Eric Alexander

Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

FC Cincinnati acquires Garza, selects five in Expansion Draft

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FC Cincinnati added plenty of MLS experience on Tuesday in their Expansion Draft, also making two trades involving internationally-capped players.

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FCC picked up forwards Darren Mattocks and Kei Kamara, then trading the latter to the Colorado Rapids in exchange for an international roster spot.

The club also drafted winger Roland Lamah from FC Dallas, midfielder Eric Alexander of Houston, and young center back Hassan Ndam from the New York Red Bulls.

FCC also acquired USMNT left back Greg Garza from Atlanta United in exchange for $250,000 in Target Allocation Money and $200,000 in General Allocation Money.

Kamara has 112 MLS goals including 14 with five assists last season in Vancouver and will give Colorado a big target man while allowing FCC a valuable extra international slot as most of theirs were taken with players retained from the USL.

Mattocks scored 10 goals for DC last season, while FCC has the rights to Lamah, who is out-of-contract after scoring eight goals with five assists last season.

Tim Cahill: Petke loved Red Bulls “more than anyone else ever will”

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Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl caught up with new Shanghai Greenland Shenhua attacker Tim Cahill, and the Aussie star has a lot to say about his departure from New York Red Bulls and the state of the club.

NYRB sporting director Ali Curtis has faced backlash since his firing of beloved head coach Mike Petke and the subsequent retooling of the roster.

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And Cahill respects the rebuilding process, but didn’t want to be a part of it. Sure, Sacha Kljestan is coming, but Cahill shares some concerns with, well, us.

From Sports Illustrated:

“But I feel when you start all over again, at 35 years old I don’t know whether I’m ready to do that. Especially with some influential players [gone]: Oyongo, one of the top performers from last year; Eric Alexander, the most consistent player I ever played with at the Red Bulls, a player that me and Thierry spoke very highly of time and time again; Olave, one of the best defenders in the league. So it definitely is a new transition for the New York Red Bulls, and you can see there’s a method to what he’s doing there, and I think it’s going to take time. But I wish them all the very best.”

One thing Cahill doesn’t get? Firing Petke.

“Two seasons: Supporters’ Shield and one goal from the final. So I really feel for him. He’s a fan favorite. They loved him, but they loved him for a reason. Because he loved the club more than anyone else ever will. I know that for a fact.”

It’s a really good piece from Wahl, also delving into why he chose China as his next stop, whether he considers his time in New York a success, and lofty thoughts about the Socceroos’ recent Asian Cup triumph.

And I want to stress one more time… trading Alexander was a huge sacrifice, one that will show for a while in New York (and probably Montreal).

Analyzing the Impact/Red Bulls deal: Is Kljestan worth losing Alexander?

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Analyzing Tuesday’s deal that sent a number of valuable assets from the New York Red Bulls to Montreal for Felipe Martins and the top spot in the allocation order is difficult to evaluate on the surface, even with the knowledge that it puts New York in the driver’s seat in pursuit of Sacha Kljestan.

That’s because on the surface, Montreal won the trade handily. But that’s not the focus here, as Ali Curtis and Jesse Marsch continue to revamp the Red Bulls after the sudden firing of Mike Petke earlier this month.

[ MORE: NYRB wanted to hire Marsch, not fire Petke ]

Marsch, in theory, lands his former Chivas USA teammate in Kljestan and, in certainty, nabs Martins, who played for him during his one-year stint as Montreal boss in 2012.

But in furthering his imprint on the Red Bulls, has Curtis lost a bit of the plot? Kljestan, 29, has struggled for playing time at Anderlecht. Yes, he’s been a solid contributor for the Belgian power until recently, but is he a major upgrade over Alexander, three years Kljestan’s junior?

Belgium’s top flight, the Jupiler League, is the 11th ranked league in Europe, 10 coefficient points behind even the Eredivisie. For comparison’s sake, the Jupiler League is 10 points ahead of nations like Romania, Czech Republic and Israel. So, yes, there’s a gulf.

Meanwhile, Martins is a one-dimensional player who, while capable of the sublime, has a horrific possession score in Squawka and a below-average defensive acumen. Granted the Impact weren’t very good, but the advanced stats say Martins was the 11th most valuable player on Montreal.

Compare that with Alexander, the sixth best Red Bull in 2014/15. A big part of New York’s engine under Petke, Alexander is a complete midfielder whose nine assists were second only to Thierry Henry on New York’s stat list. His 34 games played tied Luis Robles for most on the team, and his 30 starts were third to Robles and Lloyd Sam.

And Oyongo, at just 23, has made an impact — no pun intended — for the Cameroon national team, scoring his first international goal this month at the Africa Cup of Nations. Montreal had a major need in defense, and Oyongo landed in New York despite interest from Lille.

It already feels like Montreal has a major chance to be the winner in this deal, and that’s before they do anything with the allocation money.

Looking back: The top breakout players of the 2014 MLS season

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Every season finds a bevy of players surging toward the realization of their potential, and MLS had a number who made the impacts felt in 2014.

It was hard to knock the field down, and some big names fell along the way (though we provided an “honorable mention” list for their and our egos).

In no particular order, we present 11 names — seven who broke free and four who just missed — as our top advancers of MLS 2014.

[ MLS: Busy day in transactions, rounded up ]

– Matt Hedges, D, FC Dallas — The Rochester native was a physical presence in his own end and an effective force at the other end. Solid in possession and a leader, the 24-year-old UNC product is due for a look from Jurgen Klinsmann. We’d be shocked if that doesn’t happen in January.

– Perry Kitchen, M, DC United — Finally found more finish with a career-high five goals, and allowed a lot of us to forget he’s merely 22 years of age. Kitchen was the only player in MLS history to lead his team in minutes as a rookie in 2011. He was 19, by the way. I quit.

