Ned Grabavoy

MLS announces inaugural class of free agents, re-entry draft candidates

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Who says there’s such a thing as the Major League Soccer “offseason?” And who says we were supposed to kick back and enjoy such a thing on Monday, barely 24 hours after the Portland Timbers hoisted the 2015 MLS Cup?

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Not only have we already witnessed a flurry of early offseason trades today, but MLS also announced the inaugural class of free agents — players who are eligible to negotiate new contracts with any of the league’s 20 teams after meeting its brand new age-28 and eight-years-MLS-experienced requirements.

(All salary numbers taken from MLS Players Union salary release, found here.)

FULL LIST OF 2015-16 FREE AGENTS (by position, alphabetically)

Goalkeepers

Jon Busch — Chicago Fire
Troy Perkins — Montreal Impact
Kyle Reynish — New York Red Bulls
Andrew Weber — Portland Timbers

Defenders

Corey Ashe — Orlando City SC
Bobby Burling — Colorado Rapids
Ty Harden — Chicago Fire
Michael Harrington — Colorado Rapids
Steven Keel — FC Dallas
Jeff Larentowicz — Chicago Fire
Drew Moor — Colorado Rapids
James Riley — Colorado Rapids

Midfielders

Eric Avila — Orlando City SC
Brian Carroll — Philadelphia Union
Ricado Clark — Houston Dynamo
Ned Grabavoy — New York City FC
Nick LaBrocca — Colorado Rapids
Justin Mapp — Montreal Impact
Paulo Nagamura — Sporting Kansas City
Nathan Sturgis — Houston Dynamo

Forwards

Chad Barrett — Seattle Sounders
Edson Buddle — LA Galaxy
Conor Casey — Philadelphia Union
Kenny Cooper — Montreal Impact
Alan Gordon — LA Galaxy
Mike Magee — Chicago Fire

Of the above listed players, the following names (no particular order) seem most likely to garner the most interest on the open market: Mike Magee, Justin Mapp, Paulo Nagamura, Ned Grabavoy, Jeff Larentowicz and Drew Moor.

Magee, who won the MLS MVP award just two years ago, has fallen off spectacularly since that 2013 campaign in which he scored 22 goals in 29 games while splitting time between the Galaxy and Fire. In the two seasons since, he has scored just seven goals in 29 appearance for his hometown club. Given his $400,000 cap hit in 2015, he’ll have to take a pay-cut, but he will land somewhere.

Mapp might just be the gem of this inaugural class. Sure, he just turned 31 years old and he missed most of 2015 due to a long-term injury, but he’s only one year removed from back-to-back eight-assist seasons in Montreal. For the right price ($186,725 cap hit in 2015) and with the right team, he’ll be one of the best fringe-starter wingers in the league.

[ MORE: MLS offseason kicks off with flurry of big-time trades ]

Larentowicz, Magee’s now-former teammate in Chicago, is a more-than-serviceable starting center back, even at 32 years old, with the ability to seamlessly slot in at defensive midfield. He’ll be an intriguing option for teams looking to shore up either position with a craft veteran (hellooooo, D.C. United!), though he’ll likely have to do so at a slightly lower price than his $265,000 cap hit from 2015.

The other possible starter of the players mentioned above is Grabavoy, who ended up with NYCFC at the behest of Jason Kreis, who is no longer the team’s head coach. He’s approaching 300 games played in his MLS career and was a massive part of Real Salt Lake’s sustained successes from 2009-2014. As with Larentowicz, on the right team and the right system, Grabavoy will be a useful pick-up for something a little below his 2015 cap hit of $200,000.

Nagamura is wanted in Kansas City, where there are hopes he’ll take a reduced salary ($230,000 cap hit in 2015) to remain the first midfield option off the bench for Peter Vermes’ side. Moor is an interesting case in his own right, in that he’ll turn 32 in January, but he’s coming off of arguably the best season of his career. He could actually get close the his 2015 cap hit of $258,500 if a team believes he’s still a full-time starter.

