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TWC: “Bottom of the Stocking” Gifts for the MLS Eastern Conference

The winter holidays really are a great time of the year. You get to spend time away from your job or your schoolwork, or both. You get to celebrate Christmas/Hannukah/Kwanzaa/Festivus/New Year’s/whatever the going occasion is these days.

But the real hidden gem in this joyous season? Cleaning up after all the partying and get-togethering is said and done and finding stuff that you either thought was long gone or was never there at all.

TWC: “Bottom of the Stocking” Gifts for the MLS Eastern Conference

It could be the nice bottle of wine shoved into the very back corner of your wine rack, discovered after you clear out everything else on December 31. Maybe it’s that extra present you were longing for that got hidden behind all of your decorations. Hopefully it isn’t like a certain Christmas past of mine, where it was some mouldy fruit found in my stocking nearly two weeks after the big day.

Just like all of us, our favourite MLS clubs will be busy sorting and cleaning and trying to get their lives back in order over the next little while. Here’s a breakdown of what each Eastern Conference club will be hoping to discover at the bottom of their stockings looking ahead to the 2015 season. I’ll take a look at the West later in the week.


Chicago Fire: A new centre-back (or four)

Chicago has loaded up at the forward position, signing African duo David Accam and Kennedy Igboananike to Designated Player contracts. Those two will try to squeeze their way into a crowded frontline that already includes Quincy Amarkiwa (8 goals in 2014), 2013 MLS MVP Mike Magee (who will likely miss the start of the 2015 season due to injury), and Patrick Nyarko, who was once described by former Toronto Star sports columnist and journalistic idol of mine Cathal Kelly as a “Ghanaian trackstar”.

As for the defence, there are two or three no-name full-backs, a guy who’s really a defensive midfielder in Jeff Larentowicz, and this guy. Was Bakary Soumare, a real center-back whose option was declined after making 25 starts this season, really overpaid? On paper ($370,000 in Guaranteed Compensation), there’s definitely an argument. But step in his shoes and turn your head both ways to see who you’re lining up with.

As I write, Chicago has signed 31-year-old Brazilian centre-back Adailton. Signing two or three more centre-backs, allowing Larentowicz to play midfield, would be a great gift.


Columbus Crew: Some trail Mix for the road to MLS Cup 2015

As in Mikkel “Mix” Diskerud, the 24-year-old USMNT midfielder whose contract in Norway has expired and is actively seeking a new club. The Crew thought they had an agreement to land him this past summer, but according to Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated talks broke down after the player demanded more money than expected.

If the Crew are able to pony up this offseason, they could get more than their money’s worth. Diskerud carries a Michael Bradley-esque allure with him as a young domestic talent, he would arrive well-rested (Norway’s season is played from March to November, very similar to MLS), and he could make what is already a loaded midfield ridonkulous.

By adding Diskerud, as well as a centre-back partner for Michael Parkhurst, the Crew might be able to make good on Armchair Analyst Matt Doyle’s prediction that they’ll be in the MLS Cup Final in 2015.


D.C. United: A no-nonsense target forward

I was going to say a slap on the wrist, but then I remembered this is about what each club wants to find at the bottom of their stocking, not what I want to give to them.

A roster overhaul following an atrocious 2013 season saw the Black-and-Red improve by 43 points in 2014, turning their -37 goal differential into a +15 in the process. This team has a great mix of young (Perry Kitchen, Bill Hamid) and old (Davy Arnaud, Bobby Boswell) veteran players.

But up top, Eddie Johnson struggled mightily after being traded for and made a DP. Fabian Espindola was his usual self, but has carved a niche in being a secondary forward option in MLS and will be suspended for the first six matches of 2015.

Either rediscovering the 2012 Johnson (scorer of 14 goals with Seattle as part of the famous “Fredy ‘n’ Eddie” strike partnership with Fredy Montero) or finding someone who can do a good impression of that player could make this very good team excellent.


Montreal Impact: A backline with a pulse

They were third-last in 2014 in goals conceded, and one of the teams below them doesn’t exist anymore. After canning three defenders and goalkeeper Troy Perkins, they’ve brought Soumare and ex-Sporting Kansas City goalkeeper Eric Kronberg to turn things around.

The first one should help. The second one will help, only because there really is no downgrade from Troy Perkins.

Without a doubt the loss of Marco Di Vaio to retirement is a big loss. But Montreal could have lost Karim Benzema and defence would still be the main priority heading into 2015.


