D.C. United certainly has high hopes for Charlie Davies' in his MLS debut. (Photo courtesy of D.C. United)

MLS 2011 Preview: New Players Most Likely To Have Biggest Impacts

With a nearly unprecedented of talent to MLS this year, SB Nation looks at the 10 players who are most likely to have the biggest impacts on their teams.

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MLS 2011 Preview: Ousmane Dabo Could Be Perfect Partner For Shalrie Joseph

Ousmane Dabo is a 34-year-old French defensive midfielder. He came up through the youth ranks at Stade Rennais in 1995 and impressed enough to earn a move to Inter in 1998. Inter loaned him midseason to Vicenza, and then spent the next 3 seasons in Parma, AS Monaco and back in Vicenza on loan again. He finally settled for two seasons in Atalanta, making 52 league appearances with 4 goals.

Ousmane Dabo

Position: Midfielder

Team: New England Revolution

Nationality: France

Age: 34

A defensive midfielder who has played in many of the world's best leagues should be a steadying force for the rebuilding Revolution.

Team App. Goals
Lazio
126 4
Manchester City
25 0
Atalanta
52 4
Vicenza
30 1
AS Monaco
16 0
France
3 0

He moved on to Lazio in 2003 and spent 3 seasons there before earning a move to Manchester City. His tenure there was known less for his play than for a training ground fight with teammate Joey Barton, which resulted in Dabo pressing charges against his fellow midfielder. Dabo moved back to Lazio for another two seasons, but has spent most of this season on the bench or not dressing for matches. Dabo is also a former French international, earning 3 caps in 2003. He's the type of midfielder to stay deep and break up opponents attacks. He then uses his superior class and skill to distribute well and hold possession.

What will be the biggest adjustment Dabo will have to make?

Dabo has spent most of his career in Italy in Serie A, where matches are built around intricate tactics and there is a heavy emphasis on defense. In MLS, the emphasis is more on speed and athleticism, and the pace of the game is much faster. Also, he will need to adjust quickly to the physicality of the American game - many foul calls he would see in Italy will be no-calls in MLS.

What kind of impact can Dabo have on his team?

Ousmane Dabo will provide the Revs with a quality partner in midfield for Shalrie Joseph. Last season it was painfully obvious that the Grenadian had precious few teammates he could trust to maintain possession and take care of the ball, and Dabo should give him the outlet he needs. The Revs' defense should tighten up nicely and hopefully the midfield will be better at stringing together passes an building attacks.

What's a reasonable expectation in terms of production and playing time?

When healthy, Dabo should start every match in midfield. His age is a factor, though, so in situations where the Revs are playing two or three games in a short period he may be rested occasionally.

What's the ceiling on Dabo?

If he can play at his peak, Dabo can provide a presence in midfield similar to what Rafa Marquez meant to the Red Bulls last season. He and Shalrie Joseph could represent one of the best engine rooms in MLS, with Dabo sitting just in front of the back four spraying passes forward to Joseph and the wings. He may not have quite the legs he once did, but class is permanent. If healthy, Dabo should rank as one of, if not the best holding midfielder in the league.

- Report by Steve Stoehr of The Bent Musket

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MLS 2011 Preview: Philadelphia Union Hope Faryd Mondragon Provides Stability In Goal

Faryd Mondragon's time on Colombia's national team has endeared him to the people of his native land and many others throughout the soccer world. At 39, Mondragon isn’t the same goalkeeper that burst onto the scene at the 1998 World Cup in France. He’s adapted his game to better suit his aging body but hasn’t lost his tough demeanor.

Faryd Mondragon

Position: Goalkeeper

Team: Philadelphia Union

Nationality: Colombia

Age: 39

An internationally experienced goalkeeper, Mondragon is expected to provide stability at what was the Union's worst position during their inaugural season.

Team App. Goals
FC Koln
94 0
Galatasaray
185 0
Metz
30 0
Independiente
133 1
Real Zaragoza
30 0
Colombia
50 0

Mondragon began his now 20-year career at Deportivo Cali, the team of current Union loanee, midfielder Roger Torres. Moving around in South America between Colombian teams (Cali, Real Cartagena, Santa Fe), Argentine teams (Independiente and Argentina Juniors) and Paraguayan team Cerro Porteno eventually earned Mondragon a spot on the 1992 Summer Olympics team, along with a position on the 1998 World Cup squad. In ‘98 in France, the then 27-year-old goalkeeper was given the chance to play against England in Colombia’s last group stage match. Despite making some spectacular saves to keep Colombia in the hunt for the round of 16, Colombia fell to England 2-0 and finished with only three points from its three matches. German legend Franz Beckenbauer was quoted as saying that he felt that Mondragon was the best goalkeeper of the opening round of the World Cup.

A transfer to Spanish side Real Zaragoza followed the World Cup but Mondragon only played 13 times for Zaragoza before moving back to Argentina and reuniting with Independiente. After two years, and only 16 appearances, with Independiente, Mondragon headed back to Europe, where he would remain until signing with the Philadelphia Union on Jan. 20, 2011. A year at Metz in France led him to Turkey for six seasons. Galatasaray fans were sad to see him leave for Bundesliga team FC Koln after 185 appearances with the Turkish club. Three years with FC Koln were spent fighting off relegation and sitting towards the bottom of the middle of the Bundesliga table, after helping the side get promoted to the Bundesliga for the 2008 season. Mondragon will turn 40 during the 2011 MLS season and looks to play through at least 41 in America, while continuing to prove that he can play anywhere in the world at the highest level.

