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Jan 26, 2008

MLS teams scouring the transfer market

D.C. United posted the best record in Major League Soccer last year, but some major rules changes by Major League Soccer coupled with United's desire to get younger as a team has the Eastern Conference power poised for an extreme makeover that would make Ty Pennington jealous.

When MLS decided to combine senior internationals with junior internationals and allow teams to field as many foreign players as they can acquire slots for, you knew a wave of foreign players was coming to help boost the talent pool. It stands to reason that D.C., which boasts the best international scouting in MLS, would be at the front of the line with new acquisitions to show off.

United isn't alone in making use of the new international rules. Several teams have jumped into the market, while some teams have also felt the pinch of having to sell players and let players leave on free transfers in order to accommodate growing salaries and new acquisitions.

Here is a look at the international comings and goings in MLS during this winter period:

Chicago Fire -- The Fire have yet to officially take part in the international market, but it is only a matter of time. With new technical director Frank Klopas bringing in strong European connections, Chicago has already begun its hunt for reinforcements.

That search has led the Fire to France, where Sochaux winger/forward Fabrice Pancrate is the team's top foreign target. Chicago is looking like it will lose a key player to the international market as well, with goalkeeper Matt Pickens looking like a safe bet to move to English club Norwich City.

Chivas USA -- The Goats stand poised to lose MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Brad Guzan to Scottish champions Celtic, but there has been little noise about new foreign players coming in. At least not yet. With the new rules in place, you would expect the Goats to be a player on the foreign market, but the club's front office is untested and may be unprepared for the international market.

Colorado Rapids -- It has been a painfully quiet winter for Rapids coach Fernando Clavijo. Colorado added left winger Chase Hilgenbrinck, an American who spent years playing in Chile, but that move isn't keeping the Rapids from finding the Western Conference basement. There isn't a lot of reason for optimism in Denver these days.

Columbus Crew -- The Crew has let it be known that a designated player is a strong possibility this winter. What kind of player Columbus will land remains to be seen but general manager Mark McCullers sounds confident that he can secure an impact goal scorer. Reports have linked the Crew to Polish striker Maciej Zurawski.

The bigger question in Columbus is whether Guillermo Barros Schelotto will stay or go. Rumors persisted all winter that Schelotto would return to Argentina, but Columbus officials stood firm on his return. The Crew also sold standout defender Marcos Gonzalez to Chilean club Universidad Catolica, with the transfer revenue likely to be used to help land a designated player.

D.C. United -- General manager Dave Kasper and head coach Tom Soehn surely danced a jig when they heard about the new foreign player rule. A year after landing standouts Luciano Emilio and Fred, the D.C. brain trust headed to South America with a plan to revamp United and the result is a very different team from the Supporters Shield winners of 2007.

Out the door went goalkeeper Troy Perkins (to Norwegian club Valarenga), with playmaker and former MVP Christian Gomez looking like he will follow (either to another MLS team or to the Middle East). Stepping in to RFK Stadium are Argentines Marcello Gallardo, Franco Niell and Gonzalo Peralta, Colombian defender Gonzalo Martinez and Peruvian goalkeeper Jose Carvallo (who does have a green card and won't count as an international player).

FC Dallas -- The Hoops gave the international market a try last year and the result was the awfully disappointing showing of Brazilian trickster Denilson. That designated failure might have scared teams off of foreign players for a while but FC Dallas rebounded by signing Mexican defender Duilio Davino, a charismatic former Club America star who the team is hoping will help connect the club to the area's large Mexican community.

FC Dallas avoided one loss when winger Arturo Alvarez re-signed with the club, but FCD essentially lost Clarence Goodson to Europe since the only reason he was exposed to the expansion draft was because of his desire to leave. Goodson has since signed with IK Start in Norway.

Houston Dynamo -- The defending champs have already lost forward Joseph Ngwenya to Denmark and could lose forward Nate Jaqua to Europe as well. Is there panic in Houston? Not really. The club is so deep that finding forward help shouldn't be a problem.

Kansas City Wizards -- Eddie Johnson's inevitable move to England finally happened, but the Wizards aren't shedding too many tears. They recouped a nice fee in the deal and already have a replacement in their sights in Colombian striker Ivan Trujillo.

Los Angeles Galaxy -- Leave it to the Galaxy to find a way to stir the pot this winter. As if acquiring forward Carlos Ruiz wasn't enough, the Galaxy has been linked to a deal with Nigerian defender and former Chelsea and Newcastle player Celestine Babayaro. You would think that would be all the Galaxy could do on the international market, but MLS fans have learned that you can never rule anything out when Los Angeles is concerned.

New England -- No team lost more to the international market this winter than the Revs, who saw Andy Dorman and Pat Noonan leave on free transfers. Then there was Preston North End's courtship of Taylor Twellman, which resulted in some tension and animosity between the club and its leading scorer.

Will the Revs actually use the international market to their advantage? Don't bet on it. They added defender Chris Albright in a deal and will be hoping that draft pick and highly-regarded midfielder Mike Videira chooses to stay home rather than sign abroad. If Videira does leave then this will have been one bad winter for New England.

New York Red Bulls -- New coach Juan Carlos Osorio boasts connections in England and South America and is still searching for players to fill out his new squad. He is finding it difficult to secure the types of players he likes, especially since he has no designated player slot to use.

Osorio is banking on adding at least two foreign players, a defender and a midfielder. The bigger victory for Osorio will come on Feb. 1, when he can stop worrying about transfer talk surrounding star forwards Juan Pablo Angel and Jozy Altidore.

Real Salt Lake -- After scoring big with the Argentine trio of Javier Morales, Fabian Espindola and Matias Mantilla late last season, RSL has fully embraced the international market in a way that the club's old regime never did. The result is a pair of foreign signings and a third signing of a European-based American.

Real Salt Lake is banking on Argentine midfielder Matias Cordoba being an anchor in the middle while RSL general manager Garth Lagerwey is touting Colombian central defender Jamilson Olave as an all-star caliber player.

San Jose Earthquakes -- The Earthquakes have been quiet this winter on the foreign player front, but there has been talk of San Jose potentially luring former San Jose standout Eddie Lewis back from England.

Toronto FC -- Mo Johnston made plenty of international moves last year, but this year his focus has been on the draft and trades within the league. The club's draft was excellent, but the measure of Toronto's success this winter will come if and when it finds a star player for its designated player slot.

Johnston insists the club may use the slot, but it remains to be seen whether TFC will find a player that suits its needs. With rumors of Maurice Edu transferring now dead, Johnston's chief concern in the international market will be trying to convince draft pick Joseph Lapira to sign with Toronto.

Ives Galarcep covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He is a writer and columnist for the Herald News (N.J.) and writes a blog, Soccer By Ives. He can be reached at Ivespn79@aol.com.