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Four teams saw their MLS playoff dreams buried last weekend, leaving four groups of fans disgusted and four clubs searching for answers heading into the off-season.
San Jose, Los Angeles, Toronto FC and FC Dallas came into the season with post-season dreams, and each of them had the look of a playoff squad at varying times this season (some for more brief periods than others). Unfortunately for each of them, stretches of poor form, bad signings and costly mistakes left them chasing the pack and ultimately falling short of the playoffs.
Here’s a quick look at each of the Finished Four, their seasons, and their prospects for the future:
What went wrong: Terrible forward play throughout the season, at least before Chad Barrett got settled. Roster turnover combined with tons of international duty resulted in a team that never did have a chance to come together.
Most costly stretch: TFC went 1-5-3 in August and September, putting itself in a terrible hole.
Biggest weakness to address: Chad Barrett looks good and Abdus Ibrahim has a bright future, but Toronto FC must find a way to land a DP-level striker. A central defense anchor wouldn’t hurt either.
Bright spots: Chad Barrett emerged as a good goal-scorer and looks happy in Toronto. Amado Guevara behaved and played well while Marvell Wynne really came of age. Johann Smith also looks like a future impact player.
Worst moves: Acquiring Carlos Ruiz, signing Laurent Robert and Olivier Tebily. Failing to land top striker before the season.
Outlook: No team in MLS has as much to work with this off-season as Toronto FC, which has tons of allocation money, three first-round draft picks and a DP slot it can use on a star. There is reason for optimisim in Toronto heading into 2009, but anything short of a strong year next year will mean its time for heads to roll.
San Jose Earthquakes
What went wrong: Building a team from scratch is tough, building one with no offense to speak of is suicide. The early hole proved too much to overcome.
Most costly stretch: Started the season 1-6-1.
Biggest weakness to address: Ryan Johnson showed some promise, but forward remains the most glaring need for Frank Yallop’s squad.
Bright spots: Darren Huckerby is a bona fide star. Arturo Alvarez and Scott Sealy could be solid contributors in 2009, assuming Sealy re-signs. Joe Cannon once again looked like one of the best, if not the best goalkeeper in MLS.
Worst moves: Using top allocation spot on Peguero Jean-Philippe. Trading away Brian Carroll for Kei Kamara.
Outlook: Some good pieces are in place for a good 2009, but Yallop needs a striker and some defensive reinforcements to make the playoffs in year two. The Earthquakes can’t be too upset though, they put together an entertaining team in the second half of the season.
What went wrong: Inconsistency killed a team with plenty of talent.
Most costly stretch: A horrendous run of 2-7-5 from April 24 until the All-Star break. That putrid slide cost Steve Morrow his job and gave Schellas Hyndman a rough welcome to MLS coaching.
Biggest weakness to address: Defense, defense, defense. A quality veteran playmaker wouldn’t hurt either.
Bright spots: Kenny Cooper emerging as an all-star, Jeff Cunningham flourishing after arriving from Toronto, and Andre Rocha turning into a real quality starter. Then there is the ton of young talent on the roster.
Worst moves: Signing Duilio Davino. Failing to find a replacement for Jeff Cunningham before the season began.
Outlook: With Kenny Cooper’s future in doubt, the priority for FC Dallas is to keep him. Once that is settled, the Hoops will want to consider hitting the trade market hard and dealing from its overflow of young talent to find some reliable veterans.
Los Angeles Galaxy
What went wrong: One of the worst defenses in MLS history playing in front of some of the worst goalkeepers in MLS history.
Most costly stretch: An awful 0-6-6 stretch over three months from June to September.
Biggest weakness to address: Here’s a hint: it starts with a D. Bruce Arena will spend all off-season looking for competent defenders to build around impressive rookie Sean Franklin, while also looking for a good goalkeeper.
Bright spots: Sean Franklin emerging. Edson Buddle finding his top form. Alan Gordon looking like a decent player. Eddie Lewis should still be a solid contributor in 2009.
Worst moves: Hiring Ruud Gullit. Not waiving Abel Xavier sooner. Signing Eduardo Dominguez. Trading away Joe Cannon. Trading for Greg Vanney.
Outlook: With Landon Donovan a transfer possibility, the Galaxy heads into the off-season in worse shape than any other team in MLS. Bruce Arena will have to work some serious magic to transform the Galaxy’s thin roster into a quality playing team.
What do you think went wrong with these teams? Do you have hope that any of them will turn things around in 2009? Share your thoughts on these teams and their failed playoff bids in the comments section below.