MLS Team of the Week — Stars of Week 29

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Week 29 of the 2015 Major League Soccer season is in the books, and — stop me if you’ve heard this one before — it was the most MLS weekend of MLS results.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage | Standings | Stats | Schedule ]

Five of the weekend’s 10 games were won by road teams (24.3 percent win percentage by road teams in 2015), and six of the league’s top 10 teams lost, including each of the top three teams in the Western Conference, by a combined score of 9-1. That’s MLS.

[ WEEK 29: VAN 0-3 SEA | POR 0-2 RBNYMTL 3-0 NE | DCU 1-2 CLB ]

Sebastian Giovinco bagged two more goals (18 and 19 for the season) and an assist (14), putting him four ahead of Kei Kamara, who picked up one of each (21 and 8) for the league lead of goals and assists combined. Benny Feilhaber found the form that saw him a serious MVP candidate two-thirds of the way through the season (two goals, for 10 on the season), while Luis Robles was busy locking up his second straight Save of the Year award.

Thoughts? Questions? Agreements? Disagreements? (Of course not.) Leave them in the comments section, as always. I’m not afraid to defend my picks.

[ MORE: 2015 MLS Team of the Week archive ]

MLS Team of the Week — Week 29

Goalkeeper: Luis Robles (New York Red Bulls)

MLS Goalkeeper

Defenders: Chad Marshall (Seattle Sounders), Aurelien Collin (Orlando City SC), Eric Miller (Montreal Impact)

MLS Defenders

Midfielders: Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC), Benny Feilhaber (Sporting Kansas City), Tranquillo Barnetta (Philadelphia Union), Ned Grabavoy (New York City FC)

MLS Midfielders

Forwards: Kei Kamara (Columbus Crew SC), Didier Drogba (Montreal Impact), Devon Sandoval (Real Salt Lake)

MLS Forwards

MLS Cup: Looking at Real Salt Lake’s tactics, style

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KANSAS CITY – Real Salt Lake manager Jason Kreis has allowed himself just a little more tactical breathing room in 2013, now more comfortable that his team (and he, himself) know how to manage a slightly different set-up and still fulfill the tenets that have made his bunch so successful.

Still, the only starting point in a discussion of Real Salt Lake tactics and style is that signature diamond midfield, which we are almost sue to see Saturday at Sporting Park.

For Real Salt Lake on the attack, it is all about Javier Morales (pictured), the team’s highly skilled and very wise Argentine playmaker. Morales, who has been in such splendid form in the playoffs, places himself nominally at the top of the midfield diamond — but it is really just a starting point.

Morales can drift around, comfortable that outside midfielders Luis Gil and Ned Grabavoy will position themselves accordingly in the event RSL loses the ball. So Morales will drift, frequently all the way to the touchlines to pick up balls from Kyle Beckerman and the RSL defenders.

Drifting into these disparate starting spots serves another purpose: SKC’s penchant for tactical fouling becomes more difficult. Sporting KC is quite wise in its exploitation of some naivete that still prevails in MLS refereeing circles. If Kansas City center back Aurelien Collin or holding midfielder Oriol Rosell adjudge that RSL is about to catch their team in a numerical disadvantage, they will foul quickly so that the team can organize defensively.

They will, that is, if they can find Morales and get to him in time. Morales will be well aware of what’s coming, and he’ll try to find Robbie Findley in advanced spaces, quickly so.

Findley’s speed, his ability to get behind defenses – and therefore to stretch those defenses vertically, adding more space in the midfield – has been a huge difference in RSL from 2012 to this year. Adding space in the midfield allows a bit more operating room for the swell, passing interchange we’ll see from Morales, holding man Kyle Beckerman and the outer midfield edges, occupied by Ned Grabavoy and Luis Gil.

Their ability to retain possession in the midfield – when they aren’t looking to use that deadly Morales-to-Findley combo on the counter, that is – will tell much of the story Saturday. It won’t be easy against SKC’s 4-3-3 and high press, but all four RSL midfielders have the technical ability to work out of tight spots.

