By Pat Martin, MLS Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - With the winter transfer window closed and Major League Soccer clubs in camp preparing for the 2008 campaign, the offseason wheeling-and-dealing has slowed considerably. There will probably be more signings and trades before First Kick on March 29, but for the most part, the clubs have formed the nucleus of players that will compete for the '08 MLS Cup, among other tournaments and championships this season.
With that said, The Sports Network offers a breakdown of each team's offseason, putting everything in a nutshell ahead of our more detailed season previews, which are due out in mid-to-late March.
Chicago Fire (10-10-10 last season):
Shortly after losing to New England in the '07 Eastern Conference finals, the Fire lost head coach Juan Carlos Osorio to the New York Red Bulls. The coach who helped lead the club to a second-half resurgence in '07 decided to leave the team for family reasons, giving the Red Bulls the opportunity to sign the Colombian tactician. Shortly before that move was made official, midfielder and captain Chris Armas announced his retirement. The Fire also traded away veteran defender Jim Curtin, and Paulo Wanchope announced his retirement from professional soccer.
That seemed like a lot to overcome, however, the team rebounded when long-time assistant coach Denis Hamlett signed a multi-year deal to be head coach. He also retained Armas as an assistant, keeping the necessary leadership in place.
On top of that, the Fire received the Red Bulls' first round selection in the '08 MLS SuperDraft, a third round selection in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft and cash considerations as compensation for Osorio.
Christian Gomez was traded to the Colorado Rapids last week.
Aided by the Red Bulls' top pick, Chicago was able to add gifted forward Patrick Nyarko and goalkeeper Dominic Cervi in the first round of the draft, significantly boosting the team's depth.
Drafting Cervi should also soften the blow of losing top goalkeeper Matt Pickens, who transferred to Queens Park Rangers of England's second division this offseason.
Columbus Crew (9-11-10 last season):
The Crew are looking for a designated player after failing to make the playoffs in '07. They reportedly narrowly missed out on Polish striker Maciej Zurawski, formerly of Celtic FC, who signed with Larissa of Greece. The search continues, with a number of names - too many to mention - rumored to be on their radar.
The team did accept a transfer offer from Club Deportivo Universidad Catolica (Chile) for defender Marcos Gonzalez, apparently to finance a DP slot. He was made expendable when the team drafted Andy Iro from U.C. Santa Barbara in the first round of the '08 SuperDraft.
The Crew also lost Ned Grabavoy to the San Jose Earthquakes in the expansion draft.
A positive for the club is the return of Guillermo Barros Schelotto, who was rumored to be leaving this offseason. He is in camp and preparing for the upcoming season, which bodes well for the team's chances of breaking its playoff drought.
In a minor move this offseason, the Crew added midfielder Brian Carroll from the Earthquakes in exchange for forward Kei Kamara. Carroll, who was claimed by San Jose from D.C. United in the expansion draft, should upgrade the club on the wing.
D.C. United (16-7-7 last season):
The two-time defending Supporters' Shield winners have been the busiest team in MLS this offseason. After finishing the '07 regular season with the league's best record for the second consecutive year, the club was upset in the playoffs - also for the second consecutive season - before reaching the MLS Cup final. That led the United brass to try something new.
So far this offseason, the club added five South Americans, highlighted by the league's sixth designated player - Argentine attacking midfielder Marcelo Gallardo.
"Throughout his career, Gallardo has been a dynamic attacking midfielder known for remarkable technique, impressive speed and quickness and an uncanny knack for providing service to his teammates," United President and CEO Kevin Payne said. "He has led teams to major championships in Argentina and France, and has been a star at every level for the national team of Argentina, including playing in the '98 and '02 FIFA World Cups. We are thrilled to have a player of his caliber joining D.C. United."
The other four South American additions are forward Franco Niell, central back Gonzalo Martinez, goalkeeper Jose Carvallo and defender Gonzalo Peralta.
The team also traded former league MVP Christian Gomez to the Colorado Rapids for a first-round pick in the '09 SuperDraft and future considerations, which is rumored to be the Rapids' designated player slot.
Before all that, the team traded former MLS defender of the year Bobby Boswell to Houston for goalkeeper Zach Wells in anticipation of former goalkeeper Troy Perkins' transfer overseas.
Kansas City Wizards (11-12-7 last season):
The Wizards were involved in the league's biggest transfer this offseason, losing star forward Eddie Johnson to Fulham of the English Premier League. Replacing his 15 goals from '07 will be key to the team returning to the playoffs in '08.
Kansas City is also in the process of revamping its defense. It traded away veterans Nick Garcia and Jose Burciaga Jr., and added top draft pick Chance Myers and 11th pick Roger Espinoza in '08 SuperDraft.
The team looks poised to add more before all is said and done this offseason, especially with the money generated from the Johnson transfer.
