Columbus Crew defender Jed Zayner didn't quite grasp what he was about to start when he and teammate Adam Moffat decided to post a blog entry about the first day of the Crew's trip to Bradenton, Fla.
Zayner wasn't a newbie to the blogosphere. The 25-year-old right back recapped his offseason service trip to New Orleans with Filleo, a non-profit organization he founded to help underprivileged children around the world, and dabbled with other posts on other topics.
This blog post, however, differed from the others and sparked widespread interest. From the moment Moffat contemplated the pros and cons of starting the Florida trip, Zayner's blog found its niche among Crew fans and MLS devotees.
"I didn't anticipate how much it would blossom," Zayner said. "I just wanted to keep it steady. It was just something fun to do."
While the players work hard during the one or two practices a day and the accompanying conditioning work, they also have plenty of down time to kill in a strange city when their commitments end for the day. As with most road trips during the season, players spend ample time lounging around the apartment complex or the hotel and exploring local malls, movie theaters and restaurants.
Zayner spoke to a different teammate or group of teammates every day to capture the essence of the dead time when players weren't on the field preparing for the Crew's opening match of the season against Toluca in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals on March 9. Those conversations revealed a side of players few people outside the team get to see.
"This is the stuff we do all of the time outside of team dinners," Zayner said. "When you have roommates, you're usually spending time with them and not as much time with each other. It was nice to get around to see all of the guys and joke around with them."
The jokes and the posts shared insights about Zayner's Crew teammates off the field -- Guillermo Barros Schelotto's funny side, Andy Iro's fishing exploits, Gino Padula's uncanny resemblance to a pirate, three stooges and wolf packs all included -- to catch a glimpse of life on the road. Zayner said his teammates bought into the idea, chatted about the comments and schemed up ways to keep the growing audience entertained day after day.
"It's fun to see everybody in action just chilling and watching people getting excited about doing it." Zayner said.
In the middle of all of the humor and silliness, Zayner even veered into hard news. The Columbus right back dished about Iro's back injury and unveiled new forward Sergio Herrera before the team did. Zayner said he didn't even realize he was the first one to share the information, but quickly understood that others within the organization may not look on his revelations kindly.
"It was pretty funny when people started saying, 'you broke the news,'" Zayner said. "I was like 'oh, this isn't good for me.'"
After blogging throughout the Crew's two-week trip to Florida, Zayner decided the pressure of daily blogging wasn't good for him either. He took a break once the team returned to Columbus, a city where Zayner said he and his wife hope to remain for a long time after signing a new deal during the offseason. The fans there, Zayner said, love and know the game.
After Zayner's blog posts in Florida, the Crew fans know their teams a little bit better too. And for those interested parties who missed out the daily posts on the first trip, Zayner said he plans to restart the blog now that the Crew is training in Arizona.
"There's more to come," Zayner promised.
Wizards go to bat for Gil...: The brass in Kansas City knew highly-coveted U.S. U-17 midfielder Luis Gil wanted to play out on the West Coast and understood MLS agreed to let the 16-year-old start his professional career near his hometown of Garden Grove, Calif.
Gil's preference, however, didn't stop the ambitious Wizards from trying to persuade the former Arsenal and Real Madrid target that he could blossom under Peter Vermes' guidance after K.C. won his rights in a weighted lottery on Monday.
"[G]ood to win lottery," Wizards president Robb Heineman Tweeted on Monday. "[S]pecial situation for a young kid. [T]rying to speak with him and his family about our vision. [H]opefully it works."
It didn't. Vermes made contact with Gil's agent, Mike Gartlan, to state the Wizards' case before subsequently shipping the teenager to Real Salt Lake in exchange for 25 percent of any future transfer fee, a second-round draft pick in 2011 and an international slot.
... and boost their international chances: While the pick and the potential cut of Gil's eventual transfer fee fall into the long-term interest category, Kansas City will benefit from the additional international slot immediately as Vermes seeks to retool his squad by filling its increased complement of 10 foreign players.
