Brek Shea Completes Move to Stoke City, Capping Busy Week for MLS Exports

MLS: FC Dallas at San Jose EarthquakesFC Dallas and U.S. winger Brek Shea has completed his on-again, off-again transfer to Premier League side Stoke City (pending his work permit, which he’s expected to receive), and the lanky Texan who just doesn’t “like regular haircuts” is the third MLS product to land with a top-flight European side this week.

Shea follows ex-DC United star Andy Najar, who signed with Belgian champions Anderlecht, and Sporting Kansas City attacker Kei Kamara, who went on loan to Norwich City of the EPL.

This is all good for MLS, as it fills the league’s coffers while proving that the U.S. circuit produces quality players—and increasinlgy so: Earlier in the month, Kansas City midfielder Roger Espinoza, a U.S. citizen who plays internationally for Honduras, signed with Premier League side Wigan, and this past August, U.S. defender Geoff Cameron joined Stoke, where he’ll help Shea get acquainted.

A couple of other notable facts about these moves:

• Najar, a DC United Academy product, is the first MLS Homegrown Player ever to sign a contract in Europe.

• Kamara’s deal with Norwich includes an option to buy at the end of the Premier League season in May. If Norwich declines, KC will get the big Sierra Leone international back long-term: they extended his contract as part of the loan agreement.

• Shea, who was dogged by injuries last season—an off year for him—had surgery on his right foot in November. He’s reportedly a month away from being able to play.

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Frank Lampard Headed to Los Angeles?

Lamps

If a Goal.com report published late last night is to be believed, Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard will join the Los Angeles Galaxy on a free transfer at the end of the Premier League season, becoming the second marquee midfielder from England to join the club in the past half-decade, after uh, … whatsisname, blonde guy, good-looking—you know the one.

Lampard is one of the highest-scoring midfielders in Premier League history, with 194 goals in 584 appearances for Chelsea, and even though he’s 34, he still has something left in the tank, having scored seven goals in 14 games this season.

A source quoted in the report, says the transfer is “all but done,” and Galaxy coach Bruce Arena, speaking to reporters at the MLS SuperDraft in Indianapolis, said the club would make an announcement about its third Designated Player next week:

“I wouldn’t be surprised if over the next week or so we’re going to have some kind of decision we’re going to make with a Designated Player. We wouldn’t rule that out. It’s always a possibility.”

Arena and LA would also like to make an announcement soon about the future of the best player in club history, the currently in-limbo Landon Donovan—and preferably one that involves him returning to the Galaxy in 2013.

Because while a Lampard–Robbie Keane combination in their attack would be nice, a Donovan-Lampard-Keane troika would make LA the prohibitive MLS favorites (again).

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.

The Scottification of the Vancouver Whitecaps

 

 

 

 

The Vancouver Whitecaps set what seemed like a new standard last season as the most-attractive-to-watch yet least successful expansion franchise in Major League Soccer history.

They played a skillful, free-flowing style that created lots of chances—unfortunately, too many of those chances were in front of their own net. They conceded 55 goals and finished dead last in the Western Conference. But they were fun to watch.

During the offseason, center back Jay DeMerit returned to health, and the club acquired veteran South Korean wingback Y.P. Lee and Argentine center back Martin Bonjour, along with French attacker Sebastian Le Toux, who led Philadelphia in scoring last season.

With their defense shored up, and more skill in the attacking third, they got off to a great start this season.

But Whitecaps brass, which includes Scottish head coach Martin Rennie, were curiously unsatisfied, and have kept on tinkering with their roster.

Soon after the arrival of Scottish midfielder Barry Robson in mid-June (on a free transfer arranged in January), the team jettisoned Swiss playmaker Davide Chiumiento, arguably the most skillful player on the roster, Le Toux, and the big (but skillful) French striker Eric Hassli—all within one week.

Around the same time Vancouver brought in Scottish striker (and national team captain) Kenny Miller, Jamaican winger Dane Richards, and Irish defender Andy O’Brien.

O’Brien is not Scottish, but Ireland is close enough, ethnically and in their soccer, to Scotland to justify the following tweet from MLSSoccer.com’s Matt Doyle after a recent Vancouver loss:

“The Whitecaps may have lost, but I still think they’re favorites for the Scottish Premier League title this season.”

With Miller, Robson and O’Brien down the spine, the Whitecaps have become stodgier—and more physical: Their recent 2-0 loss to Dallas featured 41 fouls and nine yellow cards, six of them shown to Vancouver players.

Gone is the silky combination play between Chiumiento, Camilo, and Hassli that made them such an entertaining side.

Sure, Chiumiento was not exactly a defense-first kind of guy, and the team left itself too wide open last season, but the offseason acquisitions addressed that problem, to a T. Now, they’ve fallen off the other side of the horse.

And judging by the results, the problem is not limited to style: the Whitecaps are 2-5-2 in their last nine games.

Tim Cahill Headed to Red Bulls?

The New York club has not confirmed it yet, but Everton’s website is reporting that the Toffees have agreed to a transfer to MLS and the Red Bulls for veteran Australian attacker Tim Cahill.

Cahill, 32, didn’t have a great season at Everton last year, but he produced nine goals and four assists in 27 league appearances in 2010-11, and he established himself as a dangerous attacking threat in his eight seasons with the Merseyside club.

He’s also a mainstay with the Australian national team, having scored 24 goals in 55 appearances for his country.