"We do have plans on bringing in more goal-scoring forwards to our team, as transfers are a part of the business," Wizards head coach Curt Onalfo said.
New England Revolution (14-8-8 last season):
The New England Revolution advanced to the MLS Cup championship four of the last six seasons, including the last three, only to lose. As a result, the team will have a slightly different look in '08.
Two key members of the '07 squad, midfielder Andy Dorman and forward Pat Noonan, transferred overseas after not receiving the money they were looking for from the Revs. Defender James Riley was also lost in the expansion draft.
Leading scorer Taylor Twellman is also disgruntled after having a move to England's second division blocked. Preston North End reportedly offered a $3 million transfer for the U.S. international, but either the league or the Revs rejected the offer, killing the deal.
The only significant addition has been veteran U.S. international and Galaxy defender Chris Albright, who came over in a draft day deal with Los Angeles for allocation money.
"We're thrilled to be able to add a proven defender like Chris to our roster," Revolution Director of Soccer Michael Burns said. "He's had success on the field at both the league and international levels, and he has experience winning championships with his past clubs."
New York Red Bulls (12-11-7 last season):
The Red Bulls started the offseason with a bang when they parted ways with former head coach Bruce Arena after another disappointing showing in the playoffs. The team replaced Arena with Juan Carlos Osorio, formerly of Chicago, in an effort to add more structure to the team.
The only team in the league with two designated players - Juan Pablo Angel and Claudio Reyna - has pretty much the same roster from a year ago with the only significant signing being goalkeeper Zach Thornton, who is expected to back up Jon Conway this season.
The team was happy that Ohio State central defender Eric Brunner fell to them with the 16th overall pick in the '08 SuperDraft, also their first selection of the draft, and he should compete for a starting role on the '08 squad.
"I think he was one of the strongest defenders in the draft," Red Bull New York Sporting Director Jeff Agoos said. "We rated him right up there with the top guys. To have him around and have him available, especially with having a need at that position, I think it was ideal for us to be able to select him."
New York will need to improve in the midfield this season, especially after losing Clint Mathis (trade) and Joe Vide (expansion draft). Osorio is reportedly searching for a player or two to add to the roster to improve in that area.
Toronto FC (6-17-7 last season):
The league's only Canadian club is coming off a successful season at the gate, averaging over 20,000 fans per home game and boasting one of the league's most rabid supporter bases despite the fact that it was an expansion club that finished with a record of 6-17-7.
TFC was depleted by injuries last season, and with the return to health of forwards Jeff Cunningham and Danny Dichio, midfielder Ronnie O'Brien and the additions from a very strong draft, the club could very well rebound in '08.
The team has shuffled its technical staff, moving former head coach Mo Johnston to the front office to take the title of Manager and Director of Soccer, while adding John Carver as new head coach. The move is designed to give Johnston the time and resources to improve the player pool without the on-field product suffering.
"Mo will continue to be responsible for all aspects of soccer operations and we are providing him with more resources to support his objectives," said Tom Anselmi, the Executive Vice-President and Chief Operating Officer of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, which owns Toronto FC. "John Carver has been added to serve as head coach of Toronto FC, which will enable Mo to devote more time to manage the assessment and procurement of talent which is even more important now with the expanded international player mix available for MLS teams."
Chivas USA (15-7-8 last season):
The Goats front office had to be ecstatic when reigning MLS goalkeeper of the year Brad Guzan's transfer to Aston Villa of the English Premier League was denied in January by his inability to secure a work visa. While his transfer overseas appears imminent, the team can be happy it has arguably the league's top 'keeper for at least one more season.
"It has been my privilege to represent the Chivas colors for the past three years and I look forward to returning to Chivas USA this season," Guzan said.
That news is even bigger considering Chivas USA had already traded away backup Preston Burpo to San Jose earlier in the offseason. The 'Quakes also took defender Jason Hernandez from the Goats in the expansion draft.
Chivas USA has added a number of quality players that should add depth to an already potent team, highlighted by Switzerland international midfielder Raphael Wicky, a World Cup veteran with over a decade of professional soccer experience in Germany, Spain and Switzerland.
"We are happy to add a player of Raphael Wicky's credentials to our midfield," Chivas USA head coach Preki said. "Raphael is a talented guy who can play in central midfield or on the left wing, and who has also played in defense."
Also, added in various trades were veteran defender Jim Curtin from Chicago and forwards Alecko Eskandarian and Atiba Harris from Real Salt Lake.
Colorado Rapids (9-13-8 last season):
The Rapids made a big splash this offseason, acquiring former league MVP Christian Gomez from D.C. United last week for a first round draft pick and future considerations.
"Christian is one of the biggest signings in the 13-year history of the Colorado Rapids," Rapids Managing Director Jeff Plush said.
D.C. decided to make the move after bringing in Marcelo Gallardo, making the aging Gomez and his large contract demands expendable.
