Paulo Nagamura

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 24

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Week 24 of the 2015 Major League Soccer season is in the books, and was it ever one for the long-term memory bank! Saturday night’s slate of games offered up one of the most memorable comeback victories in MLS history.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Week 24 MLS coverage | Standings | Stats | Schedule ]

There was also a matter of Nat Borchers, who features in this week’s MLS Team of the Week (full squad below), scoring a 95th-minute winner against Real Salt Lake, his former club of seven seasons. Borchers’ late header was the only chink in the armor of Nick Rimando (also in the TOTW), who was predictably brilliant in nearly securing his side a 0-0 draw.

[ WILD NIGHT IN MLS: SKC 4-3 VAN | FCD 1-2 LAGRBNY 3-0 TFC | RSL 0-1 POR ]

Elsewhere in Week 24, Obafemi Martins returned from injury to score two goals; Robbie Keane marked his 100th MLS appearance with his 65th and 66th league goals; David Villa scored his 14th goal and notched his sixth assist of the season; and Kekuta Manneh bagged a first-half brace in an utterly dominant performance.

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 24

Goalkeeper: Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

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Defenders: Matt Miazga (New York Red Bulls), Nat Borchers (Portland Timbers), Clarence Goodson (San Jose Earthquakes)

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Midfielders: Kekuta Manneh (Vancouver Whitecaps), Cristian Maidana (Philadelphia Union), Kwadwo Poku (New York City FC), Paulo Nagamura (Sporting Kansas City)

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Forwards: Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy), Obafemi Martins (Seattle Sounders), David Villa (New York City FC)

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MLS Snapshot: Sporting Kansas City 4-3 Vancouver Whitecaps (video)

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The game in 100 words (or less more — definitely more): As far as flat, dreadful and embarrassing performances in the sport of soccer go, Sporting Kansas City’s first-half showing in a late, dramatic, unfathomable, come-from-behind 4-3 victory for the ages over the Vancouver Whitecaps is an all-timer. Kekuta Manneh, who about every fourth or fifth game has an absolute belter of a game, had an absolute belter of a game en route to a first-half brace. Then, the second half began. The Whitecaps, playing their third game in eight days — just as Sporting KC were — elected to sit deeper and soak up the pressure in an attempt to kill the game off. It worked, for about 35 minutes as the ‘Caps held a 3-1 lead into the 81st minute. Dom Dwyer tucked away a peach of a header and Paulo Nagamura, perhaps the most unlikely off heroes, bagged the game’s equalizer and winner in the 87th and 94th minutes. This game, in a word, was legendary. With the victory, Sporting (40 points) leapfrog FC Dallas and take sole possession of third place in the Western Conference with multiple games in hand on nearly every team around them. Meanwhile, the ‘Caps crushing defeat sees them slip to second in the West as the LA Galaxy now reign supreme.

[ WILD NIGHT IN MLS: FCD 1-2 LAG | RBNY 3-0 TFCRSL 0-1 POR ]

Three Four Five Six moments that mattered

9′ — Manneh runs circles around SKC en route to the opener — Manneh is scary-fast. Like, scary-fast. He’s also becoming a scary-good soccer player. Soni Mustivar must not know about Manneh, otherwise he wouldn’t take ill-advised touches on the ball in Manneh’s general direction. The Gambian-soon-to-be-American speedster rounded Kevin Ellis with ease and finished from a tough angle. Woo.

41′ — Manneh goes unmarked, rises up and bags his brace — Sporting’s uninspired, languid performance persisted through the entirety of the first half. After another bad midfield giveaway, Steven Beitashour provided the pinpoint cross for Manneh who was a forgotten man at the back post. Just like that, 2-0, ‘Caps.

75′ — Morales swerves a filthy free kick past Melia — Pedro Morales’ right foot is absolutely frightening, if you’re an opposing goalkeeper, of course. Just watch Tim Melia, who’s as athletic as any shot-stopper in MLS, struggle to get into the same area code of this Goal of the Week shoo-in.

81′ — Dwyer heads home to cut the deficit to one — Bonus highlight time, because this game was B-A-N-A-N-A-S. Krisztian Nemeth cross -> Dwyer header -> ball into the back of the net.

85′ — Nagamura curls home a late equalizer — Chance Myers cut inside form the left wing, cut the ball back to the top of the 18-yard box and Nagamura wrapped his right foot around the ball and curled it home inside David Ousted’s left-hand post. Sporting Park erupted.

90+4′ — Nagamura heads home the unlikely winner — Soni Mustivar’s in-swinging cross found the head of Nagamura, Sporting’s Brazilian midfield warrior, at the top of the six-yard box. Nagamura’s flicked header was never going anywhere but inside of Ousted’s right-hand post. Sporting Park could have collapsed to the ground and no one inside the building would have cared one bit.

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

Man of the match: Paulo Nagamura

Goalscorers: Manneh (9′, 41′), Ellis (53′), Morales (75′), Dwyer (81′), Nagamura (87′, 90+4′)

MLS Snapshot: Sporting Kansas City 1-0 Chicago Fire

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The game in 100 words (or less): The overwhelming feeling from Sporting KC’s 1-0 victory over the Chicago Fire is that they were quite fortunate to overcome a lethargic second half, after dominating the first period and failing to convert a number of chances, and take all three points. Too many times Sporting have seen this particular tale play out at Sporting Park, only to leave with a point. Benny Feilhaber continued his dazzling form which surely warrants a U.S. national team call-up in the near future, but once again proved to be the only Sporting player to put together a quality 90-minute performance. Problems still exist for Sporting, but three points is three points, as they say.

