By now, you've surely heard that Brescia strike star Mario Balotelli is fed up with the racist abuse he's been receiving in his home country and open to an MLS move.
It makes sense that the supremely talented 29-year-old would like the idea of escaping to faraway America. Naturally, there's the stateside lifestyle that has enticed many players over the years. More to the point at hand, Balotelli could at once break free from the stress induced by the tiring, tired bigots too freely allowed into Serie A stands and the often unfair villain tag he's been forced to wear several times during his career.
You may have also read that the Italy international is drawing interest from Toronto FC (maybe), but I'm not sure how well he fits at the BMO as long as Jozy Altidore is there. So setting the Reds aside for now, what MLS destinations stand out as the best potential Balotelli landing spots?
Thanks for asking, I have some grand ideas to share with you. Some are overtly plausible, while one or two may seem rather far-fetched. What they all have in common is the need for a killer hit man, the open Designated Player spot any suitor will presumably need to lure Balotelli and a surrounding cast that could get the best out of him.
We'll take these in alphabetical order, and let you rank them (or rake them) in the comments section.
While it's not entirely possible to gauge how Balotelli might fit into a squad that's still taking shape and waiting on its head coach, there are pieces already on board that would seem quite complimentary indeed.
It's not difficult to envision Super Mario running combos around the box with Lee Nguyen. It would be even easier to imagine Balotelli feasting on Matías Pellegrini crosses or getting out on the break to fatal effect with the young DP winger. And, gosh, who couldn't find a way to make life in Miami work?
As discussed on this week's ExtraTime Radio, a move to Carson probably makes the most glaringly obvious sense. The G-Men would surely love to replace at least a sizable portion of the goals, gall and entertainment value that left with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who of course also vacated a DP slot.
Balotelli would certainly provide a suitable target for all those crosses the Galaxy serve, while, at the same time, lifting an under-utilized counter attack. He could also prove a cultural coup and boost the box office a bit as Dignity Health Sports Park is surrounded by many of Los Angeles' traditional black communities, who might just rally around a star trying to shake troubles with racism.
This would seem the most unlikely pick of the bunch because, to put it bluntly, the Twin Cities climate might be a hard sell to an Italian guy coming off four years on the French Riviera. But dig if you will a picture: Balotelli would bring so many of the aspects lacking from the Loons attack, especially in light of Darwin Quintero's departure.
He would love all the nasty crosses served by Roman Metanire and Jan Gregus, not to mention the latter's incisive entry passes or the impressive final third industry of young DP Thomás Chacón. If played up top in tandem with unsettling runner Mason Toye, Balotelli could wreak havoc in space created by the youngster. Any team with such a solid defense and midfield foundation deserves a deadly counter, which the Italian would surely boost. I'd pay to see all that.
Let's get the soccer bit out of the way first. The Impact have enjoyed tremendous success signing players with Serie A experience. With any luck, they will have fast break Jedi Nacho Piatti fit again. They've already secured the returns of attack engines Bojan Krkic, Lassi Lappalainen and Saphir Taïder, on top of adding wildcard winger Romell Quioto.
Acquiring a genuine cobra head would make Piatti and all these complimentary Impact vipers much scarier. On top of all that, it's impossible to miss having a boss/sounding board like Thierry Henry — one of the pre-eminent activists fighting bigotry in soccer and a guy who has been through some of that ugliness himself — would offer the clearly shaken Balotelli a healing environment.
New York Red Bulls
By my count, there are 11 league clubs that A) have a free DP parking space, and B) do not currently have a center forward who scored at least 10 MLS regular season goals last season on their roster. Precious few of them can even approach the brand of center forward pedigree Red Bulls supporters have enjoyed watching for the last dozen years.
Now, all-time top scorer Bradley Wright-Phillips is gone. Brian White is a quality young forward, but probably not yet the force needed to break this proud franchise's MLS Cup duck just yet. If Chris Armas can recalibrate their high-pressing, lightning counter, set piece-capitalizing ways to regain the effectiveness of yore, Balotelli would be the perfect choice to plug into BWP's old spot. Suddenly being set upon by that guy after failing to break forward would be a nightmare for any unset defense.