Grading the MLS summer moves: Eastern Conference

By Ridge Mahoney

In the wake of a frenzied transfer window that closed Thursday, many teams are looking much different than they did during the first five months of the MLS season.

MLS teams are much more willing to spend money on transfer fees than in past seasons, when most experienced pros moving to MLS from foreign leagues were either out of contract or nearly so. 

For the first time in its history, MLS limited teams to trades during the transfer window. Previously, teams could trade up until the roster freeze date, which for 2015 is Sept. 15. The major trade was that of Alvaro Saborio (Real Salt Lake to D.C. United) for Luis Silva, yet other deals prompted veterans such as Donovan Ricketts and Jack McInerney to fill out change-of-address cards.

What the major signings mean for the Eastern Conference teams is spelled out. The Western Conference rundown will appear next. The grades are based on perceived influence of new players, both in terms of quality and quantity, and how well they address a team’s needs.
D.C. UNITED (Grade: A-)
In: Alvaro Saborio (Real Salt Lake).
Out: Michael Seaton (Portland), Luis Silva (Real Salt Lake).
The reunification of Saborio and Fabian Espindola is a short-term fix but a well-timed one: United plays five league and CCL games during an 18-day stretch (Aug. 13-30), then after a two-week break plays five more games in 15 days (Sept. 12-26). With Saborio in the mix. Coach Ben Olsen should have enough options to keep top scorer Chris Rolfe (nine goals) and Jairo Arrieta relatively fresh.

NY RED BULLS (Grade: B+)
In: Shaun Wright Phillips (Queens Park Rangers), DP-Gonzalo Veron (San Lorenzo).
Out: Dane Richards (Indy Eleven/loan).
Comment: In three games (76 minutes), Wright-Phillips has set up a goal for brother Bradley and impressed most onlookers with his energy and enthusiasm. Fitting him and Veron into the lineups without disrupting chemistry may take a little time but players of this quality usually figure things out quickly. Midfield linchpins Dax McCarty and Sacha Kljestan should have no problems adjusting to what they need, and having an experienced player like Felipe -- who scored the second goal in the 2-0 defeat of NYCFC Sunday – is a valuable asset.
It’ll be difficult to sit down Lloyd Sam and/or Mike Grella to accommodate the newcomers yet the methods of head coach Jesse Marsch have worked pretty well so far.

In: DP-Didier Drogba (Chicago), Johan Venegas (Alajuelense).
Out: Jack McInerney (Columbus), Bakary Soumare (FC Dallas).
Drogba’s arrival triggered a firestorm of publicity, which should ratchet up the intensity at Stade Saputo, and on the field he can supply levels of strength and hold-up play that McInerney couldn’t provide. Drogba could debut Wednesday in a Canadian Championship match against Vancouver, though head coach Frank Klopas might choose to wait another 10 days until the Impact hosts Philly in a league match Aug. 22. Venegas got his first start last week in a 1-0 loss to D.C. United on the left side of midfield and in the 20th minute played a nice through ball that Andrés Romero wasn’t able to put away. Montreal launched 25 shots, six of them by Venegas, only one of which hit the target. With Drogba up top, Dominic Oduro probably shifts to the wing and Venegas duels for time with Romero.

In: DP-Andrea Pirlo (Juventus), DP-Frank Lampard (Manchester City), Angelino (Manchester City EDS/loan), Andoni Iraola (Athletic Bilbao), Jefferson Mena (Independiente Medellin).
Out: Josh Williams (waived).
Comment: Packing as much talent as possible on the field is a worthy enterprise but the pieces must fall together quickly if NYCFC is to get into the playoff sextet. Angelino is a great addition offensively but as a left back he’s in many ways a raw teenager. Mena is getting the feel of MLS and so far hasn’t done much to upgrade NYCFC at centerback, and though Iraola is obviously a talented right back he, too, is struggling to adjust. Head coach Jason Kreis has used five different centerback pairings in the last five games though Iraola and Angelino seem entrenched in their spots. Dropping Pirlo deeper into midfield, behind Lampard, is how Kreis will deploy his Eurostars at first. NYCFC is right in the middle of the league in scoring –- its 1.35 goals per game ranks 10th of the 20 teams -- and everybody, including Lampard, needs to take the pressure off David Villa, whose team-high 13 goals are nine more than any other player.

