Colorado Rapids Oscar Pareja

Around Major League Soccer: Clubs get back to the business of planning for 2012

With 2012 now in full swing, so is the business of clubs planning for a new season in Major League Soccer.

There were several important announcements during the past week - not the least of which was the 2012 schedule. The 17th season of MLS will be the longest season in league history, with Vancouver Whitecaps FC’s hosting of Canadian rivals Montreal Impact part of the league’s opening day on Saturday, March 10. The entire 2012 campaign will cover most of the calendar year, with this year’s MLS Cup final to take place on Saturday, December 1.

With just over two months remaining before the curtain is raised on the new campaign, the league’s clubs were busy making new signings and coaching appointments, while some storylines emerged that could have some impact on the upcoming season. Let’s take a closer look.

New Year drama

It may be premature to describe the situation surrounding MLS veteran Brian Ching as a ‘saga’, but the Hawaiian-born striker certainly upped the intrigue over his future with last week’s declaration that he will report for preseason training with expansion club Montreal and not to hang up his boots. Selected by the Impact in the 2011 MLS Expansion Draft from Houston Dynamo, Ching previously stated his intention to retire if the Quebec outfit drafted him last November. Having now changed his mind, it remains to be seen if the experienced goalscorer is looking for Houston and Montreal to complete a deal that would allow him to end his career with the Dynamo or if he is up to the challenge of helping a new MLS club in the Impact.

While Houston and Montreal fans wait to see what may unfold with Ching, LA Galaxy fans are wondering how long centre back Omar Gonzalez will be on the sidelines in 2012. The 2011 MLS Defender of the Year ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his left knee during the first training session of his short loan spell with German Bundesliga side FC Nürnberg last Thursday. The injury ended his loan move, with the United States international now facing a lengthy recovery following surgery.

Taking the reins

There was one head coaching vacancy to be filled in the league, and with this year’s MLS Player Combine taking place in Florida this past weekend, Colorado Rapids announced Thursday the appointment of Oscar Pareja (pictured) as the successor to Englishman Gary Smith, who parted ways with the Rapids at the end of last season. The former Colombian international moves to Dick’s Sporting Goods Park after serving as reserve team coach and academy director at FC Dallas.

Closer to home, Toronto FC turned heads with the appointment of their new academy director. Former USA U-20 national team head coach Thomas Rongen returns to MLS to take charge of TFC Academy following a short, but memorable, spell as head coach of American Samoa. Rongen joins fellow Dutchmen Aron Winter and Bob de Klerk at the Southern Ontario outfit.

Not to be outdone, Montreal added to their coaching staff by appointing former Whitecaps FC assistant coach Denis Hamlett on Saturday. The 42-year-old moves east to another Canadian expansion club, where he will team up with Impact head coach Jesse Marsch, fellow assistants Mike Sorber and Mauro Biello, goalkeeper coach Preston Burpo, and physical preparation coach Adam Rotchstein.

Latin American week

MLS clubs made several new acquisitions this past week, with Central and South America being the origin of the league’s newest faces. While Whitecaps FC went to Argentina to sign centre back Martín Bonjour, Western Conference rivals FC Dallas added to their roster after agreeing to terms with Panamanian striker Blas Pérez and Colombian defender Hernán Pertúz. Columbus Crew followed with the signings of Chilean international Milovan Mirosevic and Costa Rican striker Olman Vargas.

Chicago Fire and New England Revolution started this week by unveiling their latest additions - all of whom come from Colombia. Midfielder Rafael Robayo will call Chicago home after joining the Fire from Club Deportivo Los Millionarios, while New England snapped up central defender John Lozano and midfielder/striker Fernando Cárdenas from América de Cali.

Local produce

There is a high level of profile with the annual MLS SuperDraft, as top prospects formally graduate to the professional game upon selection. Yet, the growing number of Homegrown players being signed to MLS contracts should not be underestimated, either.

Last Wednesday, Portland Timbers boosted their strike force by making Brent Richards the club’s first Homegrown signing. The University of Washington product joins John Spencer’s first team after playing three seasons in the United Soccer Leagues Premier Development League (PDL) with the Timbers U-23 squad. New York Red Bulls, meanwhile, went all the way to Scandinavia to sign a local product in former academy defender Jonathan Borrajo. The 24-year-old most recently played with Norwegian club Hamarkameratene (HamKam).