– Bradley Wright-Phillips, F, Red Bulls — It’s easy to forget that BWP scored just once in 7 MLS appearances last season after a pair of disappointing English seasons for Brentford and Charlton Athletic. But he’s moved past a seedy reputation overseas to start bagging goals again, tying the single-season record for Major League Soccer.

source: Getty Images– Tony Tchani, M, Columbus — Steady as you’d like with bruising capabilities and elite athleticism, Tchani probably didn’t get the love he deserved for a brilliant season with the Crew. We noticed, Tony. We noticed.

– Eric Alexander, M, Red Bulls — Raise your hand if you appeared in 40 games as a field player this season. If you’re not Alexander, your hand better not be raised. Yes, the 26-year-old has had success in the past and 2013 was a strong debut year, but his sophomore campaign in New York was a notch higher.

– David Ousted, GK, Vancouver — Seized the starting role under Carl Robinson, and the rookie boss couldn’t have taken it back if he wanted. The 29-year-old Dane was outstanding in the ‘Caps successful late-season run to hold off Portland for the West’s final spot.

– Gyasi Zardes, F, Los Angeles —  When he was signed as a Homegrown player out of Cal State Bakersfield and posted four goals as a rookie, few saw this level of production: 19 goals in 35 appearances. Now can he do it sans Landon Donovan in 2015? We wouldn’t bet against him.

Honorably mentioned: Lee Nguyen (we knew he was crafty), Erick “Cubo” Torres (really broke out last year), Andrew Farrell (Steady enough as a rookie in 2013), Harrison Shipp (Broke out, then cooled off),

MLS Playoff Focus: Notes on New York Red Bulls ahead of Sunday’s match at Houston

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Ahead of Sunday’s first-leg of this Eastern Conference semifinal series, here are the must-knows about Mike Petke’s Red Bulls (Sunday’s match kicks off at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC):

  • A team of lunch pail toilers

In a lot of ways, managing in this league is about navigating Major League Soccer’s restrictive salary cap. More specifically, where do you put your bargain guys? Because every team has quite a few of them.

For the Red Bulls, the lower salary guys are on the flanks, where Eric Alexander (right) and Jonny Steele (left) have gotten almost all of the starts this year. Both are consummate MLS toilers, quick into the tackle, quick to drive the team forward with some energ, always OK with finding Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill as quickly as possible, 100 percent amenable with letting the pricey types do what they are so handsomely paid to do.

In a lot of ways, Steele and Alexander represent the team in manager Mike Petke’s image more than the stars. Dax McCarty certainly does; the Red Bulls scrappy, busy midfield harrier remains in constant motion, interrupting passing lanes and making himself ever available as the defenders’ initial outlet.

Petke wasn’t a star guy, of course, during his not-so-distant playing days; he was a lunch pail guy in his years as a player for the New York organization.

(MORE: PST previews Dynamo-Red Bulls)

  • Thierry Henry can still score a crackerjack, can’t he?

Of course, even a team of toilers loves to have a guy around who can score (and inspire) with highlight-making goals. That’s Henry, a studious, intelligent soccer man who always knows how to save a little for the stretch-run.

We all remember that fabulous hit just last week against Chicago, right?

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Here’s the thing with Henry: he took some flak from names in the game for his choice not to go play on the artificial turf in Seattle late in the year, and fair enough. But the man knows his body, and can we just see his side for a second?

Maybe, just maybe, if Henry does go play on the artificial turf in Seattle, perhaps he aggravates those heel issues and then doesn’t have that kind of a goal in him. Maybe.

  • The key to the offense is … Peguy Luyindula?

Can it really be that a team blessed with talented types like Henry and Cahill is having its offensive strings pulled by … a guy whose name most of us cannot pronounce? Looks like it.

Peguy Luyindula had two assists last week, and he seems to have found role at the top of the Red Bulls’ midfield diamond.

Here’s the thing about New York’s attack in 2013: Henry could probably perform the creative duty, and does so to an extent, but usually as his team moves in closer to opposition goal. He is a forward in the Red Bulls’ typical 4-4-2 setup, so when Henry drifts too far back into the midfield, the team can sometimes suffer in getting enough men into the attack. We’ve seen that happen over the last two or three years in Harrison, N.J.

Tim Cahill can man the attacking midfield role, but it’s clearly not his best spot.

The team thought it had the answer in Brazilian technician Juninho, but he proved too old and washed out by mid-season. (I mean, who saw that coming? Oh, wait a minute … ) That left the club without anything close to a true playmaker. Until Luyindula’s arrival into the role, that is.

(MORE: CSN Houston’s video preview of Dynamo-Red Bulls)

  • Luis Robles in charge

If we’re being honest, most observers didn’t expect to see Luis Robles between the pipes for the Red Bulls by this time of the year.

Ryan Meara, who was so good last year before injury chopped down his potential Rookie of the Year campaign, seemed to be getting healthy and fit in the preseason. And Robles, who was more or less out of the professional game with the club picked him up late last year, seemed prone to gaffes, like a couple that really hurt the Red Bulls early this year.

But Robles settled into the role and has established himself as a dependable man behind commanding center back Jamison Olave and the Red Bulls’ back line.

Oh, and he makes the occasional big save, too, which is exactly what you want from a goalkeeper. His big, diving reach into the upper corner during the team’s last trip into South Texas was truly outstanding stuff.

  • Fastest goal in MLS history

We cannot really talk about this year’s lopsided series (New York won all three meetings, including two in Houston by a stunning combined score of 7-1) without mentioning Tim Cahill’s early goal as the teams met at BBVA Compass Stadium two weeks ago.

It was the fastest goal in MLS history. In fact, let’s not talk about it. Let’s just watch the darn thing:

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