Old faces, new places: When heroes return
It was an unusual offseason in MLS. Not just because the league added two expansion teams and held five different drafts, but because that led to a reshuffling of rosters that could prove dizzying to the fans.
Stalwarts from seemingly every corner of the league changed addresses. From Juan Pablo Angel to Jimmy Conrad, many of the best and best-loved players in MLS will be plying their trades in a new home.
That could prove difficult for their old fans. Consensus among the hardcore is “Standing ovation before kick-off, then cheer against them for 90,” but for members of New York's Empire Supporter’s Club or Kansas City's Cauldron, to name two, that ethos will be put to the test when their former heroes come calling.
Here are some of the more intriguing returns:
Juan Pablo Ángel (LA Galaxy)
Ángel said all the right things when he left the New York Red Bulls, but in the intervening months he’s been cryptic enough to make it clear he wasn’t particularly happy with how his exit went down.
Now happy and fired up in Los Angeles, New York’s all-time leading scorer (61 goals in all competitions) returns to Red Bull Arena on August 28 in a nationally televised game. He’ll surely have the date circled on his calendar, and it’s likely Red Bull fans will do the same.
Jimmy Conrad (Chivas USA)
The face of the franchise and a World Cup veteran, Conrad was with the Kansas City Wizards for eight years before being taken by Chivas in the expansion draft. Now the Wizards have turned into Sporting Kansas City and Conrad returns to his roots – he’s from Arcadia, Calif., and played collegiately at UCLA.
Like Ángel, he’s said all the right things, telling MLSsoccer.com that, “I’ve given a big chunk of my career and life to this city and to this team. To be able to say that I finished it here in front of the fans that have supported me for so long was first and foremost, and it would have been a great honor to be able to do so.”
Conrad will get his chance to salute the Cauldron faithful on July 9.
Jeff Cunningham (Columbus Crew)
This is the fifth time Cunningham, the league’s second all-time leading scorer with 132 goals, has joined a new team in the past six years. This time, the change takes him home.
Cunningham started his career with the Crew in 1998 and spent his first seven years in Columbus. The last three, though, he spent with FC Dallas, and they might have been his most memorable.
Cunningham tallied 33 times in 66 games with Big D, and helped lead them to the MLS Cup final in 2010. He returns to Pizza Hut Park on July 2.
Frankie Hejduk (LA Galaxy)
Ángel isn’t the only legend the Galaxy picked up in the offseason. Hejduk’s a Southern California boy, but he’d made Columbus his home since 2003 and the fans loved him for it.
With good reason – Hejduk, as captain, led the Crew to three Supporters' Shields and an MLS Cup win in his time in Ohio. During that time, he developed a reputation as a big-game player (cemented by his goal in the 2008 MLS Cup) and a true ambassador to the fans.
The Nordecke will have to wait til Sept. 24 for their hero’s return.
Brian Carroll (Philadelphia Union)
Carroll joined Hejduk in the exodus from Columbus this offseason. The understated midfielder never won many headlines, but he made up for that by winning more than his fair share of trophies.
From 2004 to 2009 Carroll won four Supporters' Shields (two with Columbus, two with D.C. United) and two MLS Cups (one with each team). DC haven’t made the playoffs since he left, and Columbus are hoping to avoid the same fate.
Philly visit the Crew on Aug. 20. It’s a fair bet the reception Carroll gets will pale in comparison to the one Hejduk receives a month later, but the more knowledgeable denizens of Columbus Crew Stadium will surely have a warm welcome for him nonetheless.
Joe Cannon (Vancouver Whitecaps FC)
Cannon’s the poster child for the old “goalkeepers are a little bit different” meme. His willingness to speak his mind and his top-notch shot-stopping ability made him a cult hero with San Jose Earthquakes fans, both when he was winning championships a decade ago and as he was helping an expansion team find its footing over the last several years.
Cannon and the ‘Caps return to Buck Shaw Stadium on July 20.
Dax McCarty (D.C. United): McCarty returns to Dallas on July 16.
Kenny Cooper (Portland Timbers): The Timbers and their new striker, who left Dallas for Europe two years ago, visit Frisco on June 25.
Josh Wolff (D.C. United): Wolff played nearly 150 games for the Wizards. He and United visit Sporting Kansas City on Aug. 21.