RSL’s outside backs – it will be Tony Beltran on the right and either Chris Wingert or Lovel Palmer on the left – will get  forward, although surely not as much as their opposite numbers for the home team.

Kreis knows his team must be dialed in early; sucking some life out of the Sporting Park bunch – sure to be “hot” even if the weather is ridiculously frigid – would mean so much. That would force SKC outside backs Chance Myers and Seth Sinovic to cheat forward even more, to risk those gaps in behind.

Betting men should rush to Vegas with fists full of cash to wager that Aurelien Collin will be the first man booked at Sporting Park. In fact, the visitors should make every effort to provoke it.

An early booking would require Collin to completely alter his game, being less physical and less confrontational. When stripped of his best asset, that ability to create contact and look to win balls with maximum intensity, Collin becomes a very average defender, and one far more vulnerable to Findley’s speed.

Defensively, RSL center backs Nat Borchers and Chris Schuler can probably contain SKC’s crop of workaday forwards. The danger will be in the midfield, where Graham Zusi and Benny Feilhaber can crush with their creativity.

Under Kreis, RSL is one of the league’s top teams at minding its positioning on the attack, always aware of where the pieces find themselves in case they lose the ball. RSL will lose possession in bad spots here and there; it’s all but inevitable against SKC. If the visitors can maintain that positional discipline, they have a good chance of handling SKC’s attack, leaving the home to create mostly off set pieces.

MORE ProSoccerTalk MLS CUP COVERAGE

  • Real Salt Lake

Report says Jason Kreis on sure track to take NYCFC job; the RSL manager just frowns

Looking back on RSL’s top moment as a club, the 2009 MLS Cup

Real Salt Lake in 2013: the “not-so-rebuilding” year

Looking back on 2013: Talking through Real Salt Lake’s path to MLS Cup

Real Salt Lake’s key men

  • Sporting Kansas City

What we learned as SKC dispatched Houston in the Eastern finals

Sporting KC’s new way; the team is far more versatile today

MLS Cup 2000 flashback: Meola, Molnar and the SKC heroes

The Benny Feilhaber conundrum; has Peter Vermes finally cracked the code?

Notes from Sporting Kansas City’s Thursday press conference

Sporting Kansas City’s key players

  • Team versus team

MLS Cup positional edges: Goalkeepers

MLS Cup positional edges: Defenses

MLS Cup positional edges: Midfields

MLS Cup positional edges: Forwards

  • MLS Cup general

MLS Cup will close banner 2013 season for Sporting Park

MLS Cup first: manager who are both former players in the league

Debunking the myth of Sporting KC, Real Salt Lake as bitter rivals

MLS Cup history: the three best finals yet

Looking at how the playoff format worked in 2013

Looking back at Real Salt Lake’s top moment, the 2009 MLS Cup triumph:

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The great thing for Real Salt Lake fans who look back on the 2009 MLS Cup win is that the core of that team will line up Saturday at Sporting Park – the bulk of it, anyway.

It was Nick Rimando in goal; Nat Borchers on patrol in the back; Kyle Beckerman at the bottom of RSL’s midfield diamond, and; Javier Morales making the plays and controlling possession from the top of the diamond.

Plus, Ned Grabavoy played a big role in the 2009 triumph, something a few folks may forget. What else happened that cold day in Seattle? Let’s take a look back at a few of the key happenings that day:

