Nine Players For MLS
By Simon Allen
The Silly Season has begun in American Soccer. Major League Soccer has begun moving players around and squads are being shuffled and massaged into what might be a winning formula for next season. There's a Re-entry Draft and later in Indiana, the Superdraft will happen much to the anoraked excitement of twelve or thirteen people. On a more “PlayStation FIFA13” kind of excitement, we are hearing all sorts of rumours about who will show up and play in America. From rumors of Kaka coming to Los Angeles to Iker Casilas mentioning that one day he “might come and play here possibly in the future- call me maybe” fuels the rabid excitement of MLS fans. The subject always comes up this time of year and almost like clockwork, the folks frequenting the pub in Burbank were quick to voice their opinions on who they would bring stateside. All the brilliant names were mentioned. Ronaldo, Falcao and of course, Messi. But this isn't FIFA13 and MLS has salary rules it has to follow. Eventually the usual suspects in the round table discussion asked me which players I would bring to America. The criteria was simple. Any player coming to MLS has to be relatively inexpensive- both in transfer fees and salary, they have to put bums in seats and be easily marketed to soccer fans and casuals alike and most importantly the player has to do well on the pitch.
Brad Freidel (USA)
Brad Freidel is by far, and I don't say this for effect, the greatest American Soccer player in History. Argue amongst yourselves about that but other than Landon Donovan, who as of this writing is still in MLS, Freidel is the player that went to England and became the face of American Soccer at the highest level. From 1997 he learned his trade at Anfield and went on to legend status at Rovers, Villa and now Spurs. Probably one of the best goalkeepers in EPL history, his time at Tottenham is winding down with the arrival of Hugo Lloris and even though there could be a slew of teams in England that would want his services, MLS would be smart in getting the 41 year old to come back to Columbus and end his storied career with The Crew. Much like Kasey Keller did with The Seattle Sounders, Freidel would fill the role of “home grown hero” or “prodigal son” at Columbus Stadium. Potentially a big marketing draw, Freidel would inspire the next generation of American goalies as well as be the talisman for The Crew. Even though Freidel has mentioned that he's not bothered about losing his spot to Lloris, MLS should strike while the iron is hot. Stay at White Hart Lane and play second fiddle or come home and cement your legendary status with friends and family.
Siphiwe Tshabalala (South Africa)
Tshabalala would be an easy sell to the none soccer fan. It's a cool name and it's fun to say. The 28 year old left footed midfielder could slot into any squad that is looking for a speedy left sided player. Currently at Kaiser Chiefs, he was transferred from Free State Stars for about 85 thousand Pounds. Last year he had a trial with Nottingham Forest and failed to impress for the money his club were asking for. Still a mainstay with the National Team, Tshabalala was called up for the friendly against Malawi in Durban on December 22nd. Most soccer fans will remember his goal against Mexico in the 2002 World Cup. Tshabalala admitted to IOL Sport recently that he wanted to make an impression at the upcoming African Cup of Nations. Critics have noticed a dip in form to which Tshabalala responded with “I'm not on top of my game, but I'm doing well for the team. I'm continuing from where I left off last season with my assists.” In the 2012/13 season with 13 games played Tshabalala has scored 2 goals and has had 5 assists. That puts him in the same realm as Joel Lindpere who had about 5 assists last season and was third highest goalscorer for the New York Redbull. I think this player would do well on the pitch in MLS.
Miguel Sabbah (Mexico)
For years, on The World Wide Soccer Podcast, I've been shouting at the top of my lungs for MLS to grab Miguel Sabbah. Since Morelia's run to the 2010 North American Super Liga Finals, 33 year old Sabbah has been one of the few Mexican players that I think can do well and slot into a squad like Houston Dynamo or FC Dallas. In 2010, the striker was the talisman for Monarcas in almost all of their matches which led to their victory over The New England Revolution. A match where he scored both goals and ended up being the tournaments top goal scorer. He had any easy time playing against MLS squads in Superliga and I believe he would be a marketing asset to MLS. Trying to win over the hardcore Mexican Soccer fan has seen less than stellar results, a player like Sabbah could score goals (19 goals and 3 assists in 32 matches in Liga MX 2012) and bring in the Mexican fan. Morelia (or Chivas De Guadalajara in the possible future) would put a hefty price tag on their top striker (fourth in goals scored this season in Liga MX) but if fees and salary were negotiated properly (Cuauhtemoc Blanco received $2.7million dollars a year for his time at Chicago Fire) MLS could win big with this player.
Davit Manoyan (Armenia)
The 22 year old captain of Pyunik Yerevan is a name often heard in coffee houses around Los Angeles where old men sit, talk Eastern European Soccer and play backgammon. 2011 and 2012 saw the small nation send 6 of its domestic based national team players to play in the Russian or Ukrainian League. Manoyan is the latest player to be shipped off to Russian side FC Kuban Krasnodar where his fellow compatriots Marcos Pizelli and Aras Ozbilis are already scoring goals. However, Manoyan has been sent back to his former club to get more match time. Currently his transfer fee is estimated at about 275 thousand Pounds. Manoyan has been utilized as both a center and left midfield player and has shown good skills when playing in the two World Cup Qualifiers in 2012. Given more minutes in Friendlies against Belarus and Lithuania this year showed fans of Armenian soccer that National Team Coach, Vardan Minassian has Manoyan set to become a more integral part of the squad. With 6 goals and 1 assist this season, Manoyan might not be up there with in the stats (Philadelphia Union's Gabriel Gomez had 6 goals as a midfielder this season) but he may be worth taking a look at.
