After the shortest off-season in MLS history, the 2013 season is about to start March 2 and you know what they say about March-in like a lion and out like a lamb. We all know you have spent the off season faithfully checking Dynamo Theory to keep up with off season roster changes but what about the rest of the conference? Well some teams have been busy others not so much and it might surprise you who's who.
The big talk this off-season across MLS was the number of teams looking for head coaches three of them being in the Eastern Conference. Surprisingly not all of the teams who axed their coaches were bottom feeders and not all teams held onto their top players.
Here's how it breaks down-
The Chicago Fire made it into the first round of the playoffs only to be knocked out by the Dynamo. The taste of such short success weighed on the team as they made some major moves to try and make sure 2013 ends on their terms. Dominic Oduro was traded to the Columbus Crew in exchange for Dilly Duka and the rights for Robbie Rogers. Duka had a falling out with the Crew and had ceased to be productive for the club while Oduro had lost some of his effectiveness for the Fire in the 2012 season. The Fire also brought in Jeff Larentowicz and Joel Lindpere to strengthen their midfield while defender Corey Gibbs retired due to injuries. Several of their players such as Austin Berry and Hunter Jumper have passed their rookie season and are now entering their second season. Berry is coming off a rookie of the year season and the Fire defense also brings back veteran Arne Fredrich. Don't look for the Fire to have the holes in the back they did last season. The holes have been plugged and the team is going to look to push the ball forward in the midfield and score more goals.
The Columbus Crew had a quiet off season making waves only with the Duka trade for Oduro, but perhaps a change of scenery will help Oduro. They did bring in Agustin Viana to feature at either LB or DM. Either way the Crew were clearly happy with what they got from their team last year and felt they were only one or two players away from achieving playoff success.
A quiet off season was also had by D.C. United. Branko Boskovic and the team mutually terminated his contract so he could return home for family reasons, and he is now playing with former club Rapid Wen. Also departing was Andy Najar who transferred to Anderlect in Belgium, but making a return to MLS is Carlos Ruiz a.k.a Pescado. That's right, Ben Olsen felt the need to bring one of MLS' greatest divers back leaving fans feeling rather uneasy over the move since Ruiz is now a few years older and may be in need of a flop or two to keep up. A quiet off-season indicates Olsen is happy with what he saw from his players last year, a team that many felt fell short of the MLS Cup due to several injuries which they were unable to overcome.
Montreal Impact & Toronto FC
Both Canadian teams in the East had surprisingly quiet off seasons. The Impact were one of the aforementioned clubs who were looking for a new head coach and finally settled on Swiss national Marco Schallibaum. He has never coached in MLS and has spent the past couple of years as a FIFA coaching instructor. Forward Andrea Pisanu was brought in on loan from Bologna prior to Schallibaum's hiring and is now the third Italian on the team.
One of the other coaching vacancies, also in Canada, was at Toronto FC who eventually hired Ryan Nelsen. The former defender was still a current defender for Queens Park Rangers when he was hired leading many to wonder how exactly he would coach the team while playing in England but he eventually left QPR on February 1 to coach full time. Nelsen has never held a coaching position before but is yet another in the growing line of former players turned coach. As for players, they did draft Danny Califf in the re-entry draft and also 'won' Gale Agbossoumonde in a weighted lottery.
Frankly I expected a lot more player movement from both teams this off season but both teams seem to think their problems were coming from the top. Each now has a shiny new coach and each of those coaches represents the polar opposite in MLS coaches- the European coach and the player coach.
New England Revolution
One of the biggest moves by the New England Revolution this off season was trading Benny Feilhaber to Sporting K.C. in exchange for several future SuperDraft picks and some allocation money. They picked up Andrew Farrell in this year’s SuperDraft but haven’t brought in any major names this off season. They did sign forward Chad Barrett from the re-entry draft. Did you expect more from the Revs this off season? I think we all expected more, but I'm sure they have a plan.
