The Los Angeles Galaxy will try to retain the MLS Cup in 2012, but the other Western Conference teams have strengthened their lineups.
The West Coast teams no doubt have a great amount of talent and continued to add to it throughout the offseason. Defending MLS Cup champions and Supporters' Shield winners LA Galaxy enter the season on top, but the West is filled with teams ready to take the crown for themselves. After the jump is the final installment of my off-season transaction review as we look at Part 1 and Part 2 of the series., Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle, San Jose, and Vancouver. If you missed them earlier, check out
IN: Ryan Smith, James Riley, Oswaldo Minda, Miller Bolanos, Casey Townsend, Tim Melia, John Valencia, Marvin Iraheta, Rauwshan McKenzie, Peter Vagenas, Cesar Romero
OUT: Justin Braun, Gerson Mayen, Zarek Valentin, Paulo Nagamura, Chukwudi Chujindu, Simon Elliott, Zach Thornton, Mariano Trujillo, Michael Umana, Marcos Mondaini, Sergio Arias, Victor Estupinan
Minutes XI Returning: 7/11
Minutes Gameday 18 Returning: 11/18
After losing twelve men on their roster (thirteen if you count Jimmy Conrad's pre-mature concussion retirement), Chivas USA is in a rebuilding phase. The losses of promising young talent in the form of Justin Braun and Zarek Valentin certainly boggled the minds of many, especially after losing Valentin in the expansion draft without receiving anything in return. Valentin's Generation adidas contract may have been up, but the upside is still there. Michael Umana offered a considerable amount of assistance in the back line last season appearing in 22 games, Simon Elliott's veteran experience will be missing, and Marcos Mondaini provided almost 1,500 minutes of service. Chivas USA will have a completely different look in 2012.
Part of that new look is James Riley who was acquired from Montreal via trade for Umana and Braun. As Seattle's right back, Riley played an enormous amount of last season and performed very well. Chivas USA also traded for midfielder Ryan Smith from Kansas City for first and third round Supplemental Draft picks. Smith should find time right away playing on the outside of the midfield. At the back, Chivas added Colombian defender John Valencia who played for 2011 Colombian Fall champions Atletico Junior. The real impact signings come in the form of Oswaldo Minda and Miller Bolanos, both Ecuadorians with experience from their nation's top division. Minda will add some needed talent and experience to the midfield as his 13 national team caps boasts a strong pedigree. Bolanos is a young, versatile attacking player that may pick up the slack of striking duties when 36-year old Juan Pablo Angel inevitably is injured. Chivas USA may not be ready to clash with the big boys in the West, but the pieces are there for a possible run in the future.
IN: Andrew Boyens, Chris Leitch, Pat Noonan, Marcelo Sarvas, Jose Villareal, Nick Noble, Tommy Meyer, Kenney Walker, Edson Buddle, Kyle Nakazawa
OUT: Gregg Berhalter, Donovan Ricketts, Miguel Lopez, Chris Birchall Jovan Kirovski, Dasan Robinson, Chris Leitch, Frankie Hejduk, Yuri Gorentzvalg
Minutes XI Returning: 10/11
Minutes Gameday 18 Returning: 14/18
Los Angeles brings back an enormous portion of its championship winning squad losing a few players to retirement or depth players that were replaced in the starting line up. Donovan Ricketts finds himself in Montreal now and Frankie Hejduk is a free agent. With the subtractions of Berhalter, Rickets, and Hejduk, The Galaxy clears up over $350,000 of cap room.
Los Angeles did well to pick up some decent depth through the re-entry draft, as they will have the added responsibility of CONCACAF Champions League to play through. Andrew Boyens, Chris Leitch, and Pat Noonan are MLS veterans that will patch up the squad when starters need resting and Bill Gaudette returns to MLS after spending some time in the lower divisions. LA also signed Marcelo Sarvas, a player whom they played against in the CONCACAF Champions League. Sarvas is a 30-year old Brazilian and a two-way midfielder that should rotate with Juninho and David Beckham in central midfield. The Galaxy also traded for former Philadelphia Union midfielder Kyle Nakazawa who registered 2,006 minutes in the past two seasons.
The most impactful transaction the Galaxy made this off-season may be re-acquiring Edson Buddle as a free agent. Buddle spent some time in the German second division before FC Ingolstadt released him from his contract. Buddle will have to find time to play behind an intimidating forward line of Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane.
