The Throw-In: Holiday wishes for all 19 MLS teams
Slow news day in MLS, eh? Between Landon Donovan’s loan back to Everton, Lee Nguyen landing with Vancouver and Portland’s signing of José Adolfo Valencia, there was basically nothing to talk about.
In all seriousness, we all probably appreciated the distraction from what we all should really be doing: our holiday shopping. (Don’t worry, mom, I promise I’ve got something in mind…) In tribute to all of our upcoming panicky weekend trips to the mall and/or the Internet, here’s my holiday wish list for all 19 MLS teams.
Chicago: A new contract for Pável Pardo. No one was more surprised than I was to see how effective the veteran midfielder was in his long-rumored move to MLS. You’d be even more shocked to meet the man, who is down to earth, humble and approachable – the exact opposite of his on-field persona. A whole season with the two-time World Cup veteran – provided he stays fit – is a big part of what the Fire need to sustain a whole season.
Chivas USA: Games, ASAP. Rebuilding is no easy task, especially for a team that this past season was on its third head coach in three seasons. The Goats made some bone-headed mistakes in 2011 that doomed them. If anyone can cut out the errors, it’s no-nonsense Robin Fraser. Another year under the former defensive stalwart is what the doctor ordered.
Colorado: A coach. What’s done is done – the Rapids have no choice but to move on after Gary Smith’s dismissal. But they’re also weeks from approaching the MLS Combine and the SuperDraft without someone in charge on the field. Technical director Paul Bravo and newly named club president Tim Hinchey must identify their guy in a hurry so everyone is – finally – on the same page.
Columbus: A midfield playmaker. Crew-ville is almost as tired of hearing “We need a new Guillermo Barros Schelotto” as they are of hearing the cliché “offseason overhaul.” But facts are facts: Columbus haven’t been anywhere near as dynamic since GBS departed Crew Stadium. A string-puller with even half his talent would help everyone in C-bus move on.
D.C. United: Some good news on a stadium. The on-field product will take care of itself. The permanent home for D.C., however, is taking far too long. Options are finally emerging, thankfully: DC’s city council is making moves to keep the team in the District, and Baltimore and Bowie, Md., remain options. But a short-term lease at RFK is merely a band-aid. United need a solution.
FC Dallas: Forwards, fast. The only true strikers currently on Schellas Hyndman’s roster are Fabián Castillo, Ruben Luna, Andrew Wiedeman and Jonathan Top. Average age: 19½. Average total career appearances: a shade less than 11. Help wanted. Equal opportunity employer.
Houston: Buzz. Kansas City, Portland and Vancouver all had their moments last season in opening shiny new soccer-specific homes. Now it’s the Dynamo’s turn, and no team is more deserving of a new cathedral as a reward for its recent achievements. The Bayou City needs to go big for the opening of BBVA Compass Stadium in May. How about a shiny new star on the field to help celebrate?
LA Galaxy: A final decision from David Beckham. If he stays, great; the MLS Cup champs are back. But if he leaves for Paris-St. Germain, Bruce Arena can map out a team without him. A more up-tempo system, perhaps? Is that what new midfield signing Marcelo Sarvas is for? And who could occupy that vacant Designated Player spot?
Montreal: Un Québécois. Nearly every expansion team in recent years has made sure to have a hometown hero on the roster. So far, the Impact have signed 21 players for 2012 – none are from Quebec and only one (Hassoun Camara) is a native Francophone. This is a club with a youth academy deeply connected to its province, too. Qu'est-ce qui se passe, Montreal?
New England: Patience. That’s what we owe Jay Heaps. He’s a rookie coach with a mountain of a to-do list lording over him to get the Revs back to respectability, and he has to follow up on the iconic heels of Steve Nicol. We owe him the benefit of the doubt. But hey, after the Revs’ worst finish in a dozen years, there’s nowhere to go but up, right?
New York: The tin man treatment. Plain and simple, this team needs heart. The talent assembled on paper is arguably good enough to win a title. But there needs to balance on this squad, and there hasn’t been. Yes, a true playmaker and some improvements on the back line would be nice, but this team needs to be greater than the sum of its parts.
Philadelphia: The next step. Year 1 was fun, but frustrating. Year 2 was promising, but ultimately disappointing. Year 3, it’s Philly’s to lose. At one point this past season, The Armchair Analyst turned to me and said, “I think they’re gonna win the Cup.” I didn’t argue too hard. They have that much potential. Now it’s time for them to prove it.
Portland: Road confidence. JELD-WEN Stadium was a fortress in 2011 – Portland’s 9-5-3 record at home (30 points) was downright respectable. Good thing, too, since their 2-9-6 mark on the road (12 points) was among the league’s worst. John Spencer’s young team can’t fall back on home cooking if they’re going to make the playoffs next year.
Real Salt Lake: Their mojo. There was a period during RSL’s Champions League run last year when they put on some of the best soccer of any team in MLS history. They played the right way, too – unselfish, team-oriented and focused. There’s been some roster turnover in the past few weeks, but the holdovers have the ability to get back to being that squad.
San Jose: Smart spending. Supposedly Quakes ownership has given GM John Doyle and head coach Frank Yallop the green light to go after higher-priced talent. That’s a good sign for a team that needs reinforcements to get back in the playoff picture. Perhaps some help from their club partners Tottenham Hotspur or SC Internacional?
Seattle: Steve Zakuani. That’s it. Healthy, back to where he was a year ago, giving defenses fits with his pace and ability. Seeing the speedster fit and patrolling the left wing again is enough of a feel-good story to carry the Emerald City through the New Year. How nice will it be to have him back against Santos Laguna in March?
Sporting KC: Maturity. OK, KC, you’ve got your amazing new stadium and an exciting roster of talent. And your team has shown it can win ... and also implode at key moments. Dropped points late in a game was a consistent theme for Sporting this past season, and they reeked of overconfidence in the Eastern Conference Championship. The next step in becoming a perennial power in this league is to grow up and learn how to close.
Toronto FC: Speedy defensive help. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure this one out. TFC’s league-worst 59 goals allowed in 2011 is MLS’ worst goals-allowed figure in three seasons. That 4-3-3 system of Aron Winter has left them woefully susceptible to the counter. That’s something they need to fix in a hurry.
Vancouver: Fundamentals. Let’s face it, no team in MLS had a lower highlight-reel-to-points ratio last year. I’ll bet fans would gladly give back a couple of those Eric Hassli and Davide Chiumiento golazos in exchange for victories. But Martin Rennie has a plan. And before we all laugh off “4-3-3” as a dirty word, let’s let the second-division prodigy have an entire season to work some magic.
Jonah Freedman is the managing editor of MLSsoccer.com. “The Throw-In” appears every Thursday.