Needless to say, DC United has been pretty busy thus far in the offseason. A new coach, new assistants, key departures (Emilio and Fred), and big signings (Castillo, Perkins, Allsopp)...change has obviously been in the air around RFK. However, there's a whole big league out there, and while only Philadelphia has been busier than United, that doesn't mean everyone else is standing still.
As we approach the season, I'll be taking a look at what the rest of MLS has been up to, and what it could mean for the coming season. First up, two old rivals: the New York Red Bulls and the New England Revolution.
New York Red Bulls
Arrivals: Roy Miller, Chris Albright, Tony Tchani, Austin Da Luz, Tim Ream, Conor Chin, Irving Garcia
Departures: Albert Celades, Nick Zimmerman, Jorge Rojas, Leo Krupnik
While NY's tactics are going to be hard to predict at first (unless someone out there has seen Hans Backe-coached teams before), their moves seem to be fairly sensible thus far. Albrightwill compete with card-waiting-to-happen Carlos Johnson at right back; if the former Rev's injuries restrict him, Johnson will be a decent option provided someone tells him not to emulate the tackling of Dema Kovalenko. Meanwhile, the team has brought in Costa Rica defender Roy Miller, who has played as a left back, left midfielder, and center back. On this Red Bull team, you'd have to expect him to fit into a defensive role, since NY's center backs were poor all season long and their left back (Jeremy Hall) is not actually a natural at the position. They also have Swedish center back Frederic Jonson on trial, illustrating that they understand at least one of their immediate needs. There is also word that Walter Garcia, who was with NY last year but only made one appearance due to poor fitness, is back in camp.
Further forward, the retiring Albert Celades leaves NY with a midfield pretty much bereft of skill and vision. Tony Tchani, taken with the #2 pick in the draft, will probably walk into the starting role alongside Seth Stammler that Celades vacated. While Tchani is not a true playmaker, he is gifted enough on the ball to increase NY's ability to keep the ball, and he'll also add plenty of size to what was a lightweight midfield last year. Austin Da Luz will have a shot at real playing time at left midfield, though he will have to overcome the challenge of Jeremy Hall (presuming NY wants to start using him where he belongs) and the hard working Danleigh Borman. Even with these moves, NY's midfield needs a lot of work. When your chances are going to be manufactured by 2 rookies and the fast but totally unreliable Dane Richards, you still have lots to do. There is the possibility that they've already made one move to address this, as European reports have them signing Estonia left winger Joel Lindpere.
Up front, NY will continue to rely on Juan Pablo Angel while hoping that Mac Kandji can find the inner strength to get over his minor knocks and maximize his undoubted potential. If Kandji becomes the player he threatens to be, NY will be a consistent danger in the attack, even with what looks like a vanilla midfield. They'll still need to sign some depth (sorry NY fans, John Wolyniec does not exactly leave your opponents quaking in their boots), and should probably look to get someone to truly compete for time with Kandji as well.
New England Revolution
Arrivals: Zach Schilawski, Seth Sinovic, Zac Boggs, Jason Griffiths, Adam Welch, Cory Gibbs, Preston Burpo
Departures: Brad Knighton, Stephane Assengue, Jay Heaps, Chris Albright, Jeff Larentowicz, Wells Thompson
New England has seen a flurry of moves this offseason, but that departures list is a more impressive group of players than the arrivals at this point. Taylor Twellman's return (should it actually happen) will be a massive boost, but this is still a team with some big questions to answer, especially in the back. Matt Reis is somewhere between 2-4 months away from being fit after rotator cuff surgery, and his capable former backup Brad Knighton is now a member of the Philadelphia Union. Preston Burpo may not be a big name, but he's a veteran with a cool head and a steady pair of hands. He may not be able to win games on his own for the Revs, but he definitely won't lose them any games while Reis is recovering.
Further forward, Kevin Alston, Darrius Barnes, and Cory Gibbs (whether he's at center back or left back) are three quarters of a good defensive unit, but the fourth man in is going to be a problem. Emmanuel Osei is a disaster waiting to happen at center back, while the other possibilities at left back have some real issues. Chris Tierney is adequate positionally and a fine crosser of the ball, but his lack of speed is easily exploited. Meanwhile, Amaechi Igwe has the athleticism for the job, but is unreliable positionally and isn't very good on the ball (he's also rumored to be pursuing European trials). Sinovic may end up being an under-the-radar good pick, especially since Steve Nicol so frequently gets at least one of his draftees to deliver in a regular role.
New England's defensive unit isn't the only area of concern. While trading away Jeff Larentowicz (who was uninterested in staying at Gillette Stadium) is covered to some degree by the presence of Pat Phelan, it is still undoubtedly a step backwards for the normally tough-to-beat Revs midfield. Even if Phelan can do a decent job as Robin to Shalrie Joseph's Batman, the Revolution will still be totally lacking in depth if either of them is unavailable. Even more alarming for them is that Steve Ralston's return is still up in the air; without MLS's Iron Man, the Revolution attack will entirely rely on Joseph for creative inspiration. Sainey Nyassi and Kenny Mansally are a tricky pair to deal withon the flanks with their speed and willingness to dribble at defenders, but they're not exactly the most clever players. Depth behind them is also an issue, now that Wells "Property of Ben Olsen" Thompson will be wearing a Colorado Rapids jersey this season.
Up top, Taylor Twellman has stated several times that he'll be returning this year for New England. Bad news for United, obviously, but for the Revs it's superb. Nicol will now have the option of pairing Twellman with the speed of Kheli Dube or the size and experience of Edgaras Jankauskas. It's a great position to be in, especially since Dube became more of a threat last year. The addition of Schilawski should give the Revs a solid 4th option; given the fact that Twellman's concussions may never go away completely, and Jankauskas seems to pull a muscle every time a strong wind blows, he could end up seeing a lot of time.
UPDATE (1/29/10, 3:00pm): Kyle McCarthy, whose Twitter account you should definitely be following, has just said that Steve Ralston will not be returning to the Revs for the 2010 season. If you saw New England this past season after Ralston's injury, you are aware of how big an issue this is for the Revs. While they have some good pieces, the team's creative braintrust consisted of Ralston and Joseph. With Ralston stepping aside and Joseph likely having to do more defensive work due to the departure of Larentowicz, Nicol is probably going to have to acquire some kind of playmaker. Mauricio Castro couldn't find a regular spot on a team starving for inspiration last year, so it seems safe to imagine him continuing to ride the bench. If Nicol can't find someone to control the tempo, expect the Revs to turn all of their games into ugly, grind-it-out battles as a matter of necessity.