Monday, January 27, 2014

MLS offseason excites fans as training camp opens

World Cup year, top league signings making headlines

The 2013-2014 offseason in Major Leage Soccer was no ordinary trip for football fans that usually kick back and wait out the longest break in between campaigns for any domestic league in the world. In fact, we'd have to point out that this was--and continues to be--one of the more exciting offseasons in league history.

As preseason training kicked off this past weekend, supporters furiously are trying to keep up with any latest signings or rumors of potential signings before the domestic championship kicks off in early March. Next year, the league welcomes two more teams to its format--New York City FC and Orlando SC.

So ahead of what should be a pivotal year before the expansion teams join the fray, we take a look at some of the top signings and trades that will make for an electric season for MLS this year in the midst of the World Cup in Brazil.

* Toronto FC's double-capture of England international Jermain Defoe and U.S. national-team stalwart Michael Bradley set a precedent not only to other sides but to the league in itself and marks an important chapter in the book of U.S. soccer. The signings represent a new era whereby MLS is announcing to the world that it will seek some of the better players it's strived to obtain earlier in its history, whether that means paying out a larger transfer fee or splashing cash in a hefty contract. Despite a dropoff in attendance, supporters of the Reds are some of the more loyal in the league and BMO Field should be rocking come March.

* While Philadelphia Union's acquisition of U.S. international Maurice Edu hasn't been made official yet, the signing would represent yet another coup for the league if Edu can reignite his form that gave him 45 appearances in the national team kit. The Union is looking to build a foundation in its midfield as Edu is only 27 and the team is already on the hunt for others to upgrade its unit and complement Edu. Philadelphia looks like a good bet to get back into the playoffs and keep PPL Park loud and boisterous.

* Eddie Johnson has had a roller coaster ride in his stint with Seattle Sounders but after the Washington side grabbed Kenny Cooper, EJ's days were numbered. DC United now hope his goal-scoring threats can help United climb out of a disastrous 2013 season in which they finished dead last. 

* Before a car crash that claimed the life of a friend and caused major injuries to him, Charlie Davies had a successful season in France and was riding high. After slowly recuperating, he is now back on the pitch and seeks to seize on the opportunity bestowed on him with New England Revolution, who made his loan from last year into a permanent deal.

* Seven years ago, legend Guillermo Barros Schelotto put MLS on the map in Argentina and his Columbus Crew jersey was seen at Boca Juniors games. Today, Argentine players look at MLS as a viable option as current Crew forward Federico Higuain--brother of Napoli's Gonzalo--noted to a publication in his home country. Case in point, Portland Timbers. The fanatical support, the beauty of the city and its surroundings and the professionalism displayed in training and overall regime have given its four Argentines currently on its roster a new love for the game in the U.S. The Oregon side have brought in Gaston Fernandez from Estudiantes and Norberto Paparatto from Tigre.

Of course, we still have the silly season upon us where players like Xavi, Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole continue to be linked with the league. But unlike its early days, MLS is now in a position to capture these and other players, who it seems more and more are looking at America's top flight as a serious competition.

-Tio Pelotas