MLS Transfer and Silly Seasons Off with a Bang

Jamison OlaveSletoux

Less than 24 hours after Los Angeles defender Omar Gonzalez finished dancing naked in celebration of the Galaxy’s 2012 MLS Cup triumph, reports of impending blockbuster MLS trades started filtering in. Not long after that, the first big transactions were confirmed, as Real Salt Lake, Portland, and New York completed significant deals ahead of the 2013 season.

More on those shortly, but first, here’s a list of foreign-based players who could be, are rumored to be, should be, or some guy’s cousin’s sister’s bartender said would be, coming to our bustling shores in 2013 (along with their age, position, nationality, current or most recent club, and level).

Buckle up, and take ’em all with a grain of salt:

Yossi Benayoun, 32, attacking midfielder Israel, Chelsea—on loan to West Ham, Premier League

Dexter Blackstock, 26, striker, Antigua and Barbuda, Nottingham Forest, Football League Championship (English second flight)

Fernando Cavenaghi, 29, striker, Argentina, Villareal, La Liga

Christian Eichner, left back, Germany, FC Cologne, Bundesliga2

Rio Ferdinand, 34, center back, England, Manchester United, Premier League

Maynor Figueroa, 29, defender, Honduras, Wigan Athletic, Premier League

Robbie Findley, 27, striker, United States, Nottingham Forest, Football League Championship

Brad Friedel, 41, goalkeeper, United States, Tottenham Hotspur, Premier League

Manuel Freidrich, 33 , center back, Germany, Bayer Leverkusen, Bundesliga

Clarence Goodson, 30, defender, United States, Brøndby, Superligaen (Danish top flight)

Atiba Hutchinson, 29, midfielder/defender, Canada, PSV Eindhoven, Eredivisie (Dutch top flight)

Jared Jeffrey, 22, midfielder, United States, Mainz 05, Bundesliga

Kaka, 30, midfielder, Brazil, Real Madrid, La Liga

Kevin McKenna, 32, center back, Canada, FC Cologne, Bundesliga

David Mendes da Silva, 30, defender, Netherlands, Red Bull Salzburg, Austrian Bundesliga

Rubin Okotie, 25, striker, Austria, Sturm Graz, Austrian Bundesliga

Martin Petrov, 33, winger, Bulgaria, Bolton, Football League Championship

Claudio Pizarro, 34, striker, Peru, Bayern Munich, Bundesliga

Frank Simek, 28, defender, United States, Carlisle, Football League One (English third flight)

Whew! And look for that list to grow in the coming weeks.

As for the deals that have already gone down, Real Salt Lake offloaded center back Jamison Olave, striker Fabian Espindola, and midfielder Will Johnson in a bold sweep to free up allocation money that they’ll likely use to lure a marquee forward for 2013.

Olave and Espindola went to New York and Johnson to Portland. All three were dealt in exchange for cash. Why New York would swoop for the declining Olave is a topic for another post, but for now, suffice to say that the 2010 MLS Defender of the Year will be 32 early next season, and has seen his minutes decline due to injury from 2,413 in 2010 to 2,128 in ’11 and 1,734 last year. Good luck with that, NY.

RSL also sent striker Justin Braun to Toronto FC for defender Aaron Maund, and Portland—which has installed new coach Caleb Porter from Akron—traded defender Kosuke Kimura to the Red Bulls for allocation money and the rights to homegrown player (and Akron Zip) Bryan Gallego.

The Timbers also traded lanky center back Eric Brunner to Houston for allocation money, and sent cash to Sporting Kansas City in exchange for outside back Michael Harrington.

All of these moves took place on Monday, a day the Colorado Rapids capped by trading an international roster spot to Vancouver for striker Atiba Harris.

On Thursday, the Red Bulls traded attacker Sebastien Le Toux to Philadelphia—where he enjoyed a breakout season in 2010, producing 14 goals and 11 asssists—in exchange for allocation money and 22-year-old Costa Rican striker Josue Martinez.

Stay tuned, hot-stove season is only one week old.

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Red Bulls Trade Juan Agudelo to Chivas USA for Heath Pearce, Three Forms of Cash

In a move that has many of their faithful shaking—or scratching—their heads, the New York Red Bulls shipped 19-year-old striker Juan Agudelo, a Red Bull Academy product and fan-favorite, to Chivas USA in exchange for 27-year-old defender Heath Pearce, allocation money, a percentage of Agudelo’s sell-on fee (if/when he goes to Europe), and the assurance that Chivas will pay part of Pearce’s salary for the remainder of the season.

The conventional wisdom on this one went from “What?!” to “Oh, wait, this is a great deal for New York,” to “Well, now that Chivas has swung a deal for defender Danny Califf, too, this is a good deal for both sides,” in about 20 nanoseconds—or a few clicks of ‘refresh’ on Twitter.

