MLS announced today that the Houston Dynamo are moving to the Eastern Conference to make way for the inclusion of Vancouver and Portland in the West. The new conference alignment keeps the balance of power in the West, so not much has changed in terms of the Fire's standing in the East.
East : Chicago, Columbus, DC, Houston, New England, New York, Philadelphia, Kansas City, Toronto
West : Chivas, Colorado, Dallas, Los Angeles, RSL, San Jose, Seattle, Portland, Vancouver
Houston suffered through a down year last season and their current state is not much different than the Fire's. Their major additions so far have been Jason Garey, Hunter Freeman, Jordan Graye and top pick Will Bruin. Dominic Kinnear has hinted at a possible DP addition but nothing appears imminent from the sound of things. Houston's addition doesn't change much in the East unless they have some major additions in the waiting. It's still New York and a mad scramble between eight others as things are currently set.
Where Are the New Guys?
The Fire officially opened the 2011 season today as players who are currently under contract reported for physicals and introductions. Where are the new signings that have been talked about recently you ask? They are coming although not as quickly as some would like. It seems a few more days of patience are in order.
The Fire offered these comments over the last few days through their Facebook page:
"....signing international players takes time. There are visa, travel, ITC and other issues unique to signing internationals. We've been consistent in stressing these points so fans understand that these kinds of signings take longer. We have a few in the works, so stay tuned."
"...we have informed fans that we are in the process of signing players. Like other teams, we aren't releasing their names until the signings are final, but we are commenting on the fact we're about to sign some. There is no secrecy here whatsoever. Every fan is aware of the positions we need to fill and, naturally, we are looking to fill those positions."
"....as you may have read on this page a few times over the last couple of weeks we have signings in the works BUT we can't announce them until they work there way through the process - especially with international signings, which are far more complicated."
"....All we can say is soon because it's a process that we don't control - and we've avoided characterizing how soon it could be b/c we don't want to raise expectations. For example, there's a player we've been expecting to announce for over a week now, but their visa issues haven't been worked out yet - so we've had to wait it out on our end. Part of the problem is that each country's process is different when it comes to visas, ITCs, etc. It all just adds to the log jam unfortunately..."
So there is official confirmation that international player additions are forthcoming. Unofficiailly, at least two are South American and at least one is definitely a striker although names haven't been attached to the countries or positions yet.
Roster Rules 2011
Even more significant than the Conference alignment (which isn't that big a deal since the schedule is balanced) was the release of MLS' roster rules and regulations for the new season. Some changes to the roster designations have taken place due to roster expansion and homegrown player rule changes.
New terms such as "Salary Budget Players" are coined for the first 20 players on the roster which will count against the salary cap. "Off Budget Players" are players who do not count against the cap and take up spots 21 through 30 on the roster.
As previously known, minimum salaried players will receive a pay raise up to $42,000.00 and now players occupying spots 25-30 will earn at least $32,600.00.
Each team will receive 8 tradable international roster spots while the Canadian teams will now have American and Canadian players considered "domestic".
The most frustrating part of the rules announcement comes via the news that Allocation Money will remain the super secret random figure that is subjectively handed out in the smoky, darkly lit back rooms of MLS headquarters. MLS offered this reason for continuing the cloak and dagger practice of hiding allocation figures:
"To protect the interests of MLS and its clubs during discussions with prospective players or clubs in other leagues, amounts of allocation money held by each club will not be shared publicly. (Similarly, most clubs in other countries do not announce the amount of money they plan to spend during a given transfer window.)"
Uh.....it's supposedly a set amount....clubs in other countries don't have a salary cap.
I'll have more on the new rules as they pertain to the Fire soon.