Black & Gold Bullets: December 5

A roundup of Thursday's headlines

Last Tuesday, Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter bolstered his backline when he brought back veteran defender Josh Williams and signed Costa Rican International Waylon Francis. “[Francis] is going to add to the offensive side of the game, there's no question," said Berhalter. "He has the conditioning to get up and down the field, so we're going to rely on that. TheCrew.com’s Cody Sharrett examines how Francis’ speed will fit into the Black & Gold’s plans in 2014 as the club looks to increase offensive production from the backline.

As MLS award season rolls on this week, Portland Timbers midfielder Diego Valeri was recently named the 2013 MLS Newcomer of the Year. Valeri’s award marks the third consecutive year that an Argentine has won top newcomer honors joining 2011 winner Mauro Rosales of the Seattle Sounders and the Black & Gold’s own Federico Higuain who took home the award at the conclusion of the 2012 season. Paul Kennedy of Soccer America has more on Valeri’s impressive first MLS campaign in 2013.

While much has been made about the two contrasting brands of soccer that will be on display this Saturday, veteran referee Hilario Grajeda will be tasked with manning the middle when Real Salt Lake takes on Sporting Kansas City for the 2013 MLS Cup. Grajeda, in his ninth year as an official in Major League Soccer, has come a long way from his days as an emergency room nurse in Dayton, Ohio. Grajeda recently sat down with MLSsoccer.com columnist Jeff Bradley for a Q&A where he opened up on his expectations leading up to Saturday’s MLS Cup and why he was ‘honored’ to be chosen to officiate on the league’s largest stage.