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04 January 12:40 de la tarde

As we slowly build up to Major League Soccer's 18th season – a scary thought, especially since MLS Cup still feels like such a recent event, for me at least – it's worth taking a look back at how it all started. Rest assured, the goings-on weren't always quite so polished.

Take, for example, the first signing in league history. US Soccer is counting down its top 100 moments as part of the federation's centennial celebration and included an interesting anecdote from president Sunil Gulati about what it took to bring national team star Tab Ramos to MLS. The league and US Soccer wanted Ramos – an national team player with Hispanic heritage and attacking flare – to help give the league an initial foothold with fans as well as other Americans playing abroad.

He certainly helped with both those aims, but when he committed his future to MLS, there wasn't even contract to put pen to paper on. I'll let Gulati explain.

“He was going to sign with Tigres, and what we decided at the very last moment was why not have a handshake to sign with MLS, and we would loan him to Tigres,” Gulati told USsoccer.com. “The league wasn't far enough along to have a contract or a standard player agreement or any of that, so it was just a handshake.”

Just a handshake. Imagine suggesting that to the current crop of agents stocking teams these days. You'd get laughed out of the room.

But after a year-and-a-half with Tigres UANL, Ramos kept his end of the bargain, ending up with his hometown MetroStars for the next seven seasons. It wasn't always smooth sailing – cue Red Bulls fans simultaneously nodding their heads and silently weeping – but Ramos became a pioneer in a league that he helped put on the map.

To think, all it took was a handshake and the belief that professional soccer in the US was worth the commitment.

“I was excited to come home and start a new experience,” Ramos said. “It was coming home and there was the draw of playing at Giants Stadium, where I had watched the Cosmos play and where I practiced with the Cosmos 10 years before. All those things were really important to me. Obviously, having my family here as well.

“And it was fun. It was fun drawing the big crowds the first couple of years. It was fun driving to the stadium, just to be part of the whole thing. It really truly felt like we had a professional league at home and it was going to stick.”

03 January 9:31 de la tarde

Fredy Montero maybe never knew it or others purged it out of him: But like it or not, no matter what the formation may show on any given matchday, Montero is an old-school No. 10.

A No. 10 as in a supremely skilled, game-breaker. They may not be the fastest, the tallest or the strongest, but they're capable of that stroke of genius that other players can only dream about.

No. 10s are hot and cold. They're often enigmatic and maddening. They need freedom because they don't fit a specific mold. They can't be judged by the same measure as other players. They're different.

Well, since Montero was counted on for goals (he did score double-digit goals in each of his four seasons), we could instead use the "No. 9.5" label that Michel Platini once coined for Italian Roberto Baggio: the No. 10 who also finds the back of the net.

Whichever label fits him best, it's no secret that tweeners like Montero are dying a slow death in modern soccer, which is increasingly based on athleticism and production. The sport has very little patience any more for the artisans, whose production may not always be reliable or punctual, but whose craft is inimitable.

If Montero's return to Colombia does materialize, MLS will have lost one of its artisans -- the author of some of the best goals in league history. True gems. But these days the Sounders are not interested in art and pretty pictures. They want goals. Goals that win them trophies.

Montero's exit, if it happens, would follow that of No. 10's Sebastián Grazzini (Chicago Fire) and Davide Chiumiento (Vancouver Whitecaps), who departed during the 2012 season. Toronto FC also sent attacking catalyst Joao Plata back to Ecuador in midseason.

Meanwhile, as creative types like Freddy Adu (Philadelphia Union) and Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers) suffer through existential crises (where and how do they fit in MLS?), there have been rumors of another potential return to Colombia for FC Dallas playmaker David Ferreira.

Real Salt Lake are desperately trying to cling to their No. 10 Javier Morales and the New York Red Bulls looked far and wide before landing 37-year-old Brazilian Juninho Pernambucano.

Who's left out there? Columbus have their fingers crossed that a healthy Federico Higuaín can regain his form, while Colorado hope Martín Rivero can actually find his.

Before we get too alarmed, what we may very well be witnessing could just be a transition phase in MLS. A changing of the guard. The slighter, softer Montero's making way for a new breed of modern gamebreakers who are built stronger (see Sporting's Graham Zusi), bigger (see Toronto's Luis Silva), tougher (see Philly's Michael Farfan) and show up every game.

But finding another Farfan is easier said than done. Good luck, Seattle.

03 January 6:30 de la tarde

With rumors flying about the possibility of Chelsea FC star Frank Lampard joining the LA Galaxy – when aren’t rumors flying around the Galaxy? – it’s no surprise that fans worldwide are anxiously waiting to see where one of the past decade’s top goal-scoring midfielders will end up.

