With the Copa America concluded, the focus once again turns towards league play. However, in the aftermath of this summer’s major tournament, MLS is set to continue with a very different landscape.
Familiar faces like Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones return to their respective clubs, while a newcomer, Tim Howard, is set to join a Colorado Rapids team pursuing elite status in the Western Conference.
Meanwhile, with the transfer window looming, MLS is expected to shift even more in the next several months, as teams retool and reload ahead of the home stretch.
As the summer months continue, MLS races and storylines are expected to heat up. Here are several to keep an eye on in the aftermath of the Copa America:
TIM HOWARD BEGINS NEW CHAPTER WITH RAPIDS
When Tim Howard announced his move to the Colorado Rapids back in March, it was hard to imagine him making much of a difference in the grand scheme of things. The Rapids were a team coming off a trying 2015 season, and appeared destined for another difficult season in the thunder dome that is the Western Conference.
Predictions were wrong, and the Rapids are for real. Led by Howard’s USMNT teammate Jermaine Jones and forward Shkëlzen Gashi, the Rapids currently sit top of the league with 32 points from just 16 games. Riding a roster full of young talent, the Rapids have exceeded every expectation to date.
Now, the task comes in integrating a player that may just be the best goalkeeper the U.S. has produced. Zac MacMath has had plenty of success for the Western Conference leaders, but there is little doubt that the Rapids are now Howard’s team.
If the Rapids are to continue to push on as one of the league’s best, Howard will need to integrate seamlessly. Given everything he has shown throughout his career, there’s little doubt that he will, making the Rapids the team to watch down the stretch this season.
CLINT DEMPSEY RETURNS TO SOUNDERS TEAM IN A FUNK
Throughout the past month-and-a-half or so, the Seattle Sounders have been bad. Very bad. Since May 14, the perennial contenders have collected just three points from six games while drifting all the way to ninth in the Western Conference.
Luckily for the Sounders, Clint Dempsey is set to return, and he’s in great form.
The USMNT forward scored a trio of goals throughout his run through the tournament, leading the U.S. to the semifinals while finishing level on goals with Golden Ball winner Alexis Sanchez. Dempsey is as hot as ever, and he’s returning to a Sounders team who needs it.
In each of their last two league matches, the Sounders have failed to find of the back of the net. Jordan Morris has performed admirably in Dempsey’s absence, but the young forward will certainly benefit from having someone else around to help shoulder the attacking load.
The Sounders are still a ways away from contention, and will likely splash some cash in the summer transfer window to account for that fact. But, the addition of Dempsey should provide a welcome boost to a team that certainly needs one.
MICHAEL BRADLEY LOOKS FOR RETURN TO FORM
Michael Bradley was not at his best throughout the Copa America, but he will have to be if he is to silence the doubters that have become so loud in the aftermath of this summer’s tournament.
While Bradley performed fairly well against Costa Rica, Paraguay and Ecuador, the Toronto FC midfielder has been criticized for his level of play against both Argentina and Colombia. Against the USMNT’s toughest opponents, Bradley never looked himself.
Now set to return to his club, Bradley will need to step up. The best way to silence doubters is by elevating your game, and Bradley will be given every chance to do so with Toronto FC. Alongside Sebastian Giovinco, a player desperate for some sort of help creatively, Bradley will need to make his mark for a TFC team still making a playoff push.
Rightly or wrongly, Bradley has come under fire for his Copa America efforts, and he will not be able to truly silence them until he takes the field at another major tournament. However, leading Toronto FC through the summer would be a good start, as Bradley looks to regain some form on the club level.
TRANSFER TALKS EXPECTED TO HEAT UP IN AFTERMATH OF TOURNAMENT
After every major tournament, MLS seemingly experiences an influx of international talent. Don’t expect the Copa America to be any different.
With the summer transfer window nearing, MLS teams will soon be given a chance to bolster their rosters. The recent Copa America served as the ultimate showcase, as teams got a first-hand look at potential imports on the biggest stage.
Last year’s Gold Cup saw a series of summer signings. Johan Venegas joined the Montreal Impact after representing Costa Rica last summer, while Panamanian star Roman Torres was signed by the Seattle Sounders. In the immediate aftermath of the 2014 World Cup, Algerian goalkeeper Rais M’Bolhi headlined a summer of signings, even if he never panned out for the Philadelphia Union.
Tournament season always seems to drum up interest in new faces, and the Copa America will likely prove no different. Some of this summer’s participants will be on the move, with MLS a likely suitor for several of them.