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Monday MLS Breakdown: Busy Friday Reinforces Defensive Needs Across MLS

By Kyle McCarthy

Need a quick glance at the concerns of personnel men around the league? Take a look at Friday's transaction log.

Four Major League Soccer teams went out and acquired a defender on the final day of the secondary transfer window.

The one-day glance isn't a scientific model and it doesn't take into account the fact that more than a few teams picked up attacking options earlier in the transfer window, but it does show that at least a few teams have lingering concerns about their defensive options heading into the latter stages of the season.

Those concerns, considering the peculiarly interrelated nature of three of those deals, apparently meshed for three teams in need of defensive help. Although this was not a three-way deal per se, it will be treated as such here to ease its digestion and display the relationship between the moves.

D.C. United acquires Julius James (Houston)

Houston gets Ryan Cochrane (San Jose) and a third-round pick in 2012 (D.C. United)

San Jose signs Fabio da Silva (Rio Branco – Brazil) and obtains an international slot for two years (Houston)

(Note: The fourth deal involved Chivas USA taking 20-year-old Colombian defender Yamith Cuesta on loan from Colombian second division side Expreso Rojo. Cuesta has logged some time with the Colombian U-20 team and once played in the first division with Santa Fe before dropping down a division. At the very least, the 6'3” defender should provide some cover while begging the question of whether Claudio Suarez will suit up for the Goats this season.)

The buildup

The apparent trigger for the series of moves – though this is merely guesswork pieced together during some idle vacation time last week – stemmed from James' recent ineffective stint in central defense for the Dynamo. The Trinidad & Tobago international stumbled when given the opportunity and created the impression that he couldn't be counted on to hold down the fort in central defense when needed. Considering the Dynamo harbors MLS Cup aspirations, it couldn't afford rickety cover at the back.  

James' ineffectiveness led Houston to seek out other options and the price (an international slot for a team that uses them about as sparingly as it does its draft picks) seemed right to bring back Cochrane from San Jose. Cochrane's persistent ankle problems during his one-and-a-half-year return to the Bay Area plunged him down the depth chart. Given the lack of correlation between his salary ($145,000 base) and his production (two starts in 2009), the swap made sense for San Jose.

Once Cochrane was in the fold, Houston had plenty of leeway to send James elsewhere. United wanted more defensive options – it had signed Burundian defender David Habarugira (Anderlecht – Belgium) on Thursday – and James provides versatile cover for the punishing schedule United will tackle over the next month.

Cochrane's departure freed up room in the salary budget for San Jose to take da Silva on what San Jose general manager John Doyle classified in the local media as a trial of sorts for a spot on next season's roster. The extra international slot will given the Earthquakes a chance to acquire a top-flight scorer heading into next season, Doyle said.

The fallout

Classify this move as a typically savvy, though somewhat embarrassing, acquisition by the title-chasing Dynamo.  

The adroitness comes from acquiring Cochrane at a low ebb and rectifying their cover issues in central defense for next to nothing. This is exactly the type of move that puts Houston in the MLS Cup chase year after year. Cochrane's value is far higher to Houston than it would be to any other MLS team because he knows the system and enjoys a comfort level in it given his experience playing under Dominic Kinnear (2004-2007). His competent performance at both center and right back in Saturday night's 0-0 draw at Real Salt Lake shows that he can still be effective in the right situation, though perhaps that shouldn't include extended time at fullback.  

The pinch of chagrin comes from James' role as the centerpiece of the deal that sent Dwayne De Rosario to Toronto FC during the offseason. Houston's total haul for the trade now stands at a third-round draft pick in 2012 and some allocation money. Not exactly fair value for a two-time MLS Cup MVP, though Stuart Holden's emergence has covered the wound a bit.

For D.C. and San Jose, the low-risk, high-reward potential of the deal made it a no-brainer on their end. Former Red Star Belgrade defender da Silva could turn out to provide the answer alongside Jason Hernandez, while James may just log solid minutes in his third MLS stop in two seasons with United's other reserve options failing to impress. Given what both teams gave up, it made plenty of sense to consummate a minor deal that could have a major impact if everything clicks.

Week 22 – Questions, Thoughts, and Answers

Monday MLS Breakdown Player of the Week – Marco Pappa, MF, Chicago

The Fire needed someone to step up with Cuauhtemoc Blanco feeling the effects of a hectic week and Pappa gave the Fire attack its impetus in Sunday's 2-0 win in Kansas City. Between his movement, his pace and his creativity, Pappa conjured up an all-action display – including a dynamic run and throughball to set up Chris Rolfe's well-struck opener – worthy of filling the Mexican playmaker's shoes. Ageless Houston goalkeeper Pat Onstad (eight saves in the Dynamo's 0-0 draw at Real Salt Lake) just missed out on the gong.

The Starting XI

1. Influential Colorado midfielder Colin Clark tore his left ACL in a training session on Wednesday, ruling him out for the remainder of the season. Rapids coach Gary Smith said in the aftermath of the injury that Jacob Peterson might get the majority of the minutes in Clark's absence. That fits Smith's M.O. on the wings (quick, speedy players) but there is one option that may not get the play it probably deserves. Pat Noonan – now languishing on the bench behind Conor Casey and Omar Cummings in Colorado after riding the pine in Columbus – can play wide left in a pinch and may just add an extra bit of something in that role. It wouldn't be the orthodox move considering Noonan's lack of pace, but it might get Noonan the run of games he needs to improve his form while adding another wrinkle to the side.

