MLS: Team-by-Team Off-Season Progress Report

After chasing the day-to-day trade clocking for a couple weeks, and with the Super- and supplemental drafts all wrapped up, today seems as good a day as any to pull it all together. Plenty of changes have already happened and plenty more look likely to happen before Major League Soccer’s (MLS) 2008 season kicks off. The point here is seeing which teams appear most ready and complete with training camps starting in fairly short order.

Below is the most current and, hopefully, thorough record of the player traffic surrounding each of MLS’s 14 clubs. By way of mixing the old with the new, links to each team’s roster will be embedded in their name, while you can find the players each MLS team took in the respective “drafts” here: SuperDraft and supplemental. Completing the picture is SoccerAmerica.com’s list of off-season player moves.

Clocking the incoming traffic is, of course, a little complicated: a number of the players taken via draft won’t make the full roster and, regarding transfer-market horse-swapping, a number of deals remain in progress. So, here’s what will happen in this space: on trades, only “done-deals” – or those that seem “done enough” – will appear. Going the other way, I’m going to treat the players picked up through either draft as part of the team. That said, distinction between players coming in by transfer (e.g. the one’s the club actively sought out, so we’re pretty sure they’ll play) versus the draftees (e.g. who may be waived by the end of February) will be made.  And, of course, corrections of oversights and omissions are entirely welcome.

Finally, a “grade” of sorts, followed by an assessment of how each team looks (as judged by me…obviously), comes after the naming of names. After toying with a, frankly, unworkable grading system (shh…that’s my secret) I’m going to roll with something pretty simple: letter grades. Just like in real life, a grade of a C equal passing – or, in this case, post-season competitive…if only just in some cases. One big thing to clarify on these: this isn’t simply awarded for the quality of the team; consideration for the improvement they have made since the end of 2007 also plays a role, a big one even. As for the assessments, I’ll try to keep them brief and based solely on current, as opposed to possible, circumstances; I can always catch up in future posts.

So, them’s the rules. Time to dig in:

Chicago Fire
Out: Chris Armas (M); Jim Curtin (D); Ivan Guerrero (M/D); Paulo Wanchope (F)
In via transfer: Andy Herron (I’m not clear on his status, but he’s a forward).
In via draft: Patrick Nyarko (F); Dominic Cervi (GK); Peter Lowry (M); Dwight Barnett (F); Stephen King (M); Austin Washington (D); Kai Kasiguran (M); Adrian Bumbut (F); Zach Pope (M); Steve Bode (D); Tim Conway (M); Melford James Jr. (GK).
Grade: C+
Why: Chicago looks all right at defender and, even with Armas and Guerrero gone, in midfield; assuming a return to Justin Mapp’s game, they could look downright swell. But at both forward and in goal, they’re putting a lot of faith in rookies. If Pickens leaves, well, let’s just say Busch may be competent, but there’s not much for tested depth thereafter. Going back to the forwards, Chicago simply hasn’t done enough as yet (getting Fabric Pancakes might help though).

Chivas USA
Out: David Arvizu (M); Desmond Brooks (got me); Preston Burpo (GK); Jason Hernandez (D); Carlos Llamosa (D); Rodrigo Lopez (got me); Laurent Merlin (F); Justin Myers (umm…); Ramon Nunez (M); Orlando Peres (D/M); Eder Robles (M); Erasmo Solorzano (cool name…don’t know where he plays)
In via transfer: Jim Curtin (D); Alecko Eskandarian (F); Atiba Harris (M)
In via draft: Keith Savage (M); Kraig Chiles (F); Javier Ayala-Hil (F); El-Hadj Cisse (M); Andre Sherard (D)
Grade: C-
Why: When the only goalkeeper on your roster is about to move to Scotland, you’re not ready for the season. The defense is decent, but thin; the same goes for the midfield. Help in both places will go a long way to getting these guys season-ready. The only place they look all right is at forward, especially with Eskandarian on board for a bit of depth (that’s unless Razov goes; then this goes out the window and the grade drops). It really doesn’t help that Chivas got virtually no one through the draft. Time is definitely a-wasting here.

Colorado Rapids
Out: Daniel Osorno (F); Zach Thornton (GK)
In via transfer: Jose Burciaga Jr. (D); Chase Hilgenbrinck (D)
In via draft: Ciaran O’Brien (M); Adrian Chevannes (D); Brian Grazer (M); Scott Campbell (M); Kevin Forrest (F); Cesar Zambrano (M); Mike Graczyk (GK); Daniel Antunez (M)
Grade: C
Why: What the hell? Given how dire the Rapids were at times last year, that C feels generous. But, honestly, the players they lost didn’t matter much and they came “that close” to making the post-season, right? Barring changes (and some seem imminent) expect last year’s problems with scoring to continue. Defensively, they’re solid. They just need a schemer (Christian Gomez?) and for forwards like Herculez Gomez and Conor Casey to play often and, ideally, well.

