06 August, 2010

Poll: Which mid-season acquisition will make the biggest impact in MLS?

Coincidence or conspiracy? It surely cannot be happenstance that Sunil Gulati and the MLS braintrust have facilitated recent high profile transfers to two of the three biggest US sports markets: New York and Chicago. Riding the coattails of the World Cup popularity, MLS figures to capitalize by boosting the playoff hopes and intrigue of these large market franchises. Surely this isn't a money play for higher ratings and playoff attendance? Hey, what's wrong with using Henry as a marketing ploy, anyways. Unless he bends like Beckham . . .

Anyways, the addition of these players is a great move for MLS. Well, for some in MLS, I suppose. Wonder what Kansas City thinks. Regardless, the second half picture for the MLS title run has taken an interesting turn. Will Chicago be able to return to glory? Will New York win it's first title? Will Seattle's loyal fans be rewarded?

Thierry Henry, New York Red Bulls

This man needs no introduction. His signing, along with Rafa Marquez, brings immediate star power and respect to a Red Bulls side that already has a solid former EPL veteran in Juan Pablo Angel. One has to become compelled to watch him play and see how he reacts to MLS-style thuggery and the new quality of play. I was overwhelmed when reviewing his career stats, and I'll let them speak for themselves: All-time leading scorer for the prestigious Arsenal of the English Premier League with 226 goals in all competitions. The French International is his country's all-time leading scorer, passing the great Platini in 2007. He left the Gunners for Barcelona in 2007, and in 2009 accomplished a historic treble by winning the Spanish League, League Cup, and the UEFA Champion's League. That year they took three other minor cups, the Spanish Supercup, UEFA Supercup, and the Club World Cup to become the first team ever to take home a sextet of trophies. In short, he has won more and scored more than just about anybody else. Amazing. Getting away from the European media after the "hand of Gaul" incident will only help to re-energize him.

Freddie Ljungburg, Chicago Fire

One of my favorite players and I'm pretty happy (warning: fan bias) that the Fire signed him over the return of el Blanco. This guy is a loyal player who grew up in Halmstad, Sweden, played for their youth squad growing up and then for their pro team Halmsteads BK. 16 years in the same organization, and he won a Swedish Cup at age 18. Sold to Arsenal for 3 million euros, a record sum for a Swedish player at that time. Thierry Henry's teammate played for the London side from 1998-2007 and scored on his Gunners debut against the almighty Manchester United. Ljungberg is known primarily as a quick, unselfish outside midfielder who shined in the spotlight such as the FA Cup final, in which he found the net on three different occasions. However, he will likely be asked to create offense from the center of midfield for Chicago. The only question here is how nagging injuries and wearing himself out on trips to Brazil may affect him. But when healthy and motivated, the 33 year old should be considered one of the top 5 players in the MLS.

Rafael Marquez, New York Red Bulls

How is it that New York gets this guy on a free transfer? Conspiracy theorists, unite. A highly skilled world class defender that can play on the outside or center, the 31 year old Mexican International shook off a knee injury to once again lead Mexico in the World Cup and is poised to immediately dominate in MLS. I've always loved this guys game, and you have to respect a defender that scores for his country in two consecutive World Cups (Argentina in 2006, tying goal vs South Africa in the inaugural 2010 game). He has 11 goals in 94 caps for the Tricolor and started as a professional footballer for home side Atlas at the age of 17. The former AC Monaco player went on to win a Champion's League title with Barcelona in 2006 and was on the roster along with Henry during the 2009 win. With this guy shoring up the defense and distributing the ball to Henry and Angel likely playing as a holding midfielder, NY looks lke a prohibitive favorite in the East.

Nery Castillo, Chicago Fire

The 26 year old speedy Mexican International will bring immediate "fire" power to the struggling Chicago franchise who haven't won the league title since their inaugural year in 1998. Castillo, born in Mexico to an Uruguayan father and Italian mother, made his mark playing for Greek side Olympiakos for 7 years before being sold to Ukraine's Shaktar Donetek for a Greek and Ukranian recored 20 million euros. After becoming a mainstay in the lineup, Nery helped Olympiakos to 3 consecutive Greek league titles and 2 Greek Cups. He brings UEFA Champion's League experience from the 2006/7 season, where he notched 3 goals and 1 assist in 5 starts for the Greek powerhouse. Fortunately for the Fire, he has fallen out of favor with the current management at Shaktar. His presence addresses urgent offensive needs for Chicago and he brings invaluable experience along with the veteran Brian McBride.

Blaise Nkufo, Seattle Sounders

Congolese-born Swiss International Nkufo joins Seattle as a free transfer to provide the scoring and experience that Seattle was expecting from the now departed Freddie Ljungberg. So who is this guy? The 35 year old striker is a highly regarded veteran who settled down with FC Twente in the Dutch Eredivisie for most of his career. He has nabbed an outrageous 111 goals in 215 appearances for FC Twente in league play alone. He is their career leader in scoring and lead the team in scoring the last 6 years running. During that span the team finished in the top four in the Dutch top division for four consecutive years. That track record alone speaks for itself. Despite reservations about his relative lack of speed, he is a proven professional at the highest level who will be very interesting to watch as the run for the playoffs approaches. This solidifies Seattle with a proven world class leader in goal in Keller, and now the same up front with Nkufo.

Photos: Guardian, finderface, fannation, olympiacos, Seattle Times

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