Getting Stuck In: Time to put the “D” in DP

The Getting Stuck In column delves into some of the more intriguing aspects in US Soccer and MLS, shining a light on the stories regarding the league’s teams and its most-loved characters. This week Dave Lewis looks into whether MLS clubs need to invest in more defensive Designated Players to enjoy success.

By Dave Lewis

So why should you read this gas bag talk about MLS? Well, my analysis wouldn’t help you win a bet in Vegas, but it might help you understand where MLS teams are coming up short. First, a disclaimer: I am not one of those Moneyball, sabermetric nerds that can take the amount of touches a centre back takes during a game, divide that by his passing completion rate, multiply it by his weekly salary and surmise his true value. Instead, I use the highly advanced method of the eye test. And the level of defense in MLS isn’t passing it.

As we know there is nothing sexy about being a central defender. The glory positions are in attack. The forwards get the commercials, the big wages and the women (John Terry being the exception – sorry Wayne Bridge). For MLS teams, shoring up the backline is an afterthought. In LA you have midfielder Robbie Rogers starting on the backline. DaMarcus Beasley, a winger most his life, starts in the back for Houston. And what is Brek Shea doing for Orlando City? You can’t just throw anyone back there.

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There are two teams with huge defensive deficiencies who tanked in the playoffs. Toronto, who fizzled out of the first round because they spent close to $16 million on three attacking players (Altidore, Bradley and Giovinco) with no regard for defense. And then there’s the Galaxy, who let in five goals at home to Portland just prior to their first round playoff exit to Seattle. LA, like Toronto, spent an ungodly amount on their three DPs (close to $15 million) while losing their star keeper, Jaime Penedo, over money. They replaced him with an over-the-hill Donovan Ricketts in the second half of the season who let in goals at an alarming pace. As my old man once told me: “It’s expensive to be cheap.”

Here’s my theory: If you take one of those attacking DP slots and use it on a defender or ‘keeper that is quality, experienced and young(ish), your MLS team might score less, but give up less. Defense wins championships, no?

Ok, maybe it’s unfair to pick on the two expansion teams since expansion teams rarely make the playoffs their first go around, but a little dirt kicked their way may wake them up.

Adding “D” will help NYC with the “Ws”

NYCFC  plays on the silliest looking, most awkwardly laid out pitch in MLS (and maybe the world?), with horrible sight lines and huge walls meant for baseball (wait, it was meant for baseball). The field is small in width, length and history. With the Manchester City money behind them, the club goes for flash: Frank Lampard, David Villa and Andrea Pirlo. Attacking players. Big name DPs. But what if they took one of those high priced players and put the money on a DP defender (they were tied for last for most goals given up in the league in 2015).

What if they took Lampard’s $6 million and gave it to let’s say Leighton Baines. He is 29. Still plenty left in the tank. He is a left-back with grit, great on set pieces and is a forward-like penalty taker (he just signed a new deal with Everton so not going to happen, but you get the idea). Or if you want a commanding centre-back, offer Martin Skrtel $7 million and the chance of living in the US, and he might leave Merseyside.

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Orlando is a keeper (away)

Ok, the goalkeeper position wasn’t the main problem in Orlando. But they did let in 56 goals with very few clean sheets to reflect on. Not all the fault of Tally Hall et al. Orlando has plenty of attacking players (see Larin). And they needed Kaka and his MLS leading salary to sell tickets in their inaugural season. But what if you took that Kaka money, or even half that amount, and put it on a ‘keeper? A star-studded stopper. Let’s say they signed Keylor Navas before he went to Real Madrid (he’s making Real fans forget about De Gea). Man, that would’ve put Orlando’s Mickey Mouse “D” to rest. Plus, he comes from Costa Rica where he would be closer to home, making it easier to make national team call-ups.

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True, there are some great young defenders in the league (the Whitecaps Kendall Watson and the Red Bulls’ Matt Miazga come to mind). But when I do my highly scientific analysis and get on FIFA 16 to play NYCFC versus Toronto, I have to watch Andoni Iraola, the highest rated MLS defender (according to EA) mark Giovinco, and that sure doesn’t pass the eye test.

Clearly the focus needs to be on “D”.

