Monday, August 8, 2011

MLS Notes: Aug. 8

With the season more than half over the gap between play-off team and play-off dreamer is getting bigger. Chivas USA continues to hold the 10th play-off spot on 29 points, just one in front of Houston and a few teams sit behind them. However, we can already put the nail in the coffins of both Canadian clubs, Chicago Fire and most likely New England Revolution.

After a slip up against Portland last time out, LA Galaxy reasserted their dominance with a big win over FC Dallas. Sporting KC's unbeaten run was ended by Seattle as we saw a diabolical two-footed tackle by DP Omar Bravo; followed by an embarrassing display following Bravo's sending off.

In DC, Dwayne De Rosario continued to haunt his former club scoring a hat-trick and getting DC the draw against Toronto FC. This match featured some dubious officiating which led to two goals in the match. Andy Iro has proved to be a terrible signing for TFC. He has shown nothing but clumsiness and has given away penalties in the last few matches. He has faired just slightly worse than the man he replaced Nana Attakora.

It's a shame MLS added two extra teams to the play-offs. The obvious that a team with a below .500 record could win the MLS Cup is ridiculous. Instead of four teams fighting it out for the last play-off place, we would see six teams. This would then lead to games that mean that much more throughout the league. As we continue down the stretch I don't feel the added play-off places will matter as much as MLS believed as the gap continues to widens as most teams have just over 10-games to play.

New York continues to under perform, and we have seen the De Rosario-Dax McCarty trade has benefitted DC, and DC only. At the beginning of the season every pundit, including myself, used all the hyperbole they could think of to praise McCarty. But perhaps McCarty benefitted from the FCD system as he hasn't performed well this season. Many times he has been non-existent in matches.

Finally, Kevin Hartman holds numerous records in MLS for goalkeeping. He has been a great 'keeper in MLS throughout his career. But this a man that throughout his career has been error prone. In every match there are moments in which the ball comes into the box and fans hold their breath when Hartman goes near the ball. Hartman had two gaffs over the weekend allowing two goals from LA in FCD's 3-1 loss at the Home Depot Center.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Season's half over... What does the table look like?

With every MLS team now over the halfway mark in the 34-game season I thought it would be good to look at the overall table. Currently, most MLS teams are playing ridiculous friendlies that and the media like to think are more important than MLS Cup, US Open Cup or CONCACAF Champions League. Usually, we see some teams tail off after this point in the season due to fatigue, heat and loss of form and I'm sure one or two teams will do the same this year as well. Match congestion should play a massive part in this season with most teams playing worthless summer friendlies and five of those teams playing Champions League football.

Overall table as of 7/25/2011

1. LA Galaxy 42
2. FC Dallas 39
3. Seattle Sounders FC 38
4. Real Salt Lake 33
5. Philadelphia Union 31
6. Columbus Crew 31
7. Colorado Rapids 31
8. New York Red Bulls 29
9. Chivas USA 26
10. Sporting KC 26
11. Houston Dynamo 24
12. San Jose Earthquakes 24
13. DC United 23
14. Portland Timbers 21
15. New England Revolution 20
16. Chicago Fire 18
17. Toronto FC 18
18. Vancouver Whitecaps 15

Currently, Sporting and Chivas USA sit in the final playoff spots on 26 points and Vancouver looks to be the only team out of the play-off picture. TFC and Chicago will need something special in the second half to reach the post season. The Fire, however, are in the semi-final of the US Open Cup and may focus on that competition. MLS had the initial idea of making more play-off spots to make the league more competitive down to the end of the season. However, as the season wears on I think we'll see the league turn out similarly to the past few seasons. Now with the added bonus of two more undeserving teams having chance to win the MLS Cup.

Sporting KC has been on a 12- match unbeaten run in which they have amassed 22 points. This has gotten them right in the hunt for the play-offs after a disasterous start. However, KC supporters should slow down a little bit. Of the the 12 teams they have played, only five of them are currently in the play-offs as of now; and of those five, Sporting only managed one win while drawing the other four. That win came against FC Dallas, and was an unexpected result at 4-1. Other than that result, KC has played just as well as the other play-off teams around them, but rarely better; and were lucky to escape with draws against the likes of Philadelphia, Chivas, Houston and Colorado. Meanwhile, Sporting's four wins other than at FCD have come against teams currently below 11th place: San Jose, Vancouver, Portland and TFC. Despite being on a roll at the moment, lets see where Sporting KC is at the end of August after they play RSL, Seattle and FCD. Arguably, the other hot teams in the league right now.