But we’re not ready to say this is a great deal for New York until we see what their next move is: Are they going to use the influx of capital to swoop for a young, attacking designated player-type (or two) from Europe in the summer transfer window? Are they banking on the return of Luke Rogers to fill out their now-depleted forward ranks?

Whatever the case, it’s hard to shake the feeling that they gave up on Agudelo too soon. Sure, they’re getting a solid defender in Pearce, who has 35 caps for the U.S. national team and is in the prime of his career (though not likely to be called back into the U.S. setup). But they’re giving up an extremely talented striker who has 15 U.S. caps of his own (and two goals) and appears very much ready to break out in MLS, if given the chance.

And that, finally, may be what it came down to: Hans Backe was extremely stingy with playing time for Agudelo, even though the youngster did well in almost every appearance for New York, right up to his final one, last Sunday against Philadelphia. He also produced some highlight-reel moments, including a brilliant goal in the season opener against Seattle last season:

And this bit of magic against DC United last April:

Yet Backe continued to keep a tight rein on him, and that, according to New York GM, Erik Soler, led to Agudelo to ask for a trade, if there weren’t plans to give him more first-team play with the Red Bulls. Apparently, there weren’t.

So Agudelo moves on, and New York fans hope this transaction doesn’t turn out like the club’s previous two significant trades.

In 2010, the Red Bulls sent tricky attacker Macoumba Kandji to Colorado in exchange for middling midfielder Mehdi Ballouchy. While Ballouchy continued to be middling after the trade, Kandji went on to create the winning goal for Colorado in MLS Cup 2010.

The following year, New York shipped attacker Dwayne De Rosario, whom they’d acquired just three months earlier, to DC United for midfielder Dax McCarty. McCarty was just okay for the remainder of the season while De Rosario absolutely lit up the league, racking up 13 goals and eight assists in 18 games for DC (including beating McCarty for a goal against New York two weeks after the trade). The Canadian international was named the 2011 MLS MVP for his efforts.

How will Agudelo fare with his new club? He’ll likely suit up in the LA derby this weekend against the Galaxy, and Red Bulls fans can track his progress in person next Wednesday—when he returns to Red Bull Arena as a member of Chivas USA.

Red Bulls Trade for Dwayne De Rosario; He Sets Up Goal Two Minutes Into New York Debut

The New York Red Bulls dealt midfielders Tony Tchani and Danleigh Borman to Toronto FC in exchange for five-time MLS Best XI selection Dwayne De Rosario this past Friday.

The move—which gives New York a potentially fearsome front five in former Arsenal legend Thierry Henry, rising U.S. international Juan Agudelo, De Rosario, Jamaican speed demon Dane Richards and last year’s team MVP Joel Lindpere—paid immediate dividends on Saturday night against Houston.

After watching the scoreless first half from the bench, De Rosario came on for Mehdi Ballouchy at the start of the second half. The difference was so stark, you actually felt bad for Ballouchy. De Ro was a dynamic, skillful presence, and on one of his first touches he slipped a ball behind Houston’s backline that Richards ran onto, cut back and buried into the far side netting.

The lead didn’t last long, though, as New York keeper Bouna Coundoul misjudged a flick-on by Dynamo striker Will Bruin and was chipped by Cam Weaver to make it 1-1 just minutes after Richards’ goal.

That’s the way it ended, but not for lack of chances by the Red Bulls. They outshot Houston 24-9, and were stymied by several brilliant saves from Dynamo netminder Tally Hall, who twice stopped Henry from close range, and made three big saves in stoppage time.

Complete highlights here:

(Notice how the announcer calls substitute Cam Weaver—a striker, mind you—“the unlikeliest of sources” for a Houston goal. Ouch.)

We will miss the promising midfielder Tchani, but the acquisition of De Rosario is a huge win-now move. As New York GM Erik Soler told MLS Soccer: “We want to win the Supporters’ Shield, [and] the MLS Cup. We want to do that this year. I will be disappointed if we don’t.”

Despite the result on Saturday, the move looked like it would pay dividends, especially as the players get used to one another. It might even wake up Henry, who has sleepwalked through much of the young 2011 season.

For the rest of the Week 3 MLS action, check out our column over at the league website.

Flurry of Trades Hits MLS On First Day of Offseason

The shavings have only just been cleared from the Colorado Rapids’ newly-engraved name on the MLS Cup trophy, and already teams are wheeling and dealing.

The expansion Portland Timbers made their first trade as an MLS franchise yesterday, sending a third-round pick in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft (January 13, Baltimore) to New York in exchange for defender/midfielder Jeremy Hall.

We’d say that’s giving away the 22-year-old Hall, who made 37 appearances and 31 starts in two seasons with the Red Bulls, a little cheaply. It’s also showing a lot of faith in the ability of 31-year-old Chris Albright, who won the right back position over Hall this season, to stay healthy.

In Columbus, the Crew dealt veteran midfielder Brian Carroll, 29, to the Philadelphia Union in exchange for allocation money and a conditional second-round pick in January’s SuperDraft.