On Thursday afternoon, it seemed like a done deal that Lamps was on his way out, according to a report on the Italian website Cittaceleste.it that quoted his agent, Steve Kutner, as saying: “As for the future, the only certainty is that he will change teams at the end of the season. Frank wants to play for a great side, capable of challenging for important targets and where he could win more trophies.”

But hold the horses. Kutner later went on BBC 5Live radio and denied he had done any interviews with the website. He said he hasn't "spoken to anybody about Lampard's future and hasn't given any interview about it," according to ESPN.com.

Still, the fact remains: It is common knowledge that Lampard is moving on at the end of the season. There are plenty of rumblings about offers from Lazio, Inter Milan and, of course, LA, with a reported $6.5 million-per-year contract from the MLS club.

That's all about his future. But there was also a brilliant rumbling on the internet on Thursday about his past.

Here’s a great video that recently surfaced from Lampard’s early days, showing then-West Ham manager Harry Redknapp adamantly defending his decision to offer Lampard a spot on the team. Of course, Hammers supporters still aren’t the English international’s biggest fans, but Redknapp turned out to be 100 percent correct about his young prodigy and nephew.

03 January 1:23 de la tarde

Les nouvelles de ces derniers jours, souvent liées aux transferts, peuvent, comme les épisodes de la série Friends, avoir un titre qui commence par « Celui qui… » Tour d’horizon.

Celui qui a déjà signé : Carlo Cudicini au LA Galaxy et José Goncalves à New England, les deux nouveaux venus les plus récents, titulaires plus que potentiels.
Celui qui se tâte : Il y a toujours ces joueurs importants pour l’équipe qui ne savent pas trop s’ils vont tenter une nouvelle aventure. Le champion de la catégorie cet hiver s’appelle Landon Donvan, sur qui le LA Galaxy compte cependant déjà pour 2013.
Celui qui se fait attendre : À un peu plus de deux semaines de la reprise, deux équipes n’ont toujours pas d’entraîneur, Montréal et New York. Gary McAllister, souvent cité autour de la Red Bull Arena, n’aurait cependant pas reçu d’offre du club au taureau ailé.
Celui qui envisage l’aller-retour : L’hiver en MLS, c’est aussi l’occasion pour certains joueurs de décrocher un contrat de quelques mois en Europe. Ce ne sera pas le cas de Thierry Henry à Arsenal. « Il n’est pas prêt », estime Arsène Wenger. Tim Cahill, en revanche, pourrait être prêté à Sunderland.
Celui qui viendra peut-être, mais peut-être pas tout de suite : « J’aimerais, un jour, jouer en MLS ». Le refrain est connu, qu’il soit chanté par Kaka ou Olivier Occean. Dernier interprète en date : l’international polonais Ludovic Obraniak.
Celui qui est bien où il est : Pas question de traverser l’Atlantique pour les Canadiens et Américains dont la carrière tourne à plein régime en Europe. Parmi eux, Sacha Kljestan, qui préfère même Anderlecht à l’Espagne ou à la France.
Celui qui ne prend pas encore sa retraite : Il y a de ces joueurs éternels qui déjouent chaque année les pronostics prévoyant la fin de leur carrière. Montréal a eu Eduardo Sebrango, Houston a Brian Ching.
Celui qui est attendu de pied ferme : Cette entrevue de Sepp Blatter, président de la Fifa, date bien d’il y a quelques jours et non d’il y a plus de 6 ans. Le commissaire Don Garber l’a donc invité au Coup d’envoi de la saison pour qu’il constate les progrès de la MLS de ses propres yeux.

03 January 12:34 de la tarde

Rest assured, the flood of Honduran players to Major League Soccer hasn't reached the high-water mark just yet.

According to comments from the player himself, the Seattle Sounders are closing in on the signing of CD Victoria defender Wilmer Crisanto, who they've been pursuing for some time if the reports are to be believed.

Here's what the right back (above) had to say to Cronometro: "It is a matter of my salary, they already told me what I was going to earn in Seattle. I asked my agent to try to get a little more but if he's not able to, I'll have to settle for what they offered me, I'm not asking for much."

Of course, nothing is official until the final shoe drops, but the 23-year-old sounds pretty confident that he'll be the latest Catracho to land in MLS.

The other tidbit to come out of the article concerns Crisanto's teammate at Victoria and with the Honduran Olympic team, José Velásquez Colón. According to the story, the center back is preparing to embark on a trial with the Sounders after a successful year for both club and country.

What do you think? Have Hondurans taken over from Colombians as MLS' biggest import?

