It’s only three days old, but the year 2012 is already hurrying toward big things. The US national team’s January camp opens on Tuesday, and Landon Donovan’s Everton debut is set for Wednesday. The MLS Player Combine kicks off on Friday, and the 2012 SuperDraft unfolds next week in Kansas City.
In the lead-up to all of that, we saw a steady stream of imports signing with the league, the 2012 Generation adidas class was revealed and there was a prominent departure – though not the one that had been expected.
There was also a notable uptick in the crazy quotient of the big-name rumor department.
Let’s open the new calendar and take a closer look.
Jurgen Klinsmann named a 20-man roster for his first January camp as manager of the US national team, and 18 of the players he selected ply their trade in Major League Soccer. The group, which includes 2011 Defender of the Year Omar Gonzalez, 2011 Rookie of the Year striker C.J. Sapong and breakout midfield star Graham Zusi (the latter two of whom are first-time call-ups), will train in Glendale, Ariz., and Carson, Calif., from Tuesday until Jan 26.
They’ll play friendlies against Venezuela on Jan. 21 in Glendale and against Panama on Jan. 25 in Panama City.
Other notable selections were FC Dallas defender George John (another first-timer), Houston defender Geoff Cameron and New England midfielder Benny Feilhaber.
The US U-20 team has also gathered in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., under new coach Tab Ramos. The former MetroStars attacker called 36 players to the weeklong session, including Vancouver Whitecaps striker Omar Salgado and Real Salt Lake midfielder Luis Gil. The roster includes four MLS players and five league academy products.
Peak Silly Season
While US training camps are a hallmark of January, so, too, are wildly speculative transfer rumors. This year is no exception. The silly season began with reports that Ronaldinho, Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard might all be headed to MLS.
The Lampard rumor made a comeback this week, and several others got tossed in the hopper, including potential swoops by New York and LA for Juventus striker Luca Toni and former Newcastle forward Obafemi Martins.
Martins is currently playing in Russia, where the subject of this week’s (and this season’s) silliest rumor also plays. According to a report from an English-language publication out of the United Arab Emirates, the LA Galaxy have made “an extraordinary approach” to striker Samuel Eto’o in hopes of bringing the Cameroonian superstar to MLS.
Never mind that Eto’o, who plays for Anzhi Makhachkala, is the highest-paid player in the world. The “report” alleges that MLS is prepared to match the former Barcelona and Inter Milan attacker’s current salary.
We’re tempted to say you can’t make this stuff up – except that this appears to be completely made up.
But there were some honest-to-goodness signings in the league as the last days of December dwindled down.
Seattle signed 28-year-old defender Adam Johansson, who has nine caps for Sweden, and joins Sounders FC from IFK Göteborg of the Swedish top flight.
San Jose acquired 29-year-old Honduran center back Víctor Bernárdez, a rugged defender who has 52 caps for Los Catrachos. He last suited up for Indios de Ciudad Juárez of the Mexican second division, on loan from Belgian power Anderlecht.
One of Bernárdez’s teammates at Indios, Panamanian midfielder Gabriel Gómez, 27, is also headed north of the border. Gómez – who scored from the penalty spot in Panama’s 2-1 upset of the US at the 2011 Gold Cup – signed with the Philadelphia Union. The veteran international (74 caps) should improve the Philly midfield, and can also play on the backline if needed there.
Chivas USA sought to upgrade their midfield with the signing of Oswaldo Minda, a 28-year-old who has 13 caps for Ecuador. Minda is fresh from winning an Ecuadorian championship with Deportivo Quito.
Montreal continued to lay the foundation for their debut season, signing Canadian international Patrice Bernier, who grew up in the Montreal suburb of Brossard. Bernier, 32, began his pro career with the Impact in 2000 (in the A-league) before launching a career in Europe that included stints in Norway, Germany and Denmark.
Two days after inking Bernier, the Impact signed 21-year-old Brazilian midfielder Felipe Martins, who spent the past four seasons in the Swiss second division, mostly with FC Lugano.
The domestic pipeline was also flowing freely as the year came to a close.
On Dec. 29, the league announced the 2012 Generation adidas class, as Chandler Hoffman and Kelyn Rowe of UCLA, Darren Mattocks of Akron, Sam Garza of UC Santa Barbara and Andrew Wenger of Duke all signed GA contracts. The players receive grants to continue their college educations, and their wages do not count against a team’s salary budget.
In addition to the five GA signings, four outgoing college players signed contracts with MLS ahead of next week’s SuperDraft. That quartet consists of Tony Cascio (UConn), Nick DeLeon (Louisville), Luis Silva (UCSB) and Casey Townsend (Maryland).
All nine of these players will join some 60 others at the 2012 MLS Player Combine in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., starting on Friday. Fans can watch combine matches live on MLSsoccer.com.
The balance of trade may have been tipped toward the import market recently, but what the export side of the ledger lacked in quantity, it made up for in quality – and marquee names.
In addition to Donovan, who landed at Everton on Dec. 30 and could suit up against Bolton on Wednesday, New York Red Bulls striker Thierry Henry was on the verge of a blockbuster loan deal across the pond.
If the plan is finalized, Henry will spend the winter playing for Arsenal, where he forged his legend with 174 goals in 254 appearances between 1999 and 2007. He would return to the US in February for preseason training with New York.
Donovan’s Galaxy teammate Juninho, a key cog in the LA midfield the past two seasons, could be leaving on a more permanent basis. According to reports, he signed a three-year deal with São Paulo, the team that loaned him to MLS in 2010. But the 22-year-old Brazilian did keep open the possibility of another loan to LA.
Finally, for the third week in a row, we remained without a resolution to the David Beckham Situation – but we appear to be inching closer. His proposed move to Paris-St. Germain was reportedly in the bag, but those reports proved premature, and word came from PSG sporting director Leonardo on Tuesday morning that the deal is off.
The latest murmurs have him remaining in LA, on a one-year deal with the Galaxy. Final word is expected this week.