money used to soften the hit -- against the cap as a DP, he should be good value. Adding Arturo Alvarez injects some speed and flank flair.

2. COLORADO. Re-Entry Draft pickup Tyrone Marshall looked a lot older than his 36 years at times for Seattle last season, but as an experienced backup to Drew Moor and Marvell Wynne he isn’t a bad addition to the 2010 champs. Trading to get back Anthony Wallace from Portland after the expansions draft made sense, as did picking up winger Sanna Nyassi. The Rapids look set unless Omar Cummings gets a nice foreign offer, notwithstanding the team’s proclamation that he’s not for sale.

3. FC DALLAS. There are some holes to fill, with Dax McCarty and Atiba Harris gone in the Expansion Draft and Jeff Cunningham claimed by Columbus in the Re-Entry Draft. FCD groomed some impressive backups last season: Eric Alexander, Eric Avila, Milton Rodriguez, etc. It probably needs backups for those former backups, and maybe keeper Chris Seitz can get it together with Kevin Hartman as a mentor.

4. LOS ANGELES. If it can sign Juan Pablo Angel and Frankie Hejduk, the Galaxy have compensated for the loss of veterans Chris Klein and Eddie Lewis, at least in the experience department. Not yet known is the fate of its three Brazilians, and the departure of Juninho would be hard to overcome. There’s also chat about Gregg Berhalter hanging it up, so another defender could be on the horizon even if Sean Franklin stays in the middle.

5. SAN JOSE. So much for the grand DP experiment with Geovanni. He’s been axed along with compatriot and fellow bust Eduardo. Fan favorite Joe Cannon is Vancouver-bound, yet last season after he suffered a broken ankle in his stead Jon Busch did well. This is a good team that fought through injuries and lost to the eventual champion (Colorado) in the conference finals. The Quakes can get better, but only if they don’t depend so much on Chris Wondolowski.

6. SEATTLE. Adding a young, powerful striker like O’Brian White to push Blaise Nkufo (37 next year) is a wise move, and the departures of midfielders Nathan Sturgis, Pete Vagenas and Sanna Nyassi are significant but not devastating, assuming newcomer Erik Friberg adjusts to MLS and Brad Evans returns to his form of 2008 (with the Crew) and 2009. Kasey Keller has signed on to play one more season; he slipped a bit last season from his excellent showing the year before, so look for him to light it up.

7. NEW YORK. Maybe Thierry Henry, with a few months’ rest and a proper preseason, can replace Juan Pablo Angel’s attacking acumen and savvy. Rafael Marquez, too, should come back fitter and sharper than his jaded post-World Cup self. Newcomers Luke Rodgers (done deal) and Jan Gunnar Solli (in the works) are important components for consistency as well as quality. A lot of experience -- Mike Petke , Seth Stammler, John Wolyniec – has ridden off into the sunset.

8. HOUSTON. A new deal for Geoff Cameron, plus a swath of new faces -- Jason Garey, Hunter Freeman, Colin Clark – are ambitious moves for a team in transition. Yet the spirit and zeal of Richard Mulrooney will be hard to replace and keeper Tally Hall is no Pat Onstad, at least not yet.

9. SPORTING KANSAS CITY. Departees Jimmy Conrad and Josh Wolff were on the long side of 30 but take a lot of experience and victories to other teams. Midfielder Luke Sassano is a solid player yet is coming off ankle surgery and wants to test the waters in Europe when he gets healthy. Omar Bravo is on the way; still, the spine of the team needs shoring up, whether or not a second DP is signed.

10. NEW ENGLAND. The Revs are hard to assess, as Fred is coming off a benign season in Philly and Ryan Cochrane -- a native of Portland, by the way -- hasn’t played regularly for a while. None of the departures are major, though the premature retirement of Taylor Twellman – who played only one game over the past two seasons because of concussions and neck pain -- is a terrible injustice. The younger guys didn’t come through last year; how many will be around for Opening Day 2011 is an open question.

11. D.C. UNITED. Re-Entry Stage 1 netted Joseph Ngwenya, whose quirky personality is why young coaches like Ben Olsen tend to age rapidly; in Stage 2, D.C. claimed and quickly signed Josh Wolff. Presto, an attack that scored just 21 goals last season already looks a bit better with Andy Najar, Santino Quaranta and a healthy Chris Pontius (cross fingers) in support. United has sent keeper Troy Perkins to Portland in exchange for counterpart Steve Cronin and cash. Cronin as a starter?

12. COLUMBUS. Gone: Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Gino Padula, Adam Moffat, Brian Carroll, Jason Garey, Frankie Hedjuk and Eric Brunner. On the way in: Jeff Cunningham and Aaron Hohlbein. Good luck with that.

13. PORTLAND.
Defender Eric Brunner and midfielders Adam Moffatt and Peter Lowry should give the Timbers some stability in the middle; youngsters Jeremy Hall, Jordan Graye and Rodney Wallace are worth a shot. Seldom-used David Horst gets a fresh start. There are several Division-2 products making the jump. The wild card is Arsenal cast-off Kerrea Gilbert. Can Troy Perkins, traded from D.C., regain his pre-Norway MLS form?

14. CHICAGO.
Massive losses – C.J. Brown, Krysztof Krol, Brian McBride , Peter Lowry , John Thorrington , Collins John , Wilman Conde – and only defender Cory Gibbs, so far, on the way. Outlook: grim.

15. PHILADELPHIA.
Stability in central midfield is crucial; can addition Brian Carroll do the deed? A bunch of pieces need replacing: Fred, Shea Salinas, Alejandro Moreno and Chris Seitz. None of them were dazzling in 2010, yet they leave holes to be filled.

16. CHIVAS USA. Tristan Bowen is a promising player, not the Second Coming, so calm down. Alejandro Moreno could be the perfect partner for Justin Braun or a major fizzle. Adding veteran Jimmy Conrad is a good move, assuming the team can sign him, but this team needs a lot more: a head coach: a game plan on and off the field, an robust support staff, and more good players. Other than that, all systems are go.

17. VANCOUVER. There are a few role players on board -- Joe Cannon, Jonathan Leathers, John Thorrington -- and a franchise flagship in Jay DeMerit. Season ticket sales have topped 16,000. So far, not bad, if there’s a game-breaker or two on the way.

18. TORONTO FC. Several players available in the Re-Entry Draft could have filled TFC’s myriad needs, and it needs more than a DP, though Angel is surely a more viable DP than Mista (departed) and/or Julian de Guzman. Without a head coach or technical director and a new team president getting used to his latest gig, every yesterday is a lost day.



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