The time between MLS Cup and kickoff of the ensuing regular season is less an offseason for club management than ever before.
Take Portland, for example, which won its first MLS Cup on Dec. 6. That night, following a myriad of celebrations involving Champaign and Budweiser inside its locker room in Columbus, Ohio, Timbers personnel began telling players they were not in the club’s plans for 2016.
Since then, Portland and the rest of the league has been on the offensive, looking for ways to bolster their rosters under the constraints put in place by MLS and the most recent collective bargaining agreement.
The result has been interesting to say the least.
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Free agency, still in its infancy stages, allowed league veterans to choose where they wanted to play for the first time ever following the agreement between MLS and the Player’s Union. Sporting Kansas City struck the first free-agent deal in league history, signing Justin Mapp on Dec. 14. Seven free agents have been signed this offseason so far.
Attacking talent such as Krisztian Nemeth and Obafemi Martins was shipped off overseas to big spenders in Qatar and China. Nemeth departs after contributing 16 goals in league play, a move that Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes said “came down to money.” Martins, meanwhile, doubled his salary with his move to Chinese Super League side Shanghai Greenland Shenua. He was due $3.6 million before taxes this season playing in Seattle, but will now collect a tax-free $6.6 million in China.
Trades and free transfers remained the most popular means of offseason moves, though. The Re-entry Draft, SuperDraft and waiver list also produced means for transactions.
Below are seven major offseason moves* that are sure to make a difference in 2016:
In no particular order, mind you. Also, expect some more moves within the next two weeks as the transfer window remains open.
Maximiliano Urruti to FC Dallas (optioned declined by the Portland Timbers)
The former Timbers striker who kept Portland’s postseason run alive with an equalizer in the 118th minute against Sporting KC, Urruti found a new home with FC Dallas less than a week after hoisting MLS Cup.
Still just 25 years old, Urruti possesses skill on the ball and a work rate that frustrates defenders into uncharacteristic mistakes. He was mainly utilized as a super sub in Portland, but should be a regular alongside Tesho Akindele in Dallas.
In 2 1/2 seasons with the Timbers, Urruti started 28 of his 65 league appearances, scoring 15 goals. What makes his move to FC Dallas so exciting is the youthful core he’s joining that made a run last season. With such talent around him, Urruti could be poised for a big 2016 season.
Harry Shipp to the Montreal Impact (traded by the Chicago Fire)
The offseason move that shocked both MLS fans and the young midfielder himself, Shipp moves to Montreal where he joins a crowded midfield.
To say the transfer took Shipp by surprise would be an understatement.
“I immediately broke down and started crying,” Shipp penned in a heartfelt letter to Chicago Fire supporters. “It was totally shocking and overwhelming. This club and this city have meant everything to me. Not just for the past 2 years, but since I started following the Fire over 15 years ago.”
He was one of the bright spots at Toyota Park as one of the league’s premier, young midfielders. Even when the Fire fell to last in the Eastern Conference standings last season, Shipp had the makings of an MLS star. He was a serious contender for MLS Rookie of the Year in 2014.
Now, he’ll be forced to start over north of the border.
Shipp played in 33 games in each of his two seasons in Chicago. He’ll likely see the field less in Montreal, but given the average age of the Impact’s three midfield regulars — 33 years old — Shipp should be routinely called upon. And with Didier Drogba playing ahead of him — a real scoring threat — the 24-year-old should have a heyday in the midfield.
Jordan Morris to Seattle Sounders FC (signed to a homegrown contract)
American soccer fans are torn on the country’s most promising prospect in years.
On one hand, Morris has been heralded the next Landon Donovan after contributing goals for the U.S. against Mexico and the Netherlands. Others, though, aren’t ready to buy into the hype, and point to Freddy Adu as their reason why.
Nevertheless, Morris is here to stay, choosing to sign with his hometown club after training with Germany’s Werder Bremen. He signed the richest homegrown contract in league history, which Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated reported is a guaranteed three-year, $675,000 deal paying him an average of $225,000 per year.