The two teams that I feel most sorry for (if you can feel sorry) are LA Galaxy and New York Red Bull, for two different reasons. LA is the best team in the league hands down, but again this team will most likely fall in a one-off play-off match come the autumn. With all the fixtures of MLS, Champions League and ridiculous friendlies that this team has added to it's full schedule I cannot see this team keeping up come play-off time. The Red Bulls on the other hand have spent money and tried so hard to get to the next level. But despite all the spending and tinkering they just aren't as good as they should be. Tim Ream especially has looked vulenrable as of late, and the defense has been extremely shakey. The upside for the Red Bulls is they could enter the play-offs like Colorado and RSL in years past and make a solid run to the cup final.

The more this season goes on the more it looks like seasons past. Teams beat up on each other, a few run away teams and a play-off that gives underachieving teams the chance at a trophy. Yes, it keeps the league interesting. How many people would go out and watch a New England or Chivas game if they weren't in the hunt for the play-offs? It's unfortunate the league believes to make people care they must hold meaningless friendlies and have over half the teams in the league make the play-offs. MLS keeps the soccer mom culture
going in a country that doesn't want it anymore. If the league tried to breed the culture they sell during the meaningless World Football Challenge they would attract the fans they have always targeted. But alas that's another story.

Monday, July 4, 2011

To Add quality and Depth or Not, that 'Tis the Question

We have reached the halfway point in the MLS season and the transfer window opens in 11 days. Many MLS teams are already looking abroad to strength their teams, but there is talent within the league that could be up for grabs. The gap between the last playoff spot (Houston Dynamo on 20 points) and the last place in the league (Vancouver on 14 points) is only six points. Based on points no team is out of the playoff picture and we have to hand it to MLS, because this should make the second half of the season extremely exciting. Especially, coming in what could be MLS's biggest year to date due to both the NFL and NBA possibly having a lockout. Though we could yet again see an undeserving underachieving team win the MLS Cup this season.

We've already seen one of the biggest names in MLS move for a second time this season when Dwayne De Rosario was shipped to DC United last week. I don't anticipate too many high profile names moving, but what about the role players or players who have had a fantastic first half of the season that could help propel his new club into the playoffs or beyond in MLS, US Open Cup and Champions League play. I've compiled a short list of players from non-playoff teams at the midseason point that could help the upper half of the league.

1. Dominic Oduro
I have been blown away with what this forward has done this season. Prior to this year he looked like another throw away striker when Houston traded him to Chicago for Calen Car (terrible player and terrible trade). However, Oduro has found a home scoring five goals so far this season. He has scored a quarter of his career goals in 2011, and has been Chicago's best player by far. As a matter of fact he has scored a quarter of Chicago's goals this term. Currently, the Fire sit on 18 points, so they're hanging around the playoffs. We have seen throughout MLS's history that all teams can be tempted with a trade, and I think Chicago could be tempted to move Oduro for another midfielder. They have the cover at the striker position and their defense is returning to the steady hard to beat core that they were prior to Carlos de los Cobos's ruining of the team.

Who he'd be perfect for: I think Oduro would be perfect for Seattle. He would add much needed pace to Seattle he could take the pressure off of Montero. Adding his pace to Seattle's team would do wonders in opening up space for Montero. I've said repeatedly I believe Seattle has the best midfield in the league on paper. Oduro has the ability to run on to balls the midfield plays in the channels. He is also the opposite of Montero and can give a defense a different set of problems.

2. Paulo Nagamura
Chivas's central midfielder has had a stellar career in the league and at only 28 has more years in his legs. He has only featured seven times thus far for Chivas and would be a fantastic addition to any midfield in need of some bite. He is a player able to make a tackle and distribute the ball as well. Nagamura was the linchpin in Chivas's team during their successful Preki years. Chivas is in need of an identity and talent. Possibly some allocation money or draft picks could pry Nagamura away.

Who he'd be perfect for: Sporting KC could use some depth in midfield as well as add a player who can add bite and passing ability. Currently, they have used Julio Cesar there and he has done a decent job though he cannot pass and is error prone. Nagamura would fit in well sitting in front of an improved SKC backline who is unbeaten in eight matches. A return to LA Galaxy would also be a postive for both involved. LA loves to play on the counter and the addition of Nagamura to break up the play and distribute to Donovan and Juninho to start the attack could push LA over the edge this time around.