Columbus Crew
Out: Marcos Gonzalez (D); Ned Grabavoy (M); Andy Herron (F); Ben Hunter (umm.); Kei Kamara (F)
In via transfer: Brian Carroll (M)
In via draft: Andy Iro (D); George Josten (F); Ricardo Pierre-Louis (F); Ryan Miller (D); Steven Lenhart (F); Billy Chiles (GK); Corey Elenio (M); Lukasz Tumicz (F); Zola Short (D/F)
Grade: C-
Why: The Crew is simply too thin at forward and, like Chicago, they’re so far relying on rookies to make good. But blame the lousy grade on concerns about defense; it feels a little experimental what with Gonzalez gone and Danny O’Rourke slipping back from midfield; that puts a lot of pressure on Iro to start strong and, solid as Hesmer looked last year, there’s not a lot behind him. The Crew is hot after Maciej Zurawski; if they land him, I’d bump them as high as a B-. And, on the upside, Guillermo Barros Schelotto looks set to stay.

DC United
Out: Nicholas Adderly (F); Bobby Boswell (D); Brian Carroll (M); Shawn Crowe (umm); Josh Gros (D/M); Mira Mupier (umm); Jay Nolly (GK); Troy Perkins (GK); Brad North (umm); Kiki Willis (who? you’re just pulling my leg now); Christian Gomez (M)
In via transfer: Franco Niell (F); Zach Wells (GK); Gonzalo Martinez (D); Marcelo Gallardo (M – see link for Gomez); Jose Carvallo (GK – this seems solid as well).
In via draft: Andrew Jacobson (F); Ryan Cordeiro (M); Tony Schmitz (D/M); Brandon Owens (D); Dan Stratford (M); James Thorpe (GK)
Grade: B-
Why: This team is more ready than most…all except in one spot: defense, defense, defense – and that bears repeating because DC just doesn’t seem to get this. That re-negotiation with Greg Vanney looks all but vital. I’ve heard the argument that DC plays defense by keeping possession, but breaks happen and, at time of writing, these guys don’t have the players or depth to handle those. That said, they have the players in midfield – even Gallardo doesn’t pan out – and an impact forward in Luciano Emilio.

FC Dallas
Out: Sebastian Botero (umm); Clarence Goodson (D); Carlos Ruiz (F)
In via transfer: Duilio Davino (D)
In via draft: Brek Shea (M/D); Josh Lambo (GK); Eric Avila (M); Jamil Roberts (D); Ben Nason (M); Yannick Reyering (F); Ben Shuleva (D/M)
Grade: B+
Why: I’d be shocked if Davino doesn’t improve on Goodson and things kind of go forward from there with the X-Factor being Kenny Cooper’s health and return to form. But a general theme of improvement and streamlining is what earns Dallas high marks. They did well enough in the draft, even though there’s a “project” vibe to some of the players. Still, Dallas has enough in the tank that they can wait on those projects panning out – and if one or two come good this season, that’s just gravy; here, I’m intrigued by Avila and Reyering, in particular. Dallas did pretty well identifying problem spots. If they can only get over the chronic jitters, they’d have something.

Houston Dynamo
Out: Ryan Cochrane (D); Paul Dalglish (F); Seth Hoerner (umm); Jordan James (umm); Joseph Ngwenya (F); Zack Wells (GK)
In via transfer: Bobby Boswell (D)
In via draft: Geoff Cameron (M); Jeremy Barlow (M); Johnny Alcaraz (M); Craig Thompson (F); Kieran Hall (M); James Georgeff (F)
Grade: B+
Why: Houston earned a high grade, but they’re skating on thin ice in a couple spots; defense is not one of them. ‘Keepers don’t get injured as often as field players and Houston can probably ride Pat Onstad for another year, but they’re going to want someone as backup – and soon. Forward is also a concern – and that’s even assuming Nate Jaqua stays put. Yeah, Dwayne DeRosario can play at forward, but I like him better in the hole behind the forwards; he’s like Dempsey in that way. But Houston kept their core of good, and no less crucially, durable players. They’ll do fine…but I wouldn’t expect guys like Stuart Holden and the Flying Wondolowski brothers to carry them through 2008.

