Big decisions await eliminated teams
Decision Day marked the end of the season for eight MLS clubs. Their duties and obligations are concluded for this season. There are no more matches ahead. There are no more objectives to chase. It is all about preparing for the figure and figuring out a way to improve ahead of next year.
For most of these sides, there is no time to waste. There are deals to strike and option years to weigh. There are even free agents — limited as they are — to contemplate now. Those deliberations started as the season wound to a close and intensified from the moment it drew to a close. It is now time for each of the eight eliminated teams to chart the course required to ensure they do not find themselves in this predicament again next year.
Recently appointed general manager Nelson Rodriguez is focused on hiring a new coach. Interim boss and technical director Brian Bliss is under consideration, but the Fire likely requires an outside voice at this point. Mike Petke reportedly features on the list of candidates, while Rodriguez outlined his desire to appoint a manager with knowledge of the league. Any new boss must sort through a peculiar squad with evident defensive deficiencies and several questions in the attacking third. Some of the more pressing concerns include the future of Mike Magee (eligible for free agency and headed for a massive pay cut from his post-MVP deal), the lack of creative players through the middle and the state of those Designated Player slots.
Stability is the surprising watchword for the Rapids as the Pablo Mastroeni era remains on course year three. This is a club ripe for changes, yet most of the key off-the-field figures remain in place. The brain trust must consider Dillon Powers’ future (Powers holds an EU passport and holds a desire to play in Europe at some point) and devise some way to produce more going forward. This group desperately needs more incisive and potent wingers, while there is also room for a playmaker capable of breaking teams down. Most importantly, there is a philosophical decision ahead: Is the reliance on veterans undermining the future of the club?
Dynamo coach Owen Coyle spent most of his first season in charge trying to figure out the lay of the land. There are some important personnel issues to weigh — Will Bruin is out of contract, while Ricardo Clark qualifies for free agency — and a squad in need of freshening. Coyle must figure out how to erase the Dynamo’s lingering defensive flaws and extract the best from Cubo Torres up front. Salary budget flexibility is a concern with all of the veteran players in the squad right now, but Houston must make moves to improve its lot.
New York City FC
No team faces more questions heading into the offseason. Is Jason Kreis back next season? Will all three Designated Players return? How many players from this squad are heading elsewhere? Kreis’ future is the first topic of discussion for NYCFC. The dialogue between New York City and Manchester is expected to start promptly. The decision on Kreis does not obscure the need for a defensive overhaul, a series of reinforcements in the squad and a viable partner for the often-stranded David Villa, though. There are a lot of moving parts here for a club with multiple constituencies to please and multiple layers of bureaucracy to navigate.
Perception is everything for the expansion side right now. Will the club allow the late six-match winning streak to alter the calculus heading into the close season? Or is the inability to secure a playoff berth in a weak East enough to take a realistic look at the team? There are genuine concerns about a paper-thin squad and the rotating cast of characters in one of the league’s worst defenses. There is a need to buttress the attacking options to provide reinforcements for Kaka and Cyle Larin.
Broad, sweeping changes over the past few weeks injected a sense of optimism. The removal of CEO Nick Sakiewicz constituted a necessary step forward for the club as a whole, while the appointment of former U.S. midfielder Earnie Stewart as sporting director on Monday signaled the start of a new era. Incumbent coach Jim Curtin remains in place heading into 2016. Stewart’s arrival might influence some of the loan decisions ahead — the AZ executive might be able to find better value in the market than Fernando Aristeguieta and Steven Vitoria — and the shape of the squad heading into 2016.
Real Salt Lake
After staving off a potential downturn for the past couple of years, RSL finally missed the playoffs for the first time since 2009. The question is whether investor/operator Dell Loy Hansen plans to enact sweeping changes in response. RSL coach Jeff Cassar faces a year-end review to contemplate his future with the club. There are certainly squad changes ahead from a roster perspective even if Cassar stays in place, particularly in central defense and up front. The future of enigmatic midfielder Luis Gil is also a talking point heading into next year.
San Jose Earthquakes
The final day disappointment in Frisco did not detract from the strides made under returning coach Dominic Kinnear. San Jose now boasts a defined style of play and a group of players capable of implementing it. Most of the focus now shifts to improving a squad that overachieved a year ago. Kinnear needs three or four more players, including one or two more along the lines of midseason arrival Anibal Godoy. Those signings must complement the framework in place and foster potential alternatives — particularly in possession and from more direct service — to bolster the hopes for next season.