Yes, we've all heard plenty about Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard and Kaka—but lesser-know foreign signings can separate good from great in MLS. Here's Brooke Tunstall's look at the Eastern Conference.
WHILE MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER
February 03, 2015
SHARE THIS STORY
and other leagues that play a spring-to-fall schedule operate on a different transfer window than European teams that play on a fall-to-spring calendar, the close of the European winter transfer window still provides opportunities for MLS clubs to nab players looking for new club situations.
In recent days several MLS clubs have been active signing foreign talent, and while these players may not have the cachet of legendary Liverpool star Steve Gerrard or Italian national teamer Sebastian Giovinco, they are the type of signings that can make a huge impact over the course of a season.
Here’s a look at some key foreign signings by MLS' Eastern Conference teams. (A look at Western Conference signings will follow.)
New York City FC
After loading up on skillful, finesse attackers for New York City FC’s debut season, head coach Jason Kreis added some brawn and bite to his team’s attack. The expansion club has come to terms with Slovakian international Adam Nemec, a six-foot-three target forward who has been part of his country’s national team during its current European championship qualifying campaign.
“We’re pleased to be getting a European International player that immediately strengthens the squad and adds further goal scoring threat to our team,” Kreis said.
The 29-year old Nemec has spent most of his career in the German second division, most recently with Union Berlin. He has also played with Ingolstadt and Kaiserslautern. In five-and-a-half seasons in Germany he scored 25 goals in 136 matches.
Nemec debuted for the Slovakian national team in 2006 and didn’t make much of an immediate impact. But has recently re-emerged as a factor, scoring the only goal in a friendly with Malta in September and again against Macedonia in November in a qualifier for next year’s European championship.
In New York he’ll join a team that has a midfield featuring American playmaker Mix Diskerud and will—allegedly—add English icon Frank Lampard this summer. That pair will be providing service for Spanish star David Villa, and a number of forwards who will be competing for playing time.
Nemec's biggest competition could be Patrick Mullins, the two-time Hermann Trophy winner New York nabbed in the expansion draft after one season in New England, as well as speedsters Tony Taylor and Khiry Shelton. Taylor, a former U.S. youth international, spent most of his career in the lower divisions in Europe before joining New England last summer. Shelton, the Pac-12 offensive player of the year last fall at Oregon State, was the second overall pick in last month’s SuperDraft.
“It’s important to have players with a range of strengths and attributes," NYCFC sporting director Claudio Reyna said of Nemec. "He’s a strong and powerful athlete and will add a real goal scoring threat to our team. We’re delighted to add Adam to an already strong group of strikers.”
The Chicago Fire has missed the playoffs in four of the past five seasons and took steps to remedy that situation last week, signing Scottish international Shaun Maloney to a designated player deal. Maloney, 32, was capped 37 times by the Tartan Army, and had most recently been with Wigan, in England, which he helped win the FA Cup in 2013.
“Shaun is a very experienced player, having played in both the English and Scottish Premier Leagues, and we’re very happy to have signed someone of his caliber,” Fire head coach Frank Yallop said. “His style of play fits in exactly with what we’re trying to do at the Fire. He’s a hard-working, attack-minded player who is really going to help this team and we’re excited to have signed him.”
Capable of playing wide as well as an attacking midfielder, he’s the third attack-minded designated player the Fire have added this year. Last month the club signed Ghanaian national teamer David Accam and Nigerian Kennedy Igboananike, both of whom are forwards.
No team has been bigger on the transfer front this winter than Toronto FC, which is seeking to finally break its eight-season run of missing the playoffs—the longest such streak of futility in league history.
The big signings from Toronto were Giovinco and U.S. international Jozy Altidore but last week the team made a pair of smaller acquisitions in Polish international Damien Perquis and French veteran Benoit Cheyrou.
Born and raised in France, Perquis has 13 caps for Poland, which he’s eligible for through family heritage. A 30-year-old center back, Cherquis was most recently with Betis in Spain, playing for it in both the 1st and 2nd divisions.
He will likely partner Steven Caldwell in central defense, assuming both of them beat out newly acquired American Eriq Zavaleta—who happens to be head coach Greg Vanney’s nephew—and promising Nick Hagglund, who started 23 games last year as a rookie.
A former French youth international, Cheyroy, 33, is a longtime veteran of France’s top-flight, having played more than 400 games for Marseille, Auxerre, and Lille. Primarily a holding midfielder, he will likely do the grunt work behind Giovinco and Michael Bradley.
Orlando City SC
Expansion team Orlando City continues to put together an intriguing lineup for its maiden season in MLS. The marquee name for Adrian Heath’s side is Brazilian national teamer Kaka, a former world player of the year, but he’s been supplemented by names like young Honduran international Bryan Rochez, Salvadoran midfielder Darwin Ceren, Jamaican World Cup veteran Donovan Ricketts, and young Canadian national team player Cyle Larin, the top pick in the 2015 MLS draft.
Last week Orlando City added three more young players, acquiring Northern Ireland international forward Martin Paterson on-loan and adding Colombia youth national teamers Cristian Higuita and Carlos Rivas from Colombian power Deportivo Cali.
Paterson, who was born in (the wonderfully named town of) Tunstall, England, has played for Northern Ireland 22 times, scoring three goals along the way. The 27-year-old was most recently with Huddersfield in the English Championship and becomes the most-experienced forward for Orlando City.
Rivas, 20, can also play for forward. In 36 games for Cali he scored 13 goals. Higuita, 21, who is no relation to flamboyant former Colombian goalkeeper Rene Higuita, is a holding midfielder who played 16 times for Cali.
The Columbus Crew finished last year as one of the hotter teams in MLS, making the second round of the playoffs before being eliminated by New England. Despite their success last year, however, the Crew’s left flank may look completely different in 2015.
The team recently completed a draft day trade by acquiring left back Chris Klute from Colorado and late last week it signed Congolese international Cedric Mabwati, who is primarily a left midfielder.
Mabwati, who turns 23 next month, came up through the youth system of Atletico Madrid but never played for the first team. He has spent the majority of his career in the Spanish second division and despite his youth already has more than 140 first-team appearance for several clubs.
Brooke Tunstall is an American Soccer Now contributing editor and ASN 100 panelist. You can follow him on Twitter.