The 13th week of last year’s offseason lived up to its unlucky number, with sandstorms, torrential rains and a dislocated elbow for Sporting Kansas City striker Teal Bunbury all descending upon the league’s preseason preparations.
There were no such bad omens in Week 13 this year, but there were two teams who may be crossing their collective fingers after some bold front-office maneuvers.
The same can be said for several other spins of the player roulette wheel in a week that also featured a new sponsor coming on board in Columbus, another round of preseason scrimmages and the return of two big names from winter loan spells.
Let’s take another look.
The Montreal Impact raised eyebrows (and Houston’s hackles) in November by selecting Dynamo veteran Brian Ching with the first pick of the 2011 Expansion Draft. Houston had taken a calculated risk by leaving Ching, their all-time leading scorer, unprotected heading into the draft—thinking Montreal would opt for younger, less expensive players.
Much to the Dynamo’s, and Ching’s chagrin, though, the Impact snapped him up, apparently in a strategic attempt to leverage a trade with Houston. The Dynamo grumbled, and Ching even threatened to retire, but both player and team eventually settled down, and the striker reported to Montreal’s preseason camp saying all the right things.
As the months went by, Houston’s cooler-heads approach proved wise, as Montreal became a bit like the ticket scalper outside the stadium after the game inside has begun—their bargaining position weakening with each passing moment.
Finally, on Thursday, the Impact agreed to trade Ching back to the Dynamo for … a 2013 conditional SuperDraft pick—probably not the return they envisioned when they swooped for Ching back in November.
The Ballad of EJ
But the Dynamo drama was hardly the only headline for expansion Montreal this week.
On Tuesday, the Impact welcomed 32-year-old Serie A veteran Matteo Ferrari to their training camp, with an eye toward adding him to their backline. On Friday, Montreal used their No. 1 position in the MLS allocation order to select 27-year-old striker Eddie Johnson, one day after the former US international made waves by re-signing with the league.
Instead of slotting him up top in the wake of Ching’s departure, though, Jesse Marsch & Co. shipped Johnson to Seattle in exchange for striker Mike Fucito, 25, and midfielder Lamar Neagle, 24.
Johnson’s return to MLS capped a checkered past few years for the forward, who burst onto the international scene with seven goals in seven World Cup qualifying appearances in 2004-05. After jumping from MLS to Fulham in 2008, he struggled to find a place with the Cottagers and was sent on loans to Cardiff City, Greek side Aris and Preston North End.
In August 2011, Johnson withdrew from an announced agreement to join MLS, and then failed to finalize a move to Mexican top-flight outfit Puebla last month. Now, he has officially landed with the Sounders.
The payoff could be big—and the Sounders have a sparkling record with recent signings—but this move looks like an uncharacteristic roll of the dice: Johnson hasn’t played a professional game since April 2011, and he hasn’t scored a goal in one since 2010.
Spanning the Globe
While Montreal’s wheeling and dealing extended across the North American continent and the Atlantic, other MLS sides drew players from every hemisphere.
Portland acquired Cameroonian midfielder Franck Songo’o, 24, who has played in the first and second divisions of England and Spain, most recently suiting up for Albacete Balompie in the Spanish second flight.
Last Monday, New England acquired Saër Sene, a 25-year-old French striker, from the reserve side of German giants Bayern Munich. Vancouver announced an agreement with Scottish international midfielder Barry Robson, 33, who will join the 'Caps in July as their newest designated player, and Colorado inked 22-year-old midfielder Martin Rivero on loan from Rosario Central of the Argentine second division.
Last Wednesday, the league landed another prominent partnership as Perio Inc., the parent company of Barbasol shaving cream, signed on as the Columbus Crew’s jersey sponsor.
The Barbasol logo will adorn the front of the Crew’s canary yellow shirts for the next five years—which could create an ironic contrast beneath the frequently bearded mugs of Crew players Eddie Gaven and Tommy Heinemann, among others.
Chivas USA also announced a slight alteration to their kit, but it was more about the fanfare than the fabric. The club unveiled the jerseys via impromptu runway (ahem, aisle) models Dan Kennedy, Juan Pablo Ángel and Jorge Villafaña while more than 30,000 feet in the air on a flight from Guadalajara, Mexico, to Los Angeles.
And in case you missed it (though we doubt that’s possible), Red Bulls striker Thierry Henry is back from his loan abroad, having scored three goals, including two game-winners, in seven loan appearances with his former club Arsenal.
Galaxy attacker Landon Donovan has also returned, following another successful loan stint at Everton. The 29-year-old caught the flu and missed the Toffees’ 2-0 FA Cup win over Blackpool on Saturday, but he produced six assists in nine games this winter and won the club’s Player of the Month award for January—an honor he also received in his 2010 loan stint.
Both players will join their MLS sides for the final stretch of preseason, kicking off this week with the Desert Diamond Cup in Tucson, Ariz.