What will be the biggest adjustment Mondragon will have to make?

Mondragon doesn’t have too much to adjust to, beyond finding comfort in the four players in front of him. The 39-year-old Mondragon has already proven that he can play anywhere in the world and didn’t lose his starting role at FC Koln because of poor play. Spending stints in Colombia, Paraguay, Argentina, Spain, Turkey and Germany has created a hardened and experienced goalkeeper out of Mondragon. He has learned to not take failure from anyone, especially himself. What will cause him problems is his level of trust in the defenders who will either aid or abet the Colombian goalkeeper’s ability to keep shots out of the Union’s net. If Mondragon can feel safe behind the foursome of lefback Jordan Harvey, center backs Danny Califf and compatriot Carlos Valdes, along with right back Sheanon Williams, then there is no reason to believe that Mondragon will have trouble transitioning to MLS.

What kind of impact can Mondragon have on his team?

The Union scored 35 goals last season, good enough for 11th out of 16 teams. The problem was that the team let up 49 goals between goalkeepers Seitz and Brad Knighton. Seitz ended his tenure as the team’s starter with a dismal 1.8 goals against average (GAA) in 22 starts (23 games played). Knighton, his replacement and former back up, managed 1.1 GAA in eight starts but was benefited by Harvey, Califf, former Union center defender Michael Orozco-Fiscal and Williams playing together as a group for the first time. It turned out that the four were the best defensive grouping that the Union had it their inaugural season.

Mondragon was on a FC Koln team that was stuck in the duldrums of the German Bundesliga and that affected how his stats appear to the eye. GGA lines of 1.52, 1.28 and 1.67 from 2008-2010 don’t properly show how valuable Mondragon had been to Koln. If Mondragon simply comes in and plays at an average level for himself, it will easily improve the Union’s goalkeeping from last year to this year. His ability to manage a defense is his strongest trait. The 6-foot-5 Colombian is hardly seen without his mouth agape, screaming out orders to those in front of him. Combining his organization with adding Valdes to the starting line up will pay large dividends for the Union.

What's a reasonable expectation in terms of production and playing time?

It’s reasonable to believe that Mondragon will pay at least 30 of the 34 games that the Union will play this season. Piotr Nowak will likely want to rest Mondragon a couple of times throughout the season and to give rookies Thorne Holder and Zac MacMath the chance to see MLS action. Mondragon played in 31 and 32 games in 2008 and 2009, respectively, for Koln. He totalled 6,750 minutes over the last three years for Koln, despite only playing in 12 games during the first half of the 2010-2011 Bundesliga season. Four shutouts in those 12 games, including one versus FC Hollywood (Bayern Munich), showed that the 39-year-old wasn’t hurting because of his age and could still play with the best them of them. For a team that only had two clean sheets last year it’d be great to see more than one before the last eight games of the season. Around 32 games and a 0.90 GAA should be expected of a goalkeeper who has international experience at the highest level and is reportedly one of the highest players on the team.

What's the ceiling on Mondragon?

Mondragon not only has the ability to but is expected to be one of the best goalkeepers in MLS from the minute he steps onto the pitch. He could compete with Kevin Hartman, of FC Dallas, for best GAA or with Nick Rimando for Best XI goalkeeper. His ceiling is whatever his body will allow him to acheive. He’s no longer the quickest of goalkeepers but his positioning is still superior and his reflexes on saves still at a high level. Mondragon’s commitment to a high fitness level has provided him with the ability to continue onto (possibly) his mid-40’s at any level of soccer. In the very least, Mondragon’s effort level will never be questioned, as demonstrated from his emotions after a 2-0 loss in the 1998 World Cup or as seen in one of the many compilation videos of the Colombian great throughout his career.

- Report by Scott Kessler of the Brotherly Game

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Timbers Looking To Kenny Cooper To Make First-Year Splash

Kenny Cooper returns to MLS after two seasons abroad, appearing in a total of 19 games with 1860 Munich and Plymouth Argyle. Prior to his less-than-successful European tour, which ended with two goals for 1860 Munich and none for Plymouth Arglye, Cooper was one of the more promising young talents in MLS. An 18 goal season in 2008 led to a best XI selection and increased interest from Europe and in July of 2009 Cooper was Munich bound. After failing to make an impact with the second-division German club, Cooper was sent on loan to English League One side Plymouth Argyle, the deal a loan with an option to buy at the end of the 2009-10 season. After making seven appearances without netting a goal, the option to buy Cooper’s contract from Plymouth was not exercised. On January 13 2011, Cooper was sold back to MLS and the Portland Timbers by 1860 Munich, becoming by far the most high-profile signing for the club in the lead up to their MLS debut.

Kenny Cooper

Position: Forward

Team: Portland Timbers

Nationality: United States

Age: 26

During Cooper's first stint in MLS, he was one of the league's top scorers. He's now back after two mostly disappointing seasons abroad.

