The Monday Postgame

Breaking down Week 3 of the MLS offseason

Ljungberg_CHI

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We are one month out from the 2011 MLS SuperDraft and the offseason is ramping up toward that big day in Baltimore.

This week featured Stage 1 of the inaugural Re-Entry Draft, some player movement (and rumors of player movement), a first look at an expansion side’s kit, and great performances by Akron Zips past and present.

Tuck a napkin in your collar and stand your utensils at attention, we’re digging in.

Delayed Re-Entry

Despite lots of intrigue, Stage 1 of the Re-Entry Draft was about as eventful as an average Tuesday at the Laundromat, but that was no surprise. As expected, most teams chose to hold off, possibly waiting for this coming Wednesday’s Stage 2 draft, in which teams can pick up the rights to negotiate with the available players.

Stage 1 featured just two selections and took all of five minutes (really).

D.C. United used the first pick on Houston’s Joseph Ngwenya. This is the first step down the long road back for the league’s most decorated franchise, as the Zimbabwean international should add some punch to United’s anemic, league-worst offense. Ngwenya, 29, won an MLS Cup with the Dynamo in 2007, scoring a goal in Houston’s 2-1 win over New England in the final. He had one goal fo the Dynamo in 2010.

The other selection came from Columbus, a team that has parted ways with nine players since the season ended in November. Four of those players are defenders, so the Crew began rebuilding their backline by selecting Sporting Kansas City’s Aaron Hohlbein. A 25-year-old central defender, Hohlbein appeared in two games for KC last season before being loaned to Miami FC of the USSF D-2 league.

And that was it. Two and done.

Comings, Goings

While the Re-Entry Process is something new, other players relocated by more conventional means. Midfielder Erik Friberg, a four-year veteran of BF Hacken in the Swedish top flight, is set to join Seattle after being spotted by Sounders FC technical director Chris Henderson on a scouting trip to Scandinavia. The 24-year-old Friberg—not to be confused with the professional poker player with the same name—reportedly signed a three-year deal and will relocate in January.

Another Swede with connections to Sounders FC,Freddie Ljungberg, may be on the move out of MLS. The 33-year-old Chicago Fire midfielder told Sky Sports News he’d received inquiries from teams “across Europe and in England.” But the Fire say they’re interested in keeping him. We’ll know more when the player’s contract expires next month.

 

U.S. international Jonathan Bornstein has already begun the new season with his new team, Tigres UANL of the Mexican Primera División. The fleet-footed defender played in a scrimmage with Tigres last Monday as the side prepares for the 2011 Clausura tournament, which begins on January 8.

The Red Bulls moved a step closer to signing English striker Luke Rodgers, as the fiery Birmingham native had his visa approved last week. The 29-year-old had been on the verge of joining the MLS side during the 2010 season, but the U.S. State Department halted his visa due to a few, um, legal issues.

Fresh Timber

Expansion side Portland Timbers unveiled four new players, some new assistant coaches, and—in a gala ceremony inside a 64,000-sqaure-foot hangar at the Portland International Airport—the brand new uniforms they’ll wear in MLS next spring.

They pulled the wraps off two kits, primary and secondary. The first ones offer a nod to the Timbers’ NASL ancestors [link to NASL kits?], with two tones of forest green on the torso. The sleeves are white, there’s an axe embroidered into the back of the neckline—in honor of the team’s supporters’ club, the Timbers Army—and a rising-sun logo with the words “No Pity” in a tag on the lower left front of the shirt.

The slick secondary jerseys feature two shades of red with a Rose City logo on the right breast and the words “Rose City” stitched into the back of the neck.

Splashed across the front of both shirts is the name of the team’s jersey sponsor, Alaska Airlines—a company based, interestingly enough, in Seattle. One Emerald City scribe couldn’t resist tweaking his southern neighbors about this while describing the new unis, simultaneously stoking the flames of the Portland-Seattle rivalry and proving how far its roots extend.

U.S. Teal

Sporting KC striker Teal Bunbury recently decided to play internationally for the U.S. (after having represented Canada at the youth level), and it seems to have done his game a world of good.

He made an impressive debut for the Yanks on November 17, logging 45 minutes in a 1-0 win over South Africa, then traveled to Spain with the Generation adidas team and exploded for three goals and one assist as the young MLSers knocked off the reserve teams of Real Madrid (2-1), Rayo Vallecano (1-0) and Atletico Madrid (4-1).

After going the full 90 in the rainswept win over Vallecano, Bunbury played just 45 in the 4-1 rout of Atletico the next day—but he made the most of it, scoring two goals and setting up Red Bull striker Juan Agudelo for another.

Not a bad trip for the rising Kansas City striker, or for the GA squad, which went unbeaten on a European trip for the first time.

Akron Zips It Up

Bunbury’s former team, the Akron Zips, owners of the best nickname and the second-best record in college soccer, downed previously unbeaten Louisville 1-0 on Sunday to claim the school’s first national championship in any sport.

Midfielder Scott Caldwell hit the winner in the 79th minute, burying the rebound of his own shot.

College soccer has long been criticized in U.S. footie circles, mainly for being a pale substitute for a professional environment when it comes to developing players. That knock may be true, but the NCAA has still managed to produce its fair share of quality pros, from Claudio Reyna (three seasons and three national titles at the University of Virginia) to Clint Dempsey (three years at Furman) to Maurice Edu (three years and one NCAA championship at Maryland).

The newly crowned champs, who lost last season’s NCAA title game on penalties, have a number of players poised to jump to the pros, including defenders Zarek Valentin, Chad Barson and Kofi Sarkodie, midfielder Perry Kitchen, and striker Darlington Nagbe.