If confirmed, the transfer would give the Red Bulls the most dangerous attacking corps in MLS. They’re already second in the league in goals per game, with Thierry Henry (10 goals, six assists), Kenny Cooper (13 goals, one assist), Sebastien Le Toux (five goals, two assists), and Joel Lindpere (three goals, four assists) leading the way.

Adding a player of Cahill’s ability to this group, which also includes Dax McCarty—who’s enjoying arguably the best season of his career—Rafa Marquez, rising youngster Connor Lade, and, when he returns from injury, experienced Finnish international Teemu Tainio, would firmly establish the Red Bulls as Eastern Conference and MLS Cup favorites.

If their backline can stay healthy and consistent, the Red Bulls could finally acquire something for their heretofore empty trophy case.

Is Beckham Staying After All?

Either David Beckham has been playing the Clash’s Combat Rock, track No. 3, for the past several weeks, or he’s trying his hardest to add some zip to an early 2012 announcement about his much rumored move to Paris St. Germain.

Because according to today’s Daily Mail, the transfer—once thought to be in the bag—is not a done deal, and may never be one.

During the press conference introducing former Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti as the new PSG coach (replacing Antoine Kombouare, who was dismissed despite leading the team to the top of the table heading into the winter break), the Paris side’s sporting director, Leonardo, said of the potential Beckham acquisition, “it’s not done yet and it might not happen.”

It is curious, though, that first-place Kombouare would get the sack and Ancelotti, the man who coached Beckham during his successful loan spell at AC Milan, would be brought in.

Of course, time will tell, but if we had to guess, we’d say the deal is still on. Hard to imagine Beckham engaging the process this far without following through and signing. Additionally, he’s probably enticed by the possibility of winning another league championship (again, PSG is top of the Ligue 1 table right now) and staying on the European radar for the 2012 Olympics in his hometown of London.

Chances are, he’s just (somewhat lamely) trying to build up the announcement for some time next week.

MLS Import-Export Season Under Way

Cue Art Vandelay: While the fate of Major League Soccer’s biggest out-of-contract player, David Beckham, is still undecided (though PSG seems to have the inside track), the 2011-2012 trading season has begun in earnest.

This week the league dealt two 2011 foreign signings back to Mexico and Sweden, respectively, while bringing in a new Brazilian midfielder and generating the usual supply of rumors about other players headed stateside. Let’s take a look:

Bravo, But No Encore

Sporting Kansas City announced yesterday that Designated Player Omar Bravo will return to the Mexican Primera Division after just one season with the MLS club.

The 31-year-old attacker, who tied for the SKC lead in goals with nine, has signed with Cruz Azul, but he’s apparently leaving on good terms. Kansas City coach Peter Vermes called the Cruz Azul offer “very beneficial for him and us. I understand from the business perspective why the decision was made.”

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, per league policy, but Vermes also told the league website: “I think you are smart enough to figure out that obviously there were benefits on both sides that eventually got the deal done. That’s really it.”

For his part Bravo, left the door open, saying in his departing statement, “I do not want to rule out a return to Sporting KC and MLS.”

Bravo is an excellent player and he did well for Kansas City in 2011, but the club is still in good shape without him. Since the 2011 season ended, they’ve acquired left-sided player Bobby Convey—a former US international who’s still only 28, and as Vermes said, “has a lot to prove.” He could conceivably take Bravo’s place in the KC attack alongside Kei Kamara, Teal Bunbury, and 2011 Rookie of the Year CJ Sapong.

Kansas City also added central midfielder Paulo Nagamura of Brazil, and Bravo’s departure will free up the cash to shop for another marquee player.

If I Leave Here Tomorrow

He’s travelin’ on back to his native Sweden, but Seattle fans will still remember Eric Friberg.

The 25-year-old was a solid signing for the Pacific Northwest club, producing one goal and two assists, and providing depth and versatility to the Sounders’ midfield—he played in a central attacking role as well as on both flanks during the 2011 season.

Friberg is returning to Sweden for personal reasons: He and his wife are expecting their first child, and they want to be close to home and extended family.

Brazilian Pipeline

On the import side of the ledger, the LA Galaxy announced yesterday that they’ve signed 30-year-old Brazilian midfielder Marcelo Sarvas, a native of Sao Paulo who played for Costa Rican side Alajuelense in 2011.

The Galaxy faced Sarvas twice in the CONCACAF Champions League this past season, so they know what they’re getting. He could partner with his countryman Juninho next season if Juninho, who was on loan to LA from Sao Paulo FC, accepts the Galaxy’s contract offer.

Los Angeles could field three Brazilians next season if Juninho returns and defender Leonardo recovers from his knee injury (and extends his loan from Sao Paulo).

Stay Tuned

Still in the speculative stages are potential moves by the Red Bulls, who are shopping for both a central defender and an attacking midfielder, along with a possible return to the league by rugged Colombian centerback Wilman Conde, who reportedly wants out of Mexican side Atlas.

New York GM Erik Soler says the team is shopping for a third Designated Player from “one of the bigger leagues” in Europe. “We want someone with high quality on the ball who likes to move the ball around but has the ability to score on their own,” he told the league website.

Someone kind of like Dwayne De Rosario…? (Let’s just move on.)

Soler said that the first priority is to add a central defender, and he also said that German goalkeeper Frank Rost could be back after all, though not as a DP.

Real Salt Lake brass are also in the hunt for new talent. Head coach Jason Kreis traveled to South America and Europe in the past few weeks, and GM Garth Lagerwey is currently in Asia looking at players.