With the abrupt close of the MLS transfer window (rosters, though, don’t freeze until Sept. 15), it’s time for that time-honored tradition of haughty judgments. It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
These three teams won the summer window transfer sweepstakes. Money ain’t everything, NYCFC.
3. Columbus Crew
I really like what the Crew did, though typically it was neither flashy or eye-catching. The Crew play moneyball with the best of ’em, and Gregg Berhalter’s vision is beginning to crystallize in central Ohio. The addition of Harrison Afful, who came through the Feyenoord academy, was underrated and, I think, under-reported. His experience at left back makes him a rare commodity in MLS, which needs as many left-sided defenders as it can reach. The Crew now have two good ones.
Gaston Sauro, all 25 years of him, is in similar stead. The Crew have been on the hunt for defensive depth since Giancarlo Gonzalez shoved off for Palermo last season, and both Sauro and Afful address a potent need. Importantly for the Crew, though, is both are comfortable playing on the ground.
Perhaps the biggest acquisition, though, won’t even start most of the Crew’s games (ideally). Kei Kamara is destroying the league right now, so his spot up top is secure, but the Crew acquired young striker Jack McInerney for a second round pick. It’s important to remember how good McInerney can be when released in a system that favors his poaching skill set, and the Crew, which like to do the heavy lifting in the midfield to absolve its strikers of total responsibility, seems to play into his hands beautifully. The depth this provides one of the league’s most exciting young teams already shouldn’t be missed.
2. Seattle Sounders
The Sounders signed four potential starters in one window. The only reason they didn’t snap up the top spot is because it remains to be seen how effective they’ll be. All of their signings – Erik Friberg, Nelson Valdez, Roman Torres and Andreas Ivanschitz – are between 29 and 31, so you’d expect all four to play/start as soon as they’re fit. The question now is merely how they fit.
If we’re looking at it in terms of need over availability, the Sounders filled some emergent pothole with every signing. Torres addresses Brad Evans’ inexperience and weakness on set pieces at center back. Ivanschitz fills Marco Pappa’s vacated role on the left. Valdez is cover up top and fills in a hole on the right flank in the 4-4-2 that hadn’t had an adequate right-sided part even when it was humming in April/May. And Friberg is cover for Ozzie Alonso and Gonzalo Pineda, neither of whom have been able to shake injury concerns lately.
In terms of fitting new signings into a waiting construct, there isn’t a better acquisition man in MLS than Garth Lagerwey. He lived up to his rep this summer.
1. LA Galaxy
The Galaxy’s class was half the size of the Sounders’, so we get that out of the way now. But the additions of Steven Gerrard and Gio Dos Santos are the biggest one-two punch in recent memory in MLS. These may not be boutique DP/TAM signings in the same way the Sounders’ acquisitions were, but both players are immediately viable in Arena’s setup.
Here’s the thing about the Galaxy: the flashier of their signings tend to override the brick and mortar that glues together cup runs. Guys like Dunivant and, notably for our purposes here, Sarvas. When Marcelo Sarvas left in the offseason, the Galaxy didn’t really have a serviceable replacement. Sarvas’ defensive qualities are fine, but with Juninho pinned back he was asked to do more distribution and possession incubation than tracking. The Galaxy missed that until Gerrard arrived (Gerrard was signed in the offseason but arrived this transfer window, so he counts for our purposes here).
In a 3-1 win over the Sounders last weekend, Gerrard completed 88 percent of his 74 passes (second on the team) and threaded through four passes that led directly to shots. It isn’t necessarily that Gerrard still has life in his legs that matters – it’s that he fills a tangible need in the Galaxy’s lineup. You’ve already seen the difference between an old English dude who fits (Gerrard) and an old English dude who does not (Lampard).
As for Gio, you have to look at Clint Dempsey for the closest approximation, which means there’s literally one other player like him in the entire league. He’s a shadow striker/10 hybrid who can play wide too, but he’s best closer to goal. In this sense, his fit is more opaque than Gerrard’s but no less critical.