Kansas City Wizards
Out: Jose Burciaga Jr. (D); Edson Edcock (umm); Nick Garcia (D); Aaron Godbolt (umm); Eddie Johnson (F); Willy Guadarrama (umm); Chris Konopka (umm)
In via transfer: none
In via draft: Chance Myers (D); Roger Espinoza (D/M); William Yomby (D); Jonathan Leathers (D); Matt Marquess (D); Rauwshan McKenzie (D); Pat Healey (M); Vicente Arze (M); Tom Gray (M); Andrew Kartunen (GK)
Grade: C-
Why: Harsh grade, but this is only one of a few teams that strike me as going backward. They all but gutted their defense and Johnson leaving knocked a big hole on the forward line. That said, it looks like KC went defender-shopping on draft day; maybe that will be enough? Probably not. Sticking with defense, getting a ‘keeper wouldn’t hurt either. But the bigger problem comes at forward. With EJ gone, they need more than Scott Sealy, Ryan Pore, and pinch-hitting from the likes of Davy Arnaud. At least one hears rumors about replacements heading to KC from time to time.

Los Angeles Galaxy
Out: Chris Albright (D); Joe Cannon (GK); Mike Caso (umm); Lance Friesz (GK); Gavin Glinton (F); Cobi Jones (M/F); Clint Mathis (M/F); Carlos Pavon (F); Kyle Veris (D/M)
In via trade: Carlos Ruiz (F); Celestine Babayaro (D/M)
In via draft: Sean Franklin (D/M); Ely Allen (F); Julian Valentin (D); Matt Allen (GK); Brandon McDonald (F); Matt Hatzke (D/M); Michael Gavin (D); Charles Alamo (GK); Greg Folk (D); Daniel De Geer (M/F)
Grade: C-
Why: I have to say, LA is better off than I thought they were – and that’s even as I see little to celebrate in their transfer news; just another way of saying I’m dubious on both Ruiz and Babayaro. But they have some very flexible players left on the roster that I too often forget: Kelly Gray, Quavas Kirk, Chris Klein, Kevin Harmse, etc. It’s the midfield depth and in goal that keeps them from “passing.” They could play with the roster they have…it just doesn’t strike me as a great plan for season-long success.

New England Revolution
Out: Pat Noonan (F); Bryan Byrne (F); Andy Dorman (M); Miguel Gonzalez (M); Marshall Leonard (D); Chris Loftus (F); James Riley (D/M); Willie Sims (F)
In via transfer: Chris Albright (D)
In via draft: Rob Valentino (D); Michael Videira (M); Joe Germanese (M); Matthew Britner (D); Spencer Wadsworth (M); Mkokheli Dube (F); Chris Tierney (D); Kyle Altman (M); Saidi Isaac (F)
Grade: C-
Why: The Revs have a problem similar to LA’s: they have enough versatile pieces, but those get increasingly exposed as you shuffle them around. But the Revs’ situation is arguably worse. They’re too thin at forward and, to be honest, in the attack generally. The Revs may have always been a blunt instrument kind of team, but with Noonan’s departure they look about as creative as an academic paper on medieval plumbing. The sad thing is, there are plenty of unknown quantities on the roster – and several more were drafted – but the $64K question is whether Steve Nicol ever let’s them play. Worse still, there are virtually no trade rumors attached to this team worth noting.

Red Bull New York
Out: Sal Caccavale (M); Blake Camp (D?); Clint Mathis (M/F); Markus Schopp (M); Joe Vide (M); Ronald Waterreus (GK); Santino Quaranta (M/F)
In via transfer: Zack Thornton (GK)
In via draft: Eric Brunner (D); Luke Sassano (D/M); David Roth (M); Danleigh Borman (M); Michael Palacio (M); John Gilkerson (D); Manuel Laurent (D/M)
Grade: B-
Why: Call this a fit of generosity, but most of what this team cut this year amounts to dead weight. The challenge ahead comes with lifting that grade closer to safety. With goalkeeping tolerably squared away and the chances of last year’s injury plague again striking the defense, they have a workable foundation. The attack ain’t awful either – and they’re actually good at forward – but Red Bull could use upgrades in all the midfield positions. To put it harshly, the Red Bull roster has too many depth players in starting roles; make a couple improvements and this could be a good team.

Real Salt Lake
Out: Chris Brown (M/F); Steven Curfman (umm); Alecko Eskandarian (F); Atiba Harris (M); Christian Jimenez (D?); Jean-Martial Kipre (D); Eddie Pope (D); Jack Stewart (D); Jamie Watson (M)
In via transfer: Ian Joy (D)
In via draft: Anthony Beltran (D/M); David Horst (D); Alex Nimo (M); Brennan Tennelle (M); Tino Nunez (F); Kevin Reiman (M); Kenny Anaba (F)
Grade: C-
Why: Simply put, this team needs work in midfield and, probably, defense; their forward setup ain’t exactly gangbusters either. But I also get the sense they’re working on it harder than most – so expect the grade to go up. I also get the impression that Horst is MLS-ready and that will help. No, midfield is the big question mark. The trio of Argentines they brought in the middle of 2007 seemed to help for a bit, so maybe they’ll lean on them more in ’08. They could definitely use an impact forward as well. But a tweak here or there and this team could work.

San Jose Earthquakes
Out: n/a – didn’t exist
In via Expansion draft: hell, just click the roster
In via draft: Shea Salinas (M); Adam Smarte (F); Tim Bohnenkamp (F); Greg Curry (D); Tim Jepsen (D)
Grade: D-
Why: I’m almost tempted not to grade these guys. But the reality is, training camp starts really soon and, to be blunt about it, they don’t have enough players. Frank Yallop has a decent, even solid, foundation in place, but this roster will peter out by June. The first priority is surely at forward, but the midfield is alarming thin as well. In fact, the only place they look ready is in goal.

Toronto FC
Out: Adam Braz (D); Maycoll Canizalez (M?); Srdjan Djekanovic (umm); David Guzman (umm); Stephen Lumley (who?); Cristian Nunez (who?); Chris Pozniak (D/M); Marco Reda (D/M)
In via transfer: none
In via draft: Julian James (D); Pat Phelan (D/M); Brian Edwards (GK); Mike Zaher (D); Joseph Lapira (F); Xavier Balc (F)
Grade: D+
Why: Take away picking up what many think will be starting defenders through the draft and these guys’ grade would go lower. They should do better back there this year, even if they could use an upgrade at ‘keeper (which they seem to be seeking). Turn back the calendar to mid-summer, though, and you’ll get to the bigger concern: who can forget TFC’s record-breaking scoring drought? And what have they done so far to repair that? Too little. As presently constituted, this team is two turf-produced injuries away from another season of hitting their heads against the wall.

That’s where I see ‘em all today. Hopefully, we’ll have some more to talk about when I do this again in a week or two (leaning toward two right now; oh, my carpal tunnel….).

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8 Responses

  1. THIS is exactly the sort of team by team roster analysis I have been looking for. With Ngwenya, and now Jaqua apparently, gone, the tendency down here in Houston is for people to start panicking. I think that is a wild overreaction, especially when you look at what everyone else in the league has either done or not done. Of course, Dynamo is thinner on the attack than they were, and you are right, they need at least a warm body to back up Onstad, who, great as he is, is still the oldest player in the league. (Jordan James, who was released, is a keeper. He was the third-stringer last year.) I’m still trying to interest people down here in a Craig Waibel and Corey Ashe deal to the Quakes for Preston Burpo, but apparently, it’s drawing little interest. Ah well.

  2. The funny thing is I bet Waibel would go. And Burpo is good. The only issue I’m seeing is San Jose thinking they need to keep their back-up ‘keeper. Then again, this is a two-fer-one swap of players and SJ has like two dudes on the whole team.

  3. My thinking exactly. Yallop might o for it. But like I said over t Nutmegged. My mantra is “Trust in Dom.” And I’ll hold to it as long as it keeps working for me! :> (Though I have to admit that some doubt is starting to creep in.)

  4. Actually, as far as United is concerned, I think you’re going to find that Vanney is rapidly becoming surplus to requirements and that our defense is starting to fill in nicely. Martinez should fill his boots and more, bringing more quality experience, and almost certainly more speed to the back.

    We’re also likely to bring in an Argentine center back (Peralta) and just picked up Owens (US youth international & UCLA), who can fill in at right back and center back. A couple of our other pickups in the draft also have the potential to be outside backs and give us the depth we so sorely lacked last year. Add those to the existing trio of proven vet Namoff and up-and-comers McTavish and Burch, and that’s not a bad crew–as far as MLS roster limitations allow.

    Far be it from me to ever be optimistic, but I’ve got trust in our front office, and nothing they’re doing with the back line gives me any cause to doubt that trust.

  5. Fair points all, Fullback, especially where Peralta is concerned. As for rookies and youngsters, I only trust ’em after I see ’em. But I think you’re substantively right on the Peralta thing; if he was in the bag, I would have given the DC “D” more props…and will once he is.

    And seeing your name reminds me, I’ve got to run over and give you props….be right there.

  6. […] – as recorded on their respective rosters – but will only cover changes that have happened since my first off-season progress report. That said, 1) I’m away from my usual post and the notes I keep there, which means 2) […]

  7. […] I’m assuming that anyone drafted between the SuperDraft and supplemental draft – all identified here – is, effectively, on trial. I imagine some draftees have gone home already, but ignore them until […]

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