The addition of Dax McCarty in the central midfield should be a big boost to DC United as they look to rebound from the worst season in their history. (Photo courtesy of D.C. United)

MLS 2011 Preview: Players Switching Teams Ready To Contribute

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MLS 2011 Preview: Steven Lenhart Could Be Secondary Scorer Earthquakes Need

While many teams in MLS were making significant roster moves in the offseason, the San Jose Earthquakes appeared to favor the core of players that led them to the Eastern Conference Championship match in the 2010 MLS Cup playoffs. Viewing the MLS SuperDraft as a chance to perhaps pick up some young talent to the depth of the squad, Earthquakes General Manager John Doyle switched things up when he traded away the team’s first-round draft pick for Columbus Crew forward Steven Lenhart. Doyle cited the trade for Lenhart as a chance to improve upon an offense that in 2010 relied much too much on the contributions of MLS Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski. Lenhart, though not a full-time starter for Columbus, completed his third year in MLS with career highs of six goals and two assists in league play. Throw in the three goals combined he scored in the U.S. Open Cup and CONCACAF Champions League competitions, and Lenhart displayed a good scoring touch in 2010. Rather than take a chance on a rookie pick from the SuperDraft, Doyle saw Lenhart as a player they could depend on from the moment he arrived in San Jose.

Steven Lenhart

Position: Forward

Team: San Jose Earthquakes

Nationality: United States

Age: 26

Quietly had a breakout season last year, scoring a career-high nine goals across all competitions.

Team App. Goals
Columbus Crew
63 13

The 24-year-old Lenhart, a college product from the unheralded soccer program at Azusa Pacific University in Southern California, played three seasons for the Columbus Crew, the team that drafted him 48th overall in the 2008 SuperDraft. Making 63 appearances — including 30 starts — for the Crew in MLS league play, Lenhart totaled 13 goals in that span from his position of target forward. At 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, he has developed a reputation for his punishing play among the league’s opposing defenders, while gaining the respect of teammates for his fearlessness. Entering the last year of his initial four-year deal with MLS, Lenhart will be looking to show continued improvements in his play and statistics ahead of negotiations on a new contract.

How does Lenhart's skillset fit into his new team?

When news broke in San Jose that Lenhart was joining the Earthquakes, his new teammates welcomed his arrival — especially the defenders. Jason Hernandez remarked that he was happy that he would have to face Lenhart in an MLS game again, recalling how much of a hand-full the physical striker has been in prior season matches with Columbus. However, he did feel bad for teammates on the second team that would have to deal with him in practice. Hernandez jokingly said it was even more incentive for him to keep his place in Yallop’s preferred starting XI.

The physical play of Lenhart is evident when looking at the statistics for fouls suffered and fouls committed in league play. In 2010, Lenhart finished 10th in MLS with just over four fouls suffered plus committed per 90 minutes of action. In 2009, he finished with an even higher average of 4.73, good for fourth in the league. Going back to his rookie season, in limited minutes Lenhart would have topped MLS with a whopping average of 6.47. While the trend over the first three years of his career is decreasing — and hopefully indicative of his playing with more control — Lenhart will likely finish 2011 with a fouls average approaching the league lead.

The Earthquakes have lacked a true target forward since their return to MLS in 2008, and Head Coach Frank Yallop has expressed his pleasure at getting a proven player to take the roll in his offensive scheme. While striker Ryan Johnson has been asked to play that role in the past two seasons, the Jamaican does best when running with the grain. Yallop will look to Lenhart to be a target man that can fend off defenders long enough for Johnson and Chris Wondolowski to take feeds from going toward goal. By virtue of his size and strength, Lenhart will also be sought out as a target on set pieces in the attacking third.

What kind of impact can Lenhart have on his team?

General Manager John Doyle was counting his good fortunes when Lenhart was made available by Columbus during the MLS SuperDraft. Knowing that Wondolowski is unlikely to repeat his scoring record from 2010 in the upcoming season without more help from the forwards, Doyle sees Lenhart as a physical presence defenders must take into account, which in turn should give Wondolowski more room to make runs at goal. Yallop echoed those thoughts, plus added that Lenhart’s offensive output has improved in each of his first three seasons — perhaps he is capable of a breakout season in 2011 in much the same way as Wondolowski last year. Before suffering a knee injury late in preseason that required him to undergo surgery, Lenhart was a first team selection in training and friendlies since camp opened up in late January. While his recovery is expected to take until the beginning of April, Lenhart will have plenty of season left to disrupt defenses and create scoring opportunities for an Earthquakes team that is otherwise starved for excellence on offense.

