We've Got Mail! A Whole Bag of It!

Happy Friday soccer fans!  It’s that time of the week where we answer the incisive, thought provoking, and take-making questions from you, our loyal readers.  This week we’re going to tackle in-form strikers, pipe-dreams, Wondolowski, PNW teams, and maybe, just maybe, the Chicago Fire. This week our panel includes Dustyn, Ian, Mark, Tyler, and Steven.

Let’s get started.

This question could spark an entire article on its own (and potentially could should a controversial trade show itself during the season). To answer the question directly, the answer is: not particularly often. Most transactions are made in the offseason, and certain dates – usually on or around the times of the drafts – are the most common for players to get shuffled around. Players during those times have either discussed contracts with their team or others, and those talks result in either a player staying or going; input has been made, and both sides are aware.

During the season, however, players may not find out about a trade until the day it occurs, or they’ve been aching to move away due to a myriad of reasons behind the scenes. Unless either a player or front office comes forward and addresses the process to the media, the public can only speculate whether or not the reasons were previously discussed (Mike Magee to Chicago) or if the player was left in the dark during the process (Alain Rochat to D.C.).

So, to answer your question, only a handful of people in every respective trade know for certain. Was Mattocks disgruntled in Vancouver, or sent to Portland on a whim? Was Andrew Jacobson aware of his departure from New York to British Columbia? We may never know.

-Steven Clark

Well, that’s an interesting question. Let’s see where things stand right now.  Landon Donovan is of course the all-time leading goalscorer with 144 goals.  Chris Wondolowski is currently sitting on 114.  Can Wondo manage to score 31 more goals?  It sure looks like it going by this season’s form. The only thing that might stand in his way is the fact that he’s 33 years old.  Now, Jeff Cunningham set the record back in 2011 just shy of 36 but he barely got over that line. I think Wondo has a bit more gas in him still, and how many he manages to tally this year will go a long way towards answering that question. If he scores 15+, I wouldn’t bet against him.  For what it’s worth, I think it would be pretty cool for Wondo to have this record. He’s been an MLS guy through and through and is by all accounts one of the nicest and most humble guys in the league. If there’s a way to root for him without rooting for the Earthquakes, sign me up!

-Ian L.

The simple explanation is; the difference between a Supporters Shield and utter failure is Matt Miazga. It all went downhill when Miazga put on a blue shirt and moved to London. 

But seriously; suck seems a bit extreme. Losing 5 of the first 6 games to start a season, and only scoring in one of those games, is not an ideal start to the season. It’s still very early. Although the Red Bulls are struggling to put the ball in the net, they have issues defending their own net as well. With Miazga gone and a rash of injuries, the back line is a real worry in Harrison. 

If they can at least patch up the back line and get some cohesiveness, it should work out long term. BWP will find his goal scoring boots. Others will need to help him and get a pair of those boots as well. I’m not saying the Red Bulls “suck”, not yet at least. There’s too much season left and in the Eastern Conference, where no team is poised to run away and hide, they’ll be fine. 

-Dustyn R. 

The Timbers should definitely be concerned. Now, should a finger be hovering over the panic button? I wouldn’t say that quite yet.

The loss of Nagbe for the foreseeable future, a paltry 1PPG in five games, and a defense that is tied for worst in the league for goals allowed, Portland has relinquished any kind of bite one would expect from the defending MLS Cup Champions. The Western Conference is also less forgiving, so falling behind early only means exponentially more difficult work heading forward.

Yes, I expect Caleb Porter to have some concern regarding their current form, but this team is miles ahead of what it was in 2012. They’ll likely recover; if they do not in the next five games, then we can revisit that panic button.

