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Major League Soccer

An Offseason to Remember: The Top 10 MLS Stories

Juan Agudelo left. Michael Bradley arrived. A new TV deal is in place. A surprise No. 1 pick in the SuperDraft. MLS has made plenty of news so far in 2014, and Brendan Doherty recaps the top stories here.
BY Brendan Doherty Posted
January 25, 2014
10:58 PM

10. The MLS SuperDraft

A lot of the hype before the draft surrounded Generation adidas goalkeeper Andre Blake, but the Philadelphia Union still surprised a lot of observers by trading up in the draft order to select him. D.C. shopped its first overall pick to teams interested in taking Blake, and Philadelphia offered the best value to United, swapping spots to ensure it could claim the University of Connecticut junior with the No. 1 pick. Blake became the first goalkeeper, and the first Jamaican, taken with the first overall pick in the MLS draft.

The general consensus is that this draft did not feature many game-changing talents, but only time will tell if this is true. Remember: Highly touted Kelyn Rowe struggled to make much of an impact during his rookie MLS campaign, and Graham Zusi didn't start to shine until his third season.

9. Juan Agudelo Leaves the League

A failed bid for a UK work permit in late November seemed to put Juan Agudelo's move to Stoke City on ice. Despite not being able to work in the United Kingdom, the Red Bulls academy product had still signed a contract with Stoke and technically is a Potter. Stoke have since finagled a loan deal for Agudelo to join FC Utrecht of the Dutch Eredivisie.

Utrecht currently sits in 9th place in the Netherlands and its corps of forwards behind star Steve de Ridder has produced just four goals this campaign. If the 21-year-old Agudelo is going to build on his strong 2013 MLS season, playing in a goal-friendly environment like the Eredivisie seems like a good idea.

8. The Argentina Pipeline

The Philadelphia Union's new Designated Player signing, Cristian Maidana, is an Argentine who can man either wing. Maidana is also comfortable playing an attacking role through the middle, as a deep forward, or as an advanced midfielder. The 26-year-old will be the eighth Argentine DP in MLS in 2014, joining the likes of Federico Higuaín, Diego Valeri, and Javier Morales.

Related: On January 15 the Portland Timbers announced the signing of a pair of Argentine 30-year-olds—central defender Norberto Paparatto and forward Gastón "La Gata" Fernández. And more players from the talent-laden South American country could be on the way.

7. Michael Parkhurst returns to MLS

Controversy surrounded Michael Bradley's arrival in Toronto and Maurice Edu's proposed move to Philadelphia (see No. 5, below), but no one batted an eye when Michael Parkhurst signed with the Columbus Crew.

Why not? Because it’s a great fit for all parties.

The Crew traded its first round SuperDraft pick to New England in exchange for Parkhurst's MLS rights. The U.S. national team right back saw considerable action for his country in 2013 but played just 138 minutes during his year-long stint with struggling Bundesliga side FC Augsburg. He likely won’t have to worry about playing time under new Crew coach Gregg Berhalter.

6. Defoe and Gilberto in Toronto

Signing a promising forward as a Designated Player drums up fan interest…and occasionally works. Signing two DPs at striker could prove lethal.

By bringing Jermain Defoe and Gilberto north of the 49th parallel, Toronto FC immediately establishes one of the most formidable attacking partnerships in the league.

Defoe, the all-time leading scorer for Tottenham Hotspur in European competition, is a true poacher with a driving hunger to score goals. The 31-year-old still has plenty left in the tank, and could push another former Spur, Robbie Keane, as the top forward in the league.

Defoe’s new strike partner, 24-year-old Brazilian Gilberto, scored 14 goals in 24 Brasileirao matches for Portuguesa-SP in 2013 and will sit slightly deeper than the England international. Gilberto is exactly the type of player MLS clubs should be pursuing, and it will be fascinating to see if these two can generate goals in Toronto.

5. The Maurice Edu Thing

Is Clint Dempsey overpaid? Does it matter? Is Kyle Beckerman underpaid? Whose fault is that? If Dempsey is a Designated Player, and he is, can he come back to MLS and sign wherever he wants? Do these same rules apply to Maurice Edu? Yes? No? Partially? If not, who decides that and how do they decide it and what are the criteria?

More importantly: Why oh why can’t the Philadelphia Union simply pay Maurice Edu $1.2 million a year (or whatever the actual number is) if it wants to?

The latest reports suggest a deal is now done, but nothing has been announced. Still, it’s not 1996 anymore. Time to simplify things, MLS.

4. Homegrown Player Development

The San Jose Earthquakes became the final MLS club to sign a Homegrown player when it announced it had come to terms with Tommy Thompson on January 17. Even though the Homegrown Player initiative and the growth of MLS academies have not yet rendered the draft system entirely obsolete, the league can be proud that its player development program is moving in the right direction. As of this writing, MLS teams have signed 12 Homegrown players this offseason.

3. Camilo Abandons Vancouver

Camilo Sanvezzo was the Vancouver Whitecaps' top talent, and one of the best players in MLS over the last three seasons. Querétaro F.C. took notice of Camilo's particularly stunning 2013 season and, according to club president Adolfo Ríos, thought that the Brazilian was available on a free transfer.

Regardless of whether the unilateral contract options employed by MLS are defensible under FIFA standards, both MLS and the Whitecaps could have prevented this fiasco within the league's existing parameters by using retention funds or the club's salary budget to sign Camilo to a larger contract.

While Vancouver loses its best player, the team reported a “multi-million dollar fee” for Camilo in its press release. MLS could come off as the ultimate loser if this transfer becomes a precedent and more players challenge the foundation of the league's exceptional contracts.

2. New TV Deal a Windfall for MLS

Major League Soccer fans should thank NBC for bringing the same high production value to its MLS broadcasts that the network did with its highly celebrated coverage of the English Premier League. The success of NBC's coverage has positioned MLS to bargain for a much higher payout in its new television rights deal.

Any day now, MLS is expected to announce a joint multi-year deal with ESPN and Fox in the neighborhood of $70 million a year. That figure is reportedly double what NBC paid and will amount to a serious source of income that the league can count on for several years. Despite the disastrous ratings for the 2013 MLS Playoffs, negotiators at both Fox and ESPN think that MLS will grow throughout the duration of their new contract to cover the high front-end cost.

Will the TV audiences grow? Will the extra money trickle down to the field? Let's hope so.

1. Michael Bradley Returns

MLS’s acquisition of Michael Bradley, the best American player by most accounts, not only adds significant firepower to the league's talent pool and marketing capabilities, it also gives Toronto FC a star who will make the players around him better.

Long-suffering Ontario soccer fans deserve a good team, and thanks to owner Tim Leiweke’s ambition and ingenuity, they might just get one.

Will Bradley inspire the next generation of American soccer stars to consider MLS a worthy destination? Will this move light a fire under other MLS owners and encourage them to invest more in on-field talent? Will Bradley continue to play at a high level for the U.S. national team despite leaving a top four league like Serie A?

For now, there are more questions than answers regarding Bradley’s impact on the league as a whole. But nobody can accuse MLS of timidity in going after, and getting, its man.

What do you make of the MLS offseason so far? Are these the top 10? Would you change the order? Share your thoughts below.

Brendan Doherty is an ASN contributor and a freelance writer. Follow him on Twitter.

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