IN: Jose Adolfo Valencia, Brent Richards (HG), Andrew Jean-Baptiste (GA), Brendan King, Hanyer Mosquera, Kris Boyd, Charles Renken, Franck Songo'o, Joe Bendik
OUT: Kevin Goldthwaite, Ryan Pore, Adin Brown, Rodrigo Lopez, Peter Lowry, Brian Umony, Kenny Cooper
Minutes XI Returning: 10/11
Minutes Gameday 18 Returning: 17/18
A high percentage of gameday players will return to a Portland squad that finished strong in 2011 and will look to make a push to the MLS Cup playoffs in 2012. Kenny Cooper finished the season with eight goals, but his loss may be addition by subtraction as Kris Boyd now joins the team. Boyd led the Scottish Premier League in goal scoring four times, as he registered 164 goals in 296 appearances for Hearts and Rangers. Feeling the need for additional firepower, Portland also signed their first young Designated Player, 19-year old Colombian forward Jose Adolfo Valencia. The Timbers also addressed a backline that allowed the second most goals in the Western Conference in 2011. Portland brought in another Colombian in the form of Hayner Mosquera who played for four seasons in the Colombian top division.
In the midfield, Charles Renken and Franck Songo'o are the newcomers to Rose City. Renken is a U.S. youth international from Edwardsville, IL who appeared for the U-19 youth squad of German club Hoffenheim. The main concern with Renken is his two knee injuries and lengthy amount of time recovering from those injuries. Songo'o, however, has proven to be an immense pick-up as he has provided two assists in a 4-1 win against Los Angeles and two more assists in a 2-0 win against Chicago.
Kenny Cooper is the only major loss in Portland's squad and as I have already mentioned, that will likely end up benefitting the team. The Timbers will be relieved of Cooper's $250,000 cap hit as well as Brown's $72,000 and Goldthwaite's $110,000. Brown and Goldthwaite combined for only 325 minutes last season so dropping them from the team was a no-brainer move. Exciting times are in store for Rose City as the Timbers may be the most improved team this offseason.
IN: Shea Salinas, Jean Alexandre, Marvin Chaves, Victor Bernardez, Sam Garza, Jacob Hustedt, Chris Blais, Sercan Guvenisik, Tressor Moreno, Simon Dawkins
OUT: Bobby Burling, Matt Luzunaris, Bobby Convey, Chris Leitch, Andre Luiz, Jacob Peterson, Scott Sealy, Andrew Weber
Minutes XI Returning: 9/11
Minutes Gameday 18 Returning: 14/18
San Jose looks to be getting ready for the big time by bringing in some strong talent and outgrowing some of their depth. Bobbys Burling and Convey headline the outgoing list. Burling became a mainstay on the Earthquake backline as his immense size was too good for Montreal to pass up in the expansion draft. Convey's story is a little different as his rift with head coach Frank Yallop and large price tag made him an easy target to get shipped out in the offseason. After Convey and Burling, the Earthquakes lost some marginal depth. Jacob Peterson and Scott Sealy combined for less than 1,000 minutes, Chris Leitch appeared in less than 15 games and the contributions of Luzunaris, Luiz, and Weber were negligible at best.
Joining the fray for San Jose is Shea Salinas, Jean Alexandre, and Marvin Chavez. The north California club traded the first round Supplemental Draft pick to Real Salt Lake for Alexandre, which should help shore up the bench. Salinas and Dawkins return to San Jose after some time away. Salinas played his best years for San Jose and will try to regain that form he showed for the Quakes a few seasons ago. Dawkins was a critical part of San Jose's attack and should find himself in the starting line-up from the get go. However, a solid signing from the Earthquakes was getting Tressor Moreno, a 33-year old Colombian attacking midfielder who has played in Mexico, France, Peru, Chile, and Colombia will likely play behind Steven Lenhart and Chris Wondoloski in a playmaking role for an improved Earthquakes side.
Michael Gspurning, Marc Burch, Adam Johansson, Christian Sivebaek, Andrew Duran, Babayele Sodade, Andy Rose, Cordell Cato, Eddie Johnson, Andrew Weber
OUT: Kasey Keller, James Riley, Tyson Wahl, Terry Boss, Taylor Graham, Nate Jaqua, Pat Noonan, Erik Friberg, Mike Fucito, Lamar Neagle
Minutes XI Returning: 7/11
Minutes Gameday 18 Returning: 11/18
Seattle's roster took a major hit this off-season losing their immensely influential goalkeeper, starting right back, and depth at every position. Kasey Keller was an immense part of Seattle's early success making critical saves often and organizing a talented defense. Part of that defense was veteran James Riley and promising youngster Tyson Wahl who are no longer with the team. Forwards Nate Jaqua, Pat Noonan, and Mike Fucito have been dispersed to different squads across North America and midfielders Lamar Neagle and Erik Friberg have also left the country. From the aforementioned Sounders, 186 league appearances are now gone from last year's team.
