The Throw-In: 5 wild hot-stove offseason predictions

Fire up the hot stove, churn the rumor mill, stir the pot and dispense with all the offseason clichés. A month into the offseason and the speculation machine is in full effect.

I love this time of year. From the most ridiculous rumor to the most pedestrian transaction, nothing makes a fan giddier than taking a wild guess as to what kinds of moves teams will make. So just in time for New Years Eve, let’s take a crack at five somewhat baseless but educated predictions on some big things in the pipeline for a handful of teams.

Let’s be clear, first: This isn’t based on any kind of insider knowledge or secret scoop. Instead, this is one man’s best (and juiciest) guess of what could happen in the next few weeks based on evidence at hand. Let’s dive right in.

1. Frank Lampard will take David Beckham’s place with the LA Galaxy. Becks’ rumored move to Paris-St. Germain isn’t official yet, and maybe he’ll stay in LA after all, but there’s too much smoke not to be any fire.

So what do we know about the Galaxy? AEG president Tim Leiweke says LA will always use up all three Designated Player spots as long as they’re available, and we all know they’ll get someone big-name to fill Becks’ golden shoes.

Those Ronaldinho rumors? There were louder whispers in 2010, and it seems like Roni’s staying with Flamengo anyway. Didier Drogba? I can’t imagine both him and Robbie Keane up front in a strike pairing with a combined age of 64.

Lamps? Now this one makes sense. It’s not quite a like-for-like midfield swap, but the two-time World Cup veteran can slot into Beckham’s right midfield spot (or centrally) and fill the void. The Chelsea man isn’t as much of a playmaker, but he’s certainly as important an offense generator, and his long-range bomb can also replace what seemingly departed Juninho brought to the offense, too.

On the Englishman’s end, he’s falling out of favor under André Villas-Boas at Chelsea and may be looking for a new home. Lampard thoroughly enjoyed his preseason trips to Los Angeles during the José Mourinho days, too, and it helps that Chelsea and the Galaxy have enjoyed a good working relationship in recent years (despite the best efforts of hard-tackling Steve Sidwell in Beckham’s Galaxy debut back in July ’07). This move makes too much sense.

2. Montreal still have a big splash up their sleeve. And speaking of Drogba, maybe this is where the Impact will get their flashy name. The Ivorian hit man is in a similar boat as Lampard in perhaps leaving Stamford Bridge.

The Impact still want a big name, as owner Joey Saputo has hinted. They flirted with – and ultimately moved on without – Nicolas Anelka. Alessandro Del Piero has been name-dropped to death, too. And his former Juventus teammate David Trezeguet was another whisper.

But Drogba would seem to be the Big Ticket, non? The Impact still lack a top-line striker, and he would make an immediate impact (apologies, pun-haters) on the field as long as he can stay healthy. And that Francophone star Montreal keep waiting on? Voilà.

3. Trevor James will be named Rapids head coach. This may be just me putting two and two together and coming up with five, but my ears perked up when the Portland Timbers last week announced John Spencer’s top assistant was leaving the club after one season, sans further explanation.

In looking to replace Gary Smith, Colorado have suggested they want someone with intrinsic MLS knowledge, and someone who will buy into the organizational philosophy – in other words, a journeyman who won’t rock the boat and who perhaps doesn’t have the ego of a veteran head coach.

James fits the profile. The native Englishman has paid his dues in MLS, working as an assistant coach for five years with the Galaxy – an eternity when you consider that he served under Frank Yallop, Ruud Gullit, Cobi Jones and Bruce Arena.

Most telling? He worked alongside former Galaxy assistant Paul Bravo for three of those years. And his old co-worker just so happens to be Colorado’s technical director. Hmm...

4. FC Dallas have two big names in mind. As of Thursday, FCD are one of only two teams not to have added a single player so far this offseason. Meanwhile, they’ve cleared out a major piece in Marvin Chávez and two veteran strikers in Maicon Santos and Maykel Galindo.

Clearly they’re up to something. But what? It’s no secret Schellas Hyndman needs help at forward in a hurry. As much as we love Ruben Luna, he’s not the single target forward with whom FCD will start the season. So what’s the deal?

As it’s not their style, I’d be surprised if Dallas spend big – but I’d be shocked if they don’t spend. Knowing Hyndman’s love of Latin players, it would make sense if he goes with a bigger name for a striker and saves some cash for another forward or some midfield depth.

CONCACAF difference-makers like Jerry Bengtson (at right) or Blas Pérez make a lot of sense here, if the price is right. Either player would be a good fit in Big D.

5. The Fire got their men, though they’re not marquee names. Frank Klopas went looking for a striker and a central midfielder on his recent scouting trip to Europe and the gossip on the Continent suggests he’s not coming home empty-handed.

Reports say Chicago are talking to Greek international striker Dimitris Salpigidis (no surprise that Klopas is scouting his birth nation) and Spanish attacking midfielder and former Barcelona reservist Abraham. Not big, flashy names, but perhaps the sort of complementary parts the Fire need to turn their potential-laden squad into a contender in 2012.

Whether those are the players headed to the Windy City remains to be seen. But it’s clear the Fire are putting their international relationships to work, and that’s a good sign.

Jonah Freedman is the managing editor of MLSsoccer.com. “The Throw-In” appears every Thursday.