NEW YORK — You know the offseason is going full tilt when the transactions page on MLSsoccer.com resembles something from the Encyclopedia Brittanica.
First Kick 2012 is less than eight weeks away, the SuperDraft is in the books and MLS loan products are parachuting into England while the hot stove is sizzling at home.
Pull up a chair and shake off the winter chill while we break it all down.
US soccer’s powerbrokers descended on Kansas City, Mo., for the 2012 SuperDraft (and the NSCAA convention) this past Thursday, marking the turn-for-home point of the MLS offseason.
Unlike last year’s event, when the Vancouver Whitecaps pulled the draft equivalent of a Statue of Liberty play (making a surprise No. 1 pick in then 17-year-old striker Omar Salgado), there were no big shockers in the 2012 SuperDraft.
The predraft buzz had focused on Duke’s Andrew Wenger and Akron’s Darren Mattocks as the top two picks, and indeed they were. The Montreal Impact selected Wenger, a US U-23 international, with the first pick, and the Whitecaps nabbed Jamaican speedster Mattocks at No. 2.
Those selections set the tone for the entire event: Outside of the sauce at Arthur Bryant’s, the draft was somewhat lacking in spice. (What, you thought a writeup of a draft in KC would slip by without a BBQ reference?)
About the only surprise was the tumble of UCLA striker Chandler Hoffman to No. 13, where the Philadelphia Union were happy to take him. Hoffman, a Generation adidas signee, had been projected to be among the top picks.
The former Bruin is also noteworthy for being the first Alabama native ever drafted by MLS.
The Return of the King
Another footnote to history—this one decidedly more glorious—was added in North London last Monday, when Red Bulls striker Thierry Henry made his second Arsenal debut.
The 34-year-old Frenchman had just finalized a two-month loan deal to the storied Premier League team as reinforcement for several players the Gunners have lost to African Cup of Nations duty.
Arsenal’s current leading scorer, Robin van Persie, called Henry’s decision to return to the site of his former glory, “very brave.” If it didn’t go well, the second stint would smudge Henry’s sterling legacy with the club.
No problem there, as it turned out: Just 10 minutes after coming on against Leeds in a third-round FA Cup match, Henry deftly curled the match-winner into the far side netting. It was as if he’d never left.
Adding to the otherworldliness of the moment was the following, pointed out on Twitter by Waleed Abu Nada: It was Henry’s 12th goal in 12 appearances against Leeds, and it came 12 minutes from time, while Henry was wearing the No. 12 shirt, in the year 2012.
Landon Donovan’s return to Everton—also on a two-month loan—hasn’t been as magical as Henry’s, but it’s hardly been less effective.
The 29-year-old LA Galaxy attacker set up the Toffees’ equalizer in a 1-1 draw with Aston Villa this past Saturday, laying waste to the Villa back line with a pinpoint through ball to Victor Anichebe.
“[F]or me, the best player on the pitch [was] Landon Donovan,” Everton coach David Moyes. “He has given us something a little bit extra, we just need to finish off a lot of the good play he has given us.”
Henry and Donovan led the way, but several other MLS players made news in England this week as well.
Donovan’s Galaxy teammate Robbie Keane came on as a second-half sub for Villa in the Everton match, having finalized his loan deal to the Birmingham side two days earlier.
Former Columbus Crew winger Robbie Rogers sealed his move to Leeds, pending approval of his UK work permit.
FC Dallas defender George John went on loan to Championship outfit West Ham, who have the option of buying him at the end of the deal.
While MLS exported multiple players this week, the flow to—and within—the league was even busier.
Trying its luck in Scandinavia again, Seattle brought in 23-year-old Dane Christian Sivebaek. The winger joins Sounders FC from spelling bee stumper FC Midtjylland.
The Red Bulls completed their rumored signing of defender Markus Holgersson, 26, from Helsingborg of the Swedish top flight. Holgersson received his first national-team call-up this month, not long after leading Helsingborg to the Swedish League, Cup and Super Cup titles in 2011—an unprecedented treble.
Meanwhile, New England and Chicago opted for players from this hemisphere. The Revolution landed Colombian center back John Lozano and attacker Fernando Cárdenas, both former América de Cali players.
Chicago inked ex-Millonarios midfielder Rafael Robayo and Uruguayan forward Federico Puppo, who may give Chicago announcers fits if he lines up alongside Marco Pappa.
Within the league, there were two retirements (journeyman goalkeeper Jon Conway and stalwart Houston defender Eddie Robinson), a Home Grown signing (College Cup hero Ben Speas with Columbus) and a blockbuster trade (New York sent a 2013 SuperDraft pick and allocation money to Portland for striker Kenny Cooper).
There was also the ongoing unsettled status of David Beckham, who continued to negotiate with the Galaxy.