Team App. Goals
Plymouth Argyle
7 0
1860 Munich
12 2
FC Dallas
90 40
United States
10 4

Cooper began his career with Manchester United’s youth program, eventually working his way into the reserves but progressing no further. Loans to Portuguese side Académica de Coimbra and League One side Oldham Athletic resulted in little playing time and United allowed Cooper to move to FC Dallas in 2006. Upon his arrival in MLS Cooper quickly established himself as one of the better young American prospects at the forward position, scoring in his first appearance for the senior team after entering as a late sub. Cooper’s stock grew over the next several years, leading to his becoming a regular in the US National Team and scoring several key goals, including one each in the semi-final and final of the 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup.

After his move to Germany and subsequent lack of playing time, Cooper’s profile as an American international faded and he was left out of last summer’s World Cup squad. A return to MLS will guarantee Cooper a place in the first team and the opportunity to reestablish himself as a serious consideration for international consideration. At 26, Cooper is far from over the hill, and a solid season for Portland could go quite a ways towards bringing him back onto Bob Bradley’s radar.

What will be the biggest adjustment Kenny Cooper will have to make?

Playing regularly. With 90 MLS appearances under his belt, Cooper is no stranger to the style of play in the league; the bigger question is whether Cooper is capable of carrying the burden of being the most visible player on a team with serious playoff aspirations in their first year in the league.

What kind of impact can Cooper have on his team?

If the Kenny Cooper that will be making his appearance for the Timbers this season is the Kenny Cooper that played for Dallas in 2008, he could be a tremendous boost to a first-year franchise looking to make a serious mark right out of the gate. The impact of an elite level striker on both the performance of the team and the spirits of the fans even in a poor season, and if the Timbers are able to surprise and make a serious push for the playoffs, Cooper is almost certainly going to be a major part of their success. If, on the other hand, Cooper’s lack of playing time in Germany and England has taken a toll on Cooper’s fitness, the Timbers could end up getting quite a bit less production from their marquee signing than they’d anticipated.

What's a reasonable expectation in terms of production and playing time?

The Timbers are almost certainly looking for Cooper to start nearly every game, and assuming injury isn’t an issue (and nothing in his history would suggest major concerns in that area) that seems to be the likely scenario. Given Cooper’s lack of playing time over these past few seasons his fitness might be of some concern, but at 26 there’s little reason to suggest that he’s not up for the challenge.

What's the ceiling on Kenny Cooper?

As was previously alluded, this answer is largely dependant on what type of effect Cooper’s long lay-off from first team play will have on his effectiveness. In his time with FC Dallas, Cooper was one of the more dangerous strikers in MLS . If he’s still the same player, he could very easily be near the top of the league in terms of goals scored this season, and it’s within the realm of possibility that he could garner MVP consideration.

While concerns about fitness and a lack of recent first-team experience are reasonable, the more likely scenario is that Cooper picks up right where left off as an elite striker in this league. With a skillset tailor-made for MLS, the opportunity to be the experienced number-one option on a very young but unquestionably talented squad could lead to Cooper surprising a whole lot of people and his leading the Timbers to do the same.

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MLS 2011 Preview: Hunter Freeman Ready For His Encore

Defensive players don't get glory. They tend are rarely famous. They don't get highlight reels. Their cliches are things like being "workman-like," "tough," "willingness to sacrifice," and all of these would apply to Hunter Freeman. But those statements also be ignoring a player who had the skills as a defensive player in college and led his team in points and has the school record for assists.

Hunter Freeman

Position: Defender

Team: Houston Dynamo

Nationality: United States

Age: 26

This will be Freeman's fourth MLS team, which seems like an awful lot for a 26-year-old, but he has undeniable skill.

Team App. Goals
IK Start
51 2
Toronto FC
7 0
New York Red Bulls
30 1
Colorado Rapids
47 0

He doesn't have the speed and flash of new teammate Kofie Sarkodie. What he will be is consistent, a non-problem. The one who transitions the ball safely forward and doesn't commit errors. For a team with solid target forward options who want to put a head on the ball, he'll also be someone who can serve a solid ball, even though he won't be the primary man with that role.

Most of all though, Hunter Freeman is coming home. He's been at national camps, college, the Colorado Rapids, New York Red Bulls, Toronto FC and IK Start over the past decade plus. Now, he is a Texan, not just in origin, but in the very badge on his chest.

What will be the biggest adjustment Freeman will have to make?

Sometimes transfers to the League aren't familiar with the odd structure of contracts and playoffs, @huntfree doesn't have that problem. Oddly, in this case a on- time veteran of MLS will have difficulties, if he has difficulties, playing in front of friends and family for every home game. In his 11 years as a top American soccer player, this will be the first time this has been true.

What kind of impact can Freeman have on his team?

He should be an immediate contributor to a team that struggled defensively in 2010. While Freeman hasn't been on the senior national team radar for some time, he does have experience in Norway and with the US U-23 and U-20 teams. Not many teams add defenders with that kind of pedigree who is an American.

What's a reasonable expectation in terms of production and playing time?

With Houston in a transition phase between their great teams of the past and a new future, Freeman will get plenty of playing time. His positional flexibility should help Kinnear play him in a vast majority of healthy games. While he is unlikely to score many goals, his success will more be judged by a few assists and the ability to educate younger teammates.

What's the ceiling on Freeman?

Hunter can be a quality fullback in the league. His ability to possess the ball while getting forward may not have the flash of younger potential stars like Sarkodie but this Texan will stand tall with a patient game on offense, capable of stopping all but the best with solid positioning.

