Welcome to the calm before the storm.
The silly season of the secondary transfer window is less than two weeks away. But very quietly, the groundwork is already being laid for what promises to be some furious action at midseason as MLS teams look to make big additions to their rosters.
The first step is not the most glamorous: Teams can waive players before July 1 without taking the salary-cap hit for the entirety of the 2013 season. But this is an important period that you may be overlooking. From the beginning of the month through late Thursday afternoon, a dozen players have been waived or traded across the league and more are sure to come before the end of the weekend.
That’s significant because it usually signals a team’s intent to be active once the secondary window opens. And that’s certainly the message we should be gleaning from, for instance, D.C. United waiving Young Designated Player Rafael or Houston parting with onetime prize midfield acquisition Luiz Camargo or Toronto FC cutting bait on Terry Dunfield.
But don’t overlook the seemingly innocuous shedding of end-of-the-squad names like Rafinha, Logan Emory, Adam Clement or Ashani Fairclough either. Or even sudden trades like the one that saw Pablo Mastroeni move to LA. There’s a method to the madness.
If you look back over MLS history, there have been some pretty significant 11th-hour roster moves that were done to clear out roster space for something big.
Has it always turned out for the best? Well, no. Sometimes it’s been downright disastrous. But as they say, it started with the best of intentions. Here are five such memorable space-clearing moves made by MLS teams over the past decade or so that presaged big acquisitions.
1. Wolyniec takes one for the team. It was a horribly kept secret that the New York Red Bulls were in hot pursuit of Thierry Henry, who had pined for the Big Apple for years. And when they finally got their man on July 13, 2010, it meant someone was the odd man out.
That man ended up being Staten Island native John Wolyniec, who had played good soldier for his hometown club for four seasons and will forever be remembered by fans for scoring the Red Bulls’ first-ever (and only) goal in an MLS Cup final.
Literally a week after introducing Henry, Wolyniec was waived. Two days later, Henry made his Red Bulls debut in a friendly against Tottenham Hotspur and scored on his old Premier League rivals. Wolyniec announced his retirement at the end of the season and took a job with the club’s technical staff.
2. Unreached potential in Houston ... again. Don’t laugh. Once upon a time, the Houston Dynamo had high hopes for Ade Akinbiyi, who filled the nets a various levels of the English pyramid. But he didn’t score a single goal for Houston, and was released literally the same day Luis Landín (pictured at top) was added as the club’s first-ever Designated Player on Aug. 20, 2009, on loan from Morelia.
The Mexican international didn’t even last a calendar year, and scored only a pair of goals. We’ll call this one a wash.
It is worth noting, though, that Houston made two other interesting trades during the summer of 2009, sending Chris Wondolowski to San Jose for Cam Weaver and Kei Kamara to Kansas City for Abe Thompson and allocation money. Wonder what happened to those guys.
3. Lost without a Mapp: Thanks to the emergence of Marco Pappa, the Fire shipped onetime left-wing prodigy Justin Mapp to expansion Philadelphia in late July of 2010 for allocation money. Nine days later, wantaway Seattle midfielder Freddie Ljungberg essentially fell in Chicago's lap in exhange for a conditional draft pick.
Then a week later an unprecedented five DPs took the field at Toyota Park when the Red Bulls came to visit. Just one of those guys – Henry – remains in MLS. Ljungberg, Rafa Márquez, Juan Pablo Ángel and Nery Castillo are long gone. Mapp, on the other hand, is back to All-Star caliber on the left wing with Montreal, where he landed after a season-and-a-half in Philly.
4. See ya Sam, welcome Mr. Mista. The Reds are pros at this game, adding significant parts at midseason almost every single year. But there’s one in particular that TFC fans would love to have back. With DP Julian de Guzman holding down the defensive midfield spot, Preki and Mo Johnston shipped off Sam Cronin to San Jose for allocation money in late June of 2010.
Two weeks later, they signed journeyman Spanish striker Miguel Ángel Ferrer Martínez, a.k.a. Mista (at right), who was supposed to be Toronto’s answer up top. It didn’t happen, as the Spaniard scored only one goal (in a CONCACAF Champions League game) and TFC won just twice in their final 10 games to miss the playoffs again.
Cronin, meanwhile, has been arguably San Jose’s most consistent player not named Wondo. TFC have still never found a long-term solution at holding mid.
5. D.C. United thank you for your service. Very quietly, the Black-and-Red made a couple of moves in summer of 2004 that … well, let’s just say they paid off in the end. Toward the end of that June, they released Salvadoran striker Ronald Cerritos, who had disappointed in the nation’s capital, and backup ‘keeper Doug Warren, who was once supposed to challenge incumbent Nick Rimando.
In late July, they also transferred Bobby Convey to Reading FC, which was expected but a bit of a bummer for fans who had grown fond of the young US national team star.
Then in mid-August, they signed an unknown Argentine named Christian Gómez. That worked out OK.
Jonah Freedman is the managing editor of MLSsoccer.com. "The Throw-In" appears every Thursday.