By Ridge Mahoney
If this is supposed to be the quiet period in MLS, I'm guessing a lot of teams never got the memo.
The league’s announcement of its earliest-ever starting date, March 2, for the 2013 season has accelerated the round-the-clock, round-the-calendar workload for coaches and staff members. “We’ll get some time off around Christmas and New Year’s,” laughs assistant coach Kerry Zavagnin, “and that’s about it.”
Chivas USA and Montreal and New York are looking for head coaches and those stories will reverberate through the cyberworld during the holiday season. The David Beckham Watch continues, as the loan rumors swirl around Robbie Keane and Thierry Henry and Andy Najar, who is reportedly in Belgium to go on loan with Anderlecht. A dozen players are training overseas to stay fit for the earliest start of preseason in league history: mid-January.
RSL has unloaded three starters in trades, a radical shift for a team that finished second in the Western Conference and is a consistent force. It has extracted a major player from each line: forward Fabian Espindola, midfielder Will Johnson, and defender Jamison Olave. It is conducting its annual player combine in Arizona this week as General Manager Garth Lagerwey and Coach Jason Kreis look to rebuild one of the league’s best teams.
MLS conducted Phase I of the Re-Entry Draft last Friday – one player taken, Whoo-hoo! -- and there are a few more days of negotiations and discussions and rumors prior to the fulfillment of Stage 2 this Friday. Maicon Santos raises the number of players taken in three Stage 1 drafts since their inception in 2010 to six.
One player who has elected to bypass the Re-Entry Draft is Mike Magee, a key factor in the Galaxy’s last two championship seasons – six postseason goals – who might have some value in the market at his 28. Gone are Beckham and Christian Wilhelmsson, and he’s out of contract, so he’s got leverage, right? He could roil the waters with demands for respect, as per a much bigger contract, but has taken a more sensible course. What’s to become of him with that mature attitude?
The Philadelphia Union has taken bold strides to shore up its spine by acquiring attacker Sebastien Le Toux and defender Jeff Parke. Both are good players with strong ties to the area: Le Toux delivered a 14-goal, 11-assist performance during the expansion year of 2010 before being traded to Vancouver and then New York, and Parke is a native son who played his college ball at Drexel.
It’s been more than a week since Landon Donovan lamented his burdensome life and talked about maybe doing this or perhaps not doing something else. Here’s hoping he can savor another league title – his fifth, by the way – along with the holiday cheer and ring in the New Year before he feels compelled to express more angst.
One of the league’s most successful teams, D.C. United, has ushered its longest-serving executive out the door. Former general manager and president Kevin Payne, synonymous with United from Day 1, has taken over in Toronto, which has dismissed more head coaches and lost more games than any other team in its first six years of operation, none of which have involved playoffs. Figure that one out.
For the past month or so, teams have been revealing their preseason plans and already there’s a pretty clear picture of when teams will arrive and depart for stints in Arizona and Florida, for example. It’s hard to believe that by the time pitchers and catchers report to their MLB teams most MLS teams will be two weeks into preseason, but I guess that’s just another sign that this persecuted, ridiculed league is starting to grow up.