2. “It doesn't seem like, back to front, anything is working,” D.C. United midfielder Santino Quaranta told The Washington Post after United lost 2-0 at Toronto FC on Saturday afternoon. “We're bypassing midfield, we panic at the back and dump balls forward. The cohesion isn't there, and that's not good at this point in the year.”

3. Toronto FC midfielder Dwayne De Rosario is on fire after notching yet another goal against United. De Rosario has scored in four consecutive games (one off Fredy Montero's five-game stretch between June 13 and July 11 for tops in 2009) and has notched either a goal or an assist in each of his past five TFC appearances (one off Brad Davis' six-game assist streak between April 19 and May 30). The excellent Canadian soccer blog The 24th Minute said over the weekend that De Rosario would soon be a viable MVP candidate, but this pundit believes he should be on the fringes of the discussion already. If TFC can seal its first playoff berth and De Rosario continues his quest for the Golden Boot (his nine goals are two off Casey's MLS-leading tally of 11 strikes), it'd be hard not to include De Rosario in a group of frontrunners that should include Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Casey, Landon Donovan and Montero.

4. Speaking of Barros Schelotto, Columbus is 5-0-1 with 13 goals in games when the Argentine schemer has not started. That record improved even though Barros Schelotto made a late cameo in Saturday's 2-0 win over FC Dallas. The stoppage-time cameo may have appeared superfluous, but it accomplished two things: (1) it heralded Barros Schelotto's potential contribution during the run-in to a team that has already won its past five games and (2) it ensured GBS wouldn't face a suspension upon his next yellow card by fulfilling the “good behavior incentive” (Quick explanation: Players on the cusp of a suspension can reduce their total by one yellow card if they appear in three consecutive matches without a booking. The incentive applies once per season.) required to remove him from suspension peril.

5. Barros Schelotto's teammates deserve ample credit for racking up a five-match winning streak despite his absence. The contributions of players like Emmanuel Ekpo, Jason Garey, Steven Lenhart and Danny O'Rourke may go unnoticed with Chad Marshall and Robbie Rogers firing on all cylinders, but it's been a true team effort.

6. By keeping a clean sheet in Saturday night's 0-0 draw at Real Salt Lake, Houston earned its first shutout since July 4. That ends a run of six league matches without a clean sheet for the team that leads MLS with nine shutouts this season.

7. A staggering stat from Sandy: Real Salt Lake has picked up four red cards in its past ten games. The past two cards – second yellow cards to Jamison Olave (jumping in front of a throw-in against on June 20) and Clint Mathis (slamming the ball down on the turf to express his displeasure with the refereeing on Saturday night) – nullified a man advantage. Foolish indiscipline is not the way to crawl back into a playoff chase that looks increasingly futile.

8. Want to know what sets Fredy Montero apart from most strikers? His ability to anticipate and react to the situation in front of him. After Nate Jaqua made contact with Pete Vagenas' 54th minute corner kick in Seattle's 2-0 win over Los Angeles at the HDC on Saturday night, Montero saw where the ball was headed and swept home before any of the Galaxy defenders had a chance to move. This isn't the first time the Sounders FC strikers have combined to use Montero's anticipation in a corner kick situation. A Jaqua header and a Montero reaction finish from a corner kick staked Seattle to the opening goal in its 3-0 win over Colorado on June 28. With Montero in the fold and the host of other attacking weapons available, it is downright shocking that Seattle managed to go 336 minutes without scoring a goal before Steve Zakuani's first-half tally ended the drought.

9. No complaints on David Beckham's early red card (the first of three from that match) from this point of view. A nasty little tackle with one exposed sole flying right into Vagenas' shin. Intentional or not, Beckham deserved a sending off for the rather needless lunge at midfield. Tough to argue with Eddie Lewis' second-half dismissal for lashing out (though James Riley's embellishment certainly ensured a borderline call went his way) either, though Tyrone Marshall had cause for complaint for earning his second booking for rather scant contact with Donovan in the open field. Then again, Marshall had done more than enough prior to that rather harsh booking to say the sending off was deserved on the whole.

10. Kansas City interim boss and technical director Peter Vermes said it might take some time to fix things. He sure was right. The Wizards' performance – admittedly, one without Davy Arnaud and Claudio Lopez – in Sunday afternoon's 2-0 home loss to Chicago didn't display signs of a revival. Too many careless errors and too few incisive and cohesive attacking movements.

11. Chicago's pace of play in the attacking third considerably perks up when Blanco isn't on the field. That isn't a knock on Blanco – his creativity does plenty to make up for the fact that he slows the play down – but an observation that the Fire has the players in its arsenal – Patrick Nyarko, Pappa and  Rolfe to name three – to combine and strike quickly when given the opportunity to do so.

BONUS: Denis Hamlett and Bakary Soumare apparently had an exchange of words in the Chicago locker room during halftime of last Sunday's 3-2 loss in Houston. If that's a sign of any larger rift between Hamlett and his team, I'd be surprised based on the evidence of Sunday afternoon's performance. As for the relationship between Soumare and Hamlett, there shouldn't be much concern there either considering the frequency of these sorts of tiffs in changing rooms across the world and the general willingness of most parties to chalk them up to the heat of the moment. Much ado about nothing, at least from this view.

BONUS #2: “Win. That's the big three-letter word right now,” New York midfielder Dane Richards said after the Red Bulls extended their winless streak to a club-record 13 games after Saturday's 2-0 home loss to Chivas USA. “We've got to find a way to do it. For the die-hard Red Bulls fans and for our pride, we have to do it.”

Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and Contact him with your questions or comments at and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.

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