New England Revolution: A Boston City Council full of “yes” men and women

Everyone will say that the L.A. Galaxy were the “First to Five” MLS Cup titles. But the Revs are also the first to five, in MLS Cup losses that is, three of which came at the hands of the Galaxy.

For the first time in what seemed like an eternity, news broke in November that the Revolution were looking at a site in downtown Boston to build a new stadium. If they can get a deal done, it might be the best stadium site the league has ever had.

But then again, Robert Kraft could return to his pre-summer 2014 ways and not do anything about it. He could sell Rowe, Fagundez, and the rest of the kids, and watch as his Revs become MLS’ “First to Twenty-Five” years played in a football stadium.

New York City FC: Anything for Pete’s sake

I wanted to give NYCFC coal so, so bad. But I’ve put some in a box and sent it off to Manchester instead.

With every passing day it seems like DP signing Frank Lampard will be extending his loan at Manchester City until the end of the Premier League season. What’s more, with their wealth of injuries up front, there are even rumours that fellow DP David Villa could join Lampard on loan. All the wrong things have been said by Man City manager Manuel Pellegrini and the oil tycoons from Abu Dhabi; their statements in a nutshell have re-affirmed NYCFC’s farm team status.

And last but not least, there’s the seating configuration for NYCFC matches at Yankee Stadium. I’d get a barf bag before looking at them if I were you. I’d also get a shoulder to cry on, because they could be playing there for three years, if not more, based on the lack of stadium news.


New York Red Bulls: A new leader

Thierry Henry is gone. Tim Cahill could very well be out the door too. Bradley Wright-Phillips and Dax McCarty are still around and are as playing better than they ever have, but neither carry the same name recognition as the respective French and Australian legends.

This team isn’t a bad one. Had BWP not been suspended for the second leg of the Eastern Conference Championship, they could have been playing for MLS Cup a few weeks ago. But, assuming Cahill goes, or at least plays closer to his 2014 self than his 2013 self, the Red Bulls will have lost their three most experienced hands this offseason (Jamison Olave being the third).

Did I mention they now have a flashy new crosstown rival competing for market share? Unless Wright-Phillips hits the 27 goal mark again, the Red Bulls are starless. That sort of off-field damage, especially for a club like the Red Bulls, outweighs any positional need in my books.


Orlando City SC: A shiny new trophy case

The only other expansion club that looked THIS good in their first season was the 2009 Seattle Sounders, who went on to win three straight U.S. Open Cups.

I’ve decided that I will start calling Kaka “Haka” because a) this roster is shaping up to be intimidating, like the Maori battle cry, and b) Shea-Molino-“Haka” spells “SMH”, as in shaking my head because OCSC looks like they want to steamroll everyone else this season.

As long as Shea and Molino has goalscoring help from the forwards, and as long as Collin and the backline hold their own, Orlando could win early and often.

There’s a reason everyone outside of New York prefers them over NYCFC.

Philadelphia Union: A permanent deal for Maurice Edu

The Union see goalkeepers the way we see a big family dinner over the holidays: appetizing at first glance, delicious during the main course, not bad during the second, and just too much once dessert comes around. Even they know that a fourth one would be going overboard.

So the next best gift they could find would be a multi-year contract for Maurice Edu. He might not carry a high profile, but on loan from Stoke this past season he proved his value in both midfield and defence.

Edu has to be Philadelphia’s first priority. After Edu’s locked up, going after a defender so that Edu can play in the midfield every match would make good sense. A double-digit goalscorer would be a welcome addition to the roster as well, maybe coming over in exchange for a package including a goalkeeper.


Toronto FC: Nine voodoo dolls, each one wearing the kit of an Eastern Conference foe

Just about every stop has been pulled out, and yet the Reds have still failed to reach Major League Soccer’s postseason in eight tries.

A more realistic gift Toronto FC could try to find this offseason is a winger for either side. Alvaro Rey and Issey Nakajima-Farran appeared to be perfect fits for the wings at the beginning of 2014, but both were traded in May. Since then, nobody has firmly stepped into their shoes.

A new forward (because let’s not kid ourselves here, Jermain Defoe’s departure would be best for all parties) and a long-term replacement for Steven Caldwell at centre-back are needs that will garner more attention.

But throughout their history, TFC have been a one-man scoring team. Danny Dichio, Dwayne De Rosario, Danny Koevermans, Defoe. A second or even third player with a knack for scoring might help break the laughable streak of poor seasons.


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