At long last, we've come to a final reckoning. There are still more questions than answers when it comes to the status of the roster for next year. Will (Peralta, Kirk, Namoff, Olsen, Doe, hell, even Gallardo, insert player who might possibly be shipped out here) be around come the first week of training camp? Whatever the case, here's my wishlist of the top 5 things I want to see holding up black shirts for the media before we launch the 2009 campaign.
1. Center Backs.
Go ahead, name your starting central defense as of now. Peralta-Janicki? 2nd division Argie + 3rd division domestic brew? And what if Peralta won't take a pay cut? McTavish + Janicki? Burch + McTavish? Christ, I'm gonna be sick.
This is priority #1, not just with a bullet, but with a freakin' tactical nuke.
So where do we do our shopping? Well, the FO's standard answer is to look to Latin America for assistance. Yeah. Remind me again how that went last year. So do we go for Sudamericano Defense Force, Part Deux, or have we tasted enough of that bitter cup of disappointment?
The draft? Well, there does appear to be a fairly strong group of defenders available, but the transition from college to pro is always a crap shoot, so you wouldn't want to bank on it.
Trade? Perhaps, but what are we going to dangle out there as bait? Fred? Emilio? Will anybody take a slightly used and nicked up Gallardo? Do we want them to? If healthy, he'll most likely be one of the best players in the league.
The best I can come up with is some combination of the above. Use one of those first-round picks on a highly rated college prospect. Bring in a vet to add to the foreign legion. Then pad your bet by landing a reasonable MLS journeyman. Of course, given the cap and roster sizes, you might be lucky to get 2 out of 3, though Generation Adidas may be of some assistance if we can land one of those kids in the draft.
2. Forward for depth and variety.
Granted, I'd be tempted to swap this with #3 if we're assured that Doe will be returning, but only just. Right now we've got Moreno and Emilio with Quaranta, Khumalo, and maybe Kirk as our questionable depth. Moreno isn't getting any younger, and Emilio's sophomore effort wasn't up to par, perhaps because he's a one-trick pony (is he really worth a DP slot?). Now, if we can get a fast or physical forward that scares the bejeezus out of defenses, thus creating room for Emilio to poach in, maybe he returns to his best. If he's the only threat for defenses to key on, we're pretty easy to defang.
Of course, all of this flies in the face of my mutterings about single-striker formations. And the fact that fast, physical forwards who can finish consistently are at a premium in MLS. But we need something to threaten defenders with--something to create space and gaps for our technical types to exploit with passing or dribbling runs. Is Walter Martinez this something? could we already be close to ticking off one of the boxes on my list?
Another consideration, even if we do land Martinez, is what we do about having a physical presence up top. We don't have anything, outside of Kirk (if he returns), in the way of big bodies to lump the ball up to if the entire game plan is collapsing around us. In other words, even if the coaching staff was so inclined, they don't have the variety available to go to Plan C if A and B fall flat on their faces. It's not pretty, but it sometimes wins games.
One thing is pretty likely--if there is an answer, it's going to come from outside MLS and the draft. Marcus Tracy might check the box, but will he be around for us to snap up? Unlikely.
3. A box-to-box midfielder.
Yes, we have Simms to hold and Vide for cover, but I'm still hugely unsold on pairing one of the two with Gallardo, Fred, or Quaranta in the middle of the park. And neither really carries the attacking threat, outside of an occasional bomb from distance, to make a Simms-Vide pairing anything to fear either.
Hell, if I thought it was easy to land an energetic, physical box-to-box midfielder who can pass and shoot under the cap without using a DP slot, I'd probably put this up to #2 on the list. As it stands, unless we get rid of Gallardo, it's not going to happen. The best we can hope for is to get lucky in the draft or trade/shop for some depth.
4. Pace and danger on the wings.
Khumalo? We'll see how he pans out. Let's just say that, at the moment, I'm not convinced. Our other wide options would be Fred, Quaranta, Guerrero, Thompson, Cordeiro, and maybe Kirk. There's a bit of guile there, a few hard workers, and maybe one guy who can hit a decent cross. Is it the worst set of options? No. But neither is it one to strike fear in the hearts of defenses around the league.
Again, the issue becomes: where do you find pace and danger to bolster your wing play? That's part of the reason that this entry finds itself so far down on the list. We've got adequate options already, and upgrading may not be feasible, practical, or fiscally responsible. The best bet is to draft speed and hope for Dane Richards.
5. Ben Olsen.
What? But don't we already have him? Sure, but will he be able to return to the field? If he does, that does wonders for our potential depth in midfield, but is there any guarantee that he can pick up significant minutes? Will he have the wheels to cover enough ground as one of two in central midfield, or will he only work in a three-man setup?
What I'm really getting at is general heart and grit, something this team was sorely lacking last year in Ben's absence. Is it possible to draft grit or trade for heart? Perhaps not. But this is a wishlist after all.
So what do you think? Agree? Disagree? Got a list of your own? Let's hear it!
Look, I'm not naive enough to think that the FO can land all of the above in a single offseason, nor do I think that MLS can yet afford a roster that features depth and quality from top to bottom. The best you can hope for is to play to your few strengths and minimize your weaknesses.
It also has to be stressed that tearing the whole thing apart and going back to square one isn't a viable or particularly intelligent decision either. When the team was healthy and blended for that short span last summer, they showed signs of quality. Heck, they even padded the trophy case and qualified us for continental competition! Sure, the trophy was the Open Cup, but it was a tournament win after all.
With that in mind, I guess I should amend my list to include what might be the most important change this off-season.