[MLS ALL-NEWCOMER BEST XI] Whether they be Designated Players or those acquired by the discovery process, the newcomers signed by MLS teams each season play a prominent role and in several cases, such as Philadelphia, fortunes have been transformed by their arrival. Two months into the season, with nearly one-third of the 306 league games played, is a good time to begin evaluating the crop of MLS newcomers. ...
For this selection we are omitting rookies who came into MLS from college soccer via the SuperDraft though several have already assumed prominent roles for their teams. They will have their day later in the season.
Faryd Mondragon (Philadelphia). The Union defense has been so tight he’s faced fewer shots on goal than any other starting keeper, but there’s no question his strong personality and considerable ability have imbued great confidence throughout the team. The Colombian increased the respect among his teammates and Philly fans by playing through a groin strain in a tie with the Galaxy last Wednesday and went the full 90 against Dallas over the weekend. The Union faithful needs him healthy.
Alain Rochat (Vancouver). The veteran of Swiss soccer has played left back and centrally for the Whitecaps as head coach Teitur Thordason and the organization try to successfully make the jump from the second division to MLS. He was rested for last week’s game with the Revs after playing every minute thus far this season, and is expected back in the lineup Wednesday to face Toronto in the Nutrilite Canadian Championship. He’s important.
Mamadou "Futty" Danso (Portland). Scorer of two goals in his last two games, Danso stood out as the Timbers labored through some rough times to get their house in order defensively. He’s got the presence, strength and speed, if not quite the ability, that smacks of Jhon Kennedy Hurtado in Seattle and Jamison Olave of RSL. The Gambian also rarely fouls, at least so far.
Carlos Valdes (Philadelphia). He’s the main reason Philly’s pathetic defense of 2010 has been tightened up though the Colombian is still adjusting to the style of play and habits of MLS referees. His true tests will come later in the season, when the heat and pressure increase, but his positional sense and quickness are excellent complements to central partner Danny Califf.
Jan Gunnar Solli (New York). Justin Braun glided inside him to score the first goal in Chivas USA’s 3-2 win at Red Bull Arena last weekend in a poor performance across the board. During most of his brief time in MLS the Norwegian Solli has been a solid right back who’s also very adept at pushing forward to play chips and crosses and entry balls, and adds yet another experienced veteran to the Red Bulls' lineup.
Teemu Tainio (New York). The English Premier League veteran boasts good range and a nice touch on the ball. He combines with center backs Tim Ream and Rafael Marquez to form a triangle that envelops opponents to win possession, and plays intelligent passes when the ball turns over. How the Finn endures heat and travel he’s not accustomed is a key factor for New York in its quest for a first MLS Cup.
Kalif Alhassan (Portland). He’s bold and bustling off the ball and can also dribble up the left flank while changing speed and direction to breach opposing back lines. With four assists in nine games, teams are already wary of the Ghanaian and plotting ways to exploit defensive shortcomings he’s working hard to correct. He’s fun to watch and already a crowd favorite at Jeld-Wen Field.
Davide Chiumiento (Vancouver). After registering five assists to join the league leaders, the Swiss midfielder curled home a free kick last week for his first goal of the season in stoppage time to earn the ‘Caps a 1-1 tie with San Jose. He has played both sides of midfield but seems more potent on the right, from whence he can shoot as well as cross with his potent left foot. Playing as a second forward is also a possibility.
Joao Plata (Toronto FC). He’s registered two goals and two assists in 263 minutes of play, which is a very small sample size for this very small (5-foot-2) Ecuadorean teenager. But he’s skillful, clever, and quick, so for this purpose, the kid is in the picture!
Charlie Davies (D.C. United). The road to full recovery took a detour last weekend when he suffered a groin injury that greatly impairs his Gold Cup prospects. Still, he’s looked sharp and lively and strong, which considering where he was at this time last year with his World Cup hopes in a heap, is remarkable.
Diego Chaves (Chicago). In a revamped Fire attack, the Uruguayan is the point man who leads the team with four goals yet is far from a static striker waiting for service. He can float wide to work combinations or stab through the middle to apply a sharp finish. It’s early days yet, but he can make the team’s decision to decline an option on former DP Nery Castillo look mighty good.
A rather long list of newcomers who have been injured -- Jay DeMerit (Vancouver), Omar Bravo (Kansas City), Ousmane Dabo, Didier Domi, Franco Coria (all New England), to name a few – or otherwise sidelined – twice-sent-off Whitecap Eric “The Red” Hassli comes to mind -- have limited the first batch of Newcomer selections, so there won’t be a reserves list just yet. Check back in midseason.