I think Dallas will come aruond eventually as did Columbus.
regarding TFC the only person to blame is the coach and the director of football.
What kind of fools would stock their team so heavily with national team players in THIS league?
Anyone else notice that three of the four teams out of playoff contention are the three teams making a profit, according to forbes?
“Klein – Solid Pro, nothing bad, just an average to better than average ML back.”
Can’t disagree more about his defense, however. Klein has a tendency to lose possession easily one-v-one, has no speed to cover faster forwards and has no sense of defensive positioning. Against Columbus two weeks ago, he was the one who was supposed to be marking Alejandro Moreno, who scored on the header.
Yes, Klein is a solid pro. He can also overlap and cross fairly well but that’s it. He’s past his prime.
Also should mention that Tebily was a great signign but didnt get alot of time because Marshall adn Velez were doing well at the time then when we needed him his wife (from what we have been told) demanded he go back to france.
So yeah, maybe he was a bad signing, HA
Dunnys got a broken ankle, thats why hes on the bench, but youre right, its not out of the question that he gets put up for expansion draft.
You could very well be right, my understanding was that it lasts another year and his contract ends this one, not sure, when does LDs clause end?
And oh yeah, the way things look right now, the Galaxy missing out on the playoffs for a fourth year in a row seems a very distinct possibility.
OMY, perhaps Ives can clarify it, but the way I understood it, if Ruiz signs a new contract, it would not be grandfathered in. He would either have to be classified as a DP, or take less than DP money.
Ives, I’m a big fan but this quote is rich “Darren Huckerby is a bona fide star. ”
Todd Dunivant is rotting on TFC’s bench…he’ll be a great pick up for many teams out of playoff contention
Yes the Galaxy had Defensive issues, but I don’t think it was as much the backline as the lack of a central midfield. That area was terrible all year. The last game against Houston when the Bruce went to a 3 man back line and moved Shawn Franklin forward, things seemed to liven up. I’d like to see the Gals bring in 2 central defenders (o Harden circa 2007 wherefore art thou), and slide S. Franklin forward to a DM position.
Klein – Solid Pro, nothing bad, just an average to better than average ML back. Randolph at LB seems also servicable, it is central defense and central midfield that needs a face lift.
Gordon solid contribution???
yeah that one game against CUSA, we finally disagree on something Ives
Hiring Ruud Gullit was not the problem. Hiring Alexi Lalas was.
Forgot to mention, hes been playing ususally the last 20 or less minutes in almost every game since he was signed, which is a good way to break him into the team. Even got an assist when we played NJ a couple weeks ago, check the MLS website, it was JoSmith to Ibby (another Starlet). Beautiful cross on his part
These is pretty much the spine of what LA needs to work with, even putting aside the Donovan and Becks situation.
Saunders was allright, but he was on loan from Miami Blues USL1. The others just plain horrible and useless.
appart from the Rookie of the Year candidate
Sean Franklin everything was and is bleak.
LA’s “best” area if they would use the players in their position…
Gordon is a decent sub, but not more
Buddle is too inconsistent
What hurt(s) LA is that imports don’t seem to work (Dominguey, Pires etc) and that there are many higher earners (Vagenas, Jazic & co) who earn a ‘lot’ and deliver little in return…
it can only get better!
Big fan of JoSmith, hes alot like Wynne in the fact that hes got alot of speed but needs to work on his technical aspect. Hes quite a fan of the stepovers (tfc fans know what im saying, HA). Wynne has already made progress in leaps and bounds since moving over from New Jersey and I dont think he will be any different. Johann is still young and (i suspect) was brought in as “an at work project” as opposed to an immediate fix. He supposedly played as a striker at Bolton however has been used primarily as a winger for TFC. I do think he will be successful as a winger (and along side Ricketts, if, godwilling, we resign him) but its necessary that they really do drill him on his first touch, his on the ball skills and passes.
Dude is heavy with potential.
We have been using Freeman primarily as a winger, however i suspect thats simply because a) Freeman has a slightly greater technical skill (not saying much) and b) Freeman has the first team experience in the MLS.
The next year or so should be big for him (as should the offseason), ideally he will be starting next year, hes already surplanted JaSmith (Jarrod Smith) in the line up.
Columbus has no interest in Ruiz, we like our locker room sans drama.
@ arena futbol,
Corrales got injured by a cheap play from Atiba Harris that sidelined him for the rest of the season. Sadly, that marked the end point of the QUakes hot streak as Grabavoy was plain awful!