-Steven Clark

I know I'm going to risk the wrath of LA Galaxy fans everywhere by even addressing this, but come on friends.  Let's be serious for a second. You can cry witch hunt and hysteria all you want.  You can say he's only had a few red cards, and tell me that his reputation is well overblown, but you can't tell me that you didn't see this coming.  This had to be the single most predictable storyline of the season.  Nigel de Jong is the Major League Soccer equivalent of Chekhov's gun. It's fine if you don't like the narrative.  I'm not sure that it is 100% entirely fair to the player or to the Galaxy. But don't blame us when the organization clearly knew about the player's reputation prior to signing him. They chose to value what de Jong brings to the field over these well documented negative aspects of his game. They asked for this, and they got it. 

-Ian L. 

Mauro Diaz could be the best player in MLS if it weren’t for injuries and Sebastian Giovinco. But this isn’t the first time we’ve dealt with Mauro and an extended injury break. Since coming to Frisco and FCD in summer of 2013 he’s racked up six extended stints away from the FCD starting XI. This is number seven, and according to Pareja himself the issue boils down to Mauro’s fatigue. In the past it’s been a series of knee and hamstring injuries. It is traditional for FCD to be horribly opaque about Diaz’s injury status, and like many of his stints on the IR in the past they seem to come up without explanation. He’s back in training as far as we know.

To be on the safe side: don’t pick Mauro for your fantasy XI. Bench him or drop him. This may or may not have been done by this writer a week ago. As an alternative pick up either Castillo or Barrios, who tend to see much of the offensive production in times that Mauro is gone. Barrios is superb about filling the void during long absences from FCD’s number 10. Until Mauro has returned for a solid game it’s not worth running the risk. Also, Dallas have done horribly at Kansas City in the past two seasons under Pareja, and were even outscored 14-6 in four meetings at Kansas City against 2015. Why risk him at that rate?

-Cory J.

For better or worse, the 2016 Sounders attack lives and dies at the feet of Clint Dempsey. So far this season, that hasn’t gone so well. Sigi Schmid has deployed Dempsey on the wing in a 4-3-3 and in the middle of a 4-2-3-1/4-4-1-1/4-3-3 hybrid with very little success. But, all is not as sleepy as it seems in Seattle. Seattle is leading the league in pass completion and are in the top 5 in possession. The main problem, it seems, is that Seattle just aren’t generating enough chances, and on top of that, they aren’t finishing the chances they are creating. That has everything to do with where Clint Dempsey is on the field. In recent weeks, we’ve seen him dropping so deep into his own third to pick up the ball and carry it up the field in possession, and doing a great job at that. But, you don’t want Clint Dempsey to be playing the role of a box to box midfielder, you want him scoring goals. I think he needs to be starting up top in order for that to start happening. 

-Mark K.

They’re not the Tire Fire any more, without a doubt they’re already improved over Yallop’s Fire of the past two seasons. Veljko Paunovic has taken the Fire to the high heights of sixth place (that’s a playoff spot!) in the East as of the beginning of week seven. They’re not offensively explosive. They’re not wonderfully creative throughout the midfield, and could frankly use a Harry Shipp to find the gaps in opposing defenses.

However, the Serbian’s side is on the verge of setting a franchise shutout record if their current streak (356 minutes) isn’t interrupted before the 39th minute of Saturday’s game against the Impact. A solidified defense, or at least a competent one, is the first big step in revamping the worst team in MLS last year. 58 goals conceded was a franchise record, and now look at the instant impact Veljko’s system, and off-season acquisitions, have had in the present.

Still, the Fire are in need of attacking competency. Kennedy Igoboananike still stumbles and bumbles quite often if the ball is at his feet somewhere outside the opposition’s penalty area. Gilberto is still hot-and-cold on the best of days and frankly doesn’t work back nearly enough to help the Fire counter, which is clearly Paunovic’s intention. David Accam is their best weapon and a blunted one at the moment - he still hasn’t reappeared since outrunning Orlando’s entire defense on the 11th of March.

Rumors abound that Chicago will have a new creative midfielder and attacker before the MLS transfer window shuts. They could look very, very different than last year by that point. But in all honesty, they already are, and will push for the playoffs this year. That’s something the Fire couldn’t hang their hopes on for two years under Yallop.

