The 7 biggest (and sadly predictable) disappointments of the MLS season
7. Moving on from Vadim
Not every first-year club can step in and compete, and if one of this year's two expansionists was going to flop, it was going to be Minnesota United FC. The Loons' frugal approach to roster-building didn't promise much, and, for the most part, they've lived up to expectations.
There have been some pluses -- Christian Ramirez up front, Abu Danladi's growth, Francisco Calvo's emergence, the trades to bring in Sam Cronin and Ethan Finlay -- and they've mostly been competitive since the disastrous start. But who honestly thought, four weeks into the season, this group might win seven games?
The poster child for that early-season debacle was 30-year-old, Latvia-born Norwegian centerback Vadim Demidov. He's the club's best-paid player, its most prominent import and a TAM-level signing who was charged to anchor the backline. Heath even made him captain. Minnesota got three grisly games out of him, with 16 goals conceded, before March was done.
Demidov has not seen the field since, and there's been talk he was headed back to Norway. Except the Loons can't find a buyer.
6. D.C. United’s constant rollercoaster
There's no more schizophrenic team than D.C. United. In the eight seasons under Ben Olsen, D.C. has gone from worst in MLS to competing for Supporters' Shields and back again. From 2012 through 2014, the capital's side's victory total dropped from 17 to three then rose back to 17 again.
Last year, United went nearly three months with just one loss to push into the playoffs, using a four-game winning streak to climb to fourth. Ben's boys have been back to the East’s worst again this year and haven't escaped the conference basement since July 1. United has tallied just 23 times in 28 games -- nobody in MLS has scored fewer -- while giving up twice as many goals.
None of this has endangered Olsen's status. The message from the top: He's done as well as he can with what he has. The club's priority has been finding a site for a stadium, getting everything approved, and building the thing. Audi Field is meant to be a game-changer when it opens next year. That's when things will really start to count.
There already are good signs: The additions of Paul Arriola, Russell Canouse and Zoltan Stieber during the summer transfer window has made D.C. a more fearsome side, although it won't mean all that much until 2018.
5. Sporting losing Palmer-Brown for nothing
There are two recommended uses for superbly talented young players. One, play them. Two, sell them for a tidy profit. It's how it works all over the world, and we're sure to increasingly see that here as MLS soldiers on.
Within that prism, Erik Palmer-Brown's tenure with Sporting Kansas City has been disastrous. The 20-year-old center back's decision to leave for Manchester City, with K.C. receiving no compensation, is an epic failure for the club and the league.
Palmer-Brown is among the most prized young Americans the game has seen. The U.S. U-20 captain's potential is off the charts, but he's not ready to supplant Matt Besler or Ike Opara on the K.C. backline, so he's seen little time for Peter Vermes: just 370 minutes this year.
Sporting turned down Juventus' offer a few years back, and its hopes fell through to sell Palmer-Brown to FC Porto after he helped the club's B side win Portugal's second-tier title while on loan last year. With less than six months to go on his MLS contract, he can sign a pre-contract elsewhere, no fee required, and Manchester City bested Paris Saint-Germain, among others, for his signature. It's basically a giveaway .
He's not going to play right away for the Citizens, of course, and the Netherlands’ NAC Breda seems the likeliest loan destination. At least Sporting retains his MLS rights, right?
4. The freefall of FC Dallas
FC Dallas was streaking toward an unprecedented treble until Mauro Diaz's torn Achilles last season, but the Hoops' start to this MLS campaign suggested they'd figured out how to play without their one indispensable player.
Then Diaz came back. Not at full strength, of course -- it takes time to find fitness, form, that velvet touch after so long a layoff -- but in short stints, leading to a start in late June and, a hamstring ailment aside, regular time after that.
That's only part of the why the Hoops are in a tailspin. Their winless skid reached eight games in Sunday's embarrassing 3-0 loss at Atlanta United, and suddenly they're 9-8-7, seven points off the Western lead and officially eliminated from the Supporters' Shield race. Things are going wrong at the back, especially against the high-pressure attacks, but its inability to find the proper chemistry with its talisman is the most frustrating.
The club went with a 4-4-2 alignment during Diaz's absence but have reverted to the 4-2-3-1 with his return, and the chemistry just isn't there. Diaz is only now starting to find his game again, but Maxi Urruti hasn't been at his best, and Cristian Colman has been a $2 million bust.