Another week of MLS preseason activities means plenty of grueling fitness work and long hours on the training grounds, interspersed with a scrimmage or two here and there to break up the monotony.
It also brings another batch of signings and other acquisitions for us to pore over. Here’s my favorites of the past week.
All in: Orlando acquire Rosell and Tarek
Back in their 2015 expansion season, Orlando City SC looked well prepared for a running start to life in MLS. Three years later, the Lions find themselves carrying a frustrating playoff drought, facing a substantial offseason roster rejiggering with a clock ticking overhead.
Over the past week they got after it in a big way, underlining the urgency of their 2018 campaign. The capture of Justin Meram in and of itself was a statement of intent. Then the Floridians really caught my eye by bringing Uri Rosell (pictured above), a relentlessly methodical midfield metronome with FC Barcelona’s priceless DNA coursing through him, back to MLS. That suggests that head coach Jason Kreis was just as appalled by Orlando’s poverty of possession in 2017 as the rest of us who remember his ball-hogging Real Salt Lake teams of yore.
Amro Tarek is a bit of a flier, an Egyptian-American defender with several blue-chip destinations on his resume who didn’t catch on during a short stint in Columbus in 2016. His versatility surely appeals to Kreis, though, and I’m curious to watch him give MLS another go, especially amid OCSC's current "win or else" outlook.
TFC reload via GVDW
GVDW on Netherlands duty | USA Today Images
fans may have had at the sight of respected veteran fullback
leaving town were assuaged – or more likely, exploded – by the Reds’ acquisition of
Gregory van der Wiel
, a onetime Dutch national team star who started for
in the 2010 World Cup final.
Van der Wiel just turned 30 and has some questions to answer after several down years in his career, with injury playing a significant part. But if he can stay fit and focused, he’s capable of unleashing chaos along TFC’s right flank as an endline-to-endline wingback. That’d be a real problem for opponents who already have plenty to worry about when facing one of the best teams in MLS history.
Everyone up in Toronto has been clear about the club’s ambitions in the wake of their treble triumph: Dynasty status is the next goal, starting with a legitimate run at the CONCACAF Champions League title. This flying Dutchman could be key to all that.
Timbers snare Paredes from Club América
Paredes with Club América | Courtesy of Portland Timbers
Limited to U-20 matches and a smattering of cup action for one of Mexico’s biggest clubs, Cristhian Paredes didn’t get a chance to show his quality in Liga MX proper last year. But the Paraguayan midfielder has an impressive box-to-box skillset, a keen hunger to prove himself and at age 19, substantial room for growth.
That makes Portland’s loan pickup a wise gamble, and one that could eventually make the Timbers brain trust of Gavin Wilkinson and Giovanni Savarese look brilliant.
“He's good on the ball. He's able to get in the box and find spaces to score goals. He has a good shot from outside the box. He sees the game well,” Savarese told The Oregonian. “Tactically, even though he's young, he's smart. I think he's a good guy to have on the team as a backup and a guy that will compete to try to find space to play.”
Though they play different roles on the pitch and one arrived with far more fanfare than the other, Paredes bears comparison to his countryman Miguel Almiron in the sense of an ambitious young South American seeing MLS as an avenue for personal and professional growth.
RSL get even younger with Pablo Ruiz
RSL celebrating a 2017 goal | USA Today Images
Last year Real Salt Lake did what some of us hardcore soccer nerds are always ranting about and #PlayedTheirKids, and all it did was transform their season from woe into wonder, spurring a late playoff push that ultimately fell short but enlivened a proud fanbase with big dreams for 2018.
So why wouldn’t they double down on the youth movement with a former Argentina youth international? Ruiz is being portrayed by club leadership as a long-term project, and he does indeed face a steep learning curve in a totally new environment. In fact he’s now the youngest player on RSL’s roster.
But if the center mid can break into their lineup sooner or later, it’ll be another coup for a savvy club with a strong scouting network in Latin America.
New York Red Bulls complete transfer of young Venezuelan Cristian Casseres; Seattle Sounders ink Norwegian playmaker and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer protege Magnus Wolff Eikrem; LAFC pick up veteran Canadian center back Dejan Jakovic; Columbus sign free-agent midfield terrier Rico Clark