- Report by Dave Clark of Sounder at Heart

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MLS 2011 Preview: Omar Bravo Brings Veteran Wiles To Kansas City

Omar Bravo is somewhat of a footballing legend back in his native Mexico; at least at the club level, coming from Club Deportivo Guadalajara, where he amassed 107 goals over two stints with the club that signed him as a youth player and was groomed as a prized member of the club’s famed youth academy. Bravo worked his way through the ranks of the academy and made his senior team debut as a 21-year-old in 2001.

Omar Bravo

Position: Forward

Team: Sporting Kansas City

Nationality: Mexico

Age: 31

After signing with Kanas City last year, he went back to Chivas on loan to finish out the season in Mexico

Team App. Goals
CD Guadalajara (Chivas)
297 107
UANL Tigres
6 0
Deportivo La Coruna
9 1
Mexico
62 15

His first spell with Chivas, seven full-year seasons and his very first three appearances with the club in 2001, saw him become one of the most successful players to ever play in the Primera División de México. From 2002-2008, just six seasons, Bravo scored a whopping total of 99 goals for his boyhood club. In that time, he won the Mexican League Clausura 2007 golden boot by scoring 11 goals in just 17 games. That same year, he also won the 2007 CONCACAF Champions Cup golden boot by earning joint top scorer honors with D.C. United’s Luciano Emilio, scoring four goals in six games.

From 2006-2007, Bravo enjoyed the most successful run of his career. On top of his 2007 success with Chivas, he was also no slouch during this time with the Mexican national team, El Tri. 2006 saw Bravo score five goals for the Mexicans (including two in one game at the 2006 FIFA World Cup against Iran), followed by another four in 2007, though he never managed to score against Mexico’s most hated rivals, the United States. While it looks like his international playing career may have finally run its course, he currently sits on 15 goals scored inside of 62 national team appearances.

Bravo jumped seas to Spain prior to the 2008 La Liga season after he was allowed to become a free agent by Chivas. A rather unsuccessful nine-game stint with Deportivo La Coruña later, and Bravo was back playing in Mexico, this time for Tigres U.A.N.L. on a short loan spell. After finishing 2009 with Tigres, it was back to Chivas for Bravo. Four more goals in 30 more appearances, and he was once again a desired commodity. Sporting Kansas City agreed a deal with the player to sign as Kansas City’s second ever designated player on Aug. 13, 2010. He was then loaned back to Chivas - essentially allowed to stay and finish the league and Copa Libertadores competitions with Chivas - before reporting to Kansas City prior to the 2011 Major League Soccer season. Now 31, Bravo is looking to prove that he’s still got lots of football left in his career.

What will be the biggest adjustment Bravo will have to make?

More than anything, the first big hurdle for Bravo to cross will simply be getting his scoring pedigree back in tow. The last time he scored at least five goals in a season was 2008. For a player now north of 30, you typically don’t see a player’s scoring rate jump up at that point in his career. Much of that could be placed on a failed stint overseas where he was never able to get his footing and afforded an opportunity to contribute regularly. He also dealt with a few small injuries in 2010 that kept him from being the full-time starter that he had become accustomed to early in his career.

As far things go for Bravo tactically, the biggest adjustment in coming to MLS will be the physicality that he will undoubtedly encounter from the league’s defenders. The Mexican league isn’t exactly known for being defensive-minded. Based on a bit of highlight footage of some great goals scored in Mexico, Bravo was allowed ample time to trigger creative flicks, sharp turns and receive serviced balls in questionable areas. With the reputation of MLS defenders being much that of a rough-and-tough banger, he likely won't be given space the way he's used to.

What kind of impact can Bravo have on his team?

The biggest thing that Bravo can do to combat the previously mentioned adjustments is to simply show up everyday and perform as the consummate professional that he is. The type of player that Bravo is - creative and forward-thinking - is exactly the type of player that the 2010 Wizards were missing once things moved into the final third and often stalled. Kudos go out to the front office and coaching staff for recognizing this and bringing in someone that looks set to remedy that problem.

It is still yet to be determined where Bravo will spend most of his time on the field in 2011 for Sporting KC. To this point, he’s already played all three forward spots in head coach Peter Vermes’ 4-3-3 system, and been mentioned by coaches as an extremely viable option as an attacking midfielder. Perhaps the best analogy to make sense of Bravo’s role on the team is this: often times in college football, a team will recruit a player that is best described as an "athlete." You’re unsure where best he fits, or even exactly what his best attributes are. But, what you do know is that at any moment in any game, he could do something that no one else on the field has the mind or ability to do. So for that reason alone, you find a way to get him into the game; even if it is just saying to the player, "go out there and just play, make something happen."

Because of that, Bravo has the potential to be integral piece of Sporting KC’s playoff and further hopes in 2011. On a team that has lost a lot of experience and leadership since the end of the 2010 season, he can also come in and rather than being a vocal leader to his teammates (his English actually isn’t the greatest, so he speaks to the media through a translator, the team’s fitness and conditioning coach), lead by example everyday by simply doing what he’s done for the last decade - be a true professional footballer.

What's a reasonable expectation in terms of production and playing time?

In Bravo’s first MLS season, predictions might be better off left to throwing darts at a dartboard, rather than trying to form a hypothesis for yourself. Honestly, he could finish the season with two goals and a 12-plus assists while becoming the team’s creative force from midfield and feeding players like Kei Kamara and Teal Bunbury on their ways to big goal-scoring years. A dozen goals and and two assists as a player that just finds a way to put the ball in the back of the net is nowhere near out of the question for Bravo, either.