New York Red Bulls
The New York Red Bulls started their off season with a bang by firing head coach Hans Backe, and then spent most of the off season headless leaving the front office and assistant coaches to run things. After a number of rumors about who might get the job the team surprised, well, everyone by promoting assistant coach Mike Petke to head coach. He has been the assistant at Red Bulls for a few years which can lead to questions over whether or not the players will respect him in his new role namely Thierry Henry.
As for old players left to see him transition into this new role there really aren't as many as you might expect. One big name you won't see on the roster any more is Kenny Cooper. The team's top goal scorer of 2012 is now with F.C. Dallas. Another big name you won't find on the roster? Rafael Marquez, but that's not really a shock as staff and fans a-like were over Marquez who is no longer playing in MLS. So who did they bring in? Forwards like Josue Martinez from the Union and Fabian Espindola from Real Salt Lake. Also coming over from RSL was defender Jamison Olave. The big excitement from the Red Bulls, however, was landing midfielder Juninho. The Red Bulls are hoping the Brazilian still has some gas left in the tank despite being 37 years old. Most of Red Bulls' pieces were assembled before Petke took over, so this will be a season to watch what he can do with what has been given to him.
Then there's the Philadelphia Union and John Hackworth's chance to have a full season at the helm. While Freddy Adu is still listed on their roster, at the present moment he is listed as non active and isn't expected to return to the Union this season or ever. The team was able to bring back forward Sebastian Le Toux, a fan favorite, who has failed to excel since leaving the Union. Perhaps a return to his former team will cause a return to his former self on the field, but as we all know time usually has its say in things and when it does rarely is it kind. The Union also picked up Conor Casey, the experienced but oft-injured forward from the Colorado Rapids. Casey could help them up front, but first they have to manage to keep him healthy long enough to do so. Jeff Parke was also brought in to help shore up their defense in exchange for a 2013 Allocation Draft Pick and allocation money. They spent their time and money this season to bring experience into the team, but they may have hedged their bets too late on several players who may already have their best days behind them.
Sporting Kansas City
One team saw a number of departures, and also saw a number of big names arrive. Sporting Kansas City had a roller coaster of an off season as several players left the team such as Roger Espinoza who left to play in the EPL for Wigan. They also cut ties with stadium sponsor the LiveStrong Foundation leaving their stadium simply named Sporting Park. One of their players who is currently one foot in and one foot out is Kei Kamara who is currently on loan to Norwich City until May. At the end of the loan spell Norwich has the option to buy Kamara so K.C. won't really know if he will be returning until Spring. Sporting brought in a new D.P., Claudio Bieler, to help their defensive holes created by the loss of Olave and Espinoza. They also re-signed the 2012 defender of the year Matt Besler while bringing in Ike Opara from San Jose. Up top they brought in Benny Feilhaber from the Revs, a move that will either be one of the best moves of the off-season or an epic bust. Feilhaber has the potential to put Kansas City over the edge and into the Cup finals if the move works out and he feels inspired to play hard. He has a lot of talent, but once he becomes disillusioned with a place that talent is quickly squandered. Working off Graham Zusi may help to keep the midfielder inspired and cause major problems for the opposing teams. Sporting has poised themselves to be a major contender in the East, and are hoping that this year they finally have their pieces together.
This just leaves the Dynamo and we all know what they have spent the off-season doing. Acquiring Omar Cummings and Eric Brunner, Andy Driver and bringing up Bryan Salazar. Oh and they re-signed Giles Barnes and brought back Mike Chabala just to name a few things. The Dynamo finally stocked up a little on depth something they had been lacking.
So what is the State of the Eastern Conference? Frankly I think the top teams have managed to get better this off season while the other teams managed to keep their status quo. The top teams who lost top players managed to bring in top players to replace them while the lesser teams failed to bring in any big names. Now maybe someone they already have on their roster will have a break out year and will become the next big thing, but somehow that seems unlikely. The top teams all figured out what their teams were missing last year and went out and got it. Some got extra just because they could. So brace yourselves because this year isn't getting any easier at the top.