When it comes to MLS signings, we’re all drawn to those with big price tags and star-caliber names.
A Designated Player or U22 Initiative tag, along with some international experience and perhaps a sizable contract or transfer fee? That’s like the holy trifecta (I'm guilty as charged here, by the way).
But let’s not glance past signings of a different profile that should be just as impactful during the 2023 season. They arrived at their clubs via free agency, trades and international transfers – setting the stage for a big impact.
As a quick qualifier: “under the radar” just means, from a national-level viewpoint, they likely weren’t perceived as huge, league-altering additions.
If Houston take strides forward under new head coach Ben Olsen in 2023, their midfield trio is going to play an outsized role. That’s because Coco Carrasquilla and Héctor Herrera, on their day, are both upper-end MLS midfielders who can exert two-way control in a match.
Don’t forget about Artur as a key piece of that puzzle, though. The Brazilian d-mid arrived in a November trade from Columbus, only costing up to $350k in General Allocation Money (GAM), and he’s approaching 150 games in MLS.
Artur seems to have fully overcome an injury-plagued 2021 season, and his MLS Cup 2020-winning version is still in there. While not a put-his-name-in-lights signing, Artur is an underrated pick-up for the Dynamo’s continued rebuild.
Blom is St. Louis CITY’s most recent international signing, arriving just before Christmas from South African side Kaizer Chiefs. By contrast, the expansion club did most of their overseas shopping in the summer of 2022.
That time gap matters little, especially with the presence Blom brings in the No. 6 role under manager Bradley Carnell, who shares South African roots. Blom breaks up plays, is a better passer than most realize, and does the defensive work that’s allowed DP midfielder Eduard Löwen to advance further upfield.
Blom probably won’t grab many headlines as St. Louis CITY write their first MLS chapter, instead staying incognito in his role. That’s a compliment, by the way.
Those in Atlanta have sung Etienne Jr.’s praises all offseason, signing the Haitian international winger in free agency after his career-best year at the Columbus Crew (9g/6a in 33 games). But big picture, it’s perhaps not sunk in nationally how important the 26-year-old can be for the Five Stripes.
Look for Etienne Jr. to complement Atlanta’s DP trio of fellow winger Luiz Araújo, midfielder Thiago Almada and striker Giorgos Giakoumakis. They, on paper, bring the best out of each other – with Etienne Jr. particularly willing to run in behind and off the ball.
Phrased another way: This is the type of signing Atlanta ought to make more of in the Garth Lagerwey era.
One club’s loss is another club’s gain. Héber got traded from NYCFC to Seattle in late December for up to $550k in GAM, ostensibly giving the Sounders an over-qualified backup behind Raúl Ruidíaz.
The Brazilian striker has admirably filled that role with goals in back-to-back games as Ruidíaz recovers from a slight hamstring injury. Héber co-leads MLS in shots (10) and has missed a couple big chances, but his immediate fit in one of MLS’s top rosters is nothing to scoff at.
NYCFC surely would’ve benefited from having Héber still around. It’s already looking like Seattle won this trade, a statement that’ll only strengthen if the 31-year-old keeps producing.
When Miami traded Damion Lowe to Philadelphia in late January, it seemed like another center-back shoe was waiting to drop. That move, it turned out, meant acquiring Kryvstov from UEFA Champions League regulars and Ukranian powerhouse side Shakhtar Donetsk.
Arriving as the Herons’ new “backline anchor,” Kryvstov brings a boatload of experience after winning 17 titles during his 13-year spell with Shakhtar. He also has 31 caps for his native Ukraine, featuring on their Euro 2020 squad.
While offseason headlines in Miami mainly involved Josef Martínez arriving from Atlanta and living legend Lionel Messi possibly coming to South Florida, don’t lose sight of Kryvstov. He’ll be a huge piece if this ambitious club comes good in 2023.
Mosquera is on loan from EPL side Wolverhampton Wanderers until June 30, then possibly through the end of the 2023 season if Cincy exercise that option. Based on his early-season impact, the Orange & Blue might want to seriously consider keeping the Colombian center back around beyond the short-term guaranteed stint.
It’s easy to see why Mosquera once reportedly garnered a mid-seven-figure transfer fee after impressing in his home country. But minutes in England have been hard to come by, so an agreement was reached that benefits everyone involved.