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

Before his injury, Lenhart was slated to be a fixture in Yallop’s starting XI; however, Johnson will be asked to play the role of target forward in his absence. Lenhart is not guaranteed to regain that status when he returns to training, but given that no one else on the roster matches his physical attributes, it shouldn’t be long before he’s back on the field. While just a part-time starter in Columbus, Yallop has indicated that Lenhart will be given more opportunity to play in San Jose.

With a goal scored in every three full games played in 2010, Lenhart would total just over 10 goals in 2011 if he played in every game. A conservative assignment that Lenhart plays in 80 percent of the available minutes this season would give him a projected nine goals on the campaign. Yallop has stated his expectations for Lenhart to be in the 10-12 range for the season, which is in line with the forward making strides in his ability entering his fourth MLS season. Any goals above 12 would be considered a bonus.

What's the ceiling on Lenhart?

An improving awareness about how to use his physical skills to control possession while avoiding the wrath of referee crews around MLS will allow Lenhart to thrive in the Earthquakes tactical set-up in 2011. With a heavy reliance on counter-attacks and set pieces to create scoring opportunities in seasons past, the Earthquakes can look forward to playing a more possession style of offense if Lenhart can play the target role effectively. His assists total should increase dramatically in that case (from just four assists total in 2008-10) and the goals will follow. Yallop talked during the preseason about how Wondolowski surprised everyone in MLS with his breakout 18-goal 2010 season; he feels Lenhart has the best opportunity on the team to approach that feat in 2011.

- Report by Robert Jonas of Quake, Rattle and Goal (upcoming SB Nation Earthquakes blog)

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MLS 2011 Preview: Jimmy Conrad At Center Of Rebuilding Effort

At the start of the 2011 MLS offseason, Chivas USA were in need of defenders. The Goats had conceded 45 goals during the 2010 season – good for second worst in the Western Conference – and were oft criticized for their lack of a resolute backline. Enter Jimmy Conrad.

Jimmy Conrad

Position: Defender

Team: Chivas USA

Nationality: United States

Age: 34

Once one of the best defenders in MLS, Conrad was deemed expendable by Kansas City, paving his way for a return to his native Southern California.

Team App. Goals
Kansas City Wizards
204 17
San Jose Earthquakes
84 2
Lech Poznan
8 0
United States
27 1

The Red-and-White picked up the 12-year MLS veteran in Phase Two of the Re- Entry Draft and instantly took a huge step forward toward getting the team back to where its leadership wants it to be. Last year was the first since the Goats’ inaugural season in which the team didn’t make the postseason.

"The first is to get into the Playoffs," Conrad said shortly after signing with Chivas USA. "My main goal is that, in the course of my contract, to make this a successful team around the league, on and off the field, and making a difference in the community. I want to make sure that everybody is happy to be part of the Chivas USA family, like I am."

A move away from the Kanas City Wizards reportedly caught the 34-year-old a little off-guard, but he was admittedly excited to be retuning to his native Southern California. Conrad was born in Arcadia, Calif. and played his college ball at San Diego State and UCLA.

"This is where I’m from; born and raised in Southern California," he said. "To be able to wear the Red-and-White means a lot. It’s great to be able to play in front of my friends and family, in front of Chivas fans. I look forward to make them proud on and off the field. I look forward to turn things around."

Conrad had everything the Goats are looking for in a defender: intelligence, resilience, and perhaps most importantly, experience. Chivas USA were one of the youngest teams in the league last season and many argued that their immaturity cost the squad several last-minute results. Conrad’s leadership and expertise will be a welcome addition.

"Jimmy is a talented, experienced defender who can give this organization a lot both on the field and in the locker room," said Chivas USA Interim General Manager Jose Domene. "We’re hopeful that we can agree to a new contract for him and that he’ll play an important role for the Red-and-White in 2011."

Time will tell if Conrad’s acquisition will pay dividends for Chivas USA, but one thing is certain; the Goats backline looks a lot more imposing with him on it.

