Red Bulls Dax McCarty and Felipe hug - 10/1/16

Expansion in Action

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After a much-anticipated two-year march, Atlanta United and Minnesota United FC will finally take to the pitch. Our own Charles Boehm has done a strong job trackingthe progress of their respective offseason builds, which have sharply contrasted. Atlanta funded big-name, big-ticket youth – and a development-savvy coach – surrounded by veteran MLS talent like their freshly minted captain, defender Michael Parkhurst. For their part, Minnesota dipped into their established past for a Batman and Superman reunion too talented, and too market-savvy, to pass up, taking upsideswings, eyes locked on their privately financed St. Paul stadium opening in 2018.


The Loons step between the lines first, opening the season slate Friday in Portland (9:30pm ET | FS1 in US, MLS LIVE in Canada), with ATL UTD following on Sunday against reigning Eastern Conference champions the New York Red Bulls (7:30pm ET | FS1, MLS LIVE in Canada).


A STADIUM SIDEBAR: Atlanta United will open at Georgia Tech's historic Bobby Dodd Stadium, prior to Mercedes-Benz Stadium and its lauded fan-first pricing debuting July 30. That will be preceded by Orlando City Stadium, which gets its first run Sunday, when the Lions host New York City FC (5pm ET | ESPN, MLS LIVE in Canada) in a match between third-year franchises looking to firm up their foothold among the league vanguard.


TAM, GAM and the totals


Like many an MLS moment, it started at SuperDraft. This year, when the Chicago Fire traded the No. 3 overall pick to New York City FC, the annoucement came with a caveat: Commissioner Don Garber revealed that $250,000 in General Allocation Money was about to blow around the Windy City.


The cash eventually landed in the New York Red Bulls' Harrison, New Jersey offices, a total of $400,000 ultimately exchanged for midfielder Dax McCarty. I'll leave it to fellow scribe Andrew Wiebe from there:


The $400,000 price tag gave us real, tangible insight into just how much both the Red Bulls and Fire valued McCarty. Answer: an awful lot. NYCFC, on the other hand, showed their hand when it comes to Lewis. Not only do they believe in his talent to the tune of $250,000, it’s clear they believe he also has sell-on potential. At this early date, it’s win-win for both NYCFC and the Fire while the jury is out for the Red Bulls while we wait to see how all that GAM is used.


That sort of public evaluation couldn’t exist (and largely hasn’t) without trade transparency. The guess work isn’t gone – we still don’t know the exact amounts of allocation each team has stashed away – but it’s now possible to appraise league transactions without a trove of insider information. Rodriguez, Reyna, Vieira and the Red Bulls front office can be held accountable down the line. As Garber said, that’s a step in the right direction.


(MORE: Jan. 19, 2017Trade transparency opens door for new era of evaluation, valuation)


Clint Comes Back

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Clint Dempsey, the Seattle Sounders, MLS, the US national team and all their respective fans received quite a scare last summer, when Deuce was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat and ended up missing the final two months of the regular season – and Seattle's mythic run to raise MLS Cup 2016.


But after steady progression and management, Dempsey returned to the field for Seattle's preseason opener, and appears to be on track for a spot in the starting XI come Saturday's regular-season debut in Houston (8:30pm ET | MLS LIVE). All encouraging news, and no one can be faulted for thinking about the tantalizing troika fronting the Sounders attack, with Dempsey slotting alongside both 2016's MLS Rookie and Newcomer of the Year, USMNT forward Jordan Morris and Uruguyan No. 10 Nicolas Lodeiro.


Youth, Talented Youth


The numbers tell the story on this one: 81 players signed from international leagues during the Primary Transfer Window, and their average age was 25.73 years old. The incoming crop of international talent includes Designated Players known (Sebastian Blanco, Maxi Moralez); Young DPs on the rise (Cristian Colman, Albert Rusnak); and just generally fun faces to have in the league (Kenwyne Jones, Latif Blessing).


But don't take my word for it …


"There was a tendency to try to convince the players to come to MLS, that you tried to sell a way of life on what the United States was all about, and why they would benefit," says FC Dallas technical director Fernando Clavijo. "You needed to convince some of these players. Today, that's not the case.


"Wherever you travel, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Ecuador or in Europe, MLS is a destination right now. We are a place where people like to come. They know what it is, they know the league, they watch games. That has changed drastically from 20 years ago. Drastically. It's good. Today you can compete with teams around the world to sign those players; before it was not the case."


(MORE: Feb. 24, 2017Hark! The MLS roster revolution has already arrived)


Canadian Changeups

View from Couch: What you missed this MLS offseason - https://league-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/images/davies.jpg

In a sneakily impactful move, MLS and Canada Soccer collaborated to adjust the roster rules previously treating Canadian players as "international" ones for the 17 previously existing MLS clubs. As of 2017, any Canadian Homegrowns or Generation adidas signees will count as "domestic" players for US-based squads – valuable when teams are initially limited to eight international spots each season. Current MLS players like 16-year-old Vancouver Whitecaps wünderkind Alphonso Davies (pictured above) will be grandfathered in.


And though viewers in the Great White North can expect a continuation and expansion of the English-language coverage on Bell Media's TSN, the league's official outlet since 2011, the French-language broadcasts will shift to TVA Sports. While that primarily impacts Les Quebeçois – who get all 34 Impact games, among others – the general population will get seven games on CTV, a first for MLS. The latter slate includes an MLS Cup rematch between Toronto FC and Seattle on May 6.


Cellar Dwellers Charging Hard


Preseason results – in all sports – are more often about the success of individual developmental elements rather than the wins and losses. But when you go undefeated while piling up goals? That's going to draw a touch of attention.


Two squads stood out in terms of ice-cold crushing it out under the sun: the formerly cellar-dwelling duo of the Eastern Conference's Chicago Fire and Western Conference's Houston Dynamo. The Fire finished their Florida slate at 6-0-0, the goals coming fast and furious from every attacker you'd expect, and a few others for fun. Speedy Ghanaian David Accam is seeing service and open space heretofore unknown, and the second full season of the Nelson Rodriguez era opens with the savvy winter-window pairing of Juninho and Dax McCarty. If the goals keep coming and the back line continues to develop, Chicago could make a playoff push.

El Honduras Dynamo similarly put a victory six-pack on the table in Tuscon, going 6-0-1 with a Desert Diamond Cup victory, which included a "Copper Boot" for Romell Quioto. Colombian forward Mauro Manotas struck four times, picking up where he left off with a strong finish at the end of last season, and with Cubo Torres seemingly rejuvenated under new management following a late-season loan to Cruz Azul, Houston could be fun to watch under Wilmer Cabrera.


And that's without even mentioning Alberth Elis, who just hit the turbo button and beat you to the end of this sentence: