10 Most Important 2012 MLS Offseason Acquisitions
Major League Soccer will kick off its 17th season on the weekend of March 10. As always, MLS teams have been busy in the offseason, shuffling rosters to make their squads more competitive and to fit within the league’s salary cap structure.
Another expansion team, Impact de Montreal, have joined the league, pushing MLS to 19 teams and an unbalanced schedule. The playoffs have again been revamped by the league, and this year’s league schedule will be the longest yet.
Now, with less than a month to go before the season kicks off, here are 10 players that should make their teams contenders for the MLS playoffs—or at least close enough, in a league in which over half the teams make the postseason.
10. The Experienced Defender
Robbie Russell, Right Back, DC United
Russell featured in 26 matches for Real Salt Lake in 2011 and was a member of the club’s 2009 MLS Cup-winning team. In 2010, RSL’s defense only gave up 20 goals in the regular season, setting a new MLS record, and Russell played in 31 of those record-setting matches.
Russell’s addition not only adds experience to a very youthful team with an average of 25, but it brings a winning mentality to a club that hasn’t made the MLS playoffs since 2007.
9. Pastures New
Justin Braun, Striker, Impact de Montreal
In four seasons with Chivas USA—MLS purgatory—Justin Braun tallied 24 goals in 96 appearances and was continually tapped to be the next great U.S. international.
Unfortunately for all parties involved, Braun has never fulfilled those high expectations. As a young striker at Chivas USA, he rarely received adequate service from teammates.
Braun now finds himself with the expansion Impact under head coach and former teammate at Chivas USA, Jesse Marsch. Braun should get plenty of chances in a team with few options at the striker position. Those options were reduced even more this week, as Brian Ching was sent back to Houston in a trade.
The Impact have also signed wingers Justin Mapp and Sanna Nyassi. Both can get Braun the service he needs and can prevent the 24-year-old from dropping deep into the midfield to get the ball.
Braun’s never reached double-digits in scoring during his four years in MLS. He finished 2011 with eight, although two hat tricks accounted for two-thirds of his output.
A change of scenery may be just what he needs to fulfill his potential.
8. Back to MLS
Wilman Conde, Center Back, New York Red Bulls
Wilman Conde returns to MLS for his second stint in the league after spending 2011 with Atlas in the Mexican Primera Division. However, injury cut his time in Mexico short, only appearing in 13 matches.
Conde is best remembered for his four seasons with the Chicago Fire, where he played in 73 games. During his time in the Windy City, Conde struck up a fantastic partnership with fellow center back Bakary Soumare. Chicago’s defense only allowed 33 goals in 2008 and 34 in 2009.
New York has brought Conde in to replace Tim Ream after he was sold to English Premier League side Bolton Wanderers in January. So far, Conde is on Rafael Marquez’s good side, and as a fellow Spanish speaker, could adapt well playing alongside the former Barcelona defender.
After Ream’s poor showing last season, Conde is an upgrade in all areas. New York, however, is a club still searching for a first-choice goalkeeper, and there won’t be much improvement at the back until they find one.
7. The Stopper
Emiliano Dudar, Center Back, DC United
Like the addition of Robbie Russell, DC United’s signing of Emiliano Dudar brings experience and leadership. Despite scoring 49 goals in 2011 and boasting league MVP Dwayne De Rosario, the black and red managed to concede 52 goals, fourth most in MLS.
Dudar’s last two seasons have been ones of mixed fortune.
He moved to BSC Young Boys in Switzerland at the beginning of the 2009-10 season. In his first year, he was named the league’s best defender. However, in his second year, he suffered a concussion, keeping him out of action for three months. He did feature in 17 matches towards the end of the season, though.
At 6'4", he is the tallest United defender and can be a dominant force in the air. That is, if he can stay concussion-free.
DC United’s signings of Russell and Dudar should shore up their porous defense. An improved DC United back four should see them into the playoffs for the first time in four years.
6. The Well-Travelled Marksman
Blas Perez, Striker, FC Dallas
Perez is well-traveled and joins his 15th team in FC Dallas. A lot of excitement surrounds Perez after signing in January, and goals are expected from the Panamanian who turns 31 in February.
Perez performed well over the last four years playing in Mexico and the U.A.E. His best output was in 2010-11, tallying 19 goals in 23 starts at Club Leon in the Mexican second division.
Perez played well in last summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, but his form in World Cup qualifying has been even better. Perez has scored six goals in four Panama wins and holds an international strike rate of 22 in 38.
FC Dallas manager Schellas Hyndman had Perez on his radar for some time, and Hyndman now has an out-and-out striker Brek Shea can feed the ball to.
Dallas scored 42 goals last season, and Perez should improve on that stat.
5. The Scorned Striker
Sebastien Le Toux, Striker/Midfield, Vancouver Whitecaps
Sebastien Le Toux was traded to Vancouver after his relationship with Philadelphia Union manager Piotr Nowak became untenable. Le Toux was the face of the Union, and in his two seasons was the club’s top scorer.
