With the Ice Bowl, um, I mean the MLS Cup behind us, the MLS off-season kicked off this week with a vengeance, so let’s take a look at this week’s Big – 5.
1) MLS Expansion Draft
Atlanta and Minnesota, the new kids in town, had an opportunity on Tuesday to stock their cupboards with the pair raiding five players each from their new colleagues.
The two clubs were consistent in their approach to team building to date with Atlanta making a splash while Minnesota quietly went about its business.
With the event streaming live on the league website Atlanta’s three man brain trust, led by former U.S international Carlos Bocanegra, sat at an imposing “Dr. Evil” like set below a huge A for Atlanta while the larger Minnesota group sat huddled around what looked like a folding table in a rec room.
When the draft was done each club traded its first pick away, with Atlanta quickly adding an additional swap. Atlanta opened the draft by selecting Danny Toia from Montreal but the fullback wasn’t long for Atlanta, he was quickly sent to on Orlando for the Lions first selection in the MLS SuperDraft in January.
Minnesota’s top pick was also quickly cashed in, as Montreal swooped for ex N.Y. Red Bulls fullback Chris Duvall in exchange for Costa Rican international attacker Johan Venegas.
And finally, Atlanta drafted goalkeeper Clint Irwin from MLS Cup finalists Toronto before shipping Irwin right back to TFC for defender, and Georgia native, Mark Bloom. Bloom will be joined, as of now, in Atlanta by fellow Georgia native Alec Kann. Atlanta brought the 26-year-old goalkeeper home from Kansas, selecting the goalkeeper with its fifth and final pick on Tuesday.
Here are all the expansion draft selections.
Atlanta. Danny Toia fb – Montreal Impact (traded to Orlando)
Zach Lloyd cb – FC Dallas
Clint Irwin gk – Toronto FC (traded to TFC)
Mikey Ambrose fb – Orlando SC
Alec Kann gk – Sporting Kansas City
Chris Duvall fb – New York Red Bulls (traded to Montreal)
Collen Warner mf- Houston Dynamo
Mohammed Saied mf – Columbus Crew
Jeff Attinella gk – Real Salt Lake
Femi Hollinger-Janzen fwd – New England Revolution
2) LA Stor(ies)
It was a case of the new responsible Galaxy vs the old starstruck model yesterday as L.A. hired low wattage Curt Onalfo to replace Bruce Arena as its head coach on the same day that the five-time champs traded for the rights to the flamboyant U.S. MNT freelancer Jermaine Jones from Colorado.
Commerce City, Colorado never seemed big enough to contain the swagger that is Jermaine Jones but the Galaxy had seemingly forsworn big name players “of a certain age” in the wake of Steven Gerrard’s recently ended, and decidedly underwhelming, stint in La La Land.
The Onalfo hiring seemed more in line with a new, and dare we say less exciting philosophy, so we will have to see if Jones is an outlier or if the Galaxy is perhaps feeling the pressure from the cash splashing ways of newcomers Atlanta.
3) Trades, Signings, and Rumors of Signings
The newcomers were not the only players in the MLS trade market on Tuesday, or indeed on Sunday when the league held a half-day open trade window. Why a half day? Who knows, but there was some interesting activity with Atlanta, no surprise, at the center of much of it.
The free spenders crammed plenty into Sunday’s half day, landing experienced defender Michael Parkhurst from Columbus for General Allocation Money (GAM) while also completing some less splashy trades, acquiring midfielder Kevin Kratz from Philadelphia, midfielder Harrison Heath from Orlando and forward Romario Williams from Montreal.
And with Atlanta rumored to have U.S. international keeper Brad Guzan headed back stateside from English Premier League club Middlesbrough, the club played middleman in sending Sean Johnson from Chicago to New York City FC.
Johnson had been lined up to tend Atlanta’s goal but when Guzan became a possibility it seems Atlanta jumped, sending Johnson on to NYC. Johnson’s star has dimmed somewhat in recent years but at 27 years old the former heir apparent to the U.S. number one jersey is in his prime goalkeeping years and Johnson’s physical gifts are undoubted, meaning NYC may well have filled its goalkeeping position for years to come.
4) GAM, TAM, Thank you, Ma’am
As we just noted NYCFC acquired Sean Johnson from Atlanta on Sunday sending General Allocation Money (GAM) and Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) to Atlanta who had just acquired the Georgia native from Chicago for GAM.
Confused? I know I am. Sharing the amounts of GAM and TAM that changed hands would help but MLS doesn’t really do transparency. Without those numbers, we simply can’t know if Chicago was fleeced by Atlanta when they flipped Johnson to New York for GAM and TAM after landing him just for TAM.
And what are GAM and TAM? The two mechanisms are monies allotted to teams to sign players without eating up space under the salary cap. TAM is a recent innovation limited to upper echelon players and it is used to avoid handing players Designated Player status.
Some good players have been signed through the TAM rule, including L.A. defender Jelle Van Damme and Columbus striker Ola Kamara.
So, why not just raise the cap? The salary cap is just $3.49 million with DP contracts counting just a bit over $400,000 against that amount. GAM and TAM are ways around the cap, so you have the league making rules to beat its own rules.
It is all in the name of keeping costs down and promoting slow and steady growth, and MLS is likely feeling vindicated in its approach with the recent collapse of the free market North American Soccer League (NASL)
5) Seattle Loves a Parade!
Last year it was Portland, this year it was the turn of Seattle’s rabid soccer fans to celebrate winning MLS Cup and Emerald City did it in style. The streets were thronged with enormous crowds on hand to cheer on their heroes as the trolleyed through the city.
One unfortunate police officer was even pulled under the team trolley in all the confusion and we wish him well on what was otherwise a great day for the supporters, the team, and the city.
The Sounders won the Cup minus the services of U.S. MNT star Clint Dempsey who has been recovering from a heart ailment but Deuce seemed to capture the mood of the crowd when he told supporters during yesterday’s celebrations that now that Seattle has a title “Portland can’t say Sh*#%.”