The MLS offseason encompassed a broad spectrum of transactions. Some masterful. Others perplexing—and that was just the New York Red Bulls.
The Desert Friendlies have already provided MLS fans with a much needed fix of MLS soccer. The 2013 Disney Pro Soccer Classic and Desert Diamond Cup will make available the year’s first competitive environment.
But not a single meaningful match has been played, and the MLS Cup may have already been decided.
A championship team may have already been built.
Front offices across the league have done their due diligence throughout the offseason to tweak—or in New York’s case, completely overhaul—its 2012 roster in hopes of capturing the MLS Cup.
Unfortunately, some teams will find out that not all moves are created equal.
Not every move pans out. Not every move is heralded by the media.
But every move conducted this offseason has either helped or thwarted teams from hoisting the 2013 MLS Cup.
So from best to worst, here are the five moves that will help determine the 2013 season.
The New York Red Bulls Part Ways With Rafa Márquez
The Red Bulls were the “kings” of the offseason, so expect multiple appearances on this list.
New York dominated the headlines this offseason with a string of trades and signings that saw Jámison Olave, Fabián Espíndola and Juninho Pernambucano join the team.
In total, the Red Bulls conducted 11 moves since its heartbreaking playoff loss last November—none more important than the decision to jettison the toxic entity known as Rafa Márquez.
By now, Rafa’s failed tenure in New York is well documented.
Márquez displayed some flashes of brilliance in his three-year tenure with the Red Bulls, but not nearly enough to warrant the $4.6 million salary he demanded.
The former Mexican captain left behind a repelling legacy highlighted by the two most scatterbrained implosions in MLS history.
He is the first player in MLS history to end back-to-back playoffs with red cards.
Márquez’s departure is addition by subtraction for New York.
Not only will the Red Bulls no longer fear the possibility of staving off elimination from a man down, but a much coveted third designated player slot is at Gérard Houllier and Andy Roxburgh’s disposal.
Whether New York decides to utilize it in the upcoming transfer window remains to be seen.
Houston Dynamo Trade For Omar Cummings
Outside of consecutive losses in the MLS Cup, the Houston Dynamo have not gotten much wrong since 2006.
Houston does not boast the garishness of the Los Angeles Galaxy or New York Red Bulls and neither do its transactions.
That sentiment held true this offseason with the acquisition of Omar Cummings from the Colorado Rapids for Nathan Sturgis and allocation money.
Calen Carr’s injury in the MLS Cup (torn ACL) left the Dynamo with a glaring need at the forward position, and that is exactly what it acquired in Cummings.
Cummings—a proven commodity in MLS—scored 39 goals with 27 assists in his career with the Rapids. His most successful season came in 2010 when he led Colorado with 14 goals and propelled the franchise to its only MLS Cup.
But Cummings has seen a dip in form since then.
He only managed to score nine goals with eight assists in his last two seasons with the Rapids and has failed to show the consistent production that led to a start with the 2011 MLS All-Star team against Manchester United.
That said, a change of scenery may be enough to bring back that championship form.
For Cummings, there can be no better place than Houston—a franchise that has played in four of the last seven MLS Cups.
The Mike Petke and Ryan Nelsen Hirings
It’s an old cliché in sports: Copy a successful blueprint.
After watching Ben Olsen’s success with DC United last season, New York and Toronto decided to hire two of his former teammates in hopes of capturing the same success.
Olsen, Petke and Nelsen won an MLS Cup as members of DC United in 2004. All three will now have the opportunity to capture another as head coach.
For the Red Bulls, Petke’s hire was one of necessity rather than innovation.
After Portuguese manager Paulo Sousa was denied a work permit, New York was forced to turn to a man that had spent the previous two seasons with the Red Bulls as an assistant.
New York now has a man that is not only familiar with MLS, but with the very team he is in charge of leading as well.
Toronto raised a lot of eyebrows when it decided to name Nelsen as its head coach.
Not because he wasn’t qualified—though, Nelsen does not boast any experience or badges as a head coach—but because he was still under contract for Queens Park Rangers.
Fortunately for Toronto, Nelsen has since departed QPR and joined Toronto in time for the preseason.
Like New York, Toronto has a man that is familiar with the subtle intricacies that separate champions from failures in MLS.
It remains to be seen whether the hires mirror the success of Olsen in DC. But given MLS' history to crown head coaches familiar with the league, it’s a step in the right direction for two trophy-less franchises.
Chivas USA’s New—and Old—Identity
Chivas USA decided to double down on its “Hispanic heritage” model this past offseason. It’s a decision that has handicapped an already incompetent franchise.
Chivas filled its offseason with a fire sale of non-Hispanic talent.
After being drafted No. 5 overall in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft, Casey Townsend was traded from Chivas to DC United for a 2014 second-round pick—much to the surprise of DC United General Manager Dave Kasper:
“We were quite surprised that Casey was available for a trade and we pounced on it.”
There were even rumors of the team actively shopping goalkeeper Dan Kennedy (per Ives Galarcep).
Chivas carried its poor decision making into the MLS SuperDraft.
In the days leading up to the draft, Chivas tipped its hand, announcing it intended on selecting Carlos Alvarez with the No. 2 overall pick.
Drafting Alvarez was not a mistake for Chivas. But as Ives Galarcep points out, the manner in which it did typified an offseason of ineptitude:
Might seem crazy for Goats to grab Alvarez instead of Lopez but there is actually a good argument for it. That said, Goats mishandling draft— Ives Galarcep (@SoccerByIves) January 15, 2013
There appeared to be other options on the table:
If Chivas USA were smart, they'd trade No 2 pick & move down, pocket some allocation. Don't see anybody else taking Alvarez in top 6-7 picks— Ives Galarcep (@SoccerByIves) January 15, 2013
Chivas USA was founded on the principle of proudly representing the Hispanic community while playing championship soccer.
It is yet to do either. And given its risible offseason, it will fail to do so again.
New York Red Bulls Trade Kenny Cooper
For Red Bulls fans, the trading of Kenny Cooper seemed inevitable.
After being eliminated in last year’s playoffs, an inconsolable Cooper displayed his devotion for the Red Bulls. Apparently, the feeling was not mutual.
New York sent its leading goal scorer back to his former team FC Dallas for a reported $200,000 in allocation money.
According to Andy Roxburgh, the trade was strictly for salary cap purposes:
“Due to salary cap restrictions and in order to balance our squad now and in the future, we have very reluctantly traded Kenny. The allocation money combined with the salary cap relief that we obtained will be vital for us to strengthen the squad in specific areas.”
But Brian Lewis of the New York Post translates the end game for Cooper’s trade: A third designated player.
If the Red Bulls had kept Cooper, he would've hit them for $375k on the salary cap, and precluded any other moves, including a 3rd DP #RBNY— Brian Lewis (@NYPost_Lewis) February 4, 2013
The two biggest criticisms of Cooper’s game were that he under utilized his size and was unable to create his own scoring opportunities (per Dave Martinez of empireofsoccer.com).
Creativity or not, Cooper was still able to lead the Red Bulls with 18 goals last season. Getting rid of that level of production is a mistake—no matter what the cost.
Trading away your leading goal-scorer is a mistake.— Shawn Francis™(@TheOffsideRules) February 4, 2013
New York will now have to rely on the new pairing of Thierry Henry and Espíndola to be as productive as Henry and Cooper.
The vitriol from the fanbase will be bountiful should they fail to do so.
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