The North American transfer window may be closed, but the changes keep on comin'.
Former FC Dallas midfielder Juan Toja is the latest deal to be announced, and he could have a huge impact on the MLS playoff picture if he wasn't a member of the New England Revolution. But since the MLS trade deadline/roster freeze date isn't until Sept. 15, a team wanting to shore up its squad could make the Revs an offer they can't refuse. The Revs reportedly did field a few possible deals involving Toja but turned them down, at least for now.
One could make the case that the Revs' midfield is probably its strongest element already. Its needs in other areas seem more acute. It picked up striker Jerry Bengston, who scored three goals for Honduras at the Olympic Games, to punch up its offense. However, if Toja, 27, can replicate the touch, toughness, range, and vision he displayed four years ago, he would be their best all-around midfielder and thus render one or two players obsolete.
As an out-of-contract player, Toja is not subject to international transfer regulations, which permit contracted players to change clubs only during certain periods. Free agents can be signed at any time during the season, provided those deals beat the Sept. 15 deadline. And despite a few major trades and midseason signings, teams are still looking for any piece they can fit into the roster puzzle.
Houston president Chris Canetti has confirmed his team's interest in Giles Barnes, who made a name for himself with Derby County several years ago during its promotion to the Premier League but has since slipped out of English soccer. Barnes, 24, joined the team for training Monday and would join a solid Dynamo midfield in plenty of time to get acclimated.
Houston's midseason acquisition last year of Honduran international Carlo Costly didn't turn out so well -- he contributed little to its MLS Cup run and departed after playing just 11 games -- but it hit the jackpot this year with another Honduran, Oscar Boniek Garcia, who in the same amount of games has scored a goal, recorded five assists, and schooled more than a few opponents in the fine arts of deception, trickery, and accuracy. He's also played every minute of those 11 games.
There might not be any more major trades this season, which would be just fine with Sebastien Le Toux, who started the season in Philadelphia and wound up with the Red Bulls via Vancouver. Speaking of Vancouver, its midseason makeover hasn't gone so well, and the fans are nervous about a three-game losing streak and the fact that Designated Player Kenny Miller didn't score his first MLS goal until last week's game in Portland, which the 'Caps lost anyway, 2-1. Since mid-July, when attacker Davide Chiumiento returned to Europe for a spot with FC Zurich, they've traded away their first DP, Eric Hassli, as well as Le Toux, and brought in Miller, Barry Robson, Dane Richards and Andy O'Brien.
Whether the 'Caps will be better off eventually, only time will tell. A playoff berth in just its second season is cause for celebration but a weak finish would prompt concern that management tried to fix what wasn't really broken.
Trying to strengthen a team in midseason can be a treacherous exercise. Sometimes changes are born of desperation, and in other cases they address areas that needed upgrading and yield just that. Case in point: Montreal, which has gone Italian by signing Marco Di Vaio and Alessandro Nesta -- as well as Serie A veteran Nelson Rivas, a Colombian -- to bolster an expansion roster that had worn thin in a few spots. Swiss defender Dennis Iapichino, signed six weeks ago, has moved right into the starting lineup. The Impact also traded Jamaican goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts for American Troy Perkins and probably not coincidentally, has reeled off five wins in a row.
Only Crew coach Robert Warzycha knows if desperation fueled efforts to transform his team mid-flight. Whatever the motivation, if Houston hit the jackpot, Columbus won the lottery. In just a few weeks he's formed one of the best attacking tandems in the league: striker Jairo Arrieta of Costa Rica, and midfielder Federico Higuain of Argentina. Arrieta has played just eight games, Higuian three, and they've totaled an amazing eight goals and four assists.
Seattle added former German international Christian Tiffert and yet another Honduran, Mario Martinez, and traded Uruguayan Alvaro Fernandez to Chicago. The Fire signed Costa Rican forward Sherjill MacDonald.
Lionel Pajoy (Philadelphia) and Mike Chabala (Portland) were acquired in trades by D.C. United, mindful that teams destined to watch the playoffs rather than participate in them would be willing to make deals. The Red Bulls, in addition to Le Toux, signed Australian Tim Cahill from Everton of the English Premier League and Sam Lloyd, formerly of Leeds United. They also traded midfielder Mehdi Ballouchy to San Jose, which plays in the same stadium as did Ballouchy when he attended Santa Clara University. Even the league's top team has made a move.
The most active midseason in league history is probably not going to be an exception. A league once thought to be as staid has gone strident by adding nine teams since 2005, and more importantly it has added organizations and markets that want to win and not just play along.
More teams means more competition for playoff spots, and in the case of a team like Seattle, which has reached the playoffs in each of its three previous seasons without reaching MLS Cup, there's pressure to go all the way. The same is true for Real Salt Lake and Los Angeles and New York and Sporting Kansas City and Houston, and fans in Chicago and San Jose believe their teams are as good as any others. As well they should, for their teams are not standing still.