Barely a year goes by in the MLS without a whole host of players making an instant impact at their new clubs.
Some, like New York Red Bulls winger Joel Lindpere, will make a telling impact, while others like Seattle Sounders’ Blaise Nkufo might take a little longer to get going.
This year there are already dozens of players looking to emulate Lindpere, Nkufo and Colorado Rapids’ unsung hero Jeff Larentowicz in endearing themselves to fans of their new club within months of joining. I have selected a team of 11 players who could make a difference to their new employers’ seasons in 2011.
Goalkeeper: Chris Seitz (FC Dallas)
Left wanting when Kevin Hartman suffered an untimely injury last season, and even more so once Argentine backup Dario Sala was let go in early December, Dallas will be grateful to have snapped up an experienced and relatively youthful stopper. And Seitz, while he may not begin the year as first choice, ought to feel he has a point to prove after failing to hold down a first team place at Philadelphia last campaign.
Right-back: Kerrea Gilbert (Portland Timbers)
Plenty of players move to the MLS from Europe as a sort of retirement plan, but Gilbert seems as far from that stereotype as possible. The former Arsenal man has plenty of good years ahead of him, and will offer as much going forward as he does at the back. Any defence formed more-or-less from scratch, as is the case with Portland, will need players able to gel immediately – Gilbert’s experience settling into various squads during loan spells should serve him well.
Left-back: Heath Pearce (Chivas USA)
With the exit of Jonathan Bornstein, Chivas could use a big-name arrival to fill what can only be described as a massive gap. Pearce could well be that man, and he has had enough ups and downs in his career to know what he should and shouldn’t do again. One of many new faces who ought to help Chivas improve on a season where they lost 18 of their 30 league games.
Centre-back: Perry Kitchen (DC United)
The SuperDraft pick most likely to make an instant impact, Kitchen has shown maturity beyond his years when representing the University of Akron, and should have no problem slotting in to DC United’s back-line. With new team-mates who have been erratic at best, Kitchen’s arrival could be an instance of a 19-year-old teaching some more experienced players some new tricks.
Centre-back: Jay DeMerit (Vancouver Whitecaps)
DeMerit’s arrival represents a real coup for the Whitecaps, adding an instant sense of leadership often lacking with teams just joining the MLS. Both his team mates and indeed the backroom staff ought to have plenty to learn from him, but at the same time at 31 years of age the American international still has plenty to offer on the pitch as well as off it.
Central midfield: Ousmane Dabo (New England Revolution)
A lot of New England’s problems last season came from a lack of patience, and Dabo should be able to resolve that problem. The assured presence of the French midfielder – a veteran of five Serie A clubs – ought to give more attacking freedom to club captain Shalrie Joseph, who at times last season was constrained by having to do the attacking and defensive work of several men.
Central midfield: Nathan Sturgis (Toronto FC)
One of the shrewdest bits of business this close-season, some were surprised when Seattle left Sturgis unprotected in the expansion draft. After making him their third pick in that draft, many believe Vancouver missed a trick by letting him join their Canadian neighbours so easily. He ought to take a lot of the pressure of Dwayne de Rosario as Toronto FC look to end years of disappointment.
Central midfield: Dax McCarty (DC United)
One of the real bright sparks of Dallas’ late-season run in 2010, McCarty’s progress was so great that he was honoured with the captain’s armband when the United States met Chile in January’s international friendly. He already showed at his former club that he thrives on pressure and responsibility, and coach Ben Olsen will surely entrust him with plenty this year.
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Forward: Omar Bravo (Sporting Kansas City)
One of the biggest names (if not the biggest) to arrive in 2011, Sporting Kansas City could have a new hero to go with their new identity in Bravo. The fans have had to wait several months for the Mexican’s protracted transfer to be completed, but it should be worth it when he makes his debut in March. Over 100 goals in Mexican football, plus 15 for his country, demonstrate the quality of the hardworking forward.
Forward: Carlos Ruiz (Philadelphia Union)
Even if Ruiz proves to be only half the player he was in his last MLS spell, Philadelphia will have got an absolute steal. The Guatemalan hotshot knows this league inside out, with a record of better than a goal every two games, and with Le Toux and Mwanga on their books the Union can afford to use him sparingly until he finds his stride.
Forward: Charlie Davies (DC United)
It is rare that an American international striker comes to this league in the prime of his career, and – injuries permitting – Davies’ arrival ought to provide a real fillip for his new employers. He may have been robbed of a year’s football after a car crash left him with life-threatening injuries, but Davies still knows where the goal is. He has looked sharp in training and in pre-season friendlies, and by the summer we could see fans laughing at the thought that United only managed 21 goals in the entire 2010 campaign.