In the heart of transfer season, with big-name signings taking place all over the world, here is a Designated Player-heavy look back at Week 20 in MLS:
For all of the gripes and complaints that Thierry Henry and David Beckham hear for either getting special treatment or not being able to play multiple games on short rest, the two DP elder statesmen and MLS All-Stars deserve a tip of the cap for their performances and grit over the last week. Henry and Beckham each labored through three-game weeks, helping carry their squads to important seven-point hauls in those games and further solidifying their places in the postseason hunt.
The 34-year-old Henry played 262 minutes in a six-day span, doing so while coming off assorted hamstring and calf injuries that caused him to miss seven games since the end of April. He broke his extended scoring drought with a highlight-reel volley from a tight angle against Chicago, and capped his week with a pinpoint cross for Kenny Cooper's second goal against Philadelphia, proving his All-Star worth days before he is slated to take on Chelsea. The fact that all three games were at Red Bull Arena made playing in all three more manageable, but playing nearly all of Wednesday's matinee against the Fire in brutally hot temperatures and on two days rest was a surprise development and reinforced Henry's commitment to the club.
On the other end of the continent, the 37-year-old Beckham also played 262 minutes, doing so in a seven-day span. More unusual for Beckham, though, is that he played two games away from home on non-grass surfaces and emerged no worse for the wear. He posted three goals and four assists in wins over Portland and Chivas USA and a last-gasp draw against Vancouver. With his goal against Vancouver, he set his personal high for goals in an MLS season with six, and the Galaxy still have 12 games to go. After playing inconsistently and sluggishly for the first half of the season and being snubbed by the Team Great Britain Olympic soccer squad, Beckham is back to his Best XI form of 2011. Coincidentally, so, too, are the Galaxy.
Toronto FC is not going down without a fight.
The club could have easily just called it a day on this season, one that appeared to be a lost cause after a historically poor start that resulted in a coaching change and a recent turnaround that was met with the loss of star striker Danny Koevermans to a torn ACL. Instead, the Reds have made a statement that they won't rest until they are mathematically eliminated by going out and trading for lumbering striker Eric Hassli Friday night to fill Koevermans' role going forward.
That TFC went out to acquire him by giving up a 2014 first-round pick and an international roster slot shows its commitment to winning now, something that must be a refreshing development for TFC fans who have suffered for the majority of the franchise's MLS life. Even though Hassli has not proven to be as nearly as efficient as Koevermans in his time in MLS (12 goals in 44 games compared to Koevermans' 17 goals in 26 games), he is still capable of being as dynamic a player and as much as a handful for opposing center backs with his 6-foot-4, 200-pound frame.
TFC still sits in last place, 12 points out of a playoff spot with 14 games to go while needing to make up ground on five teams, so the likelihood of reaching the postseason is still faint. But the deal keeps the club relevant and resurgent under Paul Mariner, who has transformed the culture and aura around the club in a very brief time and is 4-2-4 in his first 10 games at the helm.
For Vancouver, the trade marked the second straight Friday night that the Whitecaps completed a blockbuster deal, with this one coming on the heels of trading Sebastien Le Toux to New York for Dane Richards and allocation money. The addition of Scottish DP striker Kenny Miller made Hassli expendable and was the latest in a line of personnel moves that shows that, despite having success, Martin Rennie was far from satisfied with the roster he inherited upon taking over as coach.
The Montreal Impact are still waiting on Marco Di Vaio to fulfill his end of the DP deal.
Di Vaio Watch is now at seven games and counting without a goal, and the forward who scored 65 goals in his last four seasons at Serie A club Bologna appears to be pressing. Always looking to get in behind the defense, Di Vaio has been caught offside 12 times while forcing the issue, and the Impact's attack has sputtered as a result. In his seven games, Montreal has just six goals and has been shut out in three of those matches.
Prior to Di Vaio's arrival, Bernardo Corradi was carrying the load up top until he tore his ACL, and after he went down, rookie Andrew Wenger took the torch and scored in a pair of games before missing time with a hamstring injury. His pending return will help provide support for the 36-year-old Di Vaio, who has been the focal point of Montreal's attack but has yet to deliver.
Montreal had a golden chance to get Di Vaio going in a mid-week win over New England after Sanna Nyassi drew a first-half penalty. As he has done for the club this season, Patrice Bernier did the honors from the penalty spot and converted. With the club looking to get Di Vaio going, though, one can't help but wonder whether Bernier and coach Jesse Marsch should have deferred to the Italian veteran to get him on the score sheet.
It is nothing new for foreign DPs to come to MLS and take a little while to find their bearings. D.C. United's Hamdi Salihi, for example, didn't score until 10 games into this season, and he is up to five goals while playing a mostly reserve role. Like Salihi, Di Vaio's track record indicates that his time will come, but it may arrive too late for the Impact in their expansion year, with the club seven points behind fifth-place Chicago while having played three more games.
The U.S. Soccer community was saddened Thursday with the passing of Jack Reyna, the 13-year-old son of former U.S. national team captain, first American DP and current U.S. Soccer youth technical director Claudio Reyna. Jack had been battling brain cancer for two years before his tragic passing.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the Reyna family during this most difficult time, and anyone who wishes to lend support for the Reynas can make a donation in Jack's honor to The Making Headway Foundation (makingheadway.org), a charity dedicated toward children with brain and spinal cord tumors.
Goalkeeper: Bill Gaudette (New York Red Bulls)
Defenders: Victor Bernardez (San Jose Earthquakes), Bobby Boswell (Houston Dynamo), Aurelien Collin (Sporting Kansas City)
Midfielders: David Beckham (Los Angeles Galaxy), Dax McCarty (New York Red Bulls), Barry Robson (Vancouver Whitecaps), Marvin Chavez (San Jose Earthquakes), Jackson (FC Dallas)
Forwards: Calen Carr (Houston Dynamo), Landon Donovan (Los Angeles Galaxy)