Ossington Mental Youth,
I was curious about your view of Johann Smith. I saw him in a friendly against Argentina in the run-up to the U20 World Cup last year and he looked like the best offensive weapon he had (it took me about 20 minutes to realize that he wasn’t Adu 🙂
So, I’ve followed him since but he doesn’t seem to see the field much for TFC, but then again, I don’t watch TFC that much.
Any insight you can share? Does he need to go somewhere else to get more minutes?
Matt in SF
I am basing my predictions about Seattle on a few things. They already have two critical positions on their roster filled with a quality keeper and a quality striker. They have the ability to pull players from a top USL side. They are planning an end of season extended trip to South America and with plenty of cash and plenty of international roster spots available they should come into next year with a solid group of foreign players. Remember they also have serious cash to get a big DP and they will be playing home games in front of 20k. They already have close to 20k in season ticket sales.
Not saying Seattle will be the best team in MLS next year but I think they will be challenging for a playoff spot.
“What happened to Corrales? Is the consensus that Grabavoy is better?”
As Tony mentioned, Corrales is injured. I think Corrales is a very solid player. Grabavoy is non-existent on the field most of the time. I do agree with Tony that Sealy needs to go.
I also agree that Jason Hernandez has had a breakout year. He always seems to be in the right position. Hell of a player.
Huckerby seems quite happy in San Jose. Likes the Bay Area and likes playing in MLS. I can’t wait to see him play a full season next year. He’s going to be the primary reason for me to buy season tickets.
Being from Minnesota I like different teams every year, but I was really really hoping that L.A. could field a great team this year. For all of the negativity toward L.A. and Beckham, if that team was in the Champions League and did well it would lift the profile of everything MLS.
One of MLS’ biggest challenges is one that has a foreseeable solution. While it is hard to get some soccer fans excited about MLS because of the quality of the league, every MLS team has an opportunity to play in a meaningful tournament against the top teams in the world every year.
If Houston had held on last year, they could be playing in a meaningful game against Manchester United. We need to get our teams to that position (and that tournament out of Japan!)
arena: Coralles is hurt. I’m not his biggest fan, but without him our midfield had no bite at all. Also, Ryan Johnson has a chance to be pretty good. I wouldn’t write him off.
Ives: Sealy sucks. I don’t care that he finally scored but he is the worst forward in the league not named Gordon. If he could finish ANYTHING we’d probably be in the playoffs.
Arena, SJE is an expansion team — I wouldn’t get on them for not having a deeper roster.
As many predicted, Buddle did what he always does — scored in bunches, then disappeared.
I think it’s time to open up the Colaship pipeline. O wait, Darren Huckerby just did that.
I might be mistaken but I think TFC will hold on to Ruiz’s rights for a year or so whether he signs with the MLS or not and if he goes to Columbus TFC will get something in return.
Ricketts is good and somewhat inconsistent only recently. At the beginning of the season he wasnt match fit and hadnt gelled. Recently hes been a little off but i do believe that he will find consistency in time and be a great signing.
Please God / Goddess / Great Being of the Mountain – DO NOT SEND RUIZ TO COLUMBUS
Great post Ives. This is what keeps me coming back to the site.
A few other thoughts on these teams:
Brennan is a very solid MLSer. If Wynne does not leave the league, TFC is set at the fullback spot. Centerback though… ugh. Not impressed with anyone they have.
What do people think of Ricketts? I can’t make up my mind if he is decent or too inconsistent.
Guevara had flashes, but building around him is always scary given his track record of inconsistency.
Seems like they became Ives’s favorite team in the 2nd half. I thought J. Hernandez had a borderline break-out year. He seems solid. And Huckerby-Lima-O’Brien worked out well enough.
What happened to Corrales? Is the consensus that Grabavoy is better?
Johnson, Alvarez, Sealy… all are blah. Need one top level striker if they are going to be better next year.
Also, memo to Frank Yallop: use your damn developmental roster. SJE used the Devs less than an team in the league. Depth is a hug issue, especially with the salary cap. Lots of other teams had 2-3 Devs make valuable contributions over the course of the year (think Soumare, Burling, Ianni, Leathers, Wagner, LaBrocca, King, Espinoza, Movsyssian, Dube). SJE needs some production from the devs next year.
Midfield needs sorting out. The lack of Juan Toja (in last year’s form, not the crap from this year) hurt. Guarda’s ability to get playing playing time is a mystery. McCarty had injuries and didn’t really have the establish-yourself year that fellow U23s like Holden, Kljestan, and Rogers did. Sikora came late and was injured. Just a mess overall.
If Kenny Cooper leaves, would FCD have anyone on their roster that another team would start? Wallace and Shea have some potential, but how is this team going to win anything?