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Chelsea among Premier League trio chasing young Red Bulls star

New York Red Bulls defender Matt Miazga is a player with a seemingly limitless ceiling. His performances this season, for both club and country, have seen his talents recognised from across the pond as Chelsea are reportedly now keen on securing his services.

Miazga may only be 20-years-old but he has been labelled as “by far the best young prospect in MLS” by a league scout who went on to add: “He’s got all the potential to be one of the best defenders in the world for over a decade,” according to Four Four Two.

The same publication claims Chelsea, along with Leicester City and Stoke, are interested in bringing the Polish-American centre-back to the Premier League in the near future.

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Miazga’s performances at the U20 World Cup with the United States in the summer proved his quality on the world stage and that seems to have attracted interest from Europe.

The player himself is remaining grounded for now, telling Four Four Two: “I’m aware of all those rumors, but at the moment I don’t want to focus on that.

“The ultimate goal is to play on the highest level, but right now I’m happy in New York. I can still grow here and become a better player. When the time comes – I will be ready for Europe.”

The 6ft 4in youngster has yet to decide whether to represent the US or Poland at senior international level with both nations desperate for his services. US U20 coach Tab Ramos recently labelled Miazga as “the future of American soccer”.

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And a similar battle looks set to follow at club level as Miazga has plenty of suitors chasing his talents. Chelsea are currently the biggest club linked with the young Red Bulls star and a move could come in January.

Miagza himself has admitted he’s a fan of the Premier League but is remaining grounded for now as he looks to help the Red Bulls to a first ever MLS Cup title in the next month.

“The EPL is a very intriguing proposition. I love that league – it’s very competitive and there’s a lot of passion involved. Hopefully one day I will have an opportunity to play there. I believe my skillset fits the way football is played there.”

Should Chelsea make a move for Matt Miazga in January? Is the Red Bulls defender “the future of American soccer”?

Transfer update: Reading join chase for LA Galaxy forward Gyasi Zardes

LA Galaxy forward Gyasi Zardes is a man in demand. The 23-year-old attacker has been developing into an impressive talent with the Galaxy and the US Men’s National Team over the past two years and teams in Europe have been taking note.

English Championship side Reading FC have now joined the hunt for Zardes, according to a report by the Reading Chronicle on Friday.

The report indicates: “Sources have since confirmed that 23-year-old Zardes is very much on Royals’ radar and the club will attempt to force through a deal before the September 1 transfer deadline.”

It goes on to mention that fellow American Danny Williams could provide an extra incentive for Zardes to make the jump across the pond to play in England, as he currently plays for Reading.

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Reading’s rivals, Brighton & Hove Albion, as well as Belgian club Genk are also looking at making a move for Zardes as his future could lie away from MLS.

Gyasi Zardes signed with the LA Galaxy in December 2012 on a Homegrown contract and has gone on to score 25 times in 80 league games.

The Galaxy have recently signed Steven Gerrard and Giovani Dos Santos, so although Zardes remains a key part of the first-team squad, the reigning MLS Cup holders could look to cash in if the right offer arrives.

Should LA Galaxy sell Gyasi Zardes if an offer from Europe arrives? Would he be a good signing for Reading?

Chelsea legend has ‘several MLS clubs’ in pursuit with offer on the table – report

Didier Drogba’s proposed move to Major League Soccer continues to rumble on through the summer, with the latest report by ESPN FC suggesting he now has an official offer on the table from the league.

Several clubs are said to be interested in the Chelsea legend, who is a free-agent after leaving the Blues at the end of his one-year contract in June – just one month after winning an impressive fourth Premier League title with the club he scored 164 goals for in all competitions.

Chicago Fire are believed to be heading the list of those in pursuit of Drogba, with the player himself seemingly keen on a move to the US before retiring.

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Chicago have three Designated Players already on their roster and would therefore need to buy down the contract of either David Accam or Kennedy Igboananike to accommodate Drogba on a reported 18-month contract worth $2.5 million per year, in the same way LA Galaxy did with Omar Gonzalez to sign Giovani Dos Santos earlier this week.

But here’s the catch. Drogba is apparently unwilling to move to the Fire. That’s according to TSN’s Noel Butler, who believes the 37-year-old forward is keen on a move to Montreal Impact instead.

That would make sense as to why Drogba has not yet sealed a move to MLS, with an unknown club from Qatar also in the hunt for his services.