3. Sainey Nyassi
Nyassi burst on to the MLS scene in his first full season in 2008 and since then has been a steady midfielder for the New England Revolution. He is a speed guy that can add a lot to the wing, though his final ball has always been lacking, he can work hard down the sides. This is his fourth full season in MLS and maybe it is time for him to move on to another team to continue his development as a player. New England currently sits in last place, and really could use quality around the pitch sans a few positions. They don't have an outright scorer and their defense is decent, but nothing special. It also seems time they removed the old man that plays in goal and brought in someone who is more mobile. New England is notoriously thrifty and could part with Nyassi for draft picks, some cash or maybe even a set of footballs. Oh, that's not soccer/footballs that's footballs for Tom Brady and the Patriots.

Who he'd be perfect for: Columbus Crew. The Crew don't have much speed on their roster despite having crafty midfielders ala Eddie Gaven. Nyassi could add that speed to get down the wing and provide the service to Andres Mendoza who finally looks like a DP.

4. Adam Moffat
Another player that burst on to the MLS scene that has seen his career go south since suffering a knee injury in 2008. Moffat was predicted to be the next big thing in Columbus until that injury, however, this season he was deemed excess goods and let go in the expansion draft. Since arriving in Portland Moffat has only played four matches all as a substitute. Moffat could add depth to a number of teams and with the right coaching could find the form he showed for the Crew a few years ago.

Who he'd be good for: Houston once had an American international with Scottish roots that was one of the best players in MLS before he went off to Bolton Wanderers. I think Moffat could be their next Stuart Holden. Though they have a crowded midfield Moffat is a more skillful player than the likes of Lovel Palmer or Corey Ashe and would add more to the team than either of those players.

5. Nana Attakora
Frozen out in Toronto, Attakora has only appeared in six MLS matches and has not played since June 4. Attakora's failure to sign a new deal in Toronto has put him in the doghouse though he is of better quality than some of those around him. Still in his early-20's, he is a player that a defense could be molded with if paired with the right central defense partner. TFC is looking for defenders and I don't think Attakora would come cheap right now. I won't be surprised if he sits out the remainder of his contract and is in the re-allocation draft next fall.

Who he'd be good for: Colorado could use some defensive cover to shore up their squad. Colorado has given up 21-goals halfway through the season and though it's middle of the table the team could turn a few of those draws into wins with some steady defense. Often this season Colorado's defenders have looked slow on the pitch chasing after attacking players. Some fresh blood to a team that won the MLS Cup last season wouldn't hurt a team that is massively underachieving.

6. Chris Pontius
Finally injury free Pontius is fulfilling the expectations DC United had for him when he was selected in the first round of the MLS Superdraft in 2009. Pontius has started all 16-matches for DC thus far in the league and has scored five goals; a career best so far and second best on the team this season. Overall, DC is a young team and some experience at the back could pry Pontius away. The team already has Charlie Davies, Josh Wolff, Joesph Ngwenya and now Dwayne De Rosario; they have got a lot of attacking talent. They could use defensive players whether that is at the back or in midfield if they hope to push for the playoffs, and Pontius could be used as bait. DC recently hired Soony Silooy as assistant to Ben Olsen. I don't see this as a straight up move, rather I see this as the man to take over for Olsen whether it be this season or next if DC continue to draw or lose matches. Possibly one of Olsen's guys is traded to bring in a Silooy player.

Who he'd be good for: Houston again could use a player of Pontius's quality. They need someone to step up and score goals. Mr. Dynamo Brian Ching only has one goal this season. Cam Weaver and Will Bruin have eight of their 21-goals. Ching is on his last legs and DP Koke failed within a month of signing. Pontius is a player they could hang their hat on for the near future. Unfortunately, Houston's roster doesn't yield much quality in return.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Sunderland Spending Their Bent Money

In January of this year Sunderland sold Darren Bent to Aston Villa for a fee near $38 million and then did just enough to stay in the Premier League. Following Bent's sale the team went into a downward spiral that was led by the inconsistant second half of the season by Asamoah Gyan. This has been a team many thought would go down, while at the beginning of the '10-'11 season others expected the Black Cats to push for a European place.

Earlier this summer they cashed in on Jordan Henderson selling him for $25 million to Liverpool; a foolish move in my opinon on Liverpool's part. The club has now used part of that $63 million kitty to bring in quality Premier League performers and a promising young talent.

