By the time MLS begins its 21st regular season on March 6, more than 350 player transactions will have been made during the 2 1/2 month offseason.
These include free agent deals, overseas transfers and a number of trades, all of which were highlighted on this blog on Wednesday. Even those who stayed put made noise, negotiating new deals or holding out for a big payday.
The break is quickly winding down, though, as teams make their final preparations for the upcoming season. With that in mind, it’s time to examine which teams benefitted this offseason, and which fell way short:
Toronto FC — Times have certainly changed. The Reds that long dominated the offseason spotlight, yet never really addressed areas of concern, finally stepped up to the plate this offseason.
With a ridiculous attacking core already in place – this league’s big three in reigning MLS MVP Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley – Toronto set out to fix its defensive woes. And by golly, it did just that.
The Reds first went out and grabbed Colorado’s Drew Moor, a veteran centerback who’s long been overshadowed by the Rapids’ apathy. At 32, Moor isn’t going to set the world on the fire. What he will do, though, is anchor a backline with the experience and knowledge of a player who’s spent his entire 12-year career in one league.
Next up in Toronto’s offseason pursuit was Steven Beitashour, another veteran presence whose experience at fullback will add an exciting, new dimension to Toronto’s game. That same day, the club also added Canadian midfielder Will Johnson. The former Portland Timbers playmaker dealt with injuries in 2015 and isn’t exactly the best fit alongside Bradley. However, Johnson is what baseball writers pen a “clubhouse guy” who will do everything to make it work.
Last but not least, Toronto grabbed another former Rapids favorite in goalkeeper Clint Irwin. One of the most interesting social media follows around the league, Irwin could benefit from his new scenery and the Reds’ new-look backline.
All in all, Toronto’s front office finally learned from the missteps of years past and delivered what the club has long needed. Of course, it helps to have a lethal attacking group already in place, but it’s no less progress for these Reds.
FC Dallas — The luxury of a club with young, homegrown talent scattered across the field is evident in FC Dallas’ offseason moves. Last season’s Supporters Shield runners-up exercised their youthful upper hand to get rid of the excess this offseason.
Mostly, it meant pushing out its aging contributors.
Blas Perez, Michel and Dan Kennedy are all out, saving FC Dallas just north of $720,000 against the cap. Perez, 34, was traded to Vancouver Whitecaps FC on Feb. 16. Michel, 34, had his optioned declined and has since joined up with NASL expansion club Rayo OKC. Kennedy, 33, was shipped to L.A. in exchange for the Galaxy’s second and third round selections in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft.
David Texeira, 24, was the lone exception. The young forward contributed nine goals in 2015 and four the season prior. He had his optioned declined on Dec. 3 before linking up with Turkish club Sivasspor.
In their place, FC Dallas added the likes of Maximiliano Urruti, Maynor Figueroa and Mauro Rosales. Urruti will be expected to produce alongside Tesho Akindele as a younger and more talented version of Perez*. Figueroa and Rosales, meanwhile, are older, veteran players who should be tasked with helping close out (or chase) matches.
*If you read Wednesday’s post, he’s also my pick for the top offseason addition across the league.
FC Dallas went a long way last season on the backs of a bunch of 21-25 year olds. Their experience and aforementioned trio of offseason additions make FC Dallas early favorites to contend for all three major trophies in 2016.
Chicago Fire — What do you when you’re the worst team in Major League Soccer? Well, for starters, you don’t trade away your three best players.
Unless you’re Chicago, apparently.
After posting an 8-20-6 record (30 points) last season, the Fire created some goodwill amongst their hardcore fans by hiring Serbia U-20 coach Veljko Paunovic. But in the ensuing months it lost any good fortune when it traded away Harry Shipp, Joevin Jones and Patrick Nyarko.
Shipp’s departure was far and away the most shocking move of the offseason. Just two years ago, the Fire academy product was a frontrunner for MLS Rookie of the Year.
“I know this is a business and nothing is personal, but this is inherently personal for me,” Shipp penned in a letter to Fire supporters. “I went to games at Soldier Field, at the temporary stadium out in Naperville, and throughout the Blanco era at Toyota Park. I even went to practices at Lake Forest College whenever I could convince my mom to take me.
“My passion in the past two years was to help make soccer relevant again in Chicago. This is what got me out of bed every single morning. I wanted to look back 10 years from now and be proud of how I was able to contribute to the growth of this club and its interaction with the city of Chicago.”
Jones is an up-and-coming left back whose athleticism suited him well against Club America on Tuesday night as a member of Seattle Sounders FC. Nyarko, meanwhile, was traded to D.C. United on Jan. 6.
With Paunovic calling the shots, Chicago should be better on the field in 2016. But without its most recognizable faces, expect to see the Fire near the Eastern Conference cellar once more.
D.C. United — D.C. United took a step back last season after a breakout year in 2014.
It could be two more steps back this season.
United’s biggest problem in 2015 was a blatant lack of creativity. Even at home, D.C. would sit back and absorb pressure in the final third. It worked well enough to tally a winning record and grab the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. However, against the East’s more creative sides – Columbus Crew SC and the New York Red Bulls – D.C. United didn’t stand a chance.
As a result, many thought D.C. United would set to address its attacking needs. (Considering Chicago scored just as many goals in league play). Instead, it declined the options of one forward and sent a second to Colorado.
United has yet to sign a forward to replace either player.
D.C. did manage to bring in Lamar Neagle, who should provide a boost in the midfield as the (cheaper) replacement for Perry Kitchen, and four-year veteran Marcelo Sarvas. These pieces are nice, but in context don’t give United the lift it desperately needs to make a deep postseason run…
…Or in this case, a postseason run at all.
Missed their chance
Real Salt Lake — After missing out on the playoffs for the second time in just eight years, Real Salt Lake needed to make the most of its offseason.
It didn’t, to say the least.
The club couldn’t reach a new deal with 22-year-old midfielder Luis Gil. He’s now playing for Querétaro in Liga MX. So, too, is Luis Silva, who was out of contract. Sebastian Jaime, meanwhile, was allowed to walk after the two sides mutually agreed to part ways.
The only redeeming move for Real Salt Lake has been the addition of Chris Wingert, the 13-year veteran who spent eight seasons with Real Salt Lake before being selected by New York City FC in the 2014 Expansion Draft. He was grabbed off waivers on Feb. 3.