In: Tranquillo Barnetta (Schalke 04), Warren Creavalle (Toronto FC).
Out:Sheanon Williams (Houston), Carlos Valdes (contract terminated).
Comment: Creavalle is a proven commodity but not necessarily an upgrade on Williams, who bounced between positions for much of his career and finally got squeezed out. Creavalle can play right back or defensive mid, and it remains to be seen if he’s been brought in to dislodge Ray Gaddis at right back or provide cover in several positions. Barnetta played in two World Cups for Switzerland and for more than a decade in the German Bundesliga. He gives the Union a creative, left-sided presence that can greatly elevate its game if he adjusts to hot weather, quirky refereeing and a hurly-burly league still a bit skimpy on tactical acumen. Kudos to management for landing him but many of his teammates haven’t been good enough this season.
CREW SC (Grade: C+)
In: Cedric Mabwati (Osasuna), Gaston Sauro (FC Basel), Harrison Afful (Esperance Sportive), Jack McInerney (Montreal).
Out: Adam Bedell (Orlando City), Kalen Ryden (waived).
Comment: At 6-foot-3, Sauro is expected to add heft in the air and shore up a defense that has conceded 39 goals, second-most in the league behind Philly (40). Emmanuel Pogatetz was benched a month ago and Tyson Wahl has struggled. Afful is primarily a right back and Mabwati, a midfielder, has played  just 49 minutes since arriving from Osasuna in July. Kei Kamara, who took over the scoring lead (17) by scoring twice, is obviously the man up front, but the trade of Bedell leaves McInerney as a good alternative to Aaron Schoenfeld, who has been used sparingly (172 minutes, no goals). If the defensive moves pan out, Crew SC will be stingier, yet in midfield it needs to be cleaner on the ball and quicker in transition. Columbus doesn’t play until a week from Wednesday, so head coach Gregg Berhalter has plenty of time to re-shape what he plans to roll out for the stretch run.
CHICAGO (Grade: C-)
In: DP-Gilberto (Vasco da Gama/Toronto FC), Daniel Cyrus (W Connection/loan). DP-Didier Drogba (Chelsea).
Out: Quincy Amarikwa (San Jose), Guly do Prado (contract terminated), DP-Didier Drogba (Montreal).
Comment: These may turn out to be helpful moves but insufficient to launch a real playoff push. Gilberto didn’t get much credit last year for very good games as TFC labored through another disappointing season and with Mike Magee nearly back to full fitness, the Fire is certainly potent offensively. But it should have taken a first-half lead Friday in Portland and didn’t react well to falling behind in a 1-0 loss, though a denied penalty-kick claim had some merit. The demotion of Adailton heaps more pressure on converted midfielder and captain Jeff Larentowicz at centerback to keep the middle solid alongside Eric Gehrig. The spotty playing career of Cyrus, 24, includes two games on loan with SKC in 2011.
TORONTO FC (Grade: C-)
Ahmed Kantari (Lens), Herculez Gomez (Sporting KC/Tijuana).
Out: Steve Caldwell (retired), Bright Dike (waived), Warren Creavalle (Philadelphia).
Comment: By consensus, TFC isn’t strong enough defensively, especially at centerback, so the addition of Kantari makes sense. But he’s bounced between Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 in France for most of his career and at age 30 he’s probably at the peak of his powers. Whether that is good enough for TFC is the question. Kantari debuted Saturday against Sporting Kansas City and was called for a hotly debated foul that yielded a penalty kick, and later nearly notched an equalizer with the score, 2-1. If the backline doesn’t man up, TFC fans will have plenty to carp about. Gomez comes back to MLS after six seasons in Mexico and at 33 is craftier and more experienced than when he left. As Jozy Altidore showed by heading a great chance wide against SKC, he’s erratic, so a poacher like Gomez isn’t a bad pickup. But when head coach Greg Vanney labels a 3-1 home defeat as “unacceptable,” the unresolved issues are significant.
NEW ENGLAND (Grade: None.)
In: None.
Out: None.
Comment: Since he took over as head coach in 2012, Jay Heaps hasn’t been able to produce good results in June and July: a record of 8-19-7 during the middle months of the last four seasons. The tornado of signings during the recently closed transfer window passed over New England without touching down. Last year, the Revs recovered from an eight-game losing streak to reel off 10 wins in 14 games on their way to the MLS Cup final that they lost to the Galaxy, 2-1, in extra time. This season the summer transfer window (July 6-Aug. 6) coincided with a five-game losing skid yet the Revs stayed pat.

ORLANDO CITY (Grade: Incomplete.)
In: Servando Carrasco (Sporting KC), David Mateos (Ferencvaros), Adrian Winter (FC Lucerne), Adam Bedell (Columbus).
Out: Sean St. Ledger (waived after contract terminated), Martin Paterson (contract terminated), Donovan Ricketts (LA Galaxy), Amobi Okugo (Sporting KC).
Comment: Mateos, a defender, has yet to appear and Winter played 18 minutes in midfield as a sub in OCSC’s 0-0 tie with Philly on Saturday. The Lions need help in both areas so at least needs were addressed but a lot more data is needed to evaluate these moves. Carrasco and Bedell are both journeyman and capable enough at what they do to provide some depth.
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