Kick Off: Clubs cut ties as MLS offseason begins in earnest

Kick Off: Cuts begin in MLS

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It’s official: The worst-kept secret in MLS is out.

On Thursday morning, Chris Wondolowski was named the 2012 Volkswagen MLS Most Valuable Player, winning the award in a landslide vote.

Taking home the highest individual accolade on offer caps off a wonderful season for Wondo and San Jose, as the Bay Area native added the MVP award to the Supporters’ Shield trophy won by the Quakes in 2012. The 29-year-old forward completed his remarkable rise from reserve team player in 2005 to the league’s very best in 2012 by equaling Roy Lassiter’s MLS single-season record of 27 goals with his predatory campaign in front of goal.

You won't hear any arguing about the validity of the honor, especialy after Wondolowski won the weighted vote by more than 200 points. After leading the league in scoring for the past three seasons, the star striker has finally got his just rewards.

Another badly kept secret is also out. Toronto FC have a new leader … that ought to finally get things going in Ontario.

On Wednesday, TFC presented Kevin Payne as their new president and general manager, the hire coming just a day after he announced he was leaving D.C. United. Payne – who held the same position at United for 17 years and helped found the club – was delighted to be given the chance to build on TFC’s good work off the field and help the team improve on it.

“This is the only job in Major League Soccer for which I would have left D.C.,” Payne said. “I personally love a challenge and I really love to build things. I think that there are pieces in place here.”

Tom Anselmi, president and chief operating officer of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, said they’d finally got their man: “We had an obvious leadership void at the club. We had made the decision at that point that we needed new overall leadership, a president with experience, a track record of success – specifically MLS experience – in building a winning club and we found the right guy.”

Payne said that Paul Mariner would remain as head coach, and he is already planning for next season with plenty of former D.C. connections present. With Earl Cochrane and Thomas Rongen around, Payne will feel right at home.

Toronto's media contigent seems to believe the same thing, as The Globe and Mail predicts Payne’s arrival will help to spark a new era in Toronto.

The Toronto Star was a little more cautious, pointing out that it will be a huge challenge for Payne and TFC to turn things around and become an MLS power.

Meanwhile, MLSsoccer.com's Charles Boehm took a look at what Payne did for D.C. over the years, specifically how his drive and leadership helped the club become an MLS institution.

Speaking of MLS powers, two were awarded accolades on Wednesday for their sterling efforts in 2012. Sporting KC goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen picked up the Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year award.

“The players you're playing against week after week, the coaches, the media who follow soccer – it's a big honor that they have voted me to be Goalkeeper of the Year,” Nielsen said.

And MLS wasn’t done, either, with Columbus Crew attacker Federico Higuaín named MLS Newcomer of the Year. The Argentine playmaker added goals, flair and substance to the Columbus attack in the closing months of the season, nearly helping the club sneak into the MLS Cup Playoffs.

Higuaín narrowly defeated Víctor Bernárdez in the voting, with just seven percent seperating the two. But well done, Federico, go boast to your brother! 

Although Higuaín will be back in canary yellow next season, plenty of his Columbus teammates won’t be. The Crew made several cuts on Wednesday, and only three defenders remain on their current roster.

San Jose also declined options on five players, with veteran captain Ramiro Corrales perhaps the most surprising name on that list. Still, it seems Corrales will be back in San Jose, but likely with some additional duties.

Speaking of surprises, it seems legendary ‘keeper Kevin Hartman is heading for greener pastures. Soccer By Ives is reporting Hartman will not be offered a new deal by FC Dallas

There was plenty more movement around the league on a busy Wednesday, as D.C. United announced veteran Josh Wolff had retired and will be stepping into an assistant coaching role with the club.

And Wolff’s group could have a new star member. The man that broke US hearts in the 2009 Confederations Cup final could be heading to MLS. According to reports in Brazil, Luis Fabiano is on MLS’ radar. With Ben Olsen and D.C. scouts heading to South America this week and Olsen outspoken about his desire for a goalscoring forward, people are beginning to connect the dots.

No doubt the São Paulo striker and former Sevilla star would be a huge coup for any MLS side, and he could yet be joined by Kaká, who has once again been linked with a move stateside.

Yet the nature of the report is quite baffling. Unless Kaká has some close contacts within the Polish soccer community, we’re not sure why Goal.pl would be claiming he’s on his way to MLS. But we all love a good transfer rumor, so take it for what it is.

Moving on, reports in Honduras suggest Seattle are close to signing another Olympic standout, with Wilmer Crisanto rumored to be lined up by the Sounders. The reports suggest a representative will be flying to Central America during the next few days to try and tie up a deal.

Four players from Colorado will also be racking up the airline miles, as they jet off to England to train with Championship side Derby County for 10 days. The quartet includes Rookie Tony Cascio, who excelled this season after leaving the University of Connecticut. There are plenty of UConn players who made the Hermann semifinal list for the nations top college soccer player. See who made it and, more surprisingly, who didn’t here.

Over in Europe, plenty of American exports took part in midweek action. See how Clint Dempsey’s Tottenham got on against Liverpool and much more.

There’s been so much news around the league that we haven’t even given you the latest buzz from LA surrounding MLS Cup. It’s just two days away folks. Saturday (4:30pm ET; ESPN, TeleFutura, TSN/RDS in Canada, live chat on MLSsoccer.com) is edging ever closer.

Luckily the guys at March to the Match can keep us up to date with all things MLS Cup. They caught up with LA Galaxy associate head coach Dave Sarachan for a chat and a cup of joe.

And when in Tinseltown, you’ve got to talk about the star attraction, which will be David Beckham for the next few days at the very least. His next challenge is still unknown, but Becks refused to rule out a return to the EPL, as new QPR boss Harry Redknapp seemingly left the door wide open for Becks to join the struggling West Londoners.

Elsewhere, Fox Soccer columnist Leander Schaerlaeckens believes Beckham will leave MLS “on his own terms” when the final whistle sounds on his MLS career on Saturday evening.

And the latest out of Houston came from Adam Moffat, as he reflected on last seasons final and the desire the squad have to leave LA with the Cup this time out. Watch the full interview here.

Houston’s main attacking threat so far in the playoffs, Will Bruin, may come up against his former college teammate Tommy Meyer in the LA backline. Meyer is looking forward to the Indiana reunion.

And make sure you watch Matt Doyle's and Dan Haiek’s final Scouting Report of the year, as they break down the keys to MLS Cup 2012.

After all the talk from commissioner Don Garber earlier this week suggesting a new stadium for the second NYC franchise is close to being formalized, reports surfaced on Wednesday that a $400 million soccer complex is being planned close to Tampa, and the group behind the bid is hoping for an MLS franchise to follow. No doubt expansion rumors will continue to fly around for the foreseeable future.

And finally, Snoop Dogg (or Lion, whichever you prefer) and Beckham together in a cartoon depicting A Christmas Carol seems like a match made in heaven. See how Becks (playing the ghost of Christmas present) enlightens “Ebenezer Snoop” in this, um, different cartoon. It’s won’t be for everyone, that’s for sure. 

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