If you spent the first several weeks of the offseason winding down and reflecting on the historic 2011 season (looking at you, Galaxy fans), this was the week to jolt you out of your reverie. The last seven days were all about ramping up for 2012.
First up was the release of the 2012 schedule, which marks the longest season in league history, stretching from March 10 to Dec. 1.
Hard on the heels of the 2012 slate came the annual MLS Player Combine in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., where some 60 hopefuls descended this past Friday to audition for a spot in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft. That event, the centerpiece of the offseason, kicks off in Kansas City this Thursday.
There were also a number of loan deals — both potential and actual — along with the ever-simmering hot-stove activity.
Let’s take a look back at the week that looked forward.
Break out the Sharpies
In addition to the earlier March kickoff and the first MLS Cup to take place in December, the 2012 schedule contains a number of new wrinkles.
More than 83 percent of games will take place on weekends or holidays. There were initially no matches scheduled on FIFA international dates, but teams were permitted to set games for those dates by mutual consent if scheduling issues required it. As a result, there are a handful of matches on FIFA dates in 2012.
Every regular-season game will be televised live, with ESPN, NBC, Galavisión, TSN and RDS all pitching in. ESPN will televise 21 games; NBC will broadcast 38; and Univisión will air 27. NBC will broadcast three games nationally on its flagship channel.
On Oct. 27, the NBC Sports Network will wrap up the regular season with an unprecedented tripleheader, featuring Philadelphia vs. New York, Chicago vs. D.C. United and Portland vs. San Jose.
Dozens of players who would love to be in front of NBC’s cameras this season took steps in that direction (or away from it) by competing in the Player Combine this past weekend in South Florida.
Day 1 got off to a surprisingly eventful start, as the players from the adiPower and Prime teams overcame any jitters or unfamiliarity with their new teammates to score five goals in the 80-minute opener, a 3-2 win for adiPower.
A more typical first-day-of-the-Combine match followed in the Friday nightcap, a scoreless draw between adiZero and adiPure.
But the goals flew in again on Sunday, when adiPure got a hat-trick from Creighton striker Ethan Finlay and jumped out to a 4-0 lead on Prime before holding on for a 4-2 win.
In Sunday’s second match, adiPower got goals from UCLA’s Chandler Hoffman and Maryland’s Casey Townsend — both of whom scored in Friday’s opener as well — to edge adiZero 2-1.
The Combine wraps up on Tuesday with adiZero taking on Prime at 10 am ET, and adiPower meeting adiPure at 11:55 am ET. You can watch both games on MLSsoccer.com.
As the 2012 SuperDraft draws near, a consensus on the top two picks has emerged, much as it did last year. Whereas in 2011 it was Akron’s Darlington Nagbe and Perry Kitchen, this year’s duo consists of Akron’s Jamaican striker Darren Mattocks (right) and Duke’s US U-23 star Andrew Wenger.
One look at their CVs and you can see why they’ve been tabbed as the class of the draft: the speedy Mattocks scored 39 goals in 47 games for Akron, while Wenger, the 2011 Hermann Trophy winner, scored 17 goals in 2011 and was named Offensive Player of the Year in the ACC.
One year earlier, as a center back, the versatile Wenger was named Defensive Player of the Year in the ACC. He is projected as a midfielder/defender in MLS.
They’re both worthy No. 1 selections, but the draft class has other gems, and it’s worth considering last year’s SuperDraft in Baltimore before cementing them as the top two picks: While everyone tabbed Nagbe and Kitchen in 2011, Vancouver used the first pick to take … US youth international Omar Salgado.
High Interest Loans
Speaking of surprise moves, a couple of young American players pulled off about-faces of their own this week as center backs Omar Gonzalez of LA and FC Dallas’s George John both withdrew from the US national team’s January camp to pursue potential loan deals in Europe.
John’s situation was a bit murky, but the rumored destinations were English sides Wigan, West Ham and Blackburn, the last of which courted the former University of Washington defender last summer.
Gonzalez’s suitor was FC Nürnberg, and the Bundesliga side brought the 23-year-old MLS Defender of the Year to their winter training site on the Turkish coast, hoping to deploy him on loan from LA in the German top flight this winter. Sadly, in his first training session with the club, Gonzalez tore his ACL and returned to the US to undergo surgery.
In better loan news, Landon Donovan made a solid debut for Everton in a 2-1 loss to Bolton this past Wednesday. While the Galaxy attacker played well, he was upstaged by fellow US international and MLS alum Tim Howard, who scored a freakish, wind-aided goal off a clearance from the top of his own box.
LD played again for Everton this past Saturday, suiting up for a FA Cup match against fifth-level side Tamworth. He set up the first goal and hit the woodwork from 25 yards in the Toffees’ 2-0 win.
Donovan’s Galaxy teammate Robbie Keane is reportedly close to securing a winter loan to Aston Villa, while his New York rival Thierry Henry finalized his loan to Arsenal. The Frenchman will join his former club as a winter replacement for the players they’re losing to the African Cup of Nations. He’ll return in time for the Red Bulls’ preseason in February.
Hot Stove Season
Could Inter Milan midfielder Dejan Stankovic be joining Henry in MLS in February? According to some sources, it’s possible. The 33-year-old Serbian, who has made 10 appearances for Inter this season, is being linked with a move to New York or LA in 2012.
In Columbus, the Crew announced the signing of Chilean international playmaker Milovan Mirosevic last Wednesday, and Toronto are reportedly interested in defender Miguel Aceval, who’s also been capped by Chile.
Colombians Jaime Castillón and Hányer Mosquera were supposedly on the verge of leaving Millonarios for MLS (with no teams having been named yet), and Renny Vega, a Venezuelan goalkeeper who shined against Brazil in last year’s Copa América, was reportedly a target of New York.
The Red Bulls have also been linked with Swedish defender Markus Holgersson, who could provide cover if Tim Ream transfers to Bolton, as reports suggest he will.
Last but certainly not least, the Colorado Rapids finally found a successor to departed coach Gary Smith, bringing in former FC Dallas assistant and player Oscar Pareja.