In addition to the six international players already under contract for 2010, Vermes is currently weighing the merits of six trialists -- English left winger Ryan Smith, Iranian international defender Shahriar Dastan, Liberian-Swiss goalkeeper Louis Crayton, Moldovan midfielders Alexei Casian and Igor Kostrov and Senegalese defender Birahim Diop -- and pondering other foreign options as the team trains in Arizona this week.
Even with the addition of two international slots -- D.C. United sent one to the Wizards for Adam Cristman on Feb. 3 -- in recent weeks, the Wizards will have to pare down their international compliment, particularly with Kostrov and Smith considered likely acquisitions.
Green cards increase New England's roster flexibility: As Vermes ponders how to squeeze all of Kansas City's possible international players onto the roster, New England Revolution vice president of player personnel Michael Burns wonders how he will use two newly created vacancies in the team's foreign legion.
Two members of the Revolution's international contingent -- forward Kheli Dube and midfielder Kenny Mansally -- acquired long-awaited green cards last week and increased the available number of open international spots to three. Senegalese midfielder Niouky Desire signed on Monday to reduce the number by one, but Burns said the green cards will still help the team in its quest to bolster the roster.
"It's good for them on a personal level," Burns said. "For us, it certainly helps the cause in giving us extra flexibility with our international slots. Until their green cards came through, we were at the max."
Desire's arrival gives New England six foreign players and a pair of senior roster spots to try and fill the remaining two international berths prior to the start of the season. Revolution coach Steve Nicol said he and Burns are constantly looking for the right players, but said possible transfers are "not materializing at the present time."
One potential option has shifted to the back burner for now. Chilean forward Reinaldo Navia joined the Revs on a brief three-day trial recently, but Nicol said New England will keep looking for attacking help elsewhere rather than offering Navia the sizable deal he demanded.
"It was a good chunk of money," Nicol said. "He did fine. He showed us his experience. When he's in front of the goal, he knows what he is doing. We just didn't feel like we saw enough to commit this early."
Onalfo weighs United's defensive options: As he settled into his new job as D.C. United coach, Curt Onalfo consistently indicated United would need to improve defensively in 2010 in order to return to the playoffs.
Strengthening the defense require significant alterations in Onalfo's estimation. United bolstered its shaky goalkeeping situation by sealing former number one Troy Perkins' return during the offseason and Onalfo made changes -- reinforcing the importance of team shape and switching to a four-man back line -- to help solidify a defense that conceded 44 times in 2009.
"Basically, we need to play a consistent back four and work on our shape on both sides of the ball," Onalfo said. "It's very important that it's not just the back four and our goalkeeper. It's the entire team and how we move and how we press the ball. It's going to be important to help us concede less goals than the team has conceded in the past. More importantly, it's also going to help us preserve leads."
With the shape and structure in place, Onalfo now has to worry about personnel. Canadian central defender Dejan Jakovic should blossom in a four-man back line, but the other three slots are filled with question marks. Inconsistent performances from left back Marc Burch and center back Julius James in 2009 could see others compete for starting roles in those spots, while veteran right back Bryan Namoff continues to fight concussion-related symptoms that will likely keep him out for the start of the season.
Outside arrivals -- The Washington Post reported Honduran center back Quiarol Arzu remains with the team in Bradenton, while Jamaican defender Jermaine Taylor's mooted trial didn't materialize after he suffered a groin injury -- remain a possibility to bolster the starting XI, but Onalfo said he likes what he's seen so far from the players currently available to him.
"We're making very good progress with the guys we have in place," Onalfo said. "Just like anybody else, we're constantly going to be looking at players who could possibly help us get better. Our attitude is that we're going to make everything we currently have better and then look for some pieces that can help us improve."
Kyle McCarthy covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald
and MLSnet.com and serves as a contributing editor for Goal.com USA.
Kyle can be reached at email@example.com.