Right moves at the right time

like six weeks -- before he finally signed."

It's also no secret that Columbus has been rewarded for their patience, and is the team in the East that upgraded the most.

"They all can make a huge difference," said former Dallas Burn head coach Dave Dir, who currently works with the U.S. under-20 national team and covers Burn games as a television analyst. "But I think Sanneh is the biggest signing as he knows the league and gives Columbus another player who has played in a championship."

In essence, Sanneh is like a David Cone or a Harold Baines signing from years ago in Major League Baseball. He's a hired gun who has won titles before -- two to be exact -- and immediately gives the Crew a player who has been through the wars on the club level both overseas and domestically as well as internationally in a World Cup.

So far, the 34-year-old has lived up to his billing, scoring two goals in four appearances to help move Columbus into first place, where it currently sits with 43 points and an 11-5-10 record. Both tallies have been game-winners, which has helped up the Crew's amazing unbeaten run to 14 games.

Herron has given his new club immediate help as well, having scored twice in Chicago's crucial 2-0 victory against New England at home last weekend. The Costa Rica international made his debut appearance the week before in a 3-1 loss to D.C. after being acquired as a discovery player on Aug. 31. It came just two weeks after he tallied twice for the ticos in their 5-2 loss to Honduras in World Cup qualifying. Herron is currently on loan from Costa Rican team Club Sport Herediano, but he already looks like a keeper and a player who can be a difference-maker in Chicago's final three games of the regular season and, hopefully, into the playoffs.

"Andy Herron provides another dangerous option that opponents need to pay attention to," said Fire general manager Peter Wilt. "He takes pressure off of Damani (Ralph), which should provide him with more space."

With Ante Razov out for the season with bone spurs in his ankle that sidelined him from early July on and Beasley leaving for PSV Eindhoven a few weeks later, Chicago had been looking for another forward for several weeks. Getting him was a major coup for a team that has been hurt by injuries all season long.

"His presence provides a boost of confidence for the whole team," said Wilt. "The timing of his addition is important. It has energized the team much like a late-season trade in baseball does to propel a team in a pennant drive."

Razov did that for the Fire in 2001 after he signed with the team for his second stint in August of that year after spending the spring with Racing de Ferrol in Spain. He had two goals in seven games down the stretch to help Chicago into the playoffs.

One of the best examples of a late-season signing making a big difference in league history came in 1999 when Ariel Graziani was traded to Dallas from New England for Leonel Alvarez. The high-scoring striker was coming off a season where he led Mexican first division club Morelia in scoring, and continued his dangerous ways for the Burn with four goals and one assist in eight games to help Dallas finish with the league's third-best record.

On the other end of the spectrum, there have been duds, such as the Crew's signing of English defender Mark Williams last August. Rather than help Columbus sneak into the playoffs, Williams contribution consisted of accumulating five yellow cards and 16 fouls over five games.

Though he hasn't been as abysmal, Howey has yet to make an impact of any sort over his three-game stint as a Rev since being signed in late August.

Was that a make-or-break factor for New England's season? Probably not. But in a season where every team is still alive for the playoffs with only three weekends remaining, the difference that Sanneh, Herron and Gomez has made for their respective clubs will have an impact on the entire season.

Being that the MLS Cup hasn't belonged to an Eastern Conference team since D.C. United won it all in 1999, the moves that the top teams in the East have made over the past two months could ultimately help reverse such a trend and result in a championship.

Marc Connolly writes for ESPN.com and several other publications. This column runs each Wednesday on MLSnet.com and Marc can be reached at marc@oakwoodsoccer.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.


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