[MLS WEEK 16: What to Watch] Thanks to a couple of trades, midweek cup action, and more players returning to lineups following their Gold Cup duties, a nearly full slate of games spread over three days offers fresh perspectives of where teams stand at the midway point of the season.
TRADE(S) AFTERMATH. Just a few days after sending Dax McCarty to New York in exchange for Dwayne De Rosario, D.C. United gets a chance to display its new weapon against one of the league’s stingiest defenses when it hosts Philadelphia Saturday (7 p.m. ET, Fox Soccer Channel).
D.C.’s anemic offense – 13 goals scored, second-worst in MLS – is an obvious reason for the move, as well as the Red Bulls’ eagerness to get De Rosario’s salary ($493,750) off its books in time for the summer transfer window. McCarty earns roughly half that figure ($175,000); with the money saved, New York could sign a third DP at the half-season rate of $167,500, though it would also be hit with a $250,000 surtax (which doesn’t count against its salary-budget charge).
On paper, adding the explosive, unorthodox De Rosario to United’s attack could free up space for forward Charlie Davies, who despite the team’s poor attack is tied for the league lead in goals with eight, and midfielder Chris Pontius. A knee injury to Santino Quaranta that could keep him out for the rest of the season also necessitated United making a move so as to stay in the playoff chase.
A less ballyhooed move, however, also bears watching. United obtained midfielder/defender Brandon McDonald from San Jose in exchange for allocation money; his underrated play in the middle, be it in midfield or the back line, played a very important role in San Jose posting its best record (13-10-7) since rejoining the league in 2008.
But a logjam in central midfield and the return to health of defender Ike Opara, plus a slice of allocation money – a commodity always highly valued by Coach Frank Yallop – prompted the Quakes to part with him. McDonald is also in the last year of his contract, and plans to test his options in Europe when the MLS season ends. United is among the leakiest teams in MLS (27 goals allowed, second-worst).
AFTERMATH, PART II. The Red Bulls will have McCarty in the squad when they play San Jose at Stanford Stadium Saturday, but Coach Hans Backe won’t be on hand: after undergoing unspecified minor surgery, he will rest over the weekend and leave the game-day duties to assistant coach Jan Halvor Halvorsen.
As to McCarty’s role, it’s pretty simple. Said Halvorsen to mlssoccer.com, “We have a lot of offensive players. It is a little bit about the balance of the team.”
Translation: With move of Rafael Marquez to center back and the installation of the steady if static Teemu Tainioto a central holding role, the Red Bulls play can be bloated with one-way flair. McCarty’s busyness, range, and workrate can enable New York to up the tempo on both sides of the ball.
Shoring up the middle will be a short-term goal as well, with Marquez likely to miss a few games as he recovers from a strained hamstring. Obviously, with Thierry Henry, Luke Rodgers, Joel Lindpere, Juan Agudelo, etc., as attackers, McCarty’s won’t have to replicate the primary playmaking role he tried to fill at United.
“I think coming to New York, they have all the high-profile guys, the superstars,” McCarty said. “For me, it will be nice to step back and take a secondary role.”
QUADRUPLE-DIP. The holiday weekend will feature an unprecedented slate of four game broadcasts on ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes, starting with the Quakes-Red Bulls matchup at 10:30 p.m. ET on Saturday.
On Sunday, defending champion Colorado hosts Houston at 9 p.m, and Monday, there’s a doubleheader of Real Salt Lake-New England at 8:30 p.m. ET followed by Los Angeles-Seattle at 10:30 p.m.
All four games feature post-game fireworks shows, which should enable the Rapids, RSL and Galaxy to fill their soccer-specific facilities despite the games being televised nationally. The Quakes are playing at Stanford Stadium to handle a much larger crowd than can get into Buck Shaw Stadium; a record of 10,872 came out last weekend to see the Galaxy, and team officials expect to at least double that figure.