MLS Combine: Kljestan returning stateside? Toronto quiet on Altidore
LAUDERHILL, Fla. -- The 2015 MLS Player Combine might be in full swing, but peripheral events surrounding U.S. national team players continue to get plenty of attention.
Multiple sources have confirmed to ESPNFC.com an earlier tweet from the Washington Post's Steven Goff that there are several MLS sides in the race to sign RSC Anderlecht midfielder Sacha Kljestan. Those sources were able to identify some of those clubs, however. That group consists of the New York Red Bulls, the Philadelphia Union, the L.A. Galaxy and another unnamed domestic club. A club in the English Championship, the second tier of English soccer, is also in contention for Kljestan's services.
Earlier on Sunday, ESPNFC.com reported the allocation order will be used in determining where Sunderland forward Jozy Altidore lands if he comes to MLS. Recently, the league had been able to place players of a certain salary threshold essentially at its discretion. That is no longer the case.
In light of that development, the Union and the Red Bulls are thought to be the frontrunners for Kljestan's services, as the Galaxy are far down the allocation order and recently used their third Designated Player slot on Steven Gerrard. At present, New York lies 12th, while Philadelphia occupies eighth spot, though willingness to meet the player's financial demands is also a factor.
It's understood Kljestan would prefer to be in New York or Los Angeles. Kljestan played collegiately at Seton Hall and is a former club teammate of both current Red Bulls manager Jesse Marsch and Union manager Jim Curtin. The three men played for now defunct, L.A.-based Chivas USA. This past season, Kljestan had a proposed loan move to the Galaxy scuttled by the league, which drew the ire of L.A. manager Bruce Arena, who was subsequently fined for his comments.
Sunday's combine matches: After a ragged first day of matches, play settled down somewhat on the second day, as players adapted to new teammates and benefited from cooler temperatures.
In the opening game of the day, Team Nitro Charge defeated Team Adi Zero 2-0 behind goals Christian Volesky and Khiry Shelton. Both Nick Besler -- brother of U.S. international Matt -- and Akeil Barrett turned in impressive performances. Highly-touted defender Martin Del Campo of UC-Davis was unimpressive for the second consecutive day, with some beginning to question his pace.
That said, the Combine remains an inexact science for scouting players. In the past, players such as current L.A. Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez and Vancouver Whitecaps defender Christian Dean suffered through difficult combines but were still chosen high in the draft.
In the second match of the day, Team Predator topped Team Nativo 4-3. Team Predator jumped out to a 3-1 halftime lead, thanks to goals from Cal's Connor Hallisey, University of Central Florida striker Romario Williams and Old Dominion forward Sidney Rivera. All three players enjoyed strong displays on the day. Skyler Thomas pulled a goal back for Team Nativo before halftime.
The halftime introduction of University of San Francisco midfielder Miguel Aguilar nearly saw Team Nativo come back, as he scored once and assisted on a goal by Michigan State forward Adam Montague and was a constant menace on the right wing. Sagi Lev-Ari's goal from a long solo run proved to be the game-winner.
Bezbatchenko keeping his cards close:
Toronto FC general manager Tim Bezbatchenko declined to discuss the reports about Altidore, as well those surrounding striker Jermain Defoe. If Altidore is to arrive in Toronto, one of TFC's three DPs will have to depart. Michael Bradley isn't going anywhere, which leaves Defoe or Gilberto. There have been reports Defoe and Altidore could be involved in a straight swap, with Defoe moving to Sunderland and Altidore to TFC.
Bezbatchenko maintained his stance that he expects Defoe to turn up for preseason training Jan. 17, all while entertaining offers.
"With a player of Defoe's quality, you're going to get offers from the top of the table and the bottom of the table. We don't want to lose him, but you have to work with your players, all of them. If there's an offer that makes sense, we'll take it back and consider it with our ownership group. But we haven't gotten anything yet that would make the deal happen."
As for Altidore, Bezbatchenko confirmed the allocation process will determine where the U.S. striker lands. Otherwise, he had no comment.
Reyna cool on Man City reinforcements:
New York City FC director of football Claudio Reyna declined to address a Goal.com report the club is poised to sign U.S. international midfielder Mix Diskerud, who is out of contract at the moment.
But Reyna did indicate the club will bring over -- at most -- one Manchester City youth player during the season, which is something of a departure from earlier reports that had NYCFC bringing over as many as four.
"It needs to be right," Reyna said of bringing over some Man City youth players. "It needs to be right for us. It needs to be right for the players. We'll see. At the most, it could be one player. It's not going to be all four, considering international spots. We're going over to preseason in Manchester, and I think that will be a good opportunity for the players to really get a sense of the team."
One player who won't be joining New York is 18-year-old prospect Kelechi Iheanacho. Iheanacho was thought to be on NYCFC's wish list, but Reyna revealed the Nigerian recently sustained a broken foot and will be out of action for another 10-12 weeks.
CBA rumblings: MLS and the MLS Players Union aren't set to resume negotiations for another 10 days or so, but that hasn't stopped the league from floating some trial balloons to teams, in terms of possible new roster classifications. One interesting item multiple sources have mentioned is what's being called the "Super Max Designated Player." The name is something of a misnomer, as it refers to medium-sized DPs whose total maximum outlay (yearly salary plus transfer fee plus anything else) is around $750,000.
With the salary cap presumed to be going up, the idea is to not spend those funds on players already in the league. A $250,00 player isn't all of a sudden going to be worth $350,000, or so the thinking goes. Rather, the intention is to spend those funds on a higher caliber of player coming into the league. There has been talk that such a slot would be in addition to the current Designated Player classification.
Keep in mind, this is all very preliminary. No one I spoke to said this had come up in the CBA negotiations, but enough sources brought the topic up that at minimum, it appears to be something the league is considering.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.