Wages could be a huge factor, with a report last month suggesting Drogba wanted $8 million for a six-month contract with Orlando City SC. So the offer MLS has put on the table will need to be an attractive one if one of the Premier League’s greatest strikers is to become the latest star to join MLS.

A move to Montreal would be an enormous one for the organisation and the TSN report indicates: “Drogba has made it abundantly clear to the Impact that la belle ville is the Special One as far as MLS is concerned.”

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But with Chicago topping the Discovery List for the player, a move to Canada appears unlikely, unless MLS changes it’s player allocation mechanisms which are so often criticised.

As it stands, if Drogba pens the MLS deal being offered he would be set to join the club that has first option on him through the Discovery List system, so that would see him join Frank Yallop at the Chicago Fire.

The longer this projected move goes on, the less likely it is we’ll see Didier Drogba scoring goals in Major League Soccer.

Do you want to see Drogba in MLS? Who should he join?

LA Galaxy to rival Newcastle and Villa for Hull striker – report

Recently relegated Hull City striker Dame N’Doye could be on the way to MLS after the Tigers have reportedly offered the Senegalese international to the LA Galaxy as well as Newcastle and Aston Villa, according to MLS Transfers on Twitter.

N’Doye only joined Hull from Lokomotiv Moscow on deadline day in February but after suffering relegation with the Premier League side he is likely to be on the move again.

The 30-year-old forward scored five goals in 15 Premier League games for Hull but will likely be too expensive to keep on the wage bill in the Championship next term.

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Newcastle and Aston Villa may look to move for the 26-time capped Senegal international as they look to bolster their strike forces this summer.

Though LA Galaxy may also look to sign him as they too have reportedly been offered the chance to add the former Copenhagen striker.

One major issue with any Galaxy move is that the club do not currently have any open Designated Player slots.

Robbie Keane, Omar Gonzalez and Steven Gerrard are all DP’s and so a move for N’Doye is unlikely.

Add that to the fact that a transfer fee would be necessary, and it’s difficult to see him winding up in MLS this summer.

Would Dame N’Doye be a good signing for the LA Galaxy? 

TRANSFER ROUNDUP: United star to Bayern, Arsenal’s Barca raid & Palacios to MLS

Daily transfer roundup (Friday, May 29)

MLS Rumours

Wilson Palacios has been released by Stoke City and his next move is yet to be confirmed. The 30 year old has been in the Premier League since 2007 but a move to MLS is a possibility. (REPORT)

Premier League Rumours

Manchester United flop, Angel Di Maria, could be moving on to Bayern Munich after just one season to. The German giants are expected to dip into the market for a winger with both Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben heading into their last year of their contracts. (REPORT)

Arsenal are planning a raid for FC Barcelona duo Pedro Rodriguez and Martin Montoya. Both players are reportedly unhappy with a lack of playing time. (REPORT)

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Liverpool have reportedly made an offer for Inter Milan midfielder Mateo Kovacic as they look to fill the void left by Steven Gerrard’s departure to MLS. (REPORT)

Done Deals

Orlando City SC have announced goalkeeper Josh Ford will be joining Ft. Lauderdale Strikers, of NASL, on loan until June 18. (REPORT)

Chicago Fire have sent Mike Magee on a three-day loan to USL affiliate Saint Louis FC to get some playing time. (REPORT)

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Tottenham Hotspur have signed Austrian defender Kevin Wimmer from German side, Cologne, for an undisclosed fee on a 5-year deal. (REPORT)

New York City looking to bolster defence with signing of US defender

New York City FC are looking to bolster their defence with the addition of U.S. International defender Oguchi Onyewu on a free transfer.

The 33-year-old centre-back has just left Championship side Charlton Athletic after spending most of the season there, making just three league appearances, and is now looking for his fifth club in three years.

He has never played in MLS but could be on the verge of completing a move to expansion franchise New York City FC.

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Onyewu is currently on trial with Jason Kreis’ side and was in training with the first-team squad yesterday.

He is currently a free agent and can therefore sign for NYCFC on a free transfer if he impressed on trial.

New York City are in need of defensive reinforcements as they have not kept a clean sheet in their last nine games, and haven’t won one of those matches.

They sit bottom of the Eastern Conference after 12 weeks and are also bottom of the MLS Supporters’ Shield standings.

