Goals in bunches, major transactions and late drama all shared the stage during a riveting MLS Week 18:
1. Clarence Goodson will return to MLS. The summer transfer window both overseas and in MLS isn't open just yet, but big moves have already started to materialize. The latest on this side of the Atlantic Ocean comes via U.S. international center back Goodson, who will return to MLS after signing with the San Jose Earthquakes.
With Goodson back in MLS, three of the top four center backs in the U.S. player pool now ply their trade in the league (Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler, Goodson) in the final year of a World Cup qualifying cycle. The fourth option, Geoff Cameron, is a year removed from leaving the league for Stoke City, while former stalwart and captain Carlos Bocanegra is linked heavily with a return to the league where he began his career. The latter serves as another reminder that "settling" to play in MLS is far from the albatross that it once was perceived to be; players can be better off playing against the increasing quality of competition in MLS rather than playing in the obscurity of lesser-glorified leagues overseas.
Goodson's acquisition will also surely call into question how long teams should be able to maintain a player's rights. San Jose had Goodson's MLS rights because it selected him in the 2007(!) MLS Expansion Draft from Dallas before he bolted for Scandinavia, thus preventing him from needing to go through the allocation order typically reserved for returning U.S. internationals. While that idiosyncratic league rule does not come into play very often, the league may want to consider putting a cap on player rights (players taken in the SuperDraft that go overseas have their rights held by the drafting team for just two years, for example). Another player in that same boat is Tigres UANL's Jonathan Bornstein, whose rights are held by Chivas USA after the club acquired them from Portland (which selected him in the 2010 expansion draft).
Meanwhile, Earthquakes fans still riding the high after Saturday night's incredible stoppage-time comeback victory over the rival LA Galaxy should temper expectations for what Goodson's acquisition may mean for the team in league play in 2013. On paper, a Justin Morrow-Victor Bernardez-Goodson-Steven Beitashour back line should be among the best in MLS. Goodson's integration to the Earthquakes won't take place for a while, though, considering he'll be with the U.S. national team for the Gold Cup for the duration of July and won't report to his new team until after the tournament. By the time he joins the club, it will have already played up to 22 of 34 games this season, and with two other USA World Cup qualifiers scheduled close to or during San Jose league games, that could mean just 10 MLS matches for Goodson, who will still need to get on the same page with his new unit.
Where he can help the club in a big way, however, is in the CONCACAF Champions League, both on the field and by providing another option for which interim manager Mark Watson can spread minutes without suffering a severe dip in on-field product. San Jose's struggles this year have taken the luster off its Supporters' Shield-winning campaign a season ago, but the Quakes qualified for the region's top competition and were drawn into a group with the Montreal Impact and Guatemalan side Heredia. Since quality depth was a main culprit for many MLS teams' exits from the tournament, San Jose's addition of a piece like Goodson could pay some big dividends in terms of the club's CCL hopes and keeping others fresh for a stretch run at a return to the playoffs.
2. Sporting KC continues its good business. Graham Zusi signed his second contract in 16 months with Sporting Kansas City on Friday, presenting a win-win option for both him and his team in the process.
In signing a new deal, Zusi receives a pay raise, thereby keeping him happy in a place where his career has taken off. Like the aforementioned center backs, playing in MLS has done nothing to hinder Zusi's prospects on the international level, and his consistent outings have made him a top-choice winger in Jurgen Klinsmann's player pool. His new deal is not a guarantee that he will remain in MLS for the long haul, but from the team's perspective -- should Zusi express a desire to go abroad (he trialed with West Ham in the winter) -- it has protected itself by increasing the amount it would take to pry the under-contract player away from Sporting Park.
Maintaining a top player on a new deal is nothing new for Sporting KC. The club did lose Roger Espinoza on a free transfer to Wigan Athletic in a gamble it took chasing a championship when it perhaps could have cashed in on his value immediately after the 2012 Olympics (should Espinoza return to MLS the club does retain his rights, though). Aside from that, however, the club has locked up Besler, Kei Kamara, C.J. Sapong and now Zusi to new deals within the last two seasons. By doing so, SKC has continued to give itself the best of both worlds: Keeping its core talent in place and happy for as long as possible, while protecting itself from having its top, most desirable players poached at discounted rates. It is MLS roster management at its best.
3. Chivas USA's never-ending saga adds another chapter. Chivas USA's 2013 season has been met with all the predictability of an improv show.
To recap: The club hired the eccentric Jose Luis "Chelis" Sanchez Sola as manager; completed a significant roster overhaul while paying little attention to the value it received in trades; embarked on a stunning 3-1-1 start; offloaded Juan Agudelo to New England; endured rumors of a team sale; fired Chelis; had its fans hire a plane to fly over a game with a message that it wants owner Jorge Vergara out; and cut four more players on Sunday, including Laurent Courtois, its goal-scorer from Saturday's 1-1 draw that snapped a seven game losing streak.
The change and evolution is far from over, with reports swirling that rising Mexican forward Erick Torres will arrive via loan from Chivas de Guadalajara and that the club is interested in bringing Carlos Bocanegra aboard, should he return to MLS. At this point, it's easy to believe everything and nothing at the same time, because there does not appear to be a clear course of action in place for the floundering franchise.
There is one predictable aspect of Chivas USA's season: All of the instability has landed the club securely at the bottom of the Western Conference standings. Little hope is making the rounds in its half of the StubHub Center.
4. Calls for goal-line technology grow. With every instance of controversy involving the goal line, calls for MLS to integrate goal-line technology will continue to grow in scope.
The latest case involved the Philadelphia Union and FC Dallas, with the former's Sheanon Williams appearing to clear Blas Perez's shot in second-half stoppage time off the line with a heroic effort to augment his two-assist day out of the back. That is, until replays showed that the ball clearly had crossed the line, robbing 10-man Dallas of a would-be equalizer. MLS and its referees were bailed out when Perez managed to get his equalizing goal anyway, doing so in the seventh minute of stoppage time, but that type of luck is not particularly common.
While FIFA has accepted goal-line technology and began usage during the Confederations Cup, MLS remains hesitant to take that step because of the costs associated with it. Even so, there has to be a way to rectify a very fixable problem. Good goals -- especially ones that could determine the outcomes of games and even playoff races -- should not go by the wayside. When the fans at home can easily determine in a matter of seconds whether a goal should stand or be denied based on something an out-of-position official might not be able to see, there has to be a secondary option for the league to turn to in order to take care of what matters most: Getting the call right.
5. Team of the Week
Goalkeeper: Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
Defenders: Sheanon Williams (Philadelphia Union), Jamison Olave (New York Red Bulls), Jordan Harvey (Vancouver Whitecaps)
Midfielders: Daniele Paponi (Montreal Impact), Dillon Powers (Colorado Rapids), Nathan Sturgis (Colorado Rapids), Shea Salinas (San Jose Earthquakes)
Forwards: Alan Gordon (San Jose Earthquakes), Kei Kamara (Sporting Kansas City), Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy)
|Week 18 MLS Power Rankings|