Friday, November 17, 2006

Just one more about MLS -- The expansion draft is over, and there were surprises. The list? Toronto took the following players:

Paulo Nagamura (L.A. Galaxy); Danny O'Rourke (N.Y. Red Bulls); Jose Cancela (N.E. Revolution); Adrian Serioux (Houston Dynamo); Nate Jaqua (Chicago Fire); Rod Dyachenko (D.C. United); Jason Kreis (Real Salt Lake); Tim Regan (Chivas USA); Ritchie Kotschau (Columbus Crew); Will Hesmer (Kansas City Wizards)

The least surprising pick was Nate Jacqua -- the player with the greatest upside of those available to be selected -- though he may still insist on a move to Europe. A little more surprising was the selection of Serioux, although he would make sense for Toronto. Serioux is a Canadian, and would have counted as a domestic player for Toronto, but he was dealt to Dallas for Ronnie O'Brien. So, the Hoops did not lose Mina, as expected, instead traded a top player, O'Brien, for Serioux -- apparently, part of the deal was Toronto's agreement to pass on Dallas' unprotected players. RSL did lose Kreis, the MLS' all-time scorer, but only briefly, as Toronto worked out a deal to return Kreis to Salt Lake.

Toronto coach Mo Johnston dipped into his New York past to pluck Tim Regan from Chivas, but there is already speculation on MLSnet that Regan will be moved again. Perhaps the biggest surprise was that Johnston passed on the Red Bulls' top scorer, Edson Buddle. Everyone expected Johnston would pick Buddle, but he went for youth instead. Johnston used his familiarity with the Red Bulls' roster to go deep into their pool and pluck out Danny O'Rourke. A former Hermann Trophy winner, O'Rourke hasn't made much of a mark in New York, even during Johnston's brief stint as coach there. The really odd part is that Johnston then traded O'Rourke and a goalie, Hesmer, to Columbus. Apparently, Columbus must've had plans for O'Rourke, all along. Another talented, but overlooked selection was the Revs' Cancela. I expected Adrian Hernandez would go, but Johnston sees Cancela as the better talent.

In contrast, Johnston found himself in agreement with another coach's evaluation, plucking Rod Dyachecnko from United. The Ukranian-born teenager, Dyachenko, is a favorite of United coach, Peter Nowak. To me, Dyachenko was pretty far down the list among United's available players. I was not impressed with Dyachenko's showing in United's games, although one of his last touches was a nice one, as he came close to scoring the tying goal in United's Eastern Conference final loss to the Revolution. On the other hand, he's big, strong, and young.

Speaking of D.C. United and Coach Nowak -- in his final press conference of the year, Nowak had a lot to say about Freddy Adu's dreams of playing in England. As Nowak was clear about, playing in the Bundesliga (which Nowak knows personally) and the English Premier League, is not like playing anywhere else in the world. It's not that the level of play is so much higher, that the competition in the league is so intense, it's that the level of competition in practices is so intense. As Nowak says, if you're playing in one of those leagues, "the game must be reward for you. So actually the game is lighter than the practice." Benny Freihaber made similar comments about his current experience at Hamburg SV, in the New York Times article I discussed earlier in the week. Freihaber lamented the lack of comraderie among teammates, as a result of the intense competition between them.

Nowak tried to put the fear of G-d in Adu, talking about the level or training required just for practicing as a member of a team like Manchester United. Moreover, Nowak said, the teams that "really develop young kids in the right way are the Dutch league and some of the Spanish league. Because it's more technical instead of being hard." According to Nowak the "English league is very hard, and...there are guys that cost $20 million sitting on the bench. They just don't care."

As for his handling of Adu to date, Nowak explained his side. Though Adu wants to play centrally, where United already has league-MVP Christian Gomez, Nowak has tried to convince the young star that he will be more successful on the wing, where he will find more one-on-one situations he can exploit. To illustrate his point Nowak noted the success that Ronaldinho has had on the wing. "This is the reason Ronaldinho is a 200 million dollar player and...already the FIFA Player of the Year. The best player on the planet, and he's playing outside."

Nowak wanted to sound an encouraging, if cautionary note. "I think Freddy has a great future," he said. "It's just up to him, how he's going to make up his mind. He can achieve great things, if he just knows what to do with his career as a player -- not the guys who are around him, or agents or family. This is what is best for him and he needs to know that." The question is what did Nowak mean by that? Did he mean that staying in the M.L.S. is what's best for Freddy now, or did he mean to find a team in the Dutch league or La Liga in Spain? And the bigger question: What will Adu decide to do?

For the MLS, waiting on Adu's choice, it'll be an interesting off-season. To my MLS posse: Thanks for coming 'round. See you next Spring. On the other hand, if you're interested in what I have to say about life, politics, baseball, football, and everything else under the sun, keep coming back.

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