02 January 7:22 de la tarde

Si en años recientes, la MLS ha sido uno de los destinos preferidos de los futbolistas colombianos, hoy podemos hablar acerca de una “operación retorno” de muchos cafeteros hacia su país.

El primero en partir oficialmente fue Hernán Pertuz. El barranquillero fue presentado hace dos semanas por el Deportivo Independiente Medellín, tras dejar las filas del FC Dallas; equipo en el que estuvo el año pasado junto a David Ferreira, Jair Benítez y Fabián Castillo.

Otro que ya dejó la MLS definitivamente para la próxima temporada es Miguel Montaño. El delantero de 21 años de edad fue puesto en libertad por el Montreal Impact y ahora engrosará el ataque del Cúcuta Deportivo. Montaño llegó a la MLS en 2010 a Seattle Sounders, y estuvo a préstamo el año pasado con el Deportivo Cali.

En el campo de los rumores, varios nombres de primer nivel encabezan la lista de jugadores que podrían volver al fútbol colombiano.

A continuación analizo los puntos a favor y en contra de cada una de las siguientes situaciones; asimismo, presento en mi opinión la viabilidad de las transacciones en una escala de 1 a 5, siendo 5 la posibilidad más alta para un posible traspaso.

   
Juan Pablo Ángel

El exdelantero de los New York Red Bulls, y más recientemente Chivas USA, que lo dejó en libertad en noviembre pasado, podría llegar al club de sus amores, Atlético Nacional.

A favor: Se encuentra sin contrato actualmente. Nacional es el club donde nació futbolísticamente, y en más de una ocasión ha declarado su deseo de volver. Un inminente retiro en los verdes garantizaría un cierre de ensueño para la carrera de JPA.

En contra: Ha pensado en retirarse del fútbol luego de la campaña 2012. Igualmente, ha dicho que su familia está muy tranquila viviendo en Los Ángeles, razón por la cual aceptó en agosto de 2011 jugar para Chivas USA cuando Robbie Keane llegó al LA Galaxy. En ese momento el cupo de jugador franquicia de Ángel en el cuadro galáctico era necesario para la contratación del irlandés.

Viabilidad de traspaso: 4

    
David Ferreira

El volante creativo del FC Dallas, quien se dio a conocer internacionalmente en el América de Cali, ha sido vinculado con el Junior de Barranquilla. El MVP de la temporada 2010 de la MLS, estuvo más de un año sin actividad, luego de una lesión al comienzo de la temporada 2011, en abril.

A favor: En el Junior están buscando un “10” tras la salida de Giovanni Hernández al Medellín. La firma que representa a Ferreira cuenta en su cartera con varios futbolistas que juegan en Colombia, y tiene vínculos estrechos en el país.

En contra: FC Dallas apoyó ciegamente a Ferreira durante su lesión hasta su regreso en julio de 2012, donde no dudó en devolverle a la alineación titular. Es un líder indiscutido en el equipo texano, y es uno de los baluartes del medio campo en la MLS.

Viabilidad del traspaso: 1

     
Fredy Montero

Uno de los nombres que más ha sonado es el del delantero del Seattle Sounders, Fredy Montero. El exjugador del Atlético Huila y Deportivo Cali, podría llegar al actual campeón de la Liga Postobón, Millonarios, en préstamo por seis meses.

A favor: Posibilidad de jugar Copa Libertadores con el club de Bogotá, y buscar acercamientos para volver a la selección Colombia, de la cual no hace parte desde 2009. Además, las fuertes críticas a las que ha sido expuesto en Seattle, donde no superó las altas exigencias que el equipo depositó en Montero el año pasado, podrían impulsar el préstamo.

En contra: A pesar de las críticas, Montero es un ídolo en Seattle. Como todo un Rock Star es recibido en cada partido por los fanáticos de los Sounders, y su salida podría significar un golpe fuerte al club. De la misma manera, Montero, está muy cómodo en los Estados Unidos con toda su familia, y acaba de contraer matrimonio en diciembre con su novia estadounidense.

Viabilidad del traspaso: 3

      
Carlos Valdés

En un principio se habló de la vuelta de Carlos Valdés, capitán del Philadelphia Union, a Independiente Santa Fe, en calidad de préstamo. El club de la capital colombiana quiere a Valdés durante el primer semestre del año, periodo en el cual se medirán en la Copa Libertadores, pero el Union no está convencido con el tiempo que piden en Bogotá.

A favor: Valdés buscaría mantenerse en forma durante el receso invernal de la MLS, para ser de nuevo convocado a la selección Colombia que reanudará las eliminatorias suramericanas el 22 de marzo ante Bolivia.