While everything ultimately falls on him, the route that his season goes will likely rely heavily upon the way Vermes elects to use him. If injured forwards Ryan Smith and Teal Bunbury return to good health sooner rather than later, the strike force could get a bit crowded, and in an attempt to simply get the guy on the field, Vermes could shift Bravo back alongside captain Davy Arnaud in midfield, thus leading to lots of assists and fewer goals. If Smith and Bunbury were to struggle with regaining health, or even returning to form quickly, you can expect to see Bravo play all around up top, which given his reputation and career track record, could lead to a lot of goals for the little Mexican.

What's the ceiling on Bravo?

At 31, you have to first realize and accept the fact that a player’s best days are behind him. Not often does a forward older than 30 have a career renaissance and start banging in 20 goals a season. That said, the greatest thing that Bravo has going for him in that regard is that the first thing a player loses with age typically tends to be their high-end speed. Some players rely on that ability to simply outrun defenders to score or create goals. To Bravo’s credit, his game has never really been predicated around that facet of human ability.

As previously mentioned, Sporting KC already have a few forwards with great physical tools - Kamara’s size and strength, Smith’s speed and agility on ball, Bunbury’s combination of all those things - but the one thing none of them possesses is the one thing that Bravo has made a career on - a footballer’s brain. That alone, in a league still working to raise the standard, he will probably be in the top 5 percent of footballer’s brains and vision, and could find himself to be wildly successful.

- Report by Andy Edwards of The Daily Wiz

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MLS 2011 Preview: Eric Hassli Is One Big Unknown

The Designated Player Rule was officially launched in 2007, mainly as a way to bring David Beckham into the league. For the most part, the salary exception has been used on established players with prominent names. Juan Pablo Angel, Landon Donovan, Thierry Henry and Freddie Ljungberg all fit this mold. More recently, we've seen the rule used as a way of paying transfer fees for younger players. Alvaro Fernandez, Luis Angel Landin and, potentially, Fabian Castillo fall into that category. But the Vancouver Whitecaps' signing of Eric Hassli represents something quite different: an established player with almost no name recognition.

Eric Hassli

Position: Forward

Team: Vancouver Whitecaps

Nationality: France

Age: 29

Not exactly a household name, but Hassli does have an impressive resume with time in Ligue 1 and the top Swiss league.

Team App. Goals
FC Zurich
84 27
Valenciennes FC
21 2
FC St. Gallen
47 18

Sure, players similar to Hassli have come to MLS before. But most of them have been past their prime, or not as accomplished. Hassli comes to MLS at 29 years old and with significant European experience, having once scored 17 goals and assisting on 10 more in 27 Swiss league matches. Of course, if Hassli had been playing that well over a longer period of time, chances are a big European team would have picked up his contract. 

In fact, that season (2008-09) came after a stint with Ligue 1 side Valenciennes FC and he has not come close to repeating it ever since. In his last two seasons with FC Zurich, Hassli has scored seven goals in 29 matches. It's not an awful strike rate, but also at least partially explains why he was available.

That he ended up in Vancouver was not much of a shocker, but plenty of people were surprised that it took at a Designated Player contract to bring him there. Hassli's signing is definitely another experiment with the DP. How successful he is will likely determine how often its repeated.

 

What will be the biggest adjustment Hassli will have to make?

Hassli is a big player, know for his physical play (he's 6-foot-4), but few Europeans are used to playing as physical as MLS referees often allow. Maybe the best recent comparison is Blaise Nkufo, who is a similar size and spent several years in the Swiss and Dutch leagues before making the move to MLS last year. Nkufo was hardly bad, scoring five goals in 13 league matches, but he often talked of how hard it was to adjust to the style of play here. If Hassli can handle that, he should be just fine.

What kind of impact can Hassli have on his team?

Until the Whitecaps signed Hassli, their most obvious hole was proven goal-scorer. Even now, just one player (Atiba Harris) on their team has scored as many as 10 MLS goals in their career. Hassli is obviously the most accomplished goal-scorer on this team, and if he's able to perform at a leve similar to Nkufo over a 34-game season, that would translate to about 13 goals. That's might be enough goals to mean the difference between fighting for the No. 2 draft pick and contending for the playoffs.

What's a reasonable expectation in terms of production and playing time?

Using that 13-goal figure seems to be a reasonable bench mark. Similarly accomplished players have tended to average about a goal every third game and Points Per 90 of about 1.00. For Hassli to accomplish that benchmark over, say, 30 games, that would likely mean something like 13 goals and four assists. To be sure, that would be solid production, but that doesn't seem to be an outlandish place to put the expectations bar.  

What's the ceiling on Hassli?

At 29 years old, no one is expecting Hassli to make any huge leaps in terms of quality. The only question is how that quality translates to MLS. Hassli is about five years younger than Nkufo was when he joined the Sounders, so there's reason to believe he'll have an easier time dealing with the physical toll this league can take on a player. If Hassli can adapt, there's no reason he can't be a top 5 forward in this league, although expecting much more than that seems to be quite speculative.