[RECAPS: Friday and Saturday in MLS action ]

Three moments that mattered

33′ — Ellis’s header denied by the crossbar — Dom Dwyer missed a wide-open header from two yards out just moments before, which makes Kevin Ellis’s denial by crossbar in the 33rd minute all that much more agonizing. An inch or two lower and it caroms downward and over the line.

75′ — Nagamura the unlikely scorer with his head — Jalil Anibaba was also the unlikely crosser and creator of Sporting’s opening goal, delivering a dangerous ball into the penalty area that Paulo Nagamura, only into the game 10 minutes earlier, sent looping to the far post.

89′ — Accam sees red for an swipe at the face — David Accam endured a fairly frustrating game, considering the matchup he had and should have been able to exploit. Accam’s frustrations boiled over in the game’s final minutes, as the Ghanaian took a backhanded swipe at Anibaba and rightly saw red.

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

Man of the match: Benny Feilhaber — He’s the best midfielder in MLS at the moment, and it might not even be close. He’s also the best American midfielder playing anywhere in the world right now. It really is time to call the man up.

LINEUPS

Sporting Kansas City: Melia, Sinovic (Dia 77′), Besler, Ellis, Anibaba, Mustivar (Peterson 85′), Espinoza (Nagamura 65′), Feilhaber, Nemeth, Dwyer, Zusi

Goals: Nagamura (75′)

Chicago Fire: Johnson, Jones, Larentowicz, Adailton, Gehrig (Palmer 85′), Polster, Accam, Ritter (Igboananike 77′), Shipp, Maloney, Guly (Amarikwa 72′)

MLS Playoff Focus: Notes on Sporting Kansas City ahead of Saturday’s match at New England

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Ahead of Saturdays’ first-leg of this conference semifinal series, here are the must-knows about Sporting Kansas City (Tonight’s match kicks off at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN):

  • Benny Feilhaber or Paulo Nagamura … or neither?

The big choice for Sporting manager Peter Vermes isn’t just about his midfield personnel options – it’s more about how he wants to approach this first leg, the away leg for his team. And that will dictate his most pressing midfield personnel decision.

If the visitors want to defend-and-counter, Vermes could go with veteran Paulo Nagamura, who is back to full training. (Vermes says a second-leg appearance is more likely; but who could put a little lineup gamesmanship past any MLS manager?) Nagamura, a tough tackler who isn’t afraid of taking a few fouls, will make things even harder on New England, a team that tilts more toward the technical and less toward the tenacious as it is.

If Vermes senses any defensive vulnerability and the chance to really seize control of this series before it heads back to the Midwest, he might insert Benny Feilhaber into the starting lineup. Feilhaber adds more sophistication to the SKC’s passing, especially as it concerns finding chief playmaker Graham Zusi faster, and in better spots.

Of course, the manager could also just leave things be: that’s having Oriol Rosell (pictured) and Lawrence Olum line up as dual holding mids, with Zusi playing ahead of them in the central midfield arrangement. That’s how the team lined up last week in a 1-0 win at Philadelphia, a match where Sporting needed to retain Supporters Shield hopes.

Zusi has been asked to man central roles at time this year and flank roles at other times, which is where he plays for the national team.

(MORE: Previewing Sporting KC at New England)

  • Contrast in styles

New England just doesn’t really do flank play.

Well, they do … kind of. The preferred route (with its 4-1-4-1 formation) is always through the middle, on the ground. They’ll work through target play and combination play, often involving the quick feet of Lee Nguyen or Diego Fagundez. The Revs had the fewest crosses from the wings of an MLS side this year.

Sporting Kansas City, meanwhile, scores goals with a balance of flank play and counter attacking through selectively applied high pressure. Vermes’ team, always in a 4-3-3, isn’t the hell-bent constant high-pressure beast of the last two years, but they do understand when to press as a unit – and it can be devastating to the opponent who is careless with the ball in midfield.

  • Dom Dwyer’s recent rise … and what of Claudio Bieler?

Hard to say why the club’s Argentine Designated Player, who started so well but faded through the summer, isn’t playing lately. Is it a groin strain … or is the guy just not in the manager’s good graces right now.

Either way, he has been left to languish recently, stuck to the bench – and providing young striker Dom Dwyer the chance he needed to rise.

The team certainly gets more pressure and pursuit from Dwyer, perhaps less skillful and less instinctive about finding the ball inside the penalty area – but easily the more active in terms of trying to immediately regain the ball in the first third of the field.

Dwyer’s year has certainly been memorable. The second year forward went on loan to Orlando City, where he helped lead the Lions to their second USL PRO title in three years. Then, back in place at Sporting Park, Dwyer has done good things lately, including a huge game-winning goal at D.C. United late in the year as SKC pressed for Supporters Shield.

  • Jimmy Nielsen, still dominating MLS stats

No MLS goalkeeper has dominated statistically over the last three years the way KC’s Jimmy Nielsen has.

Obviously, a lot of this is about a tremendous defense in front of him. Still, we love stats in this country. Plus, the guy is good.

Nielsen matched New York’s Luis Robles in league wins (17) and finished second in the league in goals-against average (0.88) and shutouts (13).

His 546-minute shutout streak early in the year held up all season, easily the longest of anyone in the league through the entire campaign.

As mentioned, this is absolutely nothing new for the Dane, nicknamed the “White Puma.”  Nielsen was named 2012 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year and was named a Best XI selection after finishing second in goals against average with one of the best numbers in league history (0.79).

Nielsen, in his fourth year with the club, has already set a number of club records.

(MORE: Notes on New England ahead of Saturday’s match)

(MORE: ProSoccerTalk’s MLS post-season picks and predictions)