By IVES GALARCEP
The MLS off-season isn’t quite a month old yet, but several Major League Soccer teams have been extremely busy rebuilding and revamping their rosters ahead of the 2013 campaign.
Sporting Kansas City has lead the way, with some smart moves and some gutsy signings, while the New York Red Bulls have also enjoyed an outstanding December since the 2012 season ended, bidding farewell to Rafa Marquez in one of the best moves of the month.
Though it should be obvious to all, there are still two more months to go in the off-season, and plenty of teams are still lining up their big moves for the coming weeks, but there is no denying that this has been the busiest December in MLS history for off-season maneuvering.
So which MLS teams have had the best first month of the MLS off-season? Here is a look at the ten teams having the best off-seasons so far:
1. SPORTING KANSAS CITY
The Eastern Conference regular season champions looked set to have a dismal off-season with Roger Espinoza heading to Wigan and Matt Besler a free agent, but Sporting KC has enjoyed a dream off-season.
Along with re-signing Besler, KC also traded for Benny Feilhaber and Ike Opara, two classic buy-low maneuvers that could pay off handsomely. They then signed former LDU Quito striker Claudio Bieler as a Designated Player to help give their attack a boost.
2. NEW YORK RED BULLS
If you are a Red Bulls fan you could not have asked for a better off-season after yet another disappointing campaign. The team dumped head coach Hans Backe, then pulled off a blockbuster trade to acquire Jamison Olave and Fabian Espindola. They also added a playmaker in Brazilian veteran Juninho Pernambucano, who could wind up being the team’s most important acquisition.
The most important move of all though was the disposal of Rafa Marquez, a complete flop of a signing, and a player who the team desperately needed to get rid of. The team has also made a pair of Homegrown Player signings to replenish their empty cupboard of young talent. All in all, a quality off-season so far (which is impressive considering they haven’t signed a head coach yet). How the team fills their open Designated Player slot, and who they hire as head coach, will ultimately determine whether they stand atop this list when we get to March.
3. PHILADELPHIA UNION
Anyone who watched the Union last season knows just how much their attack struggled, and how poor finishing doomed them to an awful season. Head coach John Hackworth has addressed that by trading for Sebastien LeToux and landing Conor Casey via the Re-Entry draft.
The Union also bolstered the defense by adding veteran centerback and local product Jeff Parke. Adding three quality veterans without spending much is impressive, but the Union still have more work to do to return to the playoffs in 2013.
4. PORTLAND TIMBERS
The Timbers have not been shy about making moves since new head coach Caleb Porter took charge, and their maneuvering is paying dividends early on. The acquisition of Will Johnson was one of the best of this off-season, while the addition of Michael Harrington was a smart and underrated move. Their trading of the No. 3 pick in the 2013 MLS Draft, along with back-up goalkeeper Joe Bendik for Ryan Johnson and Milos Kocic was another good bit of business.
The Timbers also succeeded in re-negotiating Danny Mwanga’s deal to keep him in Portland. They could wind up near the top of this list if they succeed in landing a playmaker and if they succeed in unloading Kris Boyd. The Timbers also made some moves that can help long-term in the acquisition of youngster Mobi Fehr, and the acquiring of the Homegrown Player rights to Akron defender Bryan Gallego.
5. LOS ANGELES GALAXY
David Beckham leaving the Galaxy wasn’t a great way to start the off-season, and Landon Donovan’s future remains uncertain, but LA has still had a solid first month of the off-season. Their signing of star college forward Gyasi Zardes was a major victory for LA, and they cleared the way for Zardes to take on a big role by trading Edson Buddle for allocation money. LA also made a killing in the Re-Entry draft, landing winger Colin Clark and Will Hesmer, two players who could wind up being starters.
6. HOUSTON DYNAMO
The Dynamo haven’t added a ton of players, but their move to sign several key players to new contracts is a positive move. That isn’t why they made this list though. Houston’s acquisition of Omar Cummings was a shrewd move and classic Dom Kinnear steal. Cummings has endured some injury-hit seasons, as well as Colorado’s poor play the past two years, but now he joins a strong Dynamo attack and could enjoy a breakout 2013 season.
7. TORONTO FC
Paul Mariner’s side needed to shed salary and pulled that off with their trading of Ryan Johnson and Milos Kocic for the No. 3 pick in the 2013 MLS Draft, a pick that should land them a Generation adidas player (GA players don’t count against the salary cap). TFC also added a solid veteran defender in Danny Califf. TFC edges past RSL for the No. 7 slot courtesy of the acquisition of Gale Agbossoumonde via lottery.
Another major move for TFC involved the hiring of Kevin Payne as the team’s new president, which has to be seen as a plus given Payne’s track record.
8. REAL SALT LAKE
Losing Will Johnson, Jamison Olave and Fabian Espindola isn’t exactly the way you make this list, but a team in dire need of salary cap relief has found just that, while also accumulating more than $500,000 in allocation money to sign new players. They also re-signed several key players to new long-term deals. They still have work to do though, with Javier Morales’ re-signing a key priority along with adding a forward.
9. COLORADO RAPIDS
Parting ways with Conor Casey and Omar Cummings couldn’t have been easy, but Oscar Pareja’s side did bring in Edson Buddle from Los Angeles as well as Atiba Harris from Vancouver. They were able to hold on to Marvell Wynne, and they grabbed Eric Avila in the Re-Entry Draft.
10. NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION
The Revs have quietly put together a solid first month of the off-season. They signed former Rev Andy Dorman, and signed Homegrown Player Scott Caldwell, a standout college player at Akron. The Revs also succeeded in unloading Benny Feilhaber, who they had no intention of keeping anyway, for a tidy haul.
New England also added some depth with the Re-Entry Draft selections of Chad Barrett and Hunter Freeman. Another move made by the Revs before the official end of the 2012 season was the addition of Malian midfielder Kalifa Cisse, a strong midfielder who should step in and anchor the Revs midfield.