- Report by Jeffrey King of The Goat Parade (upcoming SBN Chivas USA blog)

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MLS 2011 Preview: Juan Pablo Angel Looking To Make His Mark On Star-Studded Los Angeles Galaxy

Juan Pablo Angel’s arrival in MLS in April of 2007 as the New York Red Bulls’ second Designated Player was somewhat overshadowed by a signing made by the Los Angeles Galaxy just four months prior. In any other year a player of Angel’s quality would have been the story of the off-season, but compared to an international superstar of Beckham’s caliber he was something of an afterthought (in the minds of many at least) but it didn’t take him long to establish himself as one of the most dangerous strikers the league had ever seen. Angel’s first MLS campaign ended with his having netted 19 goals (still a club record) and there was little if any dropoff in his performance the following year as he led the team to an MLS Cup final appearance. The story was different in 2009; New York suffered a marked decline across the board and Angel was no exception, leading to questions as to whether his time as an elite MLS player might be drawing to a close. After a blistering start to the 2010 season Angel appeared to have silenced his critics, tallying 11 goals in the first 19 games, but his form dipped towards the end of the year and over the final 11 games Angel managed only two additional goals.

Juan Pablo Angel

Position: Forward

Team: LA Galaxy

Nationality: Colombia

Age: 35

The MLS's top scorer since entering the league in 2007, Angel will now be paired with arguably the league's top player in Landon Donovan.

Team App. Goals
New York Red Bulls
102 58
Aston Villa
175 44
River Plate
96 46
Atletico Nacional
94 46
Colombia
56 27

The Red Bulls declined to re-sign Angel at the end of the season and despite rumors of a return to River Plate, the now 35-year-old former Colombian international opted for the MLS Re-Entry Draft where he was selected by the Galaxy. After a somewhat protracted period of negotiation, Angel was signed as the Galaxy’s third designated player. Though he’s certainly less of a household name than Beckham and Donovan, Angel has a legitimately impressive pedigree. Angel made his senior debut with Colombian side Atlético Nacional at the age of 18 and scored 46 goals in 96 games games before moving to River Plate and netting another 46 in 94 games. During the 2001 January transfer window Angel became Aston Villa’s record signing, moving to Birmingham for a fee of £9.5M. After a somewhat shaky start to his time at Villa Park Angel would go on to put up successive impressive seasons in 2002-03 and 2003-04. Injuries and inconsistencies marred his last two seasons with the club, but despite this Angel is still a beloved figure amongst Villa supporters four years after departing for MLS.

How does Angel's skillset fit into his new team?

Coming into the season, the Galaxy were in desperate need of a true, high-quality striker to fill the void left by Edson Buddle’s departure to Ingolstadt 04. Los Angeles has a ton of talent in defense and the midfield, but without a legitimate threat up top that talent isn’t going to produce the results it should. Landon Donovan is fantastic player and a prolific scorer, but he’s not a striker. Angel most certainly is, and on a team where he’s not depended upon to be the only (or even primary) concern for the defense he’s an exceptionally dangerous player. He might not be the most complete forward in the league, but the Galaxy don’t need for him to be; they need someone to allow Donovan to operate in space, to poach goals and to provide a target for the excellent service from midfield. Angel is certainly capable of doing all these things and while he might not be the player Edson Buddle is right now, the dropoff shouldn’t be so severe as to take the Galaxy out of the pool of favorites for the Supporters' Shield.

What kind of impact can Angel have on his team?

Expectations are high for both the Galaxy and Juan Pablo Angel coming into the season. LA spent a great deal of last season playing at a different level than the rest of MLS, and if Angel can give the Galaxy the kind of contribution they’re expecting from him there’s little reason to think they can’t do so once again this year. Realistically though, Angel looked less than himself toward the end of last season and at 35 it’s difficult to say whether that was a function of bad form, fatigue or decline. Angel has come back to surprise the league in the past, but at a certain point every athlete is no longer capable of contributing. While it’s certainly too early to think that he has reached that point, it has to be taken into consideration when weighing the impact he could have on this team.

As with every player in the world, there are a range of outcomes for Angel next season; the difference is that Angel’s are much wider than most. If he is injury free, sufficiently rested and meshes with his teammates, he could very well lead the league in goals. On the opposite spectrum, he could very well be a shadow of his former self and limp through the year ineffectively. The most likely outcome is almost certainly somewhere in the middle, but for Angel the extremes have a higher probability of occurring. He’s the quintessential high-risk/high-reward player. And while the benefits of a healthy and productive Juan Pablo Angel are quite high for the Galaxy, when considering LA’s other options it has to be said that the downside is quite grim. The risks are almost certainly worth it, but they have to be acknowledged all the same; Angel probably isn’t done, but if it turns out he is, the Galaxy are in some pretty serious trouble.

