Much of the country spent this Monday morning either digging out of a blizzard or pounding hi-test coffee to shake off a long weekend of holiday cheer.
There was no such break in the action in Major League Soccer, where there was a flurry of activity. Young players signed new deals, veterans locked down uncertain futures, a trio of foreign stars expressed an interest in joining the league and a handful of MLSers tested the market across the pond.
So hoist that quadruple latte and kick up your feet (this is the slowest work week of the year, after all). Let’s take a look back.
On Thursday, the Philadelphia Union made history (and boosted the league’s Homegrown Initiative) by signing 15-year-old midfielder Zach Pfeffer from their academy program.
A local product from Upper Dublin, Pa., Pfeffer becomes the fourth-youngest signee in MLS history, following Freddy Adu (14 when he signed with D.C. United in 2004), Fuad Ibrahim (15, FC Dallas, 2007), and Diego Fagundez (15, New England, last month).
Another young star making headlines was 17-year-old D.C. United winger Andy Najar, who signed a multiyear extension with the Black-and-Red.
DC made it a priority to keep their academy product in the fold, after a season in which he scored five goals and won the Rookie of the Year award, providing a lone bright spot in a dismal year for United.
Several MLS veterans entered the week facing uncertainty about the next phase of their careers, and all of them succeeded in tying up the loose ends.
Los Angeles Galaxy superstars Landon Donovan and David Beckham both flirted with the notion of going abroad for winter loan spells, and both ended up staying put.
After winter stints with Bayern Munich in 2009 and Everton in 2010, Donovan opted not to take up Everton on another loan offer this January. He cited—no surprise here—a need for rest. In addition to those winter visits abroad, Donovan also played in two MLS seasons, most of the USA’s international friendlies and World Cup qualifiers, and of course, the 2010 World Cup in the past two years.
His Galaxy teammate, Beckham, had hoped to latch on with either Arsenal or Manchester United, the club where he cut his teeth, for a winter loan deal. Alas, both clubs informed him last week that he would not be in their plans. It has not stopped names of new clubs to sprout up in recent days with Real Madrid and Chelsea joining the list.
Former Sporting Kansas City defender Jimmy Conrad, the 2005 MLS Defender of the Year and a 2006 World Cup veteran, faced a slightly uncertain future after being selected by Chivas USA in Stage 2 of the Re-Entry Draft.
Out of contract following the 2010 season, Conrad now had a team interested in his services—the Goats took him with the second pick—but he still had to hammer out a deal with the LA franchise. That mission was accomplished on Thursday as Chivas agreed to terms with the 33-year-old centerback, who grew up in Southern California.
New England also secured the immediate futures of two veterans, re-signing bedrock keeper Matt Reis, and coming to terms with defender Ryan Cochrane, whose rights they selected with the third pick in the Re-Entry Draft.
Having wrapped up veteran defender Conrad and rising star Najar, respectively, Chivas USA and DC United turned their attention to their coaching staffs as both clubs looked to rebuild for 2011.
The Goats reportedly offered their top job to former Chicago Fire and New York Red Bulls man Juan Carlos Osorio, while D.C. hired former Houston Dynamo keeper Pat Onstad to join head coach Ben Olsen’s staff.
Osorio is fresh from leading Once Caldas to the Colombian first division crown—very fresh: they lifted the trophy last weekend. He also led Chicago to the 2006 Eastern Conference finals and guided the Red Bulls to the 2008 MLS Cup before a disastrous 2009 season in New York led to his departure.
After having his option declined in Houston, and then being passed over in the Re-Entry Draft, the 42-year-old Onstad decided to call it a career last Tuesday. He’ll join D.C. as an assistant overseeing goalkeepers and the backline.
Coming to America?
Former AC St. Louis coach Claude Anelka confirmed last week that his brother, Chelsea star Nicolas Anelka, has an eye on a move to MLS after his contract at Stamford Bridge expires in 2012.
“He told me so,” Claude told French site MLS-News. “More and more players want to go playing over there. United State represents something. It makes you dream.”
Perhaps closer to reality is a move to MLS by former West Ham striker Guillermo Franco, who played for Mexico in the 2010 World Cup.
The 34-year-old confirmed that his agent is looking into a deal with MLS and says he’ll have more information in early 2011.
Franco also spoke highly of the league, and the U.S. mentality: “When the Americans set a goal, they go after it with everything they have, and that’s why their soccer has grown and the gap with Mexico is shrinking.”
Wait, did he say the gap with Mexico was “shrinking”? Hmmm. Considering the Yanks are 10-4-2 against El Tri since 2000, we’d say the gap has finished shrinking.
Lastly in the foreign-stars-to-MLS rumors department comes a report out of Italy that Romanian international and Fiorentina attacker Adrian Mutu has designs on a Stateside transfer.
We shall see.
Into the Woods
A pair of MLS stars are poised to experience life at English Championship side Nottingham Forest.
Former Real Salt Lake speedster Robbie Findley has signed a contract with the team and will join them pending approval of his British work permit, while Houston star Geoff Cameron (who recently signed a new deal with the Dynamo) just embarked on a two-week training stint at the club.
Those two weren’t the only MLSers reaching across the pond this week.
Teal Bunbury worked out with Stoke City for a week, extending a whirlwind winter for the Sporting Kansas City striker that also included his U.S. national team debut and a triumphant tour of Spain with the Generation adidas team.
Finally, Los Angeles Galaxy striker Edson Buddle completed a trial with English Premier League side Birmingham City, whose manager Alex McLeish said about the World Cup vet, “He did okay. We will keep the door [to signing him] open.”