It wasn’t until the bizarre sale of Carlos Ruiz in August last year that Le Toux returned to the form he showed in 2010, and some viewed him as an MVP candidate.
He now joins a team that finished dead last in MLS in 2011. The Whitecaps only notched 35 goals and over half were scored between Eric Hassle and Camilo.
New Whitecaps manager Martin Rennie now finds himself with an abundance of attacking options. A three-man attack of Camilo, Hassle and Le Toux would be one of the most dynamic in the league. It would also be a far cry from the straight-forward play Vancouver preferred under Teitur Thordarson.
Besides his obvious goal scoring and leadership traits, Le Toux is the perfect complement to fellow Frenchman Hassle. Hassle’s first season in Vancouver was mired by three red cards, all of which were avoidable. Le Toux’s calm demeanor could help to sooth Hassle over the course of the season.
Le Toux’s addition improves the Whitecaps exponentially, but it may not be enough to get them into the playoffs.
4. The Rich Get Richer
Edson Buddle, Striker, L.A. Galaxy
The rich get richer as Edson Buddle returns to Southern California after a one-year stint with German second division side Ingolstadt 04.
The Galaxy already boast an attack of Robbie Keane, Landon Donovan, Chad Barrett and Pat Noonan, and many feel their midfield is the best in the league. In 2010, Buddle tallied 17 goals in 25 matches, finishing one goal behind Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski, and received a call-up to the USA’s World Cup squad.
Buddle may have a slightly reduced role with designated player Robbie Keane playing up front. Bruce Arena may push Donovan behind the two as a trequartista or out on the flank. Regardless, Buddle’s return gives Arena a plethora of choices.
His return just emphasizes the embarrassment of riches possessed by the Galaxy.
3. The Poacher
Kris Boyd, Striker, Portland Timbers
Kris Boyd brings an illustrious resume to the Pacific Northwest: four-time Scottish Premier League (SPL) top scorer, two-time league champion, two-time Scottish Cup and Scottish League Cup winner, and the SPL’s all-time leading goal scorer with 164 goals.
Boyd replaces last season’s leading scorer Kenny Cooper (eight goals), who was traded to the New York Red Bulls.
Throughout much of his career, many of Boyd's goals have come from inside the penalty area, and he is a true poacher.
However, in the past, he has not been the type of striker to regularly create his own goals or goals for others. Boyd was criticized during his time with Rangers for his lack of contribution to the team.
Former Rangers manager Walter Smith also preferred to play Boyd alongside another striker, rather than on his own. He’ll need a strike partner in Portland if the midfield service is lacking. Good service is paramount for Boyd to be successful.
With fellow striker Jose Adolfo Valencia sidelined with a knee injury, the onus is on Boyd to get the goals in a thin Timbers front line.
2. The Engine
Vitor Gomes Pereira Junior (Juninho), Midfielder, L.A. Galaxy
More important than David Beckham re-signing with the Galaxy is the return of Juninho. Most casual fans won’t understand the importance of Juninho in L.A.’s team, but look at Beckham and Landon Donovan’s stats over the past two seasons, and Juninho’s importance becomes apparent.
It has been Juninho’s job to be a ball-winner in the midfield, and this has allowed Beckham and Donovan to focus their energy on the attack. Many of Beckham’s 14 assists in 2011 can be attributed to Juninho winning the ball and getting it to Beckham with a pinpoint pass.
Juninho had signed a new contract with Brazilian club Sao Paulo at the conclusion of the 2011 MLS season. However, shortly after putting pen to paper, he was deemed excess to requirements.
Sao Paulo’s loss was the Galaxy’s gain, as they’ve signed the Brazilian on loan for a third season. With Beckham turning 37 in May and Donovan, Omar Gonzalez and Robbie Keane returning from loan spells in Europe, Juninho maybe the Galaxy’s most important and freshest player on match day one.
1. The No. 9
Hamdi Salihi, Striker, DC United
The signing of Hamdi Salihi was an absolute coup by DC United. The Albanian striker comes to MLS with a fantastic strike record in the Austrian Bundesliga. Salihi registered 42 goals in 66 matches with Rapid Wien in two-and-a-half seasons.
Salihi was on numerous clubs' wish lists during the January transfer window. Rumors had the Albanian going to the English Premier League, but he opted for a designated player contract in MLS.
His addition takes pressure off league MVP Dwayne De Rosario to not only score goals, but to create them as well. De Rosario notched 13 goals and five assists after his move to DC United in June of last year.
Salihi replaces Charlie Davies as the No. 9, after Davies' buy option was not exercised by the club. Davies contributed 11 goals last year (three from the penalty spot), but he only started two of United’s last seven matches in 2011.
DC United’s playoff drought should end this season thanks to the player acquisitions they have made over the past two seasons. With the additions of Salihi, Dudar and Russell, United have a much improved squad.