D.C. United show ambition, Sporting KC stung by Dwyer exit in MLS window
ESPN - Friday 11th August, 2017
The final days of Major League Soccer's transfer windows are often drab. This week, though, has been livelier. See: D.C. United, of all clubs, going on a spending spree.
When the dust settled following the window's closure at midnight EST on Wednesday night, who improved and who missed out?
Typically among MLS' thriftiest spenders, DCU broke character and their own transfer record.
On Wednesday, they announced the signings of midfielders Zoltan Stieber and Russell Canouse, the former a Hungarian international and the latter purchased from Hoffenheim of the Bundesliga. It didn't stop there, with U.S. national teamer Paul Arriola's signing confirmed on Thursday morning.
The former Club Tijuana star is now the most expensive addition in team history, with a fee of more than $3 million before even factoring in allocation money paid to the LA Galaxy for Arriola's rights or the player's salary.
That type of ambition has been sorely lacking recently from what was once the league's leading club. And at first glance, it is puzzling: D.C. is 13 points out of an Eastern Conference playoff place, with a ghastly minus-24 goal differential.
Factor in the timing of the opening of shiny new Audi Field next summer, though, and all this makes more sense. D.C. badly needed to inspire a fan base disillusioned by years of under-investment and at the very least, these moves give them reasons for hope moving forward.
For MLS teams, locking down what you already have when bigger leagues circle is often as pressing as acquiring new talent.
Chicago did well to pick up David Accam's 2018 option rather than lose him in the thick of the playoff race. Accam has long been one of the more underrated talents in the league, especially now the club has surrounded the Ghanaian winger with a legitimate attacking core.
The trade with Vancouver for defender Christian Dean might not excite many, but the additional depth solidifies the Fire's standing near the top of the East.
FC Dallas is a beneficiary from the lack of action elsewhere in the Western Conference. Even if they sit in third place, FCD are the frontrunners, tops in the West in points per game and with a top gear few in the conference can match.
So while Dallas was characteristically spendthrift in the window, it benefitted from Kansas City trading its starting forward; from Seattle failing to land its target designated player; from Houston being understandably thrilled for what it already is and from Portland still looking rickety even after a pair of defensive acquisitions.
If the playoffs started today, Dallas would be an MLS Cup finalist. But that could change if Kellyn Acosta gets swept elsewhere by the time the European window snaps shut later this month.
Sporting Kansas City
It's on Sporting to prove the decision to trade Dom Dwyer to Orlando last month was anything other that what it looked like from the outside: A first-place team inexplicably pinning its hopes on the potential of the future rather than going for it now.
It's certainly possible this roster is still good enough to make a championship run without him, that this defense really is that dominant and that the record amount of allocation money recouped will set this team up for years to come.
And yet this squad is built to win now. Longtime mainstays Benny Feilhaber, Matt Besler and Graham Zusi are all 30 or older. They've already bucked league trends by keeping the same core as competitive as it's been for this many years now. Depth has been a concern as the club has hit late lulls for a few seasons running now; why tempt fate by giving away such an important piece?
Concerns would have been alleviated had the team actually pulled off a rumored reunion with former striker Krisztian Nemeth. After that fell through, the Dwyer trade only feels all the more suspect.
Plus, the Western Conference is as open as it has been in ages. If not now for SKC, when?
When the most noteworthy moment is your 18-year-old up-and-coming star accusing you of stifling his ambitions and missing training, it's been a bad summer. Montreal was a regulation-time goal from the MLS Cup final late last November -- that feels so very long ago now.
First, the caveats. The Sounders are playing as well as anybody in the West, unbeaten in seven and once again primed to take off just as the season approaches crunch time.
They used the summer window to address several needs, using Targeted Allocation Money on Dutch defender Kevin Leerdam, adding Spanish winger Victor Rodriguez and bringing back local favorite Lamar Neagle via a trade with D.C.
And yet with the ability and the desire to add a game-changing DP, Seattle failed to land its man. Its pursuit of Paraguayan international Derlis Gonzalez was an open secret, its negotiations with Dynamo Kiev seemingly just posturing -- terms and conditions a matter of time until they weren't.
Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey maintains this roster is good enough to defend its title as is, and he might be right. It certainly looks a strong bet to land one of the top seeds in the Western Conference.
An addition like that of Gonzalez, however, could have pushed Seattle over the top, from contender to frontrunner. As insistent as Lagerwey is that he'd rather make no deal at all rather than the wrong one in regards to the club's long-term future, when it comes to assessing this transfer window, it feels like an opportunity missed.
Matt Pentz is a Seattle-based soccer reporter covering primarily the Sounders, Timbers and Whitecaps. Follow him on Twitter @mattpentz.
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