Again, we might suggest that this is selling short: Carroll has eight caps with the U.S. national team, and is a very solid holding midfielder. But they’re cleaning house in Columbus, having already declined the option on veteran playmaker Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s contract, and Carroll is no longer in their plans.

Less than 24 hours after he helped Colorado nail down the MLS Cup, playing all 30 minutes of extra time, defender Julien Baudet, 31, was shipped out to Seattle.

The Rapids sent the Frenchman and 21-year-old defender Danny Earls to Sounders FC in exchange for veteran midfielder Peter Vagenas—and this one, too, is a bit of a head-scratcher for us here at BP.

Vagenas will be 33 by the time the 2011 MLS season kicks off, and he made just seven appearances for Seattle this year, after making only 14 in each of the previous two seasons.

Rapids, Red Bulls Keep Dealing

Houston will take a chance on Clark, ACL's and all.

One day after they completed a trade of Macoumba Kandji and Mehdi Ballouchy, New York and Colorado made additional deals to shore up their teams for the postseason.

The Red Bulls sent a conditional second round pick in next year’s draft to DC United in exchange for veteran defender Carey Talley.

The Rapids swapped allocation money and injured midfielder Colin Clark for Houston winger Brian Mullan and a fourth-round pick in the 2013 draft.

Our take? The New York–DC deal makes sense for both sides, as DC looks to rebuild (Talley, 34, made just three starts since June) and the Red Bulls solidify their backline with a veteran presence—who will no doubt be energized by the opportunity to play on a contender alongside the likes of Henry, Marquez and Angel.

But the Colorado-Houston swap is a bit of a head scratcher: Clark has shown flashes of excellence with the Rapids, but he’s torn his ACL in each of the past two seasons, shredding the ligament in a training session in August 2009 and then again on August 7 of this year, in a non-contact situation.

Why would Houston take a flier on a player with two consecutive career-threatening injuries to the same joint, while giving up a proven winger in Mullan, a veteran with four caps for the U.S. national team?

We’ll just have to trust that Houston’s Dominic Kinnear, who has four MLS Cups under his belt—two as an assistant, two as a head coach—knows more about this than we do.

Red Bulls Swap Kandji for Colorado’s Ballouchy

Colorado midfielder Mehdi Ballouchy hit the post early in the second half of the Rapids-Red Bulls game this past Saturday, and was otherwise a pretty lively presence in midfield for his team.

It didn’t go unnoticed by Red Bulls brass.

Today, in a relatively rare player-for-player trade, New York announced it had sent midfielder-striker Macoumba Kandji to Colorado in exchange for Ballouchy.

It’s an interesting transaction, and has the potential to benefit both sides. But it does raise a few questions:

Kandji is most comfortable at striker; New York had no room for him there, and he never adapted to a wide midfield role. With U.S. international Conor Casey and the red-hot Omar Cummings starting up top in Colorado, Kandji may not be a starter there, either. Will he be happy as the Rapids’ third striker?

Where, and how much, will Ballouchy play for New York?

Does his arrival mean Tony Tchani, who only recently carved out a starting spot in central midfield, heads back to the bench?

How will this affect the role of Rafa Marquez, who had assumed the playmaker’s role in midfield for New York?

Will there be a new formation in New York?

We’ll start to get some answers on Thursday night in Dallas.

Related: During pregame warmups for the Colorado-New York game on Saturday, Kandji came over to the stands and signed autographs for a few kids (including a son of Backpost).

Roy Miller and a few other Red Bulls declined the kids’ pleas to come over, choosing to stay focused on their pregame prep.

Maybe Kandji knew he was on his way out, and wanted to create a few mementoes.

He signed the game-day program—which featured his image on the cover.

Ljunberg Trade Looking Like a Win-Win

Former Seattle midfielder Freddie Ljunberg looked like a new man in his home debut for Chicago last night. He was dynamic and effective for most of his 90 minutes on the field, and nearly scored a goal just before halftime.

With Brian McBride playing in front of him, and soon, Nery Castillo playing regularly alongside him, the attacking midfielder has got to be excited about the prospects with his new team.

As for his former team, well, since Seattle shut down Ljunberg in mid-July and then, on July 30, made him the first designated player ever to be traded, Sounders FC has been on a tear.

The men in green have launched an eight-game unbeaten streak in all competitions, and have won their past four league games, including a 2-0 win over Houston last night. They got goals in that one from rejuvenated Colombian striker Fredy Montero, 23, and recently signed 24-year-old DP Alvaro Fernandez of Uruguay, who has two goals in two appearances for his new team.

(If early returns are any indication, the clubs have not been hurt at the gate, either: Seattle pulled in a healthy 36,111 for its match against Houston, while Chicago sold out its New York game, with an attendance of 21,868)

Seattle is currently 8-8-4, while Chicago is 5-5-6.

Time—and playoff qualification—will tell if the trade remains the positive for both sides that it appears to be now.