With the summer signings already made by Sunderland I believe they will push for Europe next year. Craig Gardner and Sebastion Larsson have been signed from Birmingham and should add quality in the midfield the club lacked last season. Goalkeeper Kieran Westwood should push incumbent Craig Gordan for the number one shirt, while Korean Ji Dong-Won arrives from Korean side Chunnamn Dragons. Dong-Won impressed the Premier League side last winter during the Asian Cup when he recorded four goals and two assists in six matches. The wild card of Sunderland's signings has definately got to be Conor Wickham. At only 18 he has played the past two seasons at Ipswich Town in the Championship where he has found the back of the net 13 times in 63 outings. At only 18-years old he is a player that will be worked in slowly to this Black Cat team and most likely play as the fourth striker behind Gyan, Fraizer Campbell and Dong-Won.

Don't be surprised to see one or two more quality players arrive before the end of August. This team should find themselves well away from the trap door to the Championship next season and solidify themselves with another year of Premier League football.

Koevermans and Fringes

Today, Toronto FC signed former Werder Bremen captain and German international Torsten Fringes and formr PSV Eindhoven striker Danny Koevermans. These two signings just pose more questions, rather than give answers to a team that is struggling in the league and with the system of first year manager Aron Winter.

Koevermans has had a stellar career in the Dutch Eredivisie scoring boat loads of goals; he has scored 136 goals to be exact in a 10-year career that has spanned three clubs. Koevermans is familiar with the 4-3-3 formation as that is the preferred formation in Holland, and recently played the central striker role for PSV. Currently, PSV is in serious financial problems and not only have released quality players, sold their biggest star Balazs Dzsudzsak, but they have asked their city council for nearly $55 million as a bailout. If Koevermans is in it for the pay day then TFC won't improve, and with the contract/money structure of MLS I wouldn't be surprised.

Fringes on the other hand is past his prime. As a supporter of German side Werder Bremen I was able to watch a terrible, terrible Bremen team lose week in and week out. Fortunately, the club did just enough to avoid relegation and it could be said Fringes was the best midfield player throughout the season despite his age, but he didn't have much help in the area. Bremen played most of last season with Fringes holding in an attacking 4-3-1-2 that gave attacking midfielder Marko Marin a free role to exploit defenses. In TFC's
4-3-3, I don't believe Fringes has the legs to cover as much ground as he will be required to do. No doubt he has been a great player over the years and it is a shame to see him leave Bremen. However, TFC may have bought a player that is past his sell-by date.

I would love to see these players help TFC become a playoff contender. But it seems TFC is continuing to put the pieces of a different puzzle down hoping they will fit and no one will realize the pieces don't match. Better than Mista, but they don't have the core still.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

My Roster Ideas for Sporting KC This Summer

After starting the season as the worst team in MLS Sporting KC has temporarily turned things around and have gone unbeaten in their last seven matches. Obviously, the main thing to credit in this turn around is KC's change from the 4-3-3 to 4-5-1 formations (something I preached from the beginning as the 4-3-3 doesn't work in MLS. TFC could be decent if they also made the change as their back four, like KC's earlier this season, is being ripped apart due to the lack of midfielders to protect them). But over this unbeaten run KC has still looked vulnerable for large parts of games. Philadelphia would have taken all three points if they had had some better finishing on the night, and Vancouver controlled much of the second half and were slightly unlucky not to get a draw.

I have been very critical of the Vermes regime and the team he has put together. There are some positions that definately need strengthening, but with MLS's tight salary controls it can make it very difficult for a team like Sporting to add quality. The transfer window will open on July 15, and surely Sporting has their feelers out looking for players to add to the existing squad. But there are players within MLS the team could make a move for, as well as cashing in on some under performing players.

The two areas that Sporting need to address are the defense and midfield, meanwhile the striker position is filled with the fantastic C.J. Sapong, the overrated Teal Bunbury, Kei Kamara and DP Omar Bravo; and this group can also include Birahim Diop. But could one of these men, excluding Bravo and (presummably) Sapong be used as bait to bring in a defender or midfielder to either the starting XI or to add depth. Throughout Vermes time in KC he has put his trust in some unfashionable players such as Diop, so I don't expect him to be on the move. Meanwhile, Bunbury's potential out weights the possibility for a move. Who then can KC move out?

