The cliché bears truth, doesn’t it?
When managers get players back from a long-term injury, they often remark it feels like the club is getting boosted by a new signing.
Of course, that label isn’t technically accurate. Said players have already proven their MLS chops, to various degrees, and fans largely know what to expect (this applies to all but one player featured below).
A few quick honorable mentions: Atlanta United midfielder Ozzie Alonso, Colorado Rapids center back Aboubacar Keita, D.C. United center back Brendan Hines-Ike and Inter Miami CF forward Robbie Robinson were considered, too.
Before MLS is Back weekend on Feb. 25, this group is eagerly leaving behind injury-report days.
What happened: Meniscus tear in late June 2022
What he brings: In short, a pacy and dynamic presence in the final third. The U22 Initiative signing and former Colombian youth international was a big loss for Vancouver down the stretch. Now, Caicedo needs more end product after contributing 6g/9a in 49 games since joining two seasons ago.
Likely role in 2023: Starting winger/second striker or key depth
What happened: Torn ACL in mid-April 2022
What he brings: A jack-of-all-trades player, Dotson is among the most consistent SuperDraft products of the past half-decade. Whether it’s in midfield or at right back, the 25-year-old is a key part of the Loons’ sustained success under manager Adrian Heath. He has 8g/6a in 78 games.
Likely role in 2023: Versatile depth piece or spot starter
What happened: Torn ACL in February 2022
What he brings: Despite suffering a long-term injury ahead of last season, Colorado rewarded Galvan with a long-term contract extension. That came on the heels of the Argentine winger’s key role during the Rapids’ historic 2021 season, when they topped the Western Conference table and Galvan contributed 2g/3a in 24 games.
Likely role in 2023: Starting winger and/or leading substitute
What happened: Ruptured Achilles tendon in mid-April 2022
What he brings: The Five Stripes never quite had stability at goalkeeper last year once Guzan went down. And while the former US international is now 38, he brings quality to the position and his leadership impact will be crucial as Atlanta emerge from a change-filled offseason. It is now Guzan’s seventh season with the club.
Likely role in 2023: Starting goalkeeper, with veterans/wintertime signings Quentin Westberg and Clément Diop providing depth
What they bring: This one’s a two-for-one blurb because much of Sporting KC’s struggles last year can be attributed to these Designated Players not playing a single game after undergoing surgery. They tallied a combined 25g/20a across the 2020-21 seasons. Pulido, a Mexican international striker, faces competition from Willy Agada to start in manager Peter Vermes’ preferred 4-3-3 formation. Kinda, an Israeli international midfielder, encounters the same from Erik Thommy for the No. 10 spot.
Likely roles in 2023: If they regain form and fitness, both DPs can provide 15+ goal contributions
What happened: Lower-back surgery in early June 2022
What he brings: Entering his age-34 season, Kreilach remains indispensable for the Claret-and-Cobalt. The Croatian attacker is not only their captain, but has 43g/23a in 124 regular-season games since coming to the Utah side of the Rocky Mountain Cup during the 2018 season. Health permitting, Kreilach is arguably RSL’s best player.
Likely role in 2023: The Designated Player projects as a second striker, flanked by wingers Jefferson Savarino and Andrés Gómez.
What happened: Long-term foot injury
What he brings: The U22 Initiative striker, signed from Brazil’s Internacional ahead of Charlotte’s expansion season, is yet to make an MLS appearance. Mello probably isn’t a starter for the Crown – their leading striker is new DP Enzo Copetti – but the 20-year-old is eager to prove why the club invested in him.
Likely role in 2023: No. 9 depth
What happened: Two knee surgeries in 2022, season-ending one last August
What he brings: It’s easy to forget Mora was Portland’s leading scorer during the 2021 season, posting 13g/5a in 33 games as they eventually hosted MLS Cup. But the Chilean international striker played just 78 minutes last year amid injuries, an under-discussed reason behind why the Timbers narrowly missed the playoffs.
Likely role in 2023: Striker with 10+ goals, pending new DP and/or Jaroslaw Niezgoda’s impact
What happened: Torn ACL in early May 2022
What he brings: A finalist for the 2021 Landon Donovan MLS MVP award, João Paulo got hurt in the second leg of Seattle’s historic Concacaf Champions League title, a home victory over Liga MX’s Pumas UNAM. A defensive midfielder who dictates both sides of the ball, the Brazilian veteran already returned during the Sounders’ brief Club World Cup appearance. The former DP has 6g/17a in 56 games.
Likely role in 2023: Written-in-pen starter
What happened: Ruptured Achilles tendon in early May 2022
What he brings: Had Robinson been healthy, odds are he would have started for the US men’s national team at the 2022 FIFA World Cup – maybe even parlaying that stage into a transfer to one of Europe’s top-five leagues. A two-time MLS Best XI presented by Continental Tire selection, the 25-year-old is one of the region’s leading center backs.
Likely role in 2023: Starting CB as Atlanta chase an Audi MLS Cup Playoffs return
What happened: Leg surgery (left tibia stress fracture) in late September 2022
What he brings: Torres played just 684 minutes (14 games) for Chicago last year, with 0g/1a, after joining as a DP winger from then-Liga MX champions Atlas. He wasn’t ever fully healthy, so it’d be unfair to judge the Mexican import on that sample size. After the Fire scored just 39 goals last year (second-fewest in MLS), they’ll need Torres to step up.
Likely role in 2023: Starting winger