Now, he’s a key defensive piece alongside veterans Matt Miazga and Nick Hagglund. Keep in mind that Mosquera's only 21.
The narrative around Nashville SC remains in 2023: Is there enough attacking depth to make life easier for reigning Landon Donovan MLS MVP and Golden Boot presented by Audi winner Hany Mukhtar? The big-picture answer probably involves the DP spot Aké Loba (on loan at Liga MX’s Mazatlán FC) still occupies, but players like Picault help in a major way.
Picault, 32, gives Nashville a pacy, direct option in wide areas. He arrived in an early-November trade from Houston Dynamo FC, boasting 42 goals and 22 assists across 168 appearances (134 starts) with three past MLS clubs.
That experience, which cost only up to $250k in GAM to acquire, should go a long way as Nashville seek a third straight Audi MLS Cup Playoffs trip. In early games, with Mukhtar nursing a slight knock that’s kept him out of the XI, Picault has arguably been Nashville’s most dangerous attacker.
Somewhat quietly, Romney was the yin to Walker Zimmerman’s yang the past few years as they formed one of MLS’s better center back duos. But with Jack Maher waiting in the wings at Nashville and the Revolution meeting the Yotes’ asking price ($525k GAM), he shipped up to New England in an early-January trade.
Early returns are quite promising, as Romney forms an understanding with Revs center back Henry Kessler. We’ll see if club staple Andrew Farrell slots back into the XI when he’s healthy or if Bruce Arena, who gave Romney his first MLS shot at the LA Galaxy in 2015, sticks with the hot hand.
Before debuting for New England, Romney signed a new contract. Ditto for midfielder Latif Blessing, who joined this winter in a trade from LAFC.
The last time Colorado brought in a former Wolverhampton Wanderers midfielder, they struck gold by acquiring club captain Jack Price, one of MLS’s best set-piece takers. Once Price is fully healthy and back in the Rapids’ lineup, his reunion with Ronan should prove fruitful.
Ronan, who’s on the fringes of Ireland’s national team, has proven especially tidy in possession and linking front to back. He’s completed 86.8% of his passes through Colorado’s slow start, generating five chances and getting stuck into a few challenges.
Ronan bounced around Europe the last few years on various loans, though maybe he’s got a new long-term home in Colorado.
One glaring hole for LAFC this offseason was midfield depth, especially after Latif Blessing got traded to New England and Sebas Méndez decamped for Brazil’s São Paulo as a free agent. The defending MLS Cup and Supporters’ Shield champions could arguably still use another midfield piece, but getting a player of Tillman’s quality is no small feat.
The 24-year-old German-American tallied 2g/6a in 86 games across Germany’s top two divisions, featuring on loan at 1. FC Nürnberg and last playing at Greuther Fürth. He’s also the older brother of USMNT midfielder Malik Tillman, who’s currently on loan at Scotland’s Rangers.
LAFC would likely not blink at starting Tillman should fresh legs be needed to spell the club’s preferred midfield trio of Ilie Sánchez, Kellyn Acosta and José Cifuentes. With the Black & Gold in several competitions this year, Tillman will have plenty of opportunity to shine.
Armchair Analyst Matt Doyle has coined the term “dribbly boi” to describe Torres and… it’s perfect. The Argentine attacker loves to take defenders on 1-v-1, giving Philadelphia an Ilsinho-like super-sub to bring off the bench and/or flex into different formations.
He cost up to $800k GAM in a late-January trade from CF Montréal and has already shown his skills with a spin-cycle move that set up Julián Carranza’s late strike during a Matchday 1 thumping of Columbus.
I mean, this is just ridiculous:
At first, Väisänen was simply billed as Austin’s Ruben Gabrielsen replacement after the Norwegian center back returned to his home country for personal reasons following one short-lived (yet impressive) MLS season.
Then Julio Cascante suffered an adductor strain that’s expected to keep him out through early April, if not even longer. For those keeping count at home, Austin rode the Gabrielsen-Cascante center back partnership last year in becoming the Western Conference’s second-best team.
That all leads to a bright-as-can-be spotlight on Väisänen, who must become ATX’s defensive leader while adjusting to a new league and country. The Finland international, signed in early January from Swedish club IF Elfsborg, knows it’s a big task before him.