Questions: Julio Cesar in Toronto and Changes in Chicago and Salt Lake

Julio Cesar with Sporting KC in 2012.  Cesar joins Toronto for 2013.  Credit: Nick Turchiaro -

Tony Edwards – San Jose, CA (Jan 17, 2013) US Soccer Players – In Thursday’s column, Tony looks at draft and development strategies in Major League Soccer, counts on more than two hands how many clubs Julio Cesar has played for, and examines the North American Soccer League’s expansion.

How many clubs has new Toronto FC signing Julio Cesar played for during his professional career?

The Brazilian midfielder played for Kansas City the last two seasons. He started with C.D. Marathón when he was 17, and has played for 13 clubs (Toronto will be his 14th). Counting Marathon, that’s Real Madrid, AC Milan, Benfica, Austria Wien, Real Valladolid, Bolton Wanderers, Tigres UNAL, Olympiacos FC, FC Dinamo Bucuresti, Gaziantepspor, Maritimo Funchal, and Kansas City.

Toronto president Kevin Payne cited his club becoming “more difficult to play against” and Cesar as being part of the “backbone” of the club in the 2013 season. We’ve noted before Toronto’s problems with conceding goals last season. However, collecting experienced defenders and defensive midfielders isn’t a plan, it’s hoping enough of them can hold it together over the season to get Toronto into the playoffs.

The NASL may only have seven teams for its Spring 2013 season, but which city announced yesterday it would have a club in the NASL for 2014?

Indianapolis joins Virginia and Ottawa as teams who publicly have committed to joining the NASL next year. What could go wrong when the Governor of the state shows up at your introductory press conference?

Counting the Cosmos and Puerto Rico, that would mean (essentially) five new teams in less than a calendar year (the Cosmos and Puerto Rico are playing in the Fall season 2013). The NASL would have 12 franchises, none of them west of San Antonio. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. When other North American leagues moved west, it was mostly for television and revenue opportunities. We can agree television revenue isn’t going to be a major concern for the NASL, which leaves you with gate revenue.

When you look at Western metropolitan areas that might support the NASL, you’re not just looking at San Diego, Phoenix, and Sacramento, but Spokane, Boise, Fresno, Santa Fe and the like. That is, places where you’d have less competition for the sports and entertainment dollar and no ‘big league’ status to overcome.

Given that the NASL is going to survive on its gate for the time-being, thoughtfully expanding, versus not taking the expansion check from the first group that puts one on the table, is the way forward. Whether this NASL has learned that lesson is still an open question.

Does Chicago’s Frank Klopas think the Fire are contenders to win MLS Cup?

From his offseason moves, Klopas apparently believes the Fire just need to add experience to the midfield to get out of the Eastern Conference. That means acquiring US National Team player Jeff Larentowicz from Colorado for a draft pick plus acquiring Joel Lindpere from New York. Call it the Kinnear approach, as Houston’s ‘tough to break down’ in the playoffs has paid off for the Dynamo in terms of getting to championships, if not in support from the neutrals.

It’s clear Klopas’ approach contrasts with the plan in Kansas City and New Jersey, who are apparently taking a more attacking approach. The question will be whether Klopas can find a way to maximize Larentowicz’s considerable strengths. Clogging the midfield is one thing in theory, another thing to find the space to get the best from each of these players in a workable system. Otherwise, watch as your finely laid midfield plans are undone by a ball into space.

Why the trades on the day before the draft?

Former US National Team player Jay Heaps and Revolution General Manager Mike Burns moved up to the first pick in the draft on Wednesday, exchanging picks (they were to choose fourth) and money, excuse me allocation money, with Toronto. As mentioned above, Chicago decided, not unreasonably, that an experienced player in the line-up was worth more than the opportunity that a younger player might develop. Is there a player in the draft who is going to walk in and make the Revolution that much better? Is Toronto going to get a markedly worse player at #4?

If the Revolution have a plan in place, and are giving Burns and Heaps the time to implement that plan, that will be impressive vision from an organization that often seems to take the inexpensive way out.

I have a knee-jerk reaction that an organization shouldn’t trade prospects, or the chance to acquire prospects. That you’re better off developing your own players and letting them grow (that is, make mistakes).

However, if you are a team that believes, as Chicago does, that you can win now, why not go for it. The chances their first-round pick develops into a national team player are probably pretty slim. Toronto needs to win and win now. Their fans probably wouldn’t mind having the first pick, but I’m guessing more of them would prefer third place this season and a playoff game at home. I don’t believe that you’ll never win with kids, but I do believe that you have to have the flexibility to try to win.

With the announcements of the signing of Robbie Findley and the re-signing of Javier Morales, is Salt Lake the favorite in the Western Conference?

Wednesday’s announcement that forward Robbie Findley will return to Utah is welcome news, as the US National Team player battled injuries, a slump, and coaching changes during his time in Nottingham. In addition to Findley, a long process ended well for Salt Lake as the club re-signed Javier Morales, who had three goals and nine assists in 2012 in what, for him, was a return-to-health season.

These additions, plus that none of the contenders in the Western Conference have significantly improved, put Salt Lake clearly in the favorite role.

Salt Lake comes into 2013 off an underachieving 2012 season. That’s not entirely fair to Salt Lake, which like Seattle, has set their standards higher than most MLS franchises. Coach Jason Kreis and GM Garth Lagerway make intelligent roster changes, while maintaining their experienced core. RSL isn’t an aging team, something that could be the difference in turning around from last season.

Tony Edwards is a soccer writer from the Bay Area.

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