Ives, don’t forget the emergence of B. McDonald. Not just for his recent bomb of a goal, but composure on the ball that has some mumbling about him being a future MNT-level player. Of course, he has some catching up to do, considering he just has one injury-plagued professional year, whereas as players the same age or younger are already established center mids — M. Edu, JF Torres, M. Bradley, D. Szetela.
But seriously, the cupboard is bare for LAG beyond LD and Becks. Buddle’s year was probably a fluke. Klein and Lewis are borderline ready to retire. Vanney should have retired already. GK situation is a disaster. Can’t they get Chris Seitz or something? That kid is supposedly our best U23 and he didn’t even see a minute of PT behind the Round Mound of Rimando.
Despite the underwhelming roster they scores more goals than any other team. If they keep LD (here’s hoping the don’t, for the sake of LD and the MNT), they can always score. But they need to direct their efforts towards getting 2 center backs and a decent keeper.
Also, other than Becks, they pretty much got nothing of value from International players. While that approach works fine for Houston, you’d think LAG might look to find a few good imports next year.
Memo to Arena and the Galaxy as a whole: Keep Brandon McDonald. Start Brandon McDonald. Do not trade him for anyone in this league. This kid could be a super stud if he keeps progressing forward.
What’s really bizarre about this season that LA will most likely end the season with both the highest GF and GA stats (currently 53 goals for, 60 goals against). In what other league has that ever happened? Obviously the Galaxy was overloaded in offensive talent and completely deficient in defense.
The funds wasted to acquire Ruiz was probably L.A.’s worst move. After an early injury and the second coming of Edson Buddle he proved to be unnecessary and a mammoth waste of money. Imagine how the team would have fared if they invested in a few strong defenders and a good goalkeeper instead of spending all that money on Ruiz.
So if Ruiz wants to remain in the MLS but wants a trade to Columbus, Toronto gets something, but if Ruiz leaves the MLS altogether, than Toronto gets sweet F all? Is that the jist?
The Ruiz situation will be an interesting one, whether he resigns with the MLS for less money (as hes certainly not worth his current paycheck) or whether he leaves to central america.
LA should be very concerned about Donovan. I’ll say that there is a very good chance he’s going to end up at Bayern Munich, which by the way would be a great move for him. Becks is also planning to work out with AC Milan in the off-season to stay in shape for potential England call-ups. Unfortunately, Milan’s owner hinted at a potential offer to buy him. If LA loses both, faaaaget about it!! They’ll essentially be in the same position as San Jose, starting over.
So does that mean Ruiz is gone for sure? Would Toronto get anything for him if he chose to leave? Bare with me, not too familiar with MLS “trade” rules.
Ruiz Contract ends this season, he will still be grandfathered next season if he sticks around. There are rumors of him headed to Columbus. Either wayi dont see him staying at TFC having been injured for two weeks then all of a sudden fit to play 90 mins for Guatamala
Pretty astute analysis.
Gotta say our ‘worst’ moves made sense at the time and would have been amazing feats if they had paid off. also dont think they contributed too much to what went wrong.
My only concern now is securing some contracts like Robbos, Ricketts and Carver as apparently they havent been resigned yet… That and the fact we will need ot sign some strikers.. ech…
God i love/hate the off season
Strong expansion club? Isn’t that a bit of an oxymoron? I think the Quakes probably overacheieved this year, all things considered. What seems to hurt expansion teams the most is lack of depth to deal with injuries, suspensions, fatigue, and players who are out of form or just aren’t producing as expected. I don’t see Sounders FC having the same depth as the more established clubs, but time will tell.
What is Ruiz’s current status with Toronto?
Failing to find a replacement for Jeff Cunningham before the season began.
Huh? He is with Dallas, now.
LA needs to try to find someone dumb enough to make all of Lalas’ trades in reverse – ie, send them 2-3 young/talented kids (a la Robbie Finley @ RSL) for aging vets like Chris Klein and Eddie Lewis. Rebuild the roster with younger talent that wants to try to impress Becks by playing their tails off.
Toronto always seems to lack someone they can count on to fight for a goal. Dichio’s attitude needs to be transferred into a better talent.
San Jose was a ton of fun to watch, but did anyone really expect them to make the playoffs this year? The fact that they were in contention is a huge plus for their first year.
I’ll be interested to see what decisions are made regarding the cap, DP spots and senior/developmental slots are made and how they impact all teams … not just these four.
Look for a strong expansion club coming in next year to put more pressure on the teams that didn’t make the playoffs this year.