A monthly column about the State of U.S. Soccer that takes a hard look at everything from the performance of the U.S. National Teams to pro soccer in the good ‘ole U-S-of-A . If you’re looking for a viewpoint that you won’t see in a generic, nuts-and-bolts U.S. Soccer press release, you’ve come to the right place.
With decidedly fewer power lunches and less cell phone abuse by MLS General Managers in the off-season, the buzz between last November and now has been just as much about the marquee players that have moved on from MLS (Howard, McBride and Mathis) than it has been about the relatively few big-name players coming into the league. But the player personnel pros at the league office can get away with that when one of those players is Freddy Adu, 14-year-old fan favorite and rapidly-maturing media magnet. The Armchair Midfielder takes his annual look at the off-season additions and subtractions around the league, with teams broken down alphabetically within one of three categories: Who’s UP, Who’s DOWN and Who’s STUCK IN THE MIDDLE.
IN: Joe Cannon, Antonio de la Torre.
OUT: Robin Fraser, Wes Hart.
Burning Question: Will ZiZi Roberts prove to be more than just a fun-to-say name? If he can keep up his 2003 pace of five goals in 12 games and put up numbers over the course of an entire season, he could be the missing ingredient to get the Rapids rolling along in fifth gear.
IN: Devin Barclay, Simon Elliott, Robin Fraser, Manny Lagos, Chad Marshall, Erick Scott, David Testo, Chris Wingert.
OUT: Mike Clark, Brian Dunseth, Freddy Garcia, Brian McBride, Chad McCarty, Brian West.
Burning Questions: Can Brian Maisonnueve or Kyle Martino stay healthy and be impact players for a full 30-game season, or will it be midfield by committee? Can Edson Buddle score 15 goals and fill the everyday starting role with McBride gone?
New England Revolution
IN: Chris Brown,* Dario Fabbro.*
OUT: Leo Cullen, Wolde Harris.*
Burning Question: Did the New England Patriots really win their second Super Bowl in the last three years?
OUT: Steve Jolley, Clint Mathis, Jaime Moreno, Richie Williams.
Coaches are always preaching the theory that a team needs to be strong through the middle of the field to be most successful, and that’s what the MetroStars and Bob Bradley are banking on in 2004. With Jonny Walker in goal, Eddie Pope in central defense, Ricardo Clark at defensive midfield and Amado Guevara arming the attack, the Metros finally appear to have a sturdy backbone to support a successful season. Walker was the league’s best goalkeeper for the second half of the season, a healthy Pope is the league’s best defender, Clark was the league’s most consistent rookie performer and Guevara was the league’s most exciting playmaker over the last month. With Mathis gone on to good things in Germany, the trio of speedy youngster Mike Magee, wiry silver-haired warrior Wolyniec, and Reggae Boy Fabian Taylor will need to raise their play to make up for the missing mohawked one and his nine goals in 2003.
Not-so-bold Prediction: Teenage mop-topped midfielder Eddie Gaven will make a name for himself this year with a chance to roam the flanks and contribute in the attack.
IN: Colin Clarke (head coach); Scott Garlick, Cory Gibbs, Eric Quill, Carey Talley.
OUT: Mike Jeffries (head coach); D.J. Countess, Joselito Vaca.
Burn-ing Question: Can Ed Johnson get his confidence up to be the goal scorer that he always seems to be at each and every U.S. Youth National Team level?
Kansas City Wizards
IN: Wolde Harris,* Shavar Thomas, Alex Zotinca.
OUT: Chris Brown,* Dario Fabbro,* Eric Quill, Carey Talley.
No Preki, no problem, right? Not so much. Preki IS the Kansas City Wizards. The Kansas City Wizards are Preki. That’s one of the few things that has held true in MLS since the inaugural season. When Predrag ditched the K.C. cold for the South Florida sun in 2001, the Wizards just weren’t themselves, and subsequently suffered while Miami was a scoring machine. Expect the same out at Arrowhead for the first half of the season with Preki confined to pilates in the privacy of his suburban home. The rigid Wizards will be hard-pressed to find a player to take ownership of the midfield and provide pretty passes like they were expecting Preki to do for a healthy Josh Wolff, a re-signed Igor Simutenkov and journeyman forward Wolde Harris. The good news is that K.C. should have a solid defense with Gutierrez and Zavagnin in central midfield, Garcia at center back and Meola in goal, especially when you add newcomer Alex Zotinca, and hothead Jose Burciaga back from injury.
Burning Question: Can Wolffie make it through a whole season healthy? If so, can he return to his output of old without a prolific playmaker providing for him?
Who’s STUCK IN THE MIDDLE
OUT: Carlos Bocanegra, Zach Thornton.
When you get to the MLS Cup final, and you’re second in the league in goals scored with 53, and your two strikers finished in the top seven or eight in scoring in the league, you don’t mess with a good thing. But when you lose your best defender (and the league’s reigning Defender of the Year) and your former All-Star goalkeeper of six years, there has to be reason for concern. Sarachan has chosen to stay with the same team that stunned the league by posting the best record in MLS and loaded it up for a long haul that includes the likelihood of Armas, Beasley and Razov jetting off across the Caribbean in the fall. The danger in keeping mostly the same team is the obvious sophomore slump that is to be expected out of a team that overachieved in 2003, but the Fire should be buoyed by their return to Soldier Field and seeing the Barnburners back in Section 8. Losing Thornton in goal means a decent dip in experience, but let’s face it, Zach had been Super Size-ing the last couple seasons and wasn’t exactly in the form that won him the league’s top honor in ’98.
Not-so-bold Prediction: With Zach attacking trays of tilapia overseas, Countess will steal Henry Ring’s long-awaited turn in the spotlight and prove what he can do with an actual defense in front of him.
IN: Peter Nowak (head coach); Freddy Adu, Jaime Moreno, Joseph Ngwenya.
OUT: Ray Hudson (head coach); Devin Barclay, Marco Etcheverry, Galin Ivanov, Milton Reyes, Hristo Stoitchkov.
Not-so-bold prediction: Fab Five Freddy will be able to muster five fabulous goals this season, but that’s it. A long, hard season of travel, two-footed tackles, and a never-ending media maelstrom will be enough to wear down the youngster. The only hardware United will take home this year will be Freddy’s Goal of the Year trophy, which was engraved with his name the day after he signed with MLS.
IN: Paul Broome,* Ned Grabavoy, Andreas Herzog, Jovan Kirovski, Ryan Suarez.*
OUT: Alex Pineda Chacon, Mauricio Cienfuegos, Simon Elliott, Ezra Hendrickson, Alexi Lalas, Diego Serna.
Burning Question: With Schmid barely coming back from the edge, can he help L.A. find the fire in the belly, or have the Galaxy gone soft in their posh new digs?
San Jose Earthquakes:
IN: Alexi Lalas (general manager), Dominic Kinnear (head coach); Ryan Cochrane, Steve Cronin, Wes Hart.
OUT: Frank Yallop (head coach); Manny Lagos.
Burning Question: How much of the Quakes success has been Landon, and how much of it has been the tactical mind of the departed Yallop?
*denotes transactions that were made late in the 2003 season and mark a first full season with a different team.
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