"In recent years I have been one of the best midfielders in the league and I'm confident that I will be able to perform as such (in Colorado)," Gomez told sportsnetwork.com through an interpreter. "What others say doesn't really matter. I'm confident that my contributions to the Rapids will make them a great team in the league."
The team also signed defender Chase Hilgenbrinck McDonald from Chile, while trading for former Wizards' fullback Jose Burciaga Jr.
"The players here are talented, they are young and they are developing, and with coaching they are going to be able to form a team that will be talented and make a solid run at the MLS Cup," Gomez said.
FC Dallas (13-12-5 last season):
The Hoops have been busy this offseason, not resting on their laurels after a moderately successful '07 season.
The biggest news of the offseason occurred when the club traded star forward Carlos Ruiz to Los Angeles for allocation money. The deal made it possible for FCD to bring in veteran defender Duilio Davino from Club America in Mexico's First Division.
"He gives us flexibility to play a couple of different ways which we will look at very closely in the preseason," FCD head coach Steve Morrow said.
But beyond what Davino brings to the team on the field, he is expected to bring fans and attention off the field, further legitimizing the Hoops to their largely Hispanic fan base.
The signing of Davino was also necessary because defenders Chris Gbandi and Clarence Goodson were both lost by the league to overseas teams.
Top draft picks Brek Shea, Eric Avila and Josh Lambo could also earn playing time this season, upgrading the depth of the squad.
Houston Dynamo (15-8-7 last season):
The back-to-back defending champions have had their forward depth decimated by the Austrian defections of Nate Jaqua and Joseph Ngwenya, but still should boast one of the league's top teams in '08.
Starting defender Ryan Cochrane was lost to San Jose in the expansion draft, but the club traded backup 'keeper Zach Well to United for former MLS defender of the year Bobby Boswell in order to fill that void.
The signing of veteran goalkeeper Tony Caig should make losing Wells easy to overcome.
"We are excited to obtain a player of Tony's caliber," Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear said. "Tony has a wealth of international experience and will fill a need on our roster."
Despite the fact that the team is thin up front, it boasts one of the deepest midfield units in the league, which gives the champs options in either formation or trades.
Los Angeles Galaxy (9-14-7 last season):
The Galaxy suffered a wildly disappointing '07 campaign, missing the playoffs for the second straight year in David Beckham's first year with the club.
As a result, former head coach Frank Yallop left the team, clearing the way for former Chelsea boss Ruud Gullit to take over. He retained the retired Cobi Jones as his assistant to help him transition to the structure of MLS.
So far this offseason, the club traded for former MVP Carlos Ruiz from Dallas for allocation money, which was made possible under the salary cap by trading away former goalkeeper of the year Joe Cannon and veteran defender Chris Albright - both for allocation money.
"We are very pleased to be bringing a proven goal scorer and veteran leader in Carlos Ruiz to Los Angeles," L.A. Director of Soccer Paul Bravo said. "Carlos is an experienced forward who has averaged better than a goal every two games during his MLS career and we believe that he will be a tremendous asset to our attack."
Also, forward Gavin Glinton was lost to San Jose in the expansion draft while the team was also able to add defender Celestine Babayaro from Newcastle United to boost its defense after trading Albright away to clear salary cap space.
Real Salt Lake (6-15-9 last season):
This could be the year Real Salt Lake finally makes a push for a playoff spot - in its fourth season. The acquisitions of Kyle Beckerman, Fabian Espindola, Robbie Findley, Matias Mantilla, Javier Morales and Yura Movsisyan, among others last season, greatly improved the club.
For head coach Jason Kreis and the rest of the club to take that next step, it needs offseason acquisitions like Tony Beltran, Matia Cordoba, Ian Joy and Jamilson Olave to have the same impact as the aforementioned players.
"Why Real Salt Lake? I love a challenge and I think that with a great staff behind you, a great coaching staff pushing you, and the right players, there is a great chance of success," Joy said. "I have come to Real Salt Lake to do the best I can, to become a better soccer player and learn from the coaches, but most importantly I have come to win."
In other RSl moves this offseason, Alecko Eskandarian and Atiba Harris were both shipped off to Chivas USA in trades.
San Jose Earthquakes (n/a):
In the 'Quakes return to the league, head coach Frank Yallop is putting together a very strong expansion club that will potentially be able to compete for a playoff spot this season.
Yallop started in the expansion draft, claiming a number of quality players including defenders Ryan Cochran from Houston, Jason Hernandez from Chivas USA, James Riley from New England and Chris Pozniak from Toronto, midfielders Ivan Guerrero from Chicago and Jose Vide from New York and forward Gavin Glinton from Los Angeles.
Yallop then went on to add veteran goalkeepers Preston Burpo and Joe Cannon via trades with Chivas USA and L.A., respectively, veteran defender Nick Garcia from Kansas City for the top pick in the SuperDraft, and Kei Kamara from Columbus.