  • Real Salt Lake claimed the day in a penalty kick shootout over the starry LA Galaxy. What I wrote that day for ESPN.com: “The overachievers from one of the league’s smallest markets overcame ample hardship thanks to superior fitness and, even more, to a goalkeeper [Nick Rimando] who specializes in turning away spot shots. The Utah side also had just enough shooters able to remain calm under pressure, as a blue-collar club with no real front-line international stars claimed a 5-4 edge in a tiebreaker that went seven shooters deep.”
  • The game was deadlocked at 1-1 after 90 minutes, and after extra time as well.  Mike Magee had scored in the 41st minutes for the Galaxy; Robbie Findley supplied RSL’s 64th-minute equalizer. (Hmmm … Magee and Findley scoring in the post-season? Sound familiar?)
  • A lot of people forget that Javier Morales left the game early (22nd minute) injured. What a blow. His replacement: Clint Mathis! Honestly, I had forgotten about Mathis’ role in this one. Plus, Will Johnson was limited by a bout with food poisoning. Ned Grabavoy replaced him, and quite effectively so.
  • Landon Donovan was the Galaxy’s fourth tiebreaker shooter. Historically, the guy has proven as sure a PK taker as you’ll ever see … but not on this night. His shot flew well high, yet another failure in a bit of a burgeoning litany of them against Rimando.
  • The Jason Kreis story was just beginning. He was already the youngest MLS coach to date when he first took to the suit and the sidelines in 2007. Two years later, on that chilly, wet Seattle night, Kreis became the youngest manager to win MLS Cup, still a month from his 37th birthday.
  • A big narrative that developed out of MLS Cup 2009 was this idea that Designated Players may gin up an MLS club’s exposure, but the DP dandies do not necessarily win titles. This was the third championship decided after MLS instituted its innovative DP rules. And for the third year, a team without one of these recognized stars claimed the title. This was the best example yet, Real Salt Lake (small of market, balanced of salary) vs. the DP-loving Galaxy, with Landon Donovan and David Beckham on the roster.
  • Finally, Seattle as MLS Cup hosts? Two words: Awe. Some.

ProSoccerTalk’s MLS CUP COVERAGE

  • Real Salt Lake

Report says Jason Kreis on sure track to take NYCFC job; the RSL manager just frowns

  • Sporting Kansas City

What we learned as SKC dispatched Houston in the Eastern finals

  • MLS Cup general

MLS Cup will close banner 2013 season for Sporting Park

MLS Cup first: manager who are both former players in the league

Debunking the myth of Sporting KC, Real Salt Lake as bitter rivals

MLS Cup history: the three best finals yet

Looking at how the playoff format worked in 2013

MLS Playoff Focus: Notes on Real Salt Lake ahead of Sunday’s visit from Portland

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(Originally posted Saturday night)

Previewing the first left of Major League Soccer’s Western Conference final (Sunday, 9 p.m. Eastern), here are the must-knows about Real Salt Lake ahead of their meeting with the visiting Portland Timbers:

  • Diamonds are forever

It’s not that Jason Kreis’s formation change for leg one of the conference semifinals was completely ineffective. After all, the whole point was to slow down Los Angeles’s counterattack, and to RSL’s credit, the Galaxy’s transition was a relative non-factor during their first hour in Carson. Unfortunately, RSL’s unfamiliarity with the night’s 4-2-3-1 formation left them unable to connect passes into attack, something that gave LA more of the ball and, eventually, most of the first hour’s chances.

Back in Salt Lake, despite the loss of midfielder Ned Grabavoy, RSL went back to their usual diamond midfield and eventually won, a 2-0 victory in which LA’s counter was no more effective than in Carson’s opening hour. While two defensive midfielder-formation may have made sense in theory, the players just couldn’t pull it off. Sometimes, it’s best to ignore the chalkboard and  to play your best players where they’re most comfortable. Don’t expect Kreis to do too much experimenting going forward.

  • Expect Ned Grabavoy back; but what of Sebastián Velasquez?

Quietly, Ned Grabavoy has an excellent season, particularly over the first half of the campaign. The 30-year-old’s ability to take his game to a slightly higher level helped offseason the loss of Will Johnson and compensate for the periodic absences of Luis Gil. On Sunday, he’s expected to return to the lineup, a move that will have the unfortunate consequence of relegating Sebastián Velasquez to the bench.

