FOX Soccer Exclusive
MLS looks abroad for talent infusion
Major League Soccer’s most recent offseason was the busiest in league history for player moves. With two new expansion teams, and with MLS heading into the offseason player market for the first time under the league’s new collective bargaining agreement, winter 2011 always was going to produce a wave of new talent.
Almost 50 players have signed with MLS clubs from abroad this winter, and while there are no marquee names such as David Beckham or Thierry Henry, there is a plethora of promising talent, especially younger players who still could develop into the league’s next stars.
From Americans such as Charlie Davies and Kenny Cooper to exciting young newcomers such as Colombian strikers Fabian Castillo and Jorge Perlaza, the influx of talent should help MLS improve its quality on the field, particularly when it comes to attacking soccer.
Here is a closer look at 10 MLS newcomers to watch in 2011:
CHARLIE DAVIES, D.C. UNITED
The comeback story continues as Davies looks to return to first-team action for the first time in a year and a half. If he can recapture anywhere close to the form he enjoyed before the car crash that nearly took his life, Davies could produce double-digit goals and play his way back into the U.S. national team mix.
OMAR BRAVO, SPORTING KANSAS CITY
The former Mexican national team star joins a Sporting side that already boasts a quality collection of forwards, but he’ll be expected to be the focal point. With Teal Bunbury and Kei Kamara in support, Bravo could thrive in Sporting KC’s system and will give the team’s new stadium a star to help fill the seats.
FABIAN CASTILLO, FC DALLAS
The Colombian under-20 striker is a significant MLS acquisition not because of what he has done in his career, but because of the potential he brings to the table. With reports suggesting that FC Dallas spent as much as $800,000 to secure his rights, the Hoops certainly will be expecting Castillo to produce despite being just 18. With the pieces in the Dallas attack, including reigning MLS MVP David Ferreira, Castillo will have every chance to make a Freddy Montero-like impact in Year One.
JORGE PERLAZA, PORTLAND TIMBERS
Overshadowed by top rookie Darlington Nagbe and American striker Kenny Cooper, Perlaza could wind up being Portland’s best player. The dynamic Colombian forward has a power-speed combination reminiscent of Omar Cummings, and he’ll make a strong push for MLS Newcomer of the Year honors.
MLS: June 23-25
|Thursday, June 23|
|Saturday, June 25|
|San Jose||0-0||LA Galaxy||Recap|
|Real Salt Lake||3-1||Toronto||Recap|
|Sunday, June 26|
|MLS Scores | Table | Fixtures|
KENNY COOPER, PORTLAND TIMBERS
The former MLS All-Star and U.S. national team striker endured a terrible time in Europe, with injuries and a lack of playing time. He has shown that he can score in MLS, and with Portland putting together an exciting attack, Cooper can be a 10-goal scorer if he can stay healthy.
ERIK FRIBERG, SEATTLE SOUNDERS
The Sounders haven’t had an exciting playmaker since Freddie Ljungberg’s first season with the club. Two years later, it’s Friberg, a much younger and much less-known Swede, who will be called on to provide creativity in the Seattle attack. If he can flourish as a playmaker, the Sounders could be a legitimate contender in the rugged Western Conference.
JAY DEMERIT, VANCOUVER WHITECAPS
The U.S. World Cup veteran enjoyed a solid run in Europe, but he now comes to MLS as the defensive anchor of the expansion Whitecaps. He’ll be key to any hopes the Whitecaps have of first-year success, though designated player Eric Hassli also should be considered a key newcomer for the Canadian squad.
PAOLO CARDOZO, LOS ANGELES GALAXY
The most exciting player at the 2010 MLS combine, the tiny Uruguayan midfielder slipped in the MLS draft because of concerns about his size. He’s been a star in the preseason and looks poised to be one of the surprises of the 2011 season. If he does succeed, it could help usher in a new era of young foreign players coming into the league through the MLS draft.
FARYD MONDRAGON, PHILADELPHIA UNION
There was a time when MLS didn’t need to import goalkeepers, but those days have come and gone. Philly upgraded in goal with the addition of Mondragon, a Colombian World Cup veteran who has enjoyed a distinguished career in Europe.
JAN GUNNAR SOLLI, NEW YORK RED BULLS
An energetic and versatile midfielder who also can play in the back, Solli has the look of a player who could make an impact in New York like Joel Lindpere made in 2010. Solli’s tireless engine should make him an invaluable weapon in central midfield for a Red Bulls team that will be in title contention this year.
OTHERS TO WATCH (listed alphabetically)
Julio Cesar (Sporting Kansas City), Diego Chaves (Chicago Fire), Ousmane Dabo (New England Revolution), Hunter Freeman (Houston Dynamo), Eric Hassli (Vancouver Whitecaps), Sebastian Miranda (Columbus Crew), Seth Owusu (Chivas USA), Carlos Ruiz (Philadelphia Union), Teemu Tainio (New York Red Bulls) and Jermaine Taylor (Houston Dynamo).
Ives Galarcep is a senior writer for FoxSoccer.com covering Major League Soccer and the U.S. national team.