Dos Santos was fine against the Sounders, but it’s clear the pairing between him and Keane isn’t ideal. Both prefer to drop and drag defenders out of position, which leaves a lot of acreage untended when both are firing. I think Bruce Arena will ultimately push Dos Santos wide and treat him like an inverted central playmaker, the same way they used Donovan last season. Either way, you find roles for a guy like GDS. He’s that good. Good enough for our purposes to label him potentially the best soccer signing in MLS all year. From anyone.
3. Colorado Rapids
The Rapids love center backs. I’m not certain if this is some odd fetish of Mastroeni’s or if the front office simply likes having extra protection around the clubhouse, but the Rapids’ big splash this summer was for another center back, this time the 32-year-old human hatchet Maynor Figueroa. That came a week after the Rapids swooped up center back Sean St. Ledger, who left Orlando City after some major breach in team policy earlier this season. Quality.
Meanwhile, the Rapids transferred out talented young defender Shane O’Neill, one of the few reasons to actually follow this team from a neutral perspective. The Rapids really know how to bring the sad.
Colorado has slowly been undoing all the positive groundwork Oscar Pareja laid down over his brief time there, and this summer merely echoes those truths. One of Figueroa’s last acts in England before jumping to MLS was a horror tackle on Stephen Ireland that left him with a gash so severe I don’t even feel comfortable linking you to it (just kidding here it is). He’s better than Zat Knight was, probably, but by how much?
The Rapids signed Doyle this season, which, eh, but they need so many attacking reinforcements that the fact they keep pumping defenders into this team is almost like a galling challenge to its supporters at this point. There are too many derpy defenders on this team and not enough… you know… excitement.
2. D.C. United
DCU signed nobody because they have no money. The only reason they don’t slide further down this list is because Ben Olsen has somehow pushed this tin can to the top of MLS, to which you can argue that DCU didn’t need reinforcement. Of course that’s folly, but at the very least the team is performing, which closes some of the potholes.
That said, D.C.’s only real movement of record this summer was the acquisition of Alvaro Saborio via trade by way of Luis Silva. In the process, D.C. got older and reunited the Saborio-Espindola band for a farewell tour. Trouble is, the instrumentation is worn and corroded now from its Salt Lake heyday. Aside from that, this is the same rickety engine that entered the summer.
It isn’t like D.C. had a pot of resources and simply squandered it on garbage. They never had the pot to begin with. That absolves some responsibility from the non-ownership side of the aisle. If you tell me to get to Japan and don’t provide me money for a plane ticket, I’m sleeping in the airport until you do. In that sense, hands are tied.
That said, we’re making excuses already. D.C. needs long term help, and they’re not getting it. The club, it appears, is in a dangerous acquisition holding pattern until the stadium comes. Trouble.
1. San Jose Earthquakes
The Quakes are not good right now. They’ve lost five of their last six, and they’ve won just two games since May 16. The attack has been particularly anemic. San Jose has just 23 goals in 22 games this season, which is the second-worst total in the league. To combat that, they dipped into the transfer pool this summer to acquire… Anibal Godoy, a defensive-minded midfielder who’s scored one goal in his last two league campaigns. Scintillating stuff.
There are so many things San Jose could’ve done this offseason. They needed some sort of livewire replacement for Innocent Emeghara, for one, but above all they simply needed reinforcement for Wondo. Quincy Amarikwa is a fine player, but if he’s your second-leading scorer, you’re not going to sniff the MLS Cup. So that they dove all in on a possession shuttler (who required TAM cash, no less) when they needed attacking spark is more than puzzling.
GM John Doyle has a history of head-scratchers when it comes to the fit-need mix, and he pulled off another doozy this summer. As for Marc Pelosi, who the club acquired via allocation in July, he’s nowhere near the high-end prospect he was when he arrived at Liverpool a few years ago. He was played up high in a No. 10 role at the Toulon Tournament earlier this year and looked lost. Not quite the attacking spark the team needs.