You know who plays for your favorite MLS team, right? Not so fast there; you might want to check that roster. And check it again tomorrow, too, because it just might have changed overnight.
A month has yet to pass since Colorado lifted the MLS Cup, and the winter transfer window, which could see another major star or two tumble into MLS, remains a few days away. Yet the offseason has already been one of the most eventful and transient in recent memory. Last week's first-ever re-entry draft punctuated the absurdly busy December.
No one quite knew what to expect of a two-stage re-entry draft, the new mechanism for player swapping and shopping that was part of the collective bargaining agreement negotiated earlier this year. Would teams just kick tires on a few names, play it safe and yield to a learning curve that's still ahead for players and teams alike on the re-entry process?
Not so much.
Thursday's process exploded into a dizzying blitz of movement, about two months of free agency-type activity crammed into less time than it takes to eat a sandwich. Stage 1, a week before, was relatively placid. But last week's Stage 2 saw the rights to 11 players exchanged over about five minutes.
The Los Angeles Galaxy certainly wasn't going to sit on the sidelines in the re-entry draft. Coach Bruce Arena helped make the day eventful, initiating a bold plan to land striker Juan Pablo Angel, who wasn't wanted at New York. Later, the Galaxy fortified its back line by trading for the rights to Frankie Hejduk after Columbus declined the former U.S. international's option. Hejduk, 36, isn't what he was just two years ago, and he would be stretched to beat out right back incumbent Sean Franklin at the Home Depot Center. On the other hand, the Galaxy can figure on a minimum of 40 competitive games next year and possibly quite a few more. If L.A. can negotiate a contract somewhere south of the $127,000 guaranteed that Hejduk made in 2010, agreeing on a number that makes sense for an experienced backup, the L.A. has the cover it needs at fullback.
As for Angel, the Galaxy has his rights and is required to make a "bona fide" offer this week. Then we'll know more about whether Los Angeles will have its third Designated Player, a scenario that Arena believes is likely.
"I would think there's a chance he's certainly going to be a Designated Player, but we haven't gotten into those discussions," Arena said in a teleconference following last week's draft. "My guess is if we sign him, he'll likely have that designation."
He also said he expected Landon Donovan to remain property of MLS. If Donovan, Angel and Beckham are all Designated Players, that means that all this talk of Ronaldinho going to L.A. will be just that -- talk. Teams may carry no more than three DPs.
All of this re-entry madness occurred after what was already an MLS offseason brimming with movement. The expansion draft to help stock the shelves at Vancouver and Portland created significant player movement, stripping away two starters from some unlucky clubs. Further trades ensued based on the expansion movement.
So champion Colorado has picked up three players in trades (including the re-acquisition of one who slipped away in the expansion draft) and added one more in the re-entry process. Seattle has been aggressive, already signing a promising Swede, re-signing Kasey Keller and adding two defenders in trades. Players are streaming out of Red Bull Arena, with no replacements named as yet. Stay tuned there.
Geoff Cameron has re-upped through 2014 in Houston, which has also added Hunter Freeman. Portland and Vancouver keep adding players, with more holes still to fill. Dallas appears close to re-signing league MVP David Ferreira. The youth movement is on in Columbus and on it goes.
And we still have the January college draft ahead and about three weeks after that until most teams report for camp.
Five winners in the re-entry draft:
Los Angeles: Angel's acquisition was a bold and committed move. Arena and Co. even bought their way up in the re-entry draft order just to improve the team's chances of landing Angel. Arena said he believes Edson Buddle will return from his training spell with Birmingham City. Still, Angel provides great cover in case Buddle does end up in England. Otherwise, Arena will be looking at a lineup that includes Buddle and Angel at striker, with Landon Donovan and David Beckham out wide in midfield. Hmmm. Beckham serving balls to Angel, while Donovan slashes and dashes? What MLS defense will relish dealing with all that?
New England: Can anyone remember the last time Steve Nicol had a creative player at Gillette? Has he ever had a truly good one? Fred isn't a premier playmaker in MLS, but he's still a pretty good one. He'll give the Revs a different way to attack teams; Fred can play centrally or tucked inside from the left as he did for Peter Nowak in Chicago last year. The Revs also added center back Ryan Cochrane, who has generally been a backup, but helps plug a gap after Cory Gibbs' re-entry move to Chicago.
D.C. United: The club picked up Joseph Ngwenya, who has proved that he can score in MLS. Is he the answer to D.C.'s striker woes? No, but he moves coach Ben Olsen's team in the right direction; he's a better forward than Danny Allsopp, one of last year's personnel blunders around RFK. The pickup of Josh Wolff is harder to justify. The former Kansas City man is 33, with some history of injury, and he netted just two goals in 25 appearances last year. Still, he has history with Olsen, so perhaps D.C. United's coach can squeeze a little more from Wolff than Peter Vermes could last year in Kansas City.
Columbus: Picking up Jeff Cunningham may be a slippery slope, depending on the moody striker's attitude about a new deal for (potentially significantly) less than the $230,000 he made last year in Dallas. On the other hand, coach Robert Warzycha and the Crew will save a lot of money in their effort to go young in '11, having jettisoned more than $500,000 by declining the options on Hejduk, Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Gino Padula and Duncan Oughton, all of whom are well north of 30 years old.
MLS players: Some players expressed a little concern that there wasn't more movement in the re-entry draft process, a compromise between athletes who craved true free agency and management that adamantly opposed creating it. Still, they generally seemed to believe things moved in the right direction. "It was never about money," veteran defender Nick Garcia told MLSSoccer.com. "It's about giving players -- often veteran players that are on the downside of their career, salary-wise -- more options. Ultimately, the goal for everyone is to have free agency earlier, but this is a baby step in that direction."
Five losers in the re-entry draft:
Portland and Vancouver: Both expansion outfits have money and roster room, and the re-entry process was essentially a free throw. They had the opportunity to grab a known commodity, someone to bring a little more MLS experience to mix. They were selecting toward the bottom of the order, so that may have directed their thinking. On the other hand, a fourth-round pick in the college draft was the general asking price for moving up in the order, so they could have improved their positioning on the cheap. Now they'll need to bring in more players that they know a little less about.
Chivas USA and Toronto: Who is running the show at these clubs as both take their sweet time finding a coach? In Chivas USA's case, Martin Vasquez's departure could at least be called a surprising turn of events. On the other hand, that was more than six weeks ago. And they did get Jimmy Conrad, which looks like a nice pickup on its face. But is the veteran defender a good fit for the new coach? Who knows? As for Toronto, they've known for months that they would need a new coach. What gives? They've now made two trades, released five players and declined the option on two others, all without a long-term, comprehensive strategy.
Sporting Kansas City: Conrad isn't the presence he once was along the back line, but he still has some value at a certain salary figure. The team declined the opportunity to negotiate a new contract between Stage 1 and 2 of the re-entry process, and that was a bit surprising. Conrad, in fact, has publicly expressed his disappointment over the team's lack of communication. As much as Conrad has done for that organization, that's a party foul.