Hector Reynoso (Mexico)
If Chivas USA wants to fill up Home Depot Stadium and actually get some fans of Chivas De Guadalajara to come watch their side then they have to do something amazing when it comes to bringing in a Mexican player. If Chivas USA is serious about making a team that can challenge for a Title in a year or two, no gesture would be bigger than flying in your captain and presenting him to the small but faithful fans of LA's “other team” as the new Captain of Chivas USA. The marketing potential would be massive. News stories in both Spanish Speaking and English press would spur fans of the mothership team to Los Angeles to watch the worst team in MLS pull itself up by its bootstraps. Properly done, Hector Reynoso could generate a buzz with the still untapped Chivas De Guadalajara fan base in Southern California. But with Guadalajara finishing 8th in the Torneo Apertura in Liga MX the odds that both Owner, Jorge Vergara and Manager, John Van't Schip will not want to lose their key player. However new Chivas USA Coach, Sanchez Sola could certainly demand a strong defender to shore up the backline that was responsible for allowing 58 goals to be scored against them. If the price was right and it could be done, Reynoso to ChivasUSA would be the best move in franchise history.
Luka Vucko (Croatia)
A 6 ft 6 central defender that you probably haven't heard of will probably not get any PR execs (or MLS scouts) jumping to sign him. But with Pennsylvania, Illinois and Ohio each having 50 thousand residents of Croatian decent looking for a soccer team to support, The Union, Fire and Crew may want to look at this soccer hard man to shore up defenses and bring in some fans. Playing for Hungarian side Pecsi MFC, a club Robert Warzycha once played for as well as EPL Midfielder Zoltan Gera, Vucko has been rumored to be looking for a club in America. Vucko played for storied Croatian club Hejduk Split during their Championship winning 2004 and 2005 seasons. Vucko has also played in Russia and Turkey as well as earning a cap for the National Team. For three seasons at Eskisehirspor he featured 47 times and actually scored 4 times. On the pitch he plays mostly right back and is very fast for a player of his height. In the past, managers have used to start the play from the back where he has used some excellent crossing skills. In defense, his height as been used to stop any aerial attacks and I believe he could slot right into any squad in MLS.
Joaquin Boghossian (Uruguay)
I had talked to an MLS scout about this player after he was transferred to Redbull Salzburg in 2010. Here is a player that is likened to fellow Uruguayan strikers, Luis Saurez and Edinson Cavani yet is playing second fiddle to players like Jonathan Soriano and Harvard Nielson. His fans from Montevideo think he should be feature in any club he joins and at a 700 thousand pound transfer fee, Boghossian is waiting to prove to a big club just how good he really is. It's almost a shame that this player with such potential is not playing Stateside. The irony would not be lost if the Uruguayan was brought over to play for New York but had to wait patiently in the wings to come on for Kenny Cooper or Fabian Espindola. Some people I've talked have mentioned that the South American style of soccer he plays is not fitting in Austria. If MLS is looking to appeal to the Latin audience then this player could do it.
2012 brought Raul to Philly. Union fans were all a buzz as the player himself had mentioned that he was leaving Schalke and looking to play outside of Europe. It was time for The City of Brotherly Love, The Philly Union and The Keystone Sports & Entertainment, LLC to go all out to wine and dine the player to convince him to pack up and move to MLS. In May, chance to impress was given to The Union. A friendly against Schalke at PPL Park with the big prize being that of a signature of Raul. The squad did their bit. A 2-1 victory for The Union certainly impressed the vacationers. More so the young players on the squad. A genius move by management at the time. Show Raul the young players and how well they do on the pitch because at his payscale, those were the only type of players The Union could probably afford after he signed on the dotted line. Raul's pay packet was about $4 Million dollars at that time. Compared to the 3 and half Million dollars guaranteed compensation handed out for the entire squad at PPL. The fans did their part. But Raul decided to head to Al Saad Sports Club in Qatar. Probably for the money. At 35 years old, Raul's playing days are winding down but the Real Madrid legend still has something to offer MLS. Hardcore fans will shout that MLS is not a retirement league but at 33, Raul was lighting it up in Germany. Perhaps at 36, he can bring a spark back to The Union. Just as a side note. Al-Saad are looking to sign Milan Baros (rumor alert!). Overall marketing would be impressive for MLS. Another Galactico joining MLS who's a super nice bloke married to a model. Sounds Familiar.
Petr Cech (Czech Republic)
In 2010 Petr Cech said that in 2 years he would play in MLS. At least that's what folks here think he said. I'm not a fan of importing foreign goalies to MLS but having a player come directly from the top flight in England would be major news. Frank Lampard's name has been bandied about so a tandem of Chelsea players coming to America would cause quite a buzz. People forget that Petr Cech is still 30 years old. He's at the top of his game, could very well play in MLS for 7 or 8 years (if not 10 or 11) and more importantly he actually wants to come to America. We're waiting Petr!
Those were my 9 players. Of course after a few rounds and some Scotch Eggs, other names were thrown out. Some obvious and some quite sublime. I'm sure if we had stayed there for a few hours more the list would have grown ten fold. The good thing about the silly season is that it makes for great conversation and allows you to hear other peoples take on player transfers. So which player would want to (realistically) bring to MLS?