Major League Soccer’s January transfer window was poised to bring the largest ever haul of international players into the United States and Canada. With names like Diego Forlán to Seattle, Robbie Keane to Vancouver, Ronaldinho to LA Galaxy and the likes of Claude Makélelé and Nicolas Anelka to Red Bull New York, the league looked to dramatically increase the international presence of the 16-year old league. Instead none of the aforementioned players chose MLS and the moves that were made were of fairly low significance in world football dealings. That said, the players brought in during the January window could have a significant impact within the league, particularly in three cases.
Juan Pablo Ángel‘s (pictured) move to LA Galaxy as a Designated Player gives the Supporters Shield holders an aging but potent attack that includes both Landon Donovan and David Beckham. Though he is 35-years old, the Colombian striker spent four years in New York and scored 58 goals in 102 matches for Red Bull. His impact in the Galaxy side will be one of the national stories in MLS in 2011 and will be widely criticized if the Galaxy do not win the MLS Cup.
In Vancouver the signing of Alain Rochat is a key addition to a side without particularly inspiring quality. The Whitecaps are an expansion team in 2011 having moved up from the second division. In piecing the club together, manager Teitur Þórðarson has largely ignored offensive players and focused on building a solid defense. Jay DeMerit’s signing in late 2010 was the first step in that direction and the addition of Rochat, a recent veteran of the Champions League at FC Zürich, will certainly bolster the quality at the back. Rochat was actually signed by Vancouver during the 2010 season but immediately loaned back to FCZ, unbeknownst to supporters of either club.
And in Portland, Kenny Cooper is by far the biggest name to join the club in the early stages of construction. Like Vancouver, the Timbers are an expansion side and have thus built the club from scratch since October. Portland focused on young defenders and midfielders in the expansion and collegiate drafts leaving space and money to devote to a high powered attacking player. Cooper had a terrific strike rate in MLS, where he played at FC Dallas before signing with 1860 München in 2009. The sometimes American international forward will need to prove that he has recovered from injuries that plagued his time in Germany, but if his form resembles anything like the 40 goals in 90 games he played in Dallas, Portland will have one of the top strikers in the league.
Here are the biggest moves of the January window with the caveat that MLS clubs are not required to announce the signing of a player when the signing takes place. That means there could be more news to come as clubs are now in training camp in warm-weather sites across the country.
Chicago Fire – Gaston Puerari (Montevideo Wanderers – Uruguay)
Columbus Crew – Jeff Cunningham (FC Dallas)
LA Galaxy – Juan Pablo Ángel (Red Bull New York), Miguel Lopez (Quilmes – Argentina)
New York Red Bull – Jan Gunnar Solli (SK Brann – Norway), Marcos Paullo (Atlético Paranaense – Brazil)
Philadelphia Union – Faryd Mondragón (FC Köln), Carlos Valdés (Santa Fe – Colombia)
Portland Timbers – Kenny Cooper (1860 München), Jorge Perlaza (Deportes Tolima – Colombia)
Vancouver Whitecaps – Alain Rochat (FC Zürich)
On the outbound front, several big name players made moves overseas during the transfer window. Freddie Ljungberg’s move to Celtic was probably the most ballyhooed in the UK but the Swedish midfielder was never going to resign with Chicago Fire. Edson Buddle has already made an impact in the 2.Bundesliga with FC Ingolstadt, scoring on his debut. That one of the league’s top scorers would move to a second division side in Europe is an indication of exactly where the level of money is in MLS at the moment. And Robbie Findley, last seen in MLS with Real Salt Lake, but whose rights are now owned by Portland Timbers, made official his move to Nottingham Forest just as the transfer window closed. He then injured his thigh in his first day of training and will miss three months, likely ending his season before it started at Forest.
Chicago Fire – Freddie Ljungberg (Celtic)
Columbus Crew – Guillermo Barros Schelotto (Gimnasia La Plata – Argentina)
LA Galaxy – Edson Buddle (FC Ingolstadt – Germany)
Portland Timbers – Robbie Findley (Nottingham Forrest)
San Jose Earthquakes – Geovanni (Vitória – Brazil)