En contra: Philadelphia Union lo cedería solamente hasta el inicio de la temporada regular de la MLS, que arranca el 2 de marzo.

Viabilidad del traspaso: 2

    
Ustedes mismos saquen sus conclusiones, y aunque no veo fácil ninguno de los traspasos, tampoco se me hacen imposibles. Sin embargo, a mi modo de ver, el que tiene más posibilidades de ser repatriado a Colombia, es Ángel, a no ser que anuncie su retiro del fútbol profesional.

02 January 5:56 de la tarde

Victor Pálsson’s brief time with the New York Red Bulls appears to be done, and he reportedly has a new deal with Dutch side Nijmegen Eendracht Combinatie.

The 21-year-old Icelandic winger was brought to New York in February by then head coach Hans Backe, but Pálsson struggled to establish himself as a reliable starter. He started four games and made 16 appearances overall, but failed to log a goal or an assist for the club before he was loaned to NEC with an option to sign in August. He has scored two goals in 12 games while on loan.

He has also played for Scottish side Hibernian during his career, and in 2011 was reportedly banned from all nightclubs in Edinburgh for urinating on a wall inside a club following a match.

The Red Bulls did not immediately respond to a request for comment from MLSsoccer.com.

02 January 4:05 de la tarde

Bonne année à toutes et tous ! Je vous souhaite le bonheur, la santé, le plein de ballon rond, des bonds de joie dans les stades et des troisièmes mi-temps festives. Vu que c’est la période des vœux, voilà un texte de circonstance : 13 souhaits pour 2013 (désolé pour les plus superstitieux…)

  • Avoir un vainqueur du Supporters Shield aussi brillant que San José l’an dernier, et le voir soulever la Coupe MLS
  • Davantage de jeunes joueurs désignés qui apportent une plus-value à la compétition
  • Que tous les joueurs qui haussent le niveau de leur équipe de plusieurs crans soient à 100% de leurs moyens d’un bout à l’autre de la saison
  • De plus en plus de titulaires formés dans les équipes de jeunes de leur club
  • Davantage de joueurs francophones dans les clubs de MLS
  • L’annonce d’un vrai stade de soccer bien situé pour DC United et New England (et pourquoi pas d’un nouveau nom pour ce dernier)
  • Des supporters adverses qui effectuent les déplacements en grand nombre
  • Des audiences en hausse aux États-Unis et au Canada ainsi qu’une augmentation du nombre de rencontres de MLS télédiffusées à travers le monde
  • Que les États-Unis et la Belgique se qualifient pour la Coupe du monde 2014
  • Un rajeunissement drastique de l’équipe nationale canadienne, assorti d’un vrai plan à long terme
  • Revoir la Ligue des champions à Montréal (désolé pour les autres, c’est quand même là que je vis…)
  • Voir le représentant canadien franchir le premier tour en Ligue des champions
  • Finir l’année avec un club de MLS à la Coupe du monde des clubs

 J’en ai d’autres mais il a fallu choisir… et je n’ai pas mis ce qui me paraissait évident, comme souhaiter que le niveau de la compétition poursuive sa courbe ascendante. Et vous, quels sont vos vœux footballistiques pour l’année qui commence ?

02 January 12:40 de la tarde

Add another name to the list of players publicly mulling an MLS adventure. This time it's Bordeaux attacking midfielder Ludovic Obraniak, who took a second to ponder his future in an interview with Républicain Lorrain.

Now, I don't like the sound of the middle of the following quote -- of course, as you can tell below, Google translate is a slippery slope -- but the 28-year-old is a longtime Ligue 1 veteran and a Polish international. If he's properly motivated (and healthy), there are certainly teams out there who would be willing to give Obraniak a run at the right price.

"I have nearly 300 Ligue 1 in the legs, a nice list. I am calm," he said. "Soon it will be time for me to see football as a fun first. Why not joining Major League Soccer? I've always loved the United States, and my wife has ever lived."

Whether or not Obraniak will ever actually arrive on these shores is anyone's guess. What we can be sure of is that mooted MLS moves won't be slowing down anytime soon.

02 January 10:43 de la mañana

You may have seen this video already. If so, go ahead and watch it again. It really is that incredible.

Most people won't ever pull off something this perfect on a soccer field in their lifetime. Then again, most people aren't this cameraman, who somehow backheeled a long clearance out of bounds directly to the player tasked with taking the ensuing throw in. Oh yeah, he also did it on the fly and without taking his hands off the camera. Talk about foot-eye coordination.

Ho hum! Back to work.