It’s fitting that the 2013 MLS season is opening on the heels of the 85th Academy Awards, because this year features more rebooted franchises than an average Hollywood season.
There are no expansion teams (for the first time since 2006), but extreme makeovers and/or key new faces will feature in every matchup on on opening day – now just five days away.
And as MLS front offices put the finishing touches on their opening-day rosters, the final week of the offseason brought four interesting foreign signings.
While the teams that landed them are hopeful, and did their due diligence, they don’t know if they’ll end up with a Kris Boyd (the all-time leading scorer in the Scottish Premier League who fizzled in MLS) or a Mauro Rosales (a relatively unheralded Argentine who has sparkled in the US league).
Let’s take a look at the new quartet with an eye toward where they might land on that Boyd-to-Rosales spectrum.
Andrew Driver, 25, MF, Houston
Pedigree: He made a name for himself as a speedy, hardworking midfielder in 143 Scottish Premier League appearances for Hearts. In 2010, when Driver was 22, Hearts fielded transfer inquiries about him from Burnley, Wigan, FC Twente and Chelsea.
Expected to bring: Midfield depth and industriousness to the Dynamo, who face a busy schedule of MLS and CONCACAF Champions League games. He could cover for Houston’s potential international absences and provide speed, experience and solid two-way play on the wing.
Cause for concern: He’s had two knee surgeries in his still-young career, and he missed roughly a year-and-a-half following the first one in the summer of 2010. Also: carried on a messy feud with Hearts coach Paulo Sergio in late 2011.
Boyd-to-Rosales Spectrum: Driver told MLSsoccer.com that he’s prepared to do the “dirty” work, saying he’ll have to excel on both sides of the ball to earn playing time in Houston. On the other hand, his injury history might be too much to overcome. He’s dead center on the spectrum at this point.
Mikaël Silvestre, 35, DF, Portland
Pedigree: With 249 appearances for Manchester United, 40 for the French national team and spells at Arsenal and Werder Bremen, Silvestre is the most accomplished signing of the offseason.
Expected to Bring: A wealth of experience, skill and savvy that will benefit Caleb Porter’s team both on and off the field.
Cause for Concern: Not only is Silvestre getting on in years, but he’s done just about everything there is to do in the game, including winning a Champions League medal and five Premier League titles. How hungry is he? Also: Seattle took a look at him this preseason and opted not to sign him.
Boyd-to-Rosales Spectrum: Silvestre joins the league after being released by Werder Bremen in 2012 and facing limited career options (he was contemplating signing in India). How will he respond if the Timbers struggle this season? We’d place him just right of center on the spectrum, shading toward Boyd.
Djimi Traoré, 32, DF, Seattle
Pedigree: Played for Liverpool in the legendary 2005 Champions League final, when the Reds rallied from a 3-0 deficit to tie AC Milan and win on penalties. He made 88 appearances for the Merseyside club from 1999 to 2006, and 36 for Monaco in two seasons there. Traore also has six international appearances and one goal for Mali.
Expected to Bring: Versatility – he can play as a central defender or a left back – and plenty of high-level experience.
Cause for Concern: While Traoré is experienced, he’s also something of a journeyman. After leaving Liverpool in 2006, he traveled from Charlton to Portsmouth to Rennes and Birmingham City, without getting a ton of games at any of those clubs.
Boyd-to-Rosales Spectrum: He’s younger and has more to prove than Silvestre, and Seattle have a pretty good record with foreign signings. (They’ve had some not work out, but no out-and-out busts.) Given the departure of Jeff Parke and the injury to Patrick Ianni, Traoré should have an early opportunity to show where he belongs on the spectrum. For now, he looks closer to Rosales than Boyd.
Nigel Reo-Coker, 28, MF, Vancouver
Pedigree: Reo-Coker made 120 Premier League appearances for West Ham United, 102 for Aston Villa – where he captained the team for several stretches – and 37 for Bolton, a club he departed for Ipswich Town after Wanderers were relegated in 2012. He also captained England’s U-21 team.
Expected to bring: Leadership skills, box-to-box tenacity in midfield and versatility, as he can play right back as well. Also: the durability, energy, and career outlook of a 28-year-old.
Cause for Concern: How good could he have been for Ipswich Town if the struggling Championship club declined to offer him a long-term contract?
Boyd-to-Rosales Spectrum: At 28, Reo-Coker should be eager to show that can still play. He’s been saying all the right things, displaying an awareness of the grueling travel sometimes involved in the MLS schedule and acknowledging that he’ll have to adapt to the league’s culture. Encouraging signs that nudge him left of center, toward the Rosales end of the spectrum.
Of course, only time will tell how all four pan out, and early returns could start trickling in next weekend.