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MLS arms race continues

MLS has seen an unprecedented influx of big name and high skill players during the summer transfer window. In case you missed a few:

F Thierry Henry—NYRB (France); D/M Rafael Marquez—NYRB (Mexico); M Bronko Boskovic—DCU (Montenegro); F Mista—Toronto (Spain); F Blaise Nkufo—Seattle (Switzerland); M Alvaro Fernandez—Seattle (Uruguay); F Giancarlo Maldonado—Chivas USA (Venezuela); F Nery Castillo—Chicago (Mexico); M Freddie Ljungberg—traded from Seattle to Chicago (Sweden); Milton Rodriguez—Dallas (Colombia).

The list is admittedly tilted toward Designated Players and attacking players with significant international experience. Absent from the list though are Americans Abroad to come home, goalkeepers, or any real quantity of defenders.

This summer window has been heavily focused on flash and it doesn’t look likely to let up. Word has filtered through various sources that the New England Revolution are in talks with Portugese forward Nuno Gomes, the Kansas City Wizards continue to pursue Mexican forward Omar Bravo, and now Columbus looks set to sign Peruvian forward Andres Mendoza to bolster their front line. While Americans Abroad look hesitant to come home (Beasley and Adu among others) MLS appears to be a more inviting destination for foreigners these days. New York managing director Eric Stover claims that he could have “probably put together a team that would finish in the top five or six in the Premiership with the guys who contacted us” about coming to Red Bull this summer.

Is this influx of talent good for the league? If you subscribe to the equation that goals = excitement and an exciting product = butts in seats, then you have to unequivocally say yes. I don’t necessarily want to see a goal-fest in every MLS game, but an able-bodied striker on every team will help the bottom of the league more than it will the top. At the end of the day, most of these signings (Marquez and Henry excluded) don’t really move the needle on the American sports landscape and thus the pay-off will have to be on the field, especially for markets like Columbus, KC, and New England. And despite the need for on-field success to make the investment worth-while, chances are that only a few will thrive in MLS and I doubt that more than one or two put together any season like pre-season acquisition Alvaro Saborio (8g, 4a, Costa Rica) is putting together for Salt Lake.

What does this arms race mean to Philadelphia? It only reinforces the need of Philadelphia to locate a long-term solution along the backline. The Union front office have been known to be a bit secretive about player moves, but you have to imagine that they are still looking for players with eleven days left in the transfer window. The Union have a pile of allocation money, two open roster spots, and room still under the cap where one could fit the pro-rated salary of a higher-priced player. Assuming the signing of loanee Michael Orozco in the off-season, the Union have the flexibility to add a quality player anywhere on the backline and not really have to focus so much on which position he plays.

That flexibility, in my opinion, makes a major defensive signing likely as Nowak will be able to focus on strength of character and leadership, not just ability in a particular position. Your guess is as good as mine whether that move will happen in the next eleven days or will wait until the off-season, but after signings to address speed on the wing and midfield depth, defense has become the biggest need. If the Union dream of a spot in the playoffs (playoffs?!?), I don’t see how they could get there without it.

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