First on my list is Roger Espinoza who has underperformed all season no matter where he has played on the pitch. His performances against Chicago, in which Marco Pappa beat him on the dribble twice in the same sequence, and Espinoza's ridiculous outing against LA Galaxy prove my point that he isn't developing as a player and is not of the quality the team currently needs. Personally, I've never seen the attractiveness in Espinoza's play and though he can play both in defense and midfield I think it's time to move him on. Moving Espinoza would also free up an international slot if the team is looking at bringing in another player from abroad. With the free-signing of Seth Sinovic, who has made the leftback position his own, Espinoza is surplus to requirements in my view.

Stephane Auvary is the next on my chopping block. Much of the time this season Auvary has seemed like another body just making up the numbers on the pitch. His passing is horrid and his play is negative. In the match versus the Union he killed two consecutive KC attacks late in the game with passes from the attacking third back to the half-way line. Auvary gives an appearance of a hardman in midfield, but lacks the tenacity of Craig Rocastle or the workmanship of Luke Sassano. Sassano another unfancied player picked up in the re-allocation draft has shone this season for Sporting.

KC has finally settled on a centerback pairing that works in Matt Besler and Aurelien Collin. This pairing now has both the overpaid Julio Cesar and equally overpaid Shavar Thomas looking in from the outside. Vermes does have an infatuation on Cesar and still gives him plenty of minutes on the pitch. However, according to my stats Thomas has only been on the pitch for 37 minutes this season. Obviously, not enough time to warrent such a high salary. Unfortunately, Thomas is 30-years old and his best days are in the rearview mirror now (according to a KC podcast Thomas salary maybe half or full paid by Philly). KC most likely won't get much value from within the league, but could atleast open up a roster spot and acquire a draft pick for next season if they move Thomas. Being that Thomas is Jamaican I believe it would open up another international slot; he has lived in America for quite some time and could actually hold a green card that I am not aware of.

Of course there are fringe players such as Korede Aiyegbusi that should and could be moved. However, Aiyegbusi seems to have fans within the organization including Vermes. Aiyegbusi holds both British and Nigerian citizenship and moving him would open yet another international slot to bring in a player from abroad.

Even if Sporting is able or even willing to part company with these players to freshen up the squad who is available? Earlier this season it was rumored KC was interested in acquiring Toronto's Nana Attakora. Attakora has been frozen out in Toronto after failing to agree a new contract. KC could definately use another defender and Attakora is young at only 22. However, TFC would most likely want an attacking player in exchange and despite playing a 4-5-1 (now) I can't imagine Vermes moving Kamara or Diop for a young promising defender.

Another player who seems to be on the outs with his current club is DC United's Santino Quaranta who could add some skill and class to KC's current midfield. Quaranta was United's captain last season, but hasn't seen much of the pitch this season. To my knowledge hasn't played since May 14
*** (Unfortunately, after writing this paragraph the news broke that Quaranta is currently out due to a concussion he has sustained.) ***. If he is not hurt this obviously means he and manager Ben Olsen are not seeing eye to eye. Quaranta could play on either flank and help ease tired legs as the season progresses.

Vancouver's John Thorrington  and Portland's Adam Moffat are two other players that KC could consider to fill out the midfield. Thorrington currently has a calf strain, but is a player with an excellent passing ability and could add depth behind captain Davy Arnaud. He has fought injury much of this season and has only appeared once in the league for the Whitecaps as a substitute. However, during his time in Chicago he was a valuable member to a team that had some good seasons during the Blanco era. Moffat on the other hand is a player who has never rekindled the form he showed early on in Columbus after injuring his knee. He has only appeared four times for Portland and probably won't get much playing time as the season continues. A draft pick or allocation money could pry him away from Portland and help Sporting solidify their midfield.

Finally, Sporting could go overseas to land an American plying his trade abroad. One such player on my radar is American Lee Nguyen who, due to being paid a higher salary, plies his trade in the Vietnamese V-League. Nguyen has made attempts to return to the US and play in MLS, but it has yet to happen. Nguyen can play in midfield or even up top and like Quaranta could add some class to the KC midfield. The downside to Nguyen is he has been playing in the V-League and though not completely inferior to MLS it is still a step or two below. The big question is can he make the step up to MLS?

This summer's MLS transfer window could be the biggest we've seen. The world economy is still in the doldrums and many teams from abroad could attempt to raid MLS for cheaper talent. Meanwhile, MLS's stock has risen over the past 18-months and we could see better talent continue to flow into the league.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


I decided to give MLS Extra Time podcast a second chance today after a few months away. Just wanted to thank the guys who host the show for their over reactions and inability to talk tactics or anything important. Props also for spending most of  their time talking about meaningless aspects of games, teams and players. Cheers!