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MLS 2011 Preview: The Charlies Davies Recovery Continues In DC

The tale of Charlie Davies is dominated by his October 2009 car accident and to this point, it ends with that accident too. After three years at Boston College, Davies signed with Hammarby where he took off in his second season. In 2008, Davies scored 14 goals in 27 matches as he emerged as Hammarby’s top striker, but also as a target of clubs from bigger leagues. After a strong start to his 2009 season, Davies was signed to Sochaux in Ligue 1 and scored a brace in his second match with the club to continue his rise up the U.S. soccer ranks.

Charlie Davies

Position: Forward

Team: D.C. United

Nationality: United States

Age: 24

Once considered the future of the United States National Team, a horrific car accident has led him to MLS.

Team App. Goals
Sochaux
8 2
Hammarby
56 21
United States
17 4

A part of the United States youth teams, Davies forced his way onto the senior team in early 2009. Davies’ break out with the national team came at that summer’s Confederations Cup though where he scored against Egypt and started to form what would be an emerging strike partnership with Jozy Altidore. A goal against Mexico at Azteca Stadium pushed Davies’ reputation even higher in the U.S. soccer world, but in October everything changed.

Having qualified for the World Cup a couple days earlier, the U.S. went to Washington D.C. for their final qualifying match, one that Davies would not play in as he nursed a minor injury. In D.C., Davies went out with friends and on his way back to the team hotel after curfew the car that Davies was in was involved in a single car accident that killed the driver. Davies suffered a lacerated bladder, fractured right tibia and femur, a fractured elbow, facial injuries, and bleeding on the brain. People questioned whether Davies would walk again, let alone play soccer. He recovered amazingly quickly, but could not get back to speed in time for the 2010 World Cup or even back on the field for Sochaux in the fall and winter of 2010 so he made a one-year loan to DC United in hopes of playing and reviving his career.

What will be the biggest adjustment Davies will have to make?

Simply playing match in and match out will be the biggest adjustment for Davies. Oct. 10, 2009 was the last time Davies played in a competitive match so he hasn’t been tested at the top level in a year and a half. The physical demands of playing 90 minutes, of dealing with the physicality, of regaining his health and then coming back and doing it several days later after a long trip will be a gigantic challenge for Davies.

What kind of impact can Davies have on his team?

Davies can have a huge impact on DC United if he can return to health and form. Prior to his injury, Davies was playing at a level that would make him one of, if not the best, strikers in MLS. For a team that was downright horrid last season goals will be at a premium. Outside of Davies, Josh Wolff is the best striker DC has and the aging former speedster is on his last legs. With Chris Pontius, Santino Quaranta, Dax McCarty and Andy Najar in the midfield, Davies will get service and chances. If healthy, he can bag goal after goal and possibly lead DC to the playoffs.

What's a reasonable expectation in terms of production and playing time?

It’s tough to say what a reasonable expectation is with someone like Davies because there isn’t another player who has gone through similar injuries to compare him to. The injuries that Davies suffered were at one point possibly life threatening so how is he supposed to respond and recover back on the professional soccer stage? Is it physically possible to get back the speed, explosion and strength that he once had? Those are all questions that cannot be answered so the best that one could hope for is that he’s recovered enough to play match in and match out and score a handful of goals or so.

What's the ceiling on Davies?

If Davies can get back to the health and form he was at before his accident, Davies could be the best striker in MLS. He had blazing speed and is much stronger than he appears. He was tough and had a good first touch as well as finishing touch. Davies had everything that one would want in a striker and if he can get all of that back he can easily lead the league in scoring.

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MLS 2011 Preview: Carlos 'El Pescadito' Ruiz Ready To Make His Return

After a couple years of rumors and speculation, El Pescadito is back in MLS. When we last saw Carlos Ruiz he was released in early 2009 by Toronto FC after being a flop, pun intended, managing only five appearances and no goals. It was an unceremonious end to his time in the league after scoring 82 goals in seven plus seasons. Ruiz was always a controversial player given his deserved reputation for diving.

Carlos Ruiz

Position: Forward

Team: Philadelphia Union

Nationality: Guatemala

Age: 31

A former MVP and Golden Boot winner, Ruiz makes his MLS return after a three-year absence.

Team App. Goals
Aris
24 4
Puebla
33 9
Olimpia (Paraguay)
18 10
Toronto FC
5 0
LA Galaxy
82 51
FC Dallas
68 31
Municipal
143 59
Guatemala
86 41

Despite that, his goal-scoring prowess was undeniable and he was the type of player who you loved to have on your team and hated to see in the opposing team’s shirt. After three seasons away, Ruiz is back, this time in Philadelphia. While the 31-year old wasn’t exactly lighting things up in Paraguay, Mexico and Greece, he still produced some goals and more importantly was able to play fairly consistently.

What will be the biggest adjustment Ruiz will have to make?

Having spent many years in MLS, Ruiz shouldn’t have too much trouble adjusting to life back in the league. The key for Ruiz is staying healthy, especially if Nowak plans to start him regularly. Many players who come to MLS struggle at first with the often over zealous physicality of play, but given his previous experience, Ruiz should have no trouble adjusting.

What kind of impact can Ruiz have on his team?

If Ruiz can stay healthy, there is no reason to think he can’t help the Union by giving them an experienced forward that’s proven in the past he can produce in MLS. As long as his bad habits don’t rub off on young players like Danny Mwanga, it seems like a good signing. If anyone coach can keep Ruiz under control, it’s Petr Nowak.