Keep this in mind: you’re talking about the worst team in the league a year ago, twenty-two players gutted from the squad or declined, and a substantial number brought in to recoup that giant personnel shuffle. What you see is a team, as of now, that’s doing outstandingly well on defense, but still looks pensive and a bit lost going forward. Or, in other words, a team that has revamped its personnel in a dramatic way. We’re talking a Leicester City type turnaround if the Fire make the playoffs. There’s much ground to be covered. Despite their early season issues, the teams below Chicago as of now will improve: Columbus, RBNY, DC, and Toronto were all playoff sides in 2015. Therefore, Chicago’s best hope is to push for a sixth place finish as the east tends to be a conundrum for all outside observers. Anything above that would be next to miraculous.  

-Cory J.

Great question Tanner. No, really, it’s a great question that a lot of MLS fans would love to know the answer to. The Galaxy have seemed to play by their own rules at times and it feels like the MLS to USL channel is a revolving door, depending on what day of the week it is. 

I actually had the pleasure to sit down with Houston Dynamo general manager Matt Jordan back in March (humblebrag?), and I asked him about how players can move up from USL to MLS. With the Dynamo now having a “hybrid” team in USL, this question would surely be something the Dynamo would be dealing with. Jordan’s answer in short, players must have a MLS contract to be moved from USL to an active MLS roster. Does this mean they need a contract in place while they’re in USL? Can they be signed to a MLS contract 2 minutes before a MLS game kicks off? That I don’t know. 

In addition, USL players can be signed to Short Term Agreements for any cup games or exhibitions. This contract can be for up to 4 days. Each player can sign up to 4 Short Term Agreements in a season. The same type contract can be signed to bring a USL player up in an “Extreme Hardship”. This player must be 25 years or younger under this clause. 

Lastly, when loaning a player to USL, a club can incorporate a “Right of Recall” in to the agreement. This allows the club to recall the player to the MLS team at any point during the season. There are no restrictions on the amount of times such players may be recalled.

And this concludes another fun trip deep into the MLS Roster Rules.

-Dustyn R. 

Dwyer: He has been in great form. Not only has Dwyer scored 4 goals in 6 matches (one he did not start), but he also has 2 assists. He is also making instinctively good runs, which has led to space for others to make plays in. If his form remains the same, he may get closer to his projected goal total of 30 than I thought he would.   

Wondolowski: I am not sure why I am always surprised that Wondo is near the top of the most goals scored stat in MLS, but every time I look, there he is. I can only assume he is a handful to deal with on game day and does command a great deal of respect from opposing defenses. This season seems to be no different. He is currently leading the league with 5 goals in 6 matches. He is finding the net as instinctively as ever and teams should not look forward to playing against him at the moment. 

Larin: While he is currently coming back from injury, I would be remiss if I did not include him on this list. His form leading up to the injury was lights out. Here at TotalMLS, we refer to him as the Canadian Messi, and for good reason (somewhat in jest). In his 4 matches, he has scored thrice and even has an assist. If he had the two extra games that Wondo has had, would he be top scorer? I don’t know, but he has been incredible to watch thus far. He is projecting to return from his injury this weekend, so we may well find out whether his form will continue or not. 

Urruti: He has gone to FC Dallas and has taken the opportunity with both hands. His goal to matches ratio is not as good as Wondo’s or even Larin’s, but what he has done off the ball deserves to be commended. If you haven’t seen much of Urruti at FC Dallas, I encourage you to watch. He has been nothing short of great. His defensive work this past weekend alone led to 2 goals. FC Dallas fans should be very excited about his play this season. 

Plata: Joao might be the pick of the bunch. He has 4 goals and 3 assists in 5 matches. I think the scarier part is he’s done it in only 11 shots (7 on target). Not only has he been scoring goals and getting assists; he has been dynamic while doing so. He puts an incredible amount of pressure on opposing defenses with his speed and guile. The pressure he places on defenses often leads to mistakes, like when Sjoberg decided to chip his own ‘keeper (who was 25 yards out, mind you) which led to Plata scoring an empty-net goal. 

-Tyler W.