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

Like most players his age, Angel is not going to play 90 minutes a week. He’s still in fairly excellent condition, but for that to be the case throughout the season Bruce Arena will need to manage his time effectively. One thing that we know Angel can do is score and all the worst-case scenarios above aside, if he’s able to play he’ll probably have little trouble hitting double figures in terms of goals scored. Whether he’ll be able to function effectively in other capacities is a trickier question; just by virtue of his instincts and positioning, Angel is a threat. But if he genuinely has lost some of his fitness or speed, he’s going to be less of a factor in other areas. Because the Galaxy play a style slightly less dependant on a target forward and hold-up play than a lot of other MLS sides that’s not likely to be as big of a factor as it would elsewhere, but because Angel already offers less than Buddle in these facets of the game a severe decline would certainly be noticeable in terms of the team’s performance in the attack.

What's the ceiling on Angel?

Juan Pablo Angel is truly gifted with skills that do not fade as quickly as strength, speed or quickness, and he’s better suited to LA’s style of play than any other team in MLS. Though there are legitimate concerns related to his age and his quiet finish last season, it’s also important to point out that Angel will have more talent surrounding him in LA than he has at any point since he came the the US. Expecting him to lead the league in scoring is probably a bit much, but it’s certainly reasonable to expect him to finish near the top. It also must be acknowledged that Angel’s declining fitness is in fact an assumption, if a somewhat justifiable one. It’s entirely possible that the last 10 games of the season legitimately were a result of a temporary loss of scoring touch or (perhaps more likely) the result of Angel and Thierry Henry unable to form a decent partnership up top. If he’s comfortable, healthy and integrated into a supremely talented Galaxy attack, this could be a pretty special season for Juan Pablo.

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MLS 2011 Preview: Heath Pearce Could Be Huge Addition For Chivas USA

When FC Dallas signed Heath Pearce last season, many felt the experienced international defender would help solidify the Toros defense and be a starter for seasons to come. However, as we’ve seen with many other players under head coach Schellas Hyndman, once you’re "off the bus" the door isn’t re-opening.

Heath Pearce

Position: Full back

Team: CD Chivas USA

Nationality: United States

Age: 26

After a successful, but injury shortened two seasons with FC Dallas was traded to Chivas USA for allocation money.

Team App. Goals
FC Dallas
34 0
Hansa Rostock
31 0
Nordsjælland
75 2
United States
32 0

Hyndman and the team were not pleased with Pearce’s hamstring troubles that kept him out of Dallas’ run to the MLS Cup final. Hyndman even mentioned the situation earlier in the pre-season, saying the injury occurred because Pearce was doing extra, unnecessary work in practice. It then didn’t help when Pearce got injured in the first week of practice of the new season.

Pearce simply fell out of favor with Hyndman, and in Dallas that means you’ve got to go...unless you believe what the club says about the move being only about salary cap space. Either way, the team traded the United States international to Chivas USA and the defender gets a fresh start under new head coach Robin Fraser.

How does Pearce's skillset fit into his new team?

Pearce should fit in well at Chivas USA. Fraser and his coaching staff are a defensive-minded group, and getting Pearce along with Jimmy Conrad sends a clear message about what the team is trying to accomplish this season. Pearce gives Fraser a flexible outside back who can play on the left or the right and is capable of getting forward a bit.

What kind of impact can Pearce have on his team?

Pearce could have a tremendous impact for Chivas USA. You don’t get international caliber outside backs in trades all the time, especially after losing a player like Jonathan Bornstein. While I don’t feel Pearce can replace the offensive contributions of Bornstein, especially the goals, there’s no doubt he’s better defensively. Pearce should make Chivas better in the back but he won’t make up for the lost versatility that Bornstein provided them.

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

Pearce will have to earn his place, but he’s certainly good enough to start. Between the allocation money Chivas USA gave up and his sizable salary, it’s hard to see him sitting on the bench. Pearce should start the majority of the team's matches this season if his mind is in the right place and he avoids more injuries.

What's the ceiling on Pearce?

All-Star selection? Several assist and/or goals? Defender of the Year? Pearce is good enough to accomplish any of these but his career has been plagued by what is starting to feel like chronic under achievement. If Pearce focuses and commits to playing hard, he can be on the best backs in MLS and put himself back in the mix for a spot on the U.S. National Team (but people have been saying that for years and we’re still waiting). It really feels like the only thing placing a ceiling on what Peace could accomplish is Pearce himself.