Four days after having a major impact as a substitute in Los Angeles, Velasquez scored his first professional goal, his header pulling opening RSL’s account on Thursday. Though logically you’d think he goes back to the bench with Grabavoy’s health, he’s playing better than Gil. At least, he’s given Real Salt Lake a needed spark going forward.

Odds are Jason Kreis stays with the players who’ve established themselves as starters, meaning Velasquez goes back to the bench. But given what we saw from him in the last round, the second year pro should have an impact on this series; if not in the starting XI, then in a super sub’s role.

source: AP
Chris Schuler (left) was limited to 16 appearances in the regular season. In the conference semifinal, the 26-year-old scored the series-winning goal after playing in the middle of a defense that allowed one goal in 210 minutes. (Photo: AP.)
  • Schuler and Borchers present a new challenge

Portland torched Djimi Traoré on Thursday, with the Seattle left-center half playing a part in all three Timbers goals. Five days earlier, the Malian defender was also at fault for a goal, as was central defense partner Jhon Kennedy Hurtado. The duo’s mistakes were one of the Sounders’ major downfalls.

Portland can’t expect the same leniency from Utah, whose central defenders have been excellent thus far in this postseason. Over two legs against Los Angeles, the only goal RSL conceded was a 24-yard bomb from Sean Franklin, one neither Nat Borchers nor Chris Schuler should have been expected to stop. Constantly stressed over the last 30 minutes in LA, the duo held out, muffling that dangerous Galaxy counter. In Sandy, they kept LA off the board for 120 minutes, with Schuler finding the series-winner in extra time.

Schuler, out for much of the season, is getting some much-deserved attention for his play, but Borchers, a former best XI defender, has been his equal. Together, the duo became MLS’s first to solve the Robbie Keane-Landon Donovan conundrum. They’ll prove much more difficult to beat than Traoré and Hurtado.

  • Who starts at forward?

It won’t be Álvaro Saborio. The Costa Rican has been ruled out of Sunday’s match with a muscle injury, leaving Jason Kreis with four players to choose from for his two forward set:

    • Joao Plata is the incumbent of sorts (Saborio’s normal partner), but the Edcuadorian didn’t play a minute against Los Angeles, hampered by a hamstring injury. He made the bench in game two, but …
    • … with Robbie Findley starting both games against the Galaxy, Kreis may elect to keep the veteran in the starting XI. A member of RSL’s 2009 title-winning team, Findley provides a good bridge to …
    • Olmes Garcia, the young Colombian coming off the bench on Thursday after failing to make the team in Carson. Only 21 years old, he is the least likely to start on Sunday, with Kreis preferring to us him off the bench.
    • The true (or true-ist) like-for-like option for Saborío is rookie Devon Sandoval, who can serve as a target man – somebody to provide an outlet from Portland’s pressure.

Plata’s relationship with Saborío is part of the reason the duo often start together, so with the Costa Rican out, Findley may again be preferred. But while Sandoval seems a logical option to complement the former U.S. international, Kreis could still elect to get creative in the absence of his first choice number nine.

  • The importance of Kyle Beckerman

Beckerman is always important to RSL, but against Portland, his performances could prove vital. As the Timbers seek to press high and create quick turnovers, his ability to retain possession, take advantage of openings, and decide when to do which will play in big part in RSL’s potential success.

Perhaps as important: How Beckerman handles Diego Valeri. Or Darlington Nagbe. Who knows? Depending on Portland’s tactics, either could end up demanding Beckerman’s attention, but with both free to drop deep into midfield to pick up the ball,  there’s also the potential for one to open up space for the other.

Communication will be vital. Nat Borchers will have to be sure to pull Beckerman back when players are moving into his space, and Beckerman will have to make sure Grabavoy and Gil are positioned to pick up Portland’s creators as he lets them go. Beckerman can’t contain both but he will be expected to neutralize whomever tries to get the ball in front of RSL’s line.

Clearly, Real Salt Lake have already has some success defending Portland’s stars (undefeated in four against them this year), but with the Timbers clicking as they never have before, Beckerman will be particularly stressed to maintain his normal standard of play.