In his first competitive game with the Sounders Tuesday against Club America in the CONCACAF Champions League, Morris was active and locked in to the action. He put in an 85-minute shift, nearly scoring a goal on a questionable clearance that appeared to hit the outstretched arm of a Club America defender.
Morris will have his ups and downs in league play, but there most certainly will be moments of brilliance, too, especially playing alongside Clint Dempsey. That alone will make Seattle fun to watch this season.
Steven Beitashour to Toronto FC (traded by Vancouver Whitecaps FC)
Believe it or not, Toronto FC’s front office is finally listening.
After a quick exit from the 2015 playoffs, Toronto FC went out and addressed its greatest need: defense.
It’s a need that has plagued the Reds for years. Now with it, Toronto FC looks like an early favorite to win the Eastern Conference.
The most promising addition along its backline is 29-year-old Steven Beitashour. The fullback has been one of the most consistent defenders in MLS, starting no less than 27 games dating back to the 2012 season with the San Jose Earthquakes. He isn’t the paciest defender, but one that can move the ball up the field while holding down the space behind him defensively.
That alone should mean the world to Toronto FC in 2016.
Jack McInerney to the Portland Timbers (traded by Columbus Crew SC)
The replacement for Urruti, McInerney is searching for stability in Portland with the defending MLS Cup champions.
After five seasons with the Philadelphia Union, McInerney was traded to Montreal where he scored 11 goals in one and a half seasons, and then to Columbus Crew SC where he served as the backup to 2015 MLS MVP finalist Kei Kamara.
With the Timbers, McInerney faces a similar battle that Urruti did with playing time. However, there’s no denying the talent he possesses, which at one time led some to believe he was the next big American forward. And in manager Caleb Porter’s system, McInerney will certainly be given opportunities to score goals.
Nigel de Jong to the L.A. Galaxy (free transfer)
Bruce Arena does not have time for your silly roster stipulations.
The L.A. Galaxy boss got creative this season when the club underwent a massive roster shakeup. Following the transfers of fan favorites Omar Gonzalez and Juninho, who were shipped to separate Liga MX teams, Arena went after a trio of European stars. One of which was Nigel de Jong, who once demanded a $26 million transfer fee.
He ended up signing for $500,000.
In the end, L.A. acquired all three players for a combined $1.3 million — less than what it paid Gonzalez last season. It did so by getting A.C. Milan — de Jong’s former club — and Roma — Ashley Cole’s former club — to agree to lucrative buyouts. That enabled the Galaxy to bid low.
Cole, 35, is past his prime, and de Jong isn’t young himself at 31. However, de Jong has a reason to play well: more money.
With Steven Gerrard set to retire after this season, de Jong can nab himself a Designated Player spot if he scores X-number of goals in 2016. An experienced midfielder at both club and international levels, de Jong no doubt will chase that payday.
And that chase could benefit the Galaxy and their prized midfielder, Gerrard.
The Galaxy were at their worst last season when Gerrard was forced to run. With de Jong beside him, Gerrard can search out space while the Dutchman presses forward and does most of the dirty work. It’s not a foolproof plan, leaning on a 31 year old to do all your work in a new league and country, but at the very least it makes sense.
Joevin Jones to Seattle Sounders FC (traded by the Chicago Fire)
Truth be told, Jones wasn’t initially on this list. He was good last season…but for Chicago.
That changed on Tuesday night in the Sounders’ 2-2 draw with Club America. Jones was a force on the left side, shutting down more Club America chances than I wished to count. His poise when the attack was directed at him was clear even on TV, with a number of last-ditch tackles saving the day near the box. He also did well to provide support when the ball was on the other side of the field.
Jones’ effort Tuesday wasn’t perfect — Club America’s opening goal was the result of Jones pushing too far up the field — but against a side well in form, it was promising for the upcoming Sounders season.