Thursday, January 22, 2015

Camp opened today, where are those "difference-makers"?

Veterans reported to Commerce City for physicals and fitness tests today with true preseason starting tomorrow.  Its always good to get into preseason and get the new players integrated with the returning veterans in preparation for the opener on March 7th.  The question is, have we done enough this off-season to improve?

To recap what Tim Hinchey and Paul Bravo said they needed this offseason (bit long, stick with me):

Tim Hinchey: Aug 27th, 2014:
Should we expect to see a busy off-season, then?
According to Hinchey, yes. We're going to see a busy off season. I don't want to make too big a deal of this, but he said they are looking at bringing in a 2nd DP in the January window. I didn't want to pry into it much because it's a while away so I don't know how far along the talks are. It's not important at the moment. But it's interesting to hear that there are plans in the works for next season.
Paul Bravo, Oct. 3rd, 2014:
“The guiding principles that we have instilled include building from within (our academy), putting priority on the college draft, scouting the lower leagues, and using the international market to add players who can make a difference in our league,” he says.
So what about the difference makers? Where do you find them? “We are looking all over the world for these players, but the areas of focus continue to be South and Central America, and European countries like France, England, Spain and Germany. We look at hours and hours of video, consult with people we trust here and abroad. There’s also a little bit of luck involved, and of course, it also takes investment.”Other factors in the equation are adjustment periods for foreign players coming to the United States. Sometimes they fit right in and hit the ground running, while others might take a year or two to settle in.“Players have to get comfortable with the speed of play, style, travel, the hot summer weather – all of the elements packed into our great country and our great league,” Bravo says. “There are other important things, too, like bringing wives and families, new doctors, new schools and how that player deals with things off the field as well as on.” 

Tim Hinchey, Oct. 14th, 2014:
Well, without question, it hasn’t been a very good run. We’re not happy about it. No-one’s happy about it. I’m sure you ask the same question to Paul, Pablo, the coaches, the players, no-none’s happy about this and nor should we be. It’s not something any of us envisioned when we were sitting in third place with a fantastic victory on July 25th. Again, this trip was planned for some time. In fact, it’s an annual trip for me, but it was a trip that made sense for Paul to come on months ago based on our long term player acquisition goals. Clearly there’s even more of a heightened sense of awareness and we fully realize that we need to invest. We need to find more key ‘difference makers’, as Paul likes to say, and Pablo likes to say, and right now like José Mari who we found in Spain last year, there are a lot of players who see our league growing.  These players maybe have been in the bottom level of some of the elite leagues or they have been relegated into the second divisions of those leagues, and see Major League Soccer as a fantastic destination, (with) fantastic communities, facilities and fans. I think that Major League Soccer is certainly on the radar for a lot more players that are in between the top flights and what might be closer to what our level of play is here in the States.
If we’re going to be successful in this league, we've got to continue to invest and find better players. 
Clearly that’s going to lay with Paul and Pablo to decide, but I think all of us have a pretty good sense that - and I think both Paul and Pablo have discussed this quite a bit - we clearly need to invest defensively, and we will, but at the same time we also need to invest in all areas of our squad, so it’s not an easy answer because we need that help, so we need help at the back, we need help in the middle and we certainly want ‘difference makers’ up front.  
We will find the best players globally with our increased technical staff and we will work harder – we’ll have to work harder – than other clubs and if we can leverage our relationships and the resource of someone like Arsenal, to help us find those ‘difference-makers’, it means we'll not necessarily have to over spend but we will spend wisely. 
Tim Hinchey, Town Hall, Oct 15th, 2014 (paraphrased from my notes):
They'll be able to plan for the transfer window in advance and make some investments.
So those were the expectations set going into the offseason.  What have we actually done so far?

D Bobby Burling after Chivas was contracted
F Caleb Calvert in Chivas USA dispersal draft
M Sam Cronin from San Jose in trade
D Michael Harrington from Portland in trade
GK Zac MacMath from Philly on loan
M Marcelo Sarvas from LA in trade
D Axel Sjoberg in Superdraft
4 other draftees that will either not be available (Greenspan) or are unlikely to make the team

Notice something?  Every single acquisition so far has come from inside the league or the draft.  We have yet to use this increased scouting to find these "difference-makers" that Hinchey and Bravo talked about.  We've been linked to a 23 year old defensive mid and a 21 year old attacking mid from Argentina, but neither of their resumes scream "difference-maker" and again, they aren't actually signed yet.

I would agree that Sarvas has all the makings of a difference maker but the rest?  They fill the holes created when we let a number of players go after the season but none of them look like a significant improvement from what we already had.  Calvert is too young, MacMath isn't significant upgrade from Irwin, Burling and Harrington are solid MLS defenders but nothing more (though cheaper than Wynne so that's good), and Cronin is equivalent to LaBrocca IMO.

So far there's no hint of that second Designated Player they were promising.  There's no word on another "difference-maker" up front like Hinchey suggested.  Instead we appear to be putting together a team from the MLS scrap pile again, something that hasn't been successful in recent years.  In fact I think the league has advanced to the point where that can no longer be a successful strategy.  The last team to win using it was the 2010 Rapids.

There's still 6 weeks until the season opener, but as Bravo said, it takes time for international players to adjust to their new situation in MLS.  We need the players here now so that they are settled and adjusted when the league starts in 6 weeks.  We don't need a scenario where they show up in late February and take the first month of the season to settle in and start playing well.  We need quality players able to stand out at the MLS level this season and we need them ASAP.  Otherwise we're playing for 2016 already.

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