What's a reasonable expectation in terms of production and playing time?

I think Ruiz will be expected to start up front alongside Mwanga, allowing Sebestian Le Toux to move back in to the midfield. There is no reason to think that Ruiz can’t produce for the Union and score goals. It’s possible he could be even more effective at first if referees have forgotten about him and fall for some of his frequent tactical antics.

What's the ceiling on Ruiz?

As crazy as it sounds, a healthy and motivated Ruiz could put himself in to contention for the Golden Boot. It comes down to how Nowak plans to utilize him and how committed he is to playing at a high level.

-- Report by Zach "The Ginge" Woosley of Dynamo Theory

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MLS 2011 Preview: Jay DeMerit Being Asked To Be Cornerstone Of Expansion Defense

Jay DeMerit is just about the ultimate "coming from out out nowhere, works his tail off players" in the United States  and would rank up there with almost anyone in the world. A long and winding soccer career took DeMerit through the lowest levels of the English soccer pyramid and eventually all the way to the English Premier League and 2010 World Cup. Now, DeMerit is moving to the league that had no interest in him at the beginning of his career and joining the Vancouver Whitecaps in Major League Soccer.

Jay DeMerit

Position: Center back

Team: Vancouver Whitecaps

Nationality: United States

Age: 31

A stalwart with the USMNT, DeMerit makes his first tour in MLS after eight years in England.

Team App. Goals
Watford
188 9
United States
23 0

After a strong college career DeMerit went undrafted in the MLS SuperDraft and couldn’t get picked up as an undrafted free agent so the Wisconsin native temporarily gave up on soccer and worked as a bartender. DeMerit’s itch to play soccer was still there though so with a Danish passport acquired via his grandfather and barely enough money to afford the plane ticket, DeMerit went to England in hopes of catching the eye of a club. Catch the eye of a club he did, joining Southall for £40 a week in the ninth division. After playing well there, DeMerit made the big jump to seventh division Northwood where he caught his big break. Playing in a preseason match for Northwood against Watford, DeMerit impressed the Championshiop club and was signed to a contract. At Watford, DeMerit became a regular starter and scored the winning goal in the promotion playoff to send the club to the Premier League.

Thanks to good play for Watford, his promotion winning goal included, DeMerit got his first call up to the United States national team in March of 2007. Three months later, DeMerit was on the U.S. team that won the Gold Cup to secure a spot in the 2009 Confederations Cup, where DeMerit would shine. An injured teammate gave DeMerit the chance to start in the Confederations Cup semifinal against Spain and DeMerit was spectacular, playing his best match as an international and drawing praise from all over the world for his role in the 2-0 upset of the eventual World Cup winners. A year later, DeMerit was in that World Cup and started all four matches the U.S. played, cementing his place as a true and valuable U.S. international.

Prior to the World Cup, Watford elected not to renew DeMerit’s contract and the defender hoped that his World Cup performance would generate offers from top clubs in Europe. While there were rumors of interest from the Premier League and Bundesliga, DeMerit did not sign with a European club and the World Cup round of 16 match against Ghana remains the last competitive match DeMerit has played. That will be the case until March 19 when DeMerit, Vancouver’s first ever signing, takes the field in the expansion club’s first ever match.

What will be the biggest adjustment DeMerit will have to make?

Having not played a match in nine months just getting back up to speed will be the biggest adjustment for DeMerit. When a player returns from injury it is often said that the toughest part of getting back on form is getting his timing back and while DeMerit is not returning from injury, he is returning from a similarly long layoff. On top of that, DeMerit is 31 years old now so getting up to speed will be a bit tougher.

What kind of impact can DeMerit have on his team?

Being 31 may make getting back to top form a bit tougher on DeMerit, but it also makes him more valuable to the Whitecaps. Expansion clubs are often weak at the back and Vancouver will have their issues in defense as well, but having an experienced center back like DeMerit to somewhat organize the defense will be vital. Simply having a weathered soccer mind who is a leader and commanding the center of the defense will go a long ways for Vancouver.

What's a reasonable expectation in terms of production and playing time?

More than anything Vancouver will want DeMerit on the field regularly. With a central defender it is tough to quantify production, but playing regularly will go a long ways for Vancouver in establishing continuity and leadership. On top of that, there aren’t many MLS defenders who were recently World Cup starters so DeMerit isn’t just out there to tell other people where to go. He can play well himself and cover for his teammates’ missteps with timely tackles of his own.

What's the ceiling on DeMerit?

The ceiling for DeMerit has to be that he emerges as one of the league’s best defenders. At his age, DeMerit isn’t going to be a cornerstone for Vancouver’s next 10 years, but he can be the rock at the back in Vancouver’s rockiest time, the first few years. As the Whitecaps build their club it will be huge for the team to have someone who can put out some fires in the back and DeMerit can do that while cementing his spot as one of the best in MLS.

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MLS 2011 Preview: Alain Rochat Could Develop Into All-Star Left Back For Vancouver Whitecaps

Alain Rochat might just be one of the three best Canadian defenders in the world. Unfortunately, he's really Swiss. Born in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec in February 1983, Rochat was in Canada for just two years before his two Swiss-born parents packed him off to Switzerland. Coming up through the relatively minor youth system of Yverdon-Sport FC, it took a few years before Rochat found his sea legs in soccer. When he arrived, however, he did so with a vengeance. Rochat briefly captained the Swiss national youth team, was the youngest Swiss player at the 2002 European U-21 championship, and played over 100 games with Young Boys over three seasons starting at age 21 while securing a high-profile transfer to Rennes in Ligue 1. In 2005, the 22-year-old Rochat made his first (and so far only) appearance with the full Swiss national team, starting a World Cup qualifier against the Faroe Islands.