The question now is if the incoming talent will pick up the slack. Michael Gspurning is a 6'5" presence that will take over in goal and has recently played in the Greek top division. Gspurning hails from Austria and looks to be a solid replacement for Keller. Adam Johansson is a fantastic signing on paper as a 28-year old Swedish right back that has played 129 games for Goteborg in the Swedish Allsvenskan and has recently found playing time for the Swedish national team. Seattle also signed another Scandinavian in the form of Christian Sivebaek, a 23-year old midfielder who has appeared for various Danish youth national teams. Sivebaek will likely add attacking depth to a dauntingly deep attacking midfield.
Of course, the signing that stole all the headlines was the Eddie Johnson trade. Johnson joins the squad from Preston North End in England's League One after Seattle gave up fan favorites Neagle and Fucito. The positives from this trade are the partnership with Fredy Montero could lead to a devastating strike force if Johnson finds his previous MLS form and he returns to the league relatively cheap making $100,000 this season. For someone who used to be one of the highest paid domestic talents in the league, that is quite a bargain. However, his price has likely fallen so much because of his misadventures outside the league making a minimal difference with Fulham, Cardiff, Aris in Greece, and finally Preston North End. (As an aside, I remember watching him play for Fulham and it looked like he completely forgot how to play the game.) Now Johnson returns to the league with a team that has talent loaded up and down the roster. If he can't step on the field and produce, there will be someone on the bench who will.
IN: Bryce Alderson, Lee Young-Pyo, Matt Watson, Martin Bonjour, Darren Mattocks, Brad Knighton, Jun Marques Davidson, Sebastien Le Toux, Barry Robson, Lee Nguyen
OUT: Jeb Brovsky, Bilal Dickett, Nizar Khalfan, Alexandre Morfaw, Shea Salinas, Greg Janicki, Pete Vagenas, Jonathan Leathers, Jay Nolly, Geinler Garcia, Mustapha Jarju, Phillippe Davies, Lee Nguyen
Minutes XI Returning: 8/11
Minutes Gameday 18 Returning: 12/18
Taking a different strategy from their 2011 expansion brethren, Vancouver made a considerable amount of roster moves over the off-season. The Whitecaps dropped four players who appeared in more than 20 games in Jeb Brovsky, Shea Salinas, Nizar Khalfan, and Jonathan Leathers. Greg Janicki, Lee Nguyen, and the seemingly ageless Pete Vagenas were also let go during the offseason to make room for a stack of new talent. Nguyen just joined the club through the weighted lottery and soon found himself out the door not being able to secure himself a spot on the overwhelmingly deep attacking line-up.
Of course, the name that grabs the attention here is Sebastien Le Toux who has been a legitimate MVP contender for the past two seasons. Only having to trade Philadelphia allocation money, Vancouver adds an enormous amount of attacking talent to their line up in just that one move alone. While on the topic of attacking talent, second overall draft pick Darren Mattocks has impressed throughout pre-season and will likely be a killer option off the bench. Lee Young-pyo comes in as a left back on the wrong side of 30, but is one of the most capped South Korean players of all time. Martin Bonjour is another new arrival that will make an immediate impact on the defensive line. Bonjour is a 26-year old Argentinian center back that will pair up with Jay Demerit to make a much-improved center back duo. Head coach Martin Rennialso recruited former Carolina RailHawk Jun Marques Davidson who looks to be another solid addition to a team needing healthy central midfield talent. Vancouver has stocked up a great amount of better players and may make a strong push to the playoffs.
Wild Wild West
The West looks to be a knockdown, drag-out brawl for positioning. Los Angeles still has a vast amount of talent that only gets stronger with the return of Edson Buddle. The defense took a massive blow when Omar Gonzalez picked up a long-term knee injury over the offseason and they have not been able to adequately replace him. Seattle looks dangerous as well, but the questions remain if their roster overhaul can retain their strong form from last year. If last night's 2-1 win over Santos in the CONCACAF Champions League is any indication, they are well on their way to another successful season. Portland and Vancouver have both strengthened their line-ups adding some seriously potent attacking firepower and tightening up weaknesses from last year. Vancouver can be especially dangerous if the veteran duo of Jay Demerit and John Thorrington can stay healthy throughout the season. San Jose may be the dark horses in this group as they collected solid depth players from around the league, fortified their attack, and will get the services of Ike Opara back. Two injuries on the same foot have kept Opara out of action for the better part of two years and if he regains his form, he could be one of the better young American center backs in the league. Chivas USA made some improvements as well, but it will likely not be enough to keep up with the rest of the West.
The majority of MLS teams have made significant additions to their squads (mainly in the form of Colombian playmakers) and the league will only benefit as a result. Teams have brought in a large amount of attacking talent throughout the offseason and an abundance of goals may be on display this season. This may be the most exciting season of Major League Soccer yet.