Though, reinforcements are on the way as Frank Lampard will join up with the squad in July, while the likes of Didier Drogba, John Terry and Andrea Pirlo are being linked with moves to the Big Apple.

Would Oguchi Onyewu be a good signing for New York City FC?

Portland Timbers boss confirms club are interested in Drogba and Pirlo

Portland Timbers head coach Caleb Porter has confirmed that his MLS club are interested in Chelsea striker Didier Drogba and Juventus midfield maestro Andrea Pirlo.

Both Drogba and Pirlo have been linked with moves to MLS this week and the Timbers boss has done little to quell the rumours suggesting that we could see two superstars heading to the USA.

“We’ll go after anybody like that. We’d love to have guys like that, but it comes down to the feasibility of it and looking at the situation as well,” said Porter.

“We’re aware of all these guys that come over and sometimes we want them and they don’t want to come to us. Sometimes it just doesn’t make sense for whatever reason based on the situation, but yeah, we’re looking at all those guys.”

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Portland’s owner Merritt Paulson admitted back in January that he would like to have Drogba at the Timbers and although the Chelsea striker is ageing, Paulson believed the Ivorian would be “uniquely skilled to clean up in MLS.”

At the time Paulson said, “the league almost signed him a couple years ago and I know my coach would love him to be a Timber, but I highly doubt it at this point.”

However, it looks as though the likelihood of Drogba plying his trade in MLS with the Timbers has increased this week after the 37-year-old confirmed he is leaving Chelsea and is interested in playing in the USA.

Would Didier Drogba be an ideal signing for the Portland Timbers?

Former Real Salt Lake Striker interested in MLS return – report

Former Real Salt Lake striker Yura Movsisyan is interested in a return to Major League Soccer, according to his agent.

When asked of a potential move back to the States, Movsisyan’s agent Patrick McCabe stated that “he’s very interested in a return to MLS”, as reported by the Salt Lake Tribune.

Selected as the 4th overall pick in the 2006 MLS SuperDraft by the Kansas City Wizards, Movsisyan is currently playing for Spartak Moscow in the Russian Premier League, and is supposedly exploring his options. With his agent adding that MLS would be a desired destination.

“It would be a number of options I think he would have, but he’s definitely open-minded at this point.

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“I’m hopeful that a return to MLS can be worked out, but I’m also realistic in that I know it may not,” said McCabe.

An MLS Cup winner with Real Salt Lake in 2009, Movsisyan boasts an impressive record with the franchise, scoring 15 goals in 53 appearances for the Western Conference outfit.

A move to Real Salt Lake would be likely, should he return to MLS. However, its impossible to rule out a reunification with former boss Jason Kreis. Kreis is of course manager of expansion franchise New York City FC.

Would Yura Movsisyan benefit from a move back to Major League Soccer in the near future?

New York Red Bulls on high alert as DP target released from contract

New York Red Bulls have been handed a boost as Kevin-Prince Boateng has been released from his Schalke 04 contract with ‘immediate effect’, despite having a year left to run on his deal, but the Red Bulls will need to act fast.

Boateng, along with Sidney Sam, both have felt the consequences of a below-par season as they both were released following a 2-0 loss against Cologne at the weekend.

Schalke general manager Horst Heldt described the release as a ‘consequence’ and went on to say: “If a player is not willing to do what we ask, then he will not be at the next training session.”

The Red Bulls, who picked up a 2-1 win against New York City FC on Sunday night, are free to approach the Ghanaian international as he is now unattached.

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Reports resurfaced linking Boateng with a move to Major League Soccer on Friday, with the Red Bulls believed to have placed a discovery claim of the playmaker, meaning they would have priority in signing him if he does move stateside.

They will face competition for Boateng’s signature however, as he is also being linked with a move to Turkish side Galatasaray.

The MLS transfer window shuts on Tuesday and won’t reopen until July 8 so there is a possibility that the Red Bulls will make a move for Boateng in the next 24 hours.

Boateng would provide another asset to an already strong Red Bulls side that has flourished so far in 2015, losing just once.

And with two spare designated player spots open, the Red Bulls are the favourites for the former Spurs and AC Milan man’s signature.

Who will be Kevin-Prince Boateng’s next club? Should the New York Red Bulls swoop quickly?