July 28, 2012; Kansas City, KS, USA; Columbus Crew forward Jairo Arrieta (25) kicks and scores as Sporting KC midfielder/forward Graham Zusi (8) defends during the first half of the soccer match at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-US PRESSWIRE
The race in the East got a lot more interesting after several teams appear to have drastically improved their situations.
The MLS Transfer Window is now officially closed. There are still bound to be a few straggling announcements, as the deadline basically represents the time at which the proper paperwork needs to be filed, not when the deals have to be totally complete. There will also be some examples of players coming into the league who are out of contract and there can, of course, still be trades until the roster freeze on Sept. 12.
That said, we now have a pretty good idea of what teams are going to look like as they make their final push for the playoffs and it seems as good a time as any to determine which teams really helped themselves during the transfer window and who missed their last best chance (list of notable transfer-window moves).
Columbus Crew: The big-name addition was Designated Player Frederico Higuain, but it was a signing they made back in April that paid off as soon as he played. Jairo Arrieta has now played in three games, registering two goals and an assist as the Crew have gone 2-1-0 against two of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. His breakout performance was this week, as he scored a pair of spectacular goals to lead the Crew to a road win over Sporting Kansas City, earning him Player of the Week honors. He also had an assist in the Crew's win over D.C. United. The Crew's biggest problem this season has been scoring goals and if Higuain and Arrieta can start doing that, this could be a very dangerous team. As it is, they are just four points behind the Fire with two games in hand for the final playoff spot in the East.
Montreal Impact: It might seem a little weird to put a team here that is still five points out of the playoffs with at least two more games played than most of their competition, but give them credit for making a real effort to get better. The additions of Marco Di Vaio and Alessandro Nesta are clearly aimed at affecting the box office as much as the standings, but that doesn't make them bad moves. Di Vaio got off the schneid this week with a goal and Nesta was credited with the Impact's much improved defense. The playoffs are probably a long shot, but at least they should be able to have some momentum heading into Year 2.
New York Red Bulls: Say what you will about the intelligence of spending more than $10 million on a center back in a league where Best XI players at that position often make around $50,000 a year, but the Red Bulls are clearly better in the back now than they were a couple weeks ago. I'm still not convinced that trading for Sebastien Le Toux is a good idea if you insist on making him a midfielder, but I've never been a big Dane Richards fan anyway so that's no worse than a wash. If the Red Bulls weren't the favorites in the East before the transfer window, they have to be considered that now.
Houston Dynamo: We're going to have to assume some things here. 1. That Geoff Cameron's transfer to Stoke City will go through. 2. That they complete the signing of Ricardo Clark. Assuming both of those things happen, we might be able to reasonably call this a smashing success.Bobby Boswell and Jermaine Taylor have been holding down the fort at center back and Andre Hainault has been a decent right back. Meanwhile, the Dynamo midfield should be pretty amazing with Brad Davis, Clark and fellow transfer window addition Oscar Boniak Garcia sitting behind the new three-forward formation. They are currently a point behind the Red Bulls in the East, where the final few months should be very interesting.
Too soon to tell
Chicago Fire: They lost arguably their best player in Sebastian Grazzini, who's gone back to his native Argentina and doesn't seem likely to return. Although they added Chris Rolfe and a pair of Designated Players, none of them are classic No. 10s that the Fire offense seems to need. Alvaro Fernandez, who they were able to get on the cheap from the Sounders, has the potential to be that kind of player, but despite a skill-set tailor made for that role has never played extensively in the middle. Sherjill MacDonald could be a decent player, but is an odd choice as a DP. The success of their window moves will be determined almost entirely be their ability to end their two-year playoff drought.
Seattle Sounders: They waited until the last minute, but they definitely made it interesting. They shipped out somewhat disappointing DP Alvaro Fernandez, brought in German midfielder Christian Tiffert and appear to have added Honduran Olympian Mario Martinez, as well. What makes this a gamble is that Fernandez, disappointing or not, was just rounding into form and there's not an obvious replacement for him immediately. Best-case scenario, Tiffert is starting within a couple weeks and Martinez follows soon after. There's also no guarantee that Tiffert-and-Martinez is a significant upgrade over, say, Fernandez-and-Brad Evans. But the Sounders made this move because they felt it got them closer to a MLS Cup. Time will tell.
Vancouver Whitecaps: Depending on who you ask, Martin Rennie is either insane or a genius. Sitting in the middle of a playoff push, he decided to undergo a drastic makeover on a team that had already made enormous progress over its inaugural season. Gone are Davide Chiumiento, Le Toux and Eric Hassli. In their places are Richards and Scottish Designated Players Barry Robson and Kenny Miller. They went 2-3-2 during July and are basically back where they started. It's hard to imagine them missing the playoffs, but finishing fourth or fifth under this format is a big drop off from finishing third.
Needed to do more
Colorado Rapids: They started the month in the thick of the playoff race and will end it 11 points out and four points behind sixth-place Chivas USA after losing all six July matches. If ever there was a team that needed to make a move, this was it. Instead, they traded away capable right back Kosuke Kimura, brought in journeyman Tyson Wahl and continued their status as the only team in MLS to never have a Designated Player. Maybe a big-name signing wouldn't have cured their ills, but it clearly didn't help. Oscar Pareja has succeeded in making this a more attractive team, hopefully he'll survive this run of futility.
D.C. United: Somehow only had two league games scheduled in July. That both of them ended up being losses is obviously bad, but if they win their two games in hand they'd vault back to the top of the East. It sure would have been nice, though, if their new owners had also been able to bring in an impact player or two, preferably on defense where their 1.35 goals against average is worse than all but two teams currently qualifying for the playoffs. Ending their four-year playoff drought seems inevitable, but it's also hard to imagine them making a run at the top spot in the East with basically the same team that got them to this point.
Sporting Kansas City: It would be hyperbolic to say their near record start has been totally wasted. But after going 3-2-2 in July, the margin for error is long past gone when it comes to winning the East. While the Red Bulls and Dynamo were diligently working to improve, the best KC could do was add Serbian defender Neven Markovic. Maybe he's better than I'm giving him credit for and maybe the best thing they could do was simply wait for Teal Bunbury and CJ Sapong to break out of their collective slump (one goal between them in July), but there was clearly some room for improvement that they couldn't or wouldn't make.
LA Galaxy: They basically couldn't do anything, so it's not entirely surprising that no significant pieces were added. They did, however, get Omar Gonzalez back from injury. That, combined with the improved play of their three DPs, will be enough to get them into the playoffs and maybe even make a run at the MLS Cup possible.
Real Salt Lake: Their two biggest moves were picking up Kenny Mansally and Justin Braun, who cost them almost nothing. Mansally is an intriguing option at left back and Braun could prove useful as forward depth. Neither are game-changers, but the talent is already there.
San Jose Earthquakes: When Mehdi Ballouchy is your biggest addition, it's tempting to say that there was a systematic failure. Thing is, the Earthquakes are playing so well right now that a big move was unnecessary. If Ballouchy can make good on his loads of talent, it could be a master-stroke.