You always hear about the new international signings that come into Major League Soccer every season, but one of the league's key building blocks has always been the veteran player who moves around MLS.
If you look at teams that have enjoyed consistent success in the league, many have maintained their lofty status by making shrewd pickups on the MLS market. Look no further than Portland, which won an MLS Cup with the help of castoffs such as Jorge Villafana, Rodney Wallace and Maximiliano Urruti. All three had been with different MLS clubs before finding their way to the Rose City, and all three played key roles in helping the Timbers lift an MLS Cup title.
As we approach a new season, all three of those players have moved on, and the Timbers have replaced them with another batch of MLS vets. That's something that's easy overlook when focusing your attention on international standouts like Diego Valeri and Liam Ridgewell.
“The great thing about building with MLS guys is you know what you get because you’ve seen them in the league,” Timbers coach Caleb Porter told Goal USA. “It’s hard to predict sometimes with foreign players, you can see them in a different league and they look great, but that league’s different, the level’s different, you’re not factoring in the transition.”
The Timbers aren't alone. Perennial contenders like the LA Galaxy, Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake all won titles with the help of MLS veterans who came from other clubs within the league, and this year teams like Toronto FC and Sporting KC will be hoping their high-profile MLS additions will help them lift a championship trophy.
Here is a look at the top MLS players who have new homes in the league this year:
Goalkeeper was a definite area of need for the Galaxy after parting ways with Jaime Penedo last summer, and watching Donovan Ricketts struggle badly. Enter Kennedy, a Los Angeles-area native who made his name as the standout for now-defunct Chivas USA. After spending a year with FC Dallas, Kennedy jumped at the chance to return to LA, and he will be a key figure in the Galaxy's quest for a sixth MLS Cup title.
Kennedy is one of several quality goalkeepers who changed addresses in MLS this winter, including Clint Irwin (from Colorado to Toronto FC) and Joe Bendik (from Toronto FC to Orlando City).
One of the biggest trouble spots for Toronto FC in 2015 was right back, where Greg Vanney struggled badly to find a viable option, and instead came up with defensive liabilities like Jackson. TFC helped fill that need by making a shrewd trade with Vancouver to land Beitashour, a veteran with six years of MLS experience under his belt, and a player considered one of the steadiest right backs in the league.
NYCFC had to address its defensive issues this offseason and White could wind up being one of the more valuable pickups the second-year club made. The former D.C. United defender never settled in with the Philadelphia Union, managing 28 appearances over the course of two seasons. He didn't arrive in New York City with much fanfare, but word out of NYCFC camp is that he has done well and should earn a good share of minutes this season.
The longtime Colorado mainstay tested the free agent waters and landed in Toronto, where there was a desperate need for some experience in central defense. Moor is not the same player he was when he helped the Rapids win an MLS Cup in 2010, but the 32-year-old defender brings technical savvy and poise to the TFC back line.
One of a few surprising departures from Chicago, Jones jumps from one of the worst teams in MLS to one of the best, and now gives the Sounders a real attacking threat at left back. There are still questions about Jones' ability to defend, but his speed out of the back and ability to also slide into a midfield role make him a very good addition to a Sounders attack that will be trying to offset the loss of Obafemi Martins.
The onetime Timbers captain became expendable once Darlington Nagbe found a new home in central midfield, and he couldn't have asked for a better place to land than Toronto FC. The Canadian national team midfielder reunites with close friend Michael Bradley, and will have a very real chance to win a third MLS Cup title with his third different team.
Another member of the first MLS free agent class, Magee chose to return to LA and reunite with Bruce Arena, the coach who originally helped revive his career as a key figure on multiple Galaxy title teams. The 31-year-old forward-midfielder may have lost a step after injuries sidelined him in Chicago, but he still has a nose for goal and passes well, and should give the Galaxy another good attacking option as they look to regain the MLS Cup title.
It isn't often you can acquire a playmaker who finished tied for the most assists in the league, but the Houston Dynamo jumped at the chance to land Maidana, who could provide the creative spark Houston has been missing for some time. The 29-year-old Argentine is being handed the keys to Owen Coyle's Dynamo attack, and will need to have an All-Star caliber season if the Dynamo are going to break through the stacked Western Conference and grab a playoff spot.
The most shocking member of list, Shipp had been seen as the future of the Chicago Fire before new coach Veljko Paunovic decided to trade him away. The technically gifted midfielder should do well in Montreal, where he will have the likes of Didier Drogba and Ignacio Piatti to pass to, as well as the chip on his shoulder he will carry after being unceremoniously dumped by his hometown team.
Another free agent who was able to dictate his destination, Mapp chose to join a Sporting KC side that needed some more depth on the wings. It is easy to forget that Mapp still has plenty left in the tank considering he missed most of the 2015 season after suffering a fractured and dislocated elbow. He still has good speed and provides excellent service, and his arrival, coupled with Brad Davis' arrival, will allow Sporting KC to use Graham Zusi in central midfield more.
A player who scored some very important goals during Portland's run to an MLS Cup title, Urruti didn't have long to celebrate the championship, as he was placed in the MLS re-entry draft less than a week later. He wound up with FC Dallas, a strong team that needed a starting striker, and has an excellent midfield to provide service. Urruti should provide an upgrade over the forwards Dallas had last season, and could have a big year for Oscar Pareja's side.