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2004 MLS Off Season Moves

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.

Who’s UP:

Colorado Rapids
IN: Joe Cannon, Antonio de la Torre.
OUT: Robin Fraser, Wes Hart.

Colorado made one of the more interesting acquisitions of the last few months, picking up Mexican league veteran “Tono” de la Torre to fill in the defensive holes left by the departure of old-timer Fraser and scrapper Wes Hart. Now, Coach Hankinson has to just hope Nat Borchers doesn’t hold any ill will against his new central defense partner after his Tricolores countrymen robbed the Denver product of a trip to Athens in August. With Mastroeni and Beckerman holding down the fort in the middle of the park, they should be fine, but for all the individual success of your John Spencers and your Mark Chungs, Colorado has been missing that extra something to lift them to post-season glory. I want to think that Joe Cannon can be that guy in goal, but the Rapids’ history with ‘keepers has been about as healthy as George Steinbrenner’s with managers in the ‘80s.

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.

Columbus Crew
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.

Much like Colorado, Columbus has been one of the league’s classic underachievers over the last eight years – always good, but never that great. But the “Hardest Working Team” had the Hardest Working Staff in the off-season, wheeling and dealing to add bodies all over the field and deal with the loss of McBride up top, Garcia and West in the middle and Clark, Dunseth and McCarty in the back. By adding a good mix of veteran MLS All-Stars in Fraser, Lagos and Elliott and promising youngsters led by Chad Marshall, Andrulis has nicely filled out a team that already features a vastly underrated talent like Edson Buddle and enigmatic, but often effective performers like Kyle Martino and Jeff Cunningham. The Crew will need to hope that goalkeeper Jon Busch improves in his second year in the league after finishing ninth in the league in goals against in 2003. And the pressure is on Andrulis to not just make the playoffs, but make a run in October, now that he has a team that he’s carefully hand-picked.

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.*

After coming close a couple times before, this looks to be the year that MLS hardware might be resting alongside their older brother’s Super Bowl trophies. The Revs are solid all over the field, finally putting all the pieces together for a five-game winning streak to end the 2003 regular season. Expect them to pick up where they left off, with midfielder Jose Cancela fueling the most potent attack in the league (read: 55 goals scored in 2003 to lead MLS) with Twellman, Noonan, Joe-Max and late 2003 additions Brown, who had three goals in three games to finish the season, and Fabbro, who added two in eight games. With Kamler, Ralston and Joe-Max gutting it out game after game and an experienced, familiar  defensive unit of Llamosa, Kante, Pierce, Heaps and Brown in goal, they have all the pieces to power to the top of the Eastern Conference.

Burning Question: Did the New England Patriots really win their second Super Bowl in the last three years?


IN: Tenywa Bonseu, Fabian Taylor, Joselito Vaca.
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.

Who’s DOWN

Dallas Burn
IN: Colin Clarke (head coach); Scott Garlick, Cory Gibbs, Eric Quill, Carey Talley.
OUT: Mike Jeffries (head coach); D.J. Countess, Joselito Vaca.

When you post a paltry 6-19-5 mark, but then endure the entire off-season without bringing in an impact player to help your chances, what message does that send to the rest of the league? If you ask me, you’re saying that you’re okay with another last place finish and a brutal season trying to get fans back to the ghost town that is the Cotton Bowl. I admire new coach Colin Clarke for his loyalty in believing in the team he inherited, but he could’ve done himself and the fans a favor by picking up a player that might help them actually get to the playoffs for a change rather than stopping at the dream of hitting the .500 mark. Cory Gibbs was a fine find to help shore up a disastrous defense, but he’s not going to be able to single-handedly turn the tide of tepid play that led to a league-high 63 goals against. Garlick, Quill and Talley provide decent MLS experience, but again, there’s a reason other teams made them expendable. The key for the Burn will be for Ronnie O’Brien to return from his 2003 injury and help Brad Davis and an aging Jason Kreis bear the burden of providing the bulk of the team’s scoring.

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?


Chicago Fire

IN: D.J. Countess, Leonard Griffin.
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.

D.C. United
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.

Always a team in flux after the Arena era, D.C. enters the season with a rookie coach and their usual unlimited optimism, but the same problem: lack of an effective striker. With ancient playmakers Etcheverry and Stoitchkov finally put out to pasture, the offense is firmly in the capable hands of a rapidly-maturing Bobby Convey, but his skill spearing the attack might not be enough to provide the service that D.C. needs to do better than the 39 goals that the Black-and-Red scored in 2003. United will need one of its quintet of talented forwards, either from the tired (Cerritos and Moreno) or the untested (Adu, Eskandarian and Quintanilla), to step up and provide a steady number of strikes to get out of the deep, dark cellar that they’ve been wallowing in the last three years. After a surprisingly good defensive performance last year, allowing just 36 goals in 30 games (second lowest in the league), Petke and Nelsen will be hard-pressed to keep that number down this year, especially with the departure of Ivanov and Reyes and the absence of the acrobatic Rimando (injury) to start the season.

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.

L.A. Galaxy
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.

After a disappointing season trying to defend their championship, L.A. kept its coach and its two marquee players, and dropped some dead weight, but their two big acquisitions have people wondering if it will be enough to break them out of their fog. Although they had all the guns that got them their 2002 title, last year was a total bummer, man. So gone are three ancient midfielders that quite possibly fueled the funk. But the two names they brought in aren’t exactly making headlines on the 6 o’clock news. Both Herzog and Kirovski have the potential to be either excellent acquisitions or big ‘ol busts. Let’s hope it’s the former, or it will be another year of Ruiz and Moreno stuck on an island up top trying to insert their names in the box score. As we learned last year, Cobi Jones and Chris Albright just aren’t the answers in L.A.

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:
Alexi Lalas (general manager), Dominic Kinnear (head coach); Ryan Cochrane, Steve Cronin, Wes Hart.
OUT: Frank Yallop (head coach); Manny Lagos.

While last season meant one more coronation for the Quakes, this season means one more year on the legs of oldies Agoos (35), Onstad (36), Ekelund (31) and Dayak (33). Having lost the league’s best coach in Yallop and one of their most consistent players in Lagos, it could be an average year in the Bay Area. But then for a team that has won two of the last three league titles, average still means making the playoffs, which they are again on track for. Despite lackluster performances for the U-23s and full MNT over the last three months, look for Landon to return to the domestic domination that he displayed in the ‘Quakes comeback run through the post-season. Ching, Mullan and Walker should continue to have an impact up front, as long as they can keep getting the kind of service they’ve enjoy from Donovan and Mulrooney.

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.

Table of Contents

1.  Armchair Midfielder: 2004 MLS Off-Season Moves
2.  In 3’s: Under-17 Midfielder Danny Szetela
3.  Gear Galore: New U.S. MNT Hooded Fleece
4.  Queries & Anecdotes: WNT defender Kylie Bivens
5.  Mark That Calendar: MNT vs. Poland - March 31, 2004
6.  Superstar!!!: MNT goalkeeper Jonny Walker
7.  Fan Point/Counterpoint: Who will be the 2004 MLS MVP
8.  You Don’t Know Jack (Marshall):2003 MLS Trivia

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