Alain Rochat

Position: Full back

Team: Vancouver Whitecaps

Nationality: Switzerland

Age: 28

A left back with UEFA Champions League experience, Rochat could develop into an MLS All-Star.

Team App. Goals
FC Zurich
117 7
Stade Rennais
9 0
BSC Young Boys
115 5
Yverdon Sport FC
52 7
Switzerland
1 0

Rochat's development had already peaked, though. His time with Rennes was a failure and Rochat was obliged to return to Switzerland. Signing with FC Zürich in 2006, Rochat earned a reputation as one of the best players in the Swiss league, regardless of position. But Rochat was competing against the likes of Stephan Lichtsteiner, Reto Ziegler, Mario Eggimann, Steve von Bergen, Philippe Senderos, and Johan Djourou for a spot on the Swiss national defense: he simply wasn't at that level, though he was rumoured as a potential call-up from time to time. Instead, he settled for being a star of the Swiss domestic scene without ever getting a glimpse internationally.

Rochat was at Zürich for five years, but last August Rochat officially announced that he would sign with the Vancouver Whitecaps. It was a peculiar sort of contract: Rochat remained in Switzerland on loan to Zürich. The premature signing was simply to ensure that the Whitecaps could get Rochat without risking Major League Soccer's Byzantine allocation process. It worked: the 28-year-old Rochat is almost certain to be Vancouver's starting left back in the 2011 season.

What will be the biggest adjustment Alain Rochat will have to make?

Rochat will need to get used to the physicality of Major League Soccer. He's not a small player and he's historically been in great condition, but he's also a skilled sort who's mostly played in relatively cultured, refined European leagues. The first few times he sees the likes of O'Brian White thundering down on him trying to elbow him out of the way might be a bit of a shock. Rochat has the luxury of training with big, rough-and-ready forwards like Atiba Harris and Omar Salgado, but nothing can prepare you for the blood and guts of an actual league game.

What kind of impact can Alain Rochat have on his team?

Anybody who's started matches in the UEFA Champions League can play this game at an MLS level. Rochat is a reasonably tall, quick player with tremendous ball skills and was one of the best players for years in a league currently ranked just below Scotland in UEFA. He's capable of scoring the occasional goal himself but at his best making slick plays and sending his team thundering downfield on the counter attack. Unlike some MLS-level counter-attacking fullbacks, though, Rochat combines this with a formidable presence defensively. His weaknesses (aerial ability, anything right-footed) are few and unlikely to sink him.

What's a reasonable expectation in terms of production and playing time?

Barring the completely unforeseen, Rochat is a guaranteed starter for the Whitecaps when healthy. Though a native left back, he can play some centre back (and, when the Whitecaps had higher hopes for Willis Forko, was originally expected to start there) which will help keep him in the lineup. Teitur Thordarson is fond of giving his best defenders all the minutes they can handle and even in the five-substitution USSF D2 only substituted core defenders when injured or seriously tired. With no real competition at left back, Rochat could conceivably play every minute for the Whitecaps in 2011 if he adjusts well and stays healthy. Offensively, every goal from your fullbacks is a bonus and Rochat may provide two or three.

What's the ceiling on Alain Rochat?

The best left back in Major League Soccer. Not to sound like too much of a homer, but there's no reason he can't do it. Obviously it will take some time for him to adjust to the league's style. He may never be able to; he wouldn't be the first. But physically, mentally, and technically, there's nothing stopping Rochat from being one of Major League Soccer's best just as he was in Switzerland.

- Report by Benjamin Massey of 86 Forever (Vancouver Whitecaps blog)

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MLS 2011 Preview: New Players Most Likely To Have Biggest Impacts

With two teams joining MLS this year, it should come as little surprise that there are a ton of players joining the league that weren't here last year. In SB Nation's ongoing effort to preview the upcoming season, we'll be writing a series of mini-profiles looking at the 10 players who weren't in the league last year most likely to have the biggest impacts.

New Players Likely To Have Biggest Impacts

Player Team
Omar Bravo
Sporting Kansas City
Charlie Davies
D.C. United
Jay DeMerit
Vancouver Whitecaps
Eric Hassli
Whitecaps
Alain Rochat
Whitecaps
Ousmane Dabo
New England Revolution
Hunter Freeman
Houston Dynamo
Faryd Mondragon
Philadelphia Union
Carlos Ruiz
Union
Kenny Cooper
Portland Timbers

That group includes a few Designated Players, some players returning to MLS, a few more with U.S. National Team experience and some others that were well established players overseas. The only player in this group who could really be classified as "old" is Faryd Mondragon, and he's a goalkeeper. Just one other player is older than 31 (New England Revolution midfielder Ousmane Dabo, and a few of them are in the primes of their careers.

Not all of them are household names, but if you are a follower of the league, you should definitely familiarize yourself with these players. All of them are expected to have significant impacts on their teams, and it would hardly be surprising if some of them made bids for the Golden Boot or MVP.

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