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

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MLS 2011 Preview: Dax McCarty Should Thrive In New Environment

Last year was an up and down season for midfielder Dax McCarty. Throughout the year he struggled with injuries as FC Dallas saw plenty of success without him on the field. He butted heads with head coach Schellas Hyndman and also struggled to find time on the pitch even when he was healthy. Rookie Eric Alexander seemed to pass him on the club’s depth chart at one point in the season, making his push for playing time that much harder.

Dax McCarty

Position: Central midfielder

Team: D.C. United

Nationality: United States

Age: 23

After helping lead FC Dallas into the MLS Cup title game, he was left exposed in Expansion Draft and then traded to D.C. United.

Team App. Goals
FC Dallas
93 5
United States
5 0
U.S. U-23
6 0
U.S. U-20
5 0

Towars the end of the season Dallas was on a 19-game unbeaten run and McCarty was finally feeling healthy again. As the club entered the playoffs McCarty was a key part of the club’s success in the post season as the club from North Texas reached the MLS promised land for the first time in team history.

But sometimes history isn’t made the way you want it to. For McCarty and Dallas, the MLS Cup didn’t go as they had hoped. A few days later, much to the surprise of McCarty and most that follow MLS, he was placed on Dallas’ unprotected list for the upcoming MLS Expansion Draft for the Portland Timbers and the Vancouver Whitecaps.

With Portland picking first in the Expansion Draft, most pundits expected them to take McCarty. Sure enough McCarty was selected first. Shortly after the draft was over Portland shocked everyone as they traded McCarty (and allocation money) away to D.C. United for Rodney Wallace and a fourth round pick in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft.

How does McCarty's skillset fit into his new team?

McCarty will be a part of a new and improved midfield in D.C. this season. Look for him to be the link between the defensive side of things and the offensive side. His passing and ability to find teammates in space is what makes McCarty so effective for his club. When he was on his game in Dallas you saw him spreading out defenses and finding guys on the wings better than most in the league. With D.C. having guys like Charlie Davies and Chris Pontius up top, they’ll love being able to get on the end of a McCarty cross or pass.

What kind of impact can McCarty have on his team?

The biggest key with McCarty is his health. As long as he’s able to play in 25-30 games this season, there is little doubt that he will have a great impact on the club. The Black-and-Red are trying to get back to where they expect to be, the playoffs and the MLS Cup. Having a guy like McCarty in the midfield certainly helps.

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

Again it comes down to health and fitness. Staying fit and injury free for McCarty should mean he’ll be a starter for the majority of the season. However, if he picks up some random bumps and bruises along the way, don’t be shocked if he only plays in 20 games or so.

What's the ceiling on McCarty?

In a way this should be a fresh start for McCarty. He’s finally out of Hyndman’s locker room, a move that was bound to happen before long, even had the club protected him back at the Expansion Draft. Health is a key factor and D.C. will probably hope to get his 2009 production out of him (career-high three goals and six assists), rather than his 2010 production (one goal, two assists). Look for him to view this move and new start as a way to revamp his own career. He’ll be one of the key guys in Ben Olsen’s lineup for 2011. As long as the production goes north of three goals and seven assists, expect him and D.C. to be back in a very wide-open Eastern Conference.

- Report by Drew Epperley of Big D Soccer (FC Dallas blog)

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MLS 2011 Preview: Players Switching Teams That Could Make Big Impacts

This off-season has seen an unprecedented level of player movement in MLS. Whether through new mechanisms such as the expansion and re-entry drafts or through good-old fashioned trades, players have been switching teams at a level never before seen in MLS.

Players switching teams with biggest impacts

Player Team
Dax McCarty
D.C. United
Juan Pablo Angel
LA Galaxy
Steven Lenhart
San Jose Earthquakes
Jimmy Conrad
Chivas USA
Heath Pearce
Chivas USA

Unlike years past, it's not just role players moving around, either. Among the players that have changed teams are potential all-stars like Dax McCarty, Juan Pablo Angel, Steven Lenhart, Jimmy Conrad and Heath Pearce. All five come to their new teams with impressive MLS resumes.

As part of SB Nation soccer's ongoing push toward First Kick, we'll be doing a series of mini-profiles, including those five players. We've also have previews of all 18 teams, as well as mini-profiles of some Home Grown Players poised to start contributing to their teams and a group of players who entered the league this year that could have big impacts. We've also previewed who we think the top contenders are for various individual awards.

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