The chance to start anew is nearly here.
With MLS is Back weekend arriving on Feb. 25, players can soon recalibrate and prove that a slight 2022 dip was an unexpected anomaly.
This group is hoping the frustrating days of yesteryear are in the rearview mirror and the 2023 campaign allows them to proceed with full systems go. Based on these players’ profiles – there’s a fair amount of Designated Players spotlighted below – it’s fair to expect more, too.
Let's get to it.
Acquired: August 2021 transfer from Ligue 1’s Lille for a reported $10 million fee ($12 million with incentives)
MLS production: 8g/10a in 43 games (39 starts)
Outlook: Araujo’s finishing touch has often eluded him since he arrived in Atlanta, fresh off helping Lille win a French first-division title. The Brazilian winger is among MLS’s most-expensive incoming transfers, and, with one-and-a-half seasons under his belt, there’s undoubtedly another level or two the DP can reach.
Acquired: August 2022 transfer from English Premier League side Crystal Palace for an undisclosed fee
MLS production: 1g/0a in seven games (six starts)
Outlook: In fairness to Benteke, little went right for D.C. United last season. But with the squad rebuilt in manager Wayne Rooney’s vision, the Belgian international is expected to lead the line after managing 86 goals and 23 assists in 280 EPL appearances. The bar is set high for a striker of his pedigree.
Acquired: December 2022 trade from LA Galaxy for $1 million in GAM & sell-on fee
MLS production: 6g/5a in 61 games (47 starts)
Outlook: After two wasteful seasons with the Galaxy, Cabral is hoping a change of scenery can improve his sharpness and luck in front of goal. Originally signed by LA from Ligue 2 side Valenciennes, he can play both through the center or out wide. Is Cabral Colorado’s latest example of capitalizing on a distressed MLS asset?
Acquired: February 2022 loan from Grêmio with an obligation to buy
MLS production: 4g/2a in 27 games (16 starts)
Outlook: If reports of a return to Brazil’s Serie A are to be believed, there should be an asterisk next to Costa’s name. Either way, you expect more end product from a Brazilian international winger whose résumé includes clubs like UEFA Champions League regulars Bayern Munich, Juventus and Shaktar Donetsk. Provided the 32-year-old sticks around, he has the talent for 15+ goal contributions.
Acquired: March 2022 free transfer, last with LaLiga side Atletico Madrid
MLS production: 0g/1a in 10 games (six starts)
Outlook: Herrera arrived last July as the de-facto face of Houston’s rebuild, a mantle he maintains amid wintertime squad turnover and as new head coach Ben Olsen gets settled in. Should the Dynamo earn their first Audi MLS Cup Playoffs berth since 2017, they’ll need the commanding box-to-box presence this Mexican international can bring.
Acquired: March 2022 transfer from English Championship side Derby County for an undisclosed fee
MLS production: 0g/3a in 19 games (13 starts)
Outlook: That stat line above says it all, doesn’t it? Jozwiak had some solid moments as Charlotte pushed for a postseason spot during their expansion season, but a DP winger gets held to a high standard. Perhaps a full preseason camp, and missing out on the 2022 FIFA World Cup with Poland, has lit a fire in Jozwiak.
Acquired: Homegrown player deal in December 2017
MLS production: 14 clean sheets in 82 games, 144 goals against
Outlook: After San Jose acquired Brazilian goalkeeper Daniel from Internacional this offseason, there’s no guarantee Marcinkowski retains the starting job he’s held the last two years in Silicon Valley. To earn the No. 1 spot under new head coach Luchi Gonzalez, Marcinkowski would need to improve on 2022’s struggles: his -7.49 goals prevented (per TruMedia via StatsPerform) and 10.33 goals minus expected goals (per American Soccer Analysis) totals were worst among MLS goalkeepers.
Acquired: February 2022 transfer from Japan’s Yokohama F. Marinos for an undisclosed fee
MLS production: 0g/2a in 26 games (25 starts)
Outlook: With Alex Callens off to LaLiga, and pending further additions, it’s looking like NYCFC will deploy Martins and Maxime Chanot as their first-choice center back pairing. The Brazilian defender, who joined last winter from a City Football Group sister side (J1 League), will need to be more consistent and justify the DP tag he’s afforded. To Martins’ credit, he became more dependable as the 2022 season wore on.
Acquired: February 2020 transfer from Liga MX’s CF Monterrey for a reported $12 million fee
MLS production: 7g/12a in 46 games (37 starts)
Outlook: Pizarro hasn’t lived up to his club-record signing billing, spending last year on loan at Monterrey, the same club he arrived from before Inter Miami’s expansion season. But based on preseason talk from head coach Phil Neville, there are big expectations around what impact the erstwhile Mexican international can have on their 2023 aspirations. With Alejandro Pozuelo reportedly signing in Turkey, more playmaking onus falls Pizarro’s way.
Acquired: January 2022 trade from Philadelphia Union for $1.15 million in GAM
MLS production: 40g/15a in 108 games (95 starts)
Outlook: Until Chicago sign the DP striker they’re pursuing, Przybyłko seems to have the starting job – especially after they transferred Jhon Duran to English Premier League side Aston Villa for up to $22 million last month. Przybyłko will need to step up after being limited to 5g/1a in about 1,600 minutes last year. That was a notable step down from the levels he reached from 2019-21 for Philadelphia.
Acquired: July 2022 from Brazil's São Paulo for a reported $4 million fee
MLS production: 0g/0a in seven games (three starts)
Outlook: Head coach Josh Wolff told MLSsoccer.com the following before Rigoni’s first full season in Austin FC colors: “In some way, shape or form I expect him to contribute 15 or 20 goals, whether that's scoring himself or assists.” Rigoni didn’t exactly hit the ground running last year, but he’s likely to play second fiddle to Verde & Black talisman Sebastian Driussi – not hold center stage.
Acquired: January 2022 in MLS free agency
MLS production: 44g/41a in 172 games (165 starts)
Outlook: The “much-improved” label is probably a step too far with Rusnak, and it's not entirely fair to say he was bad last year – especially amid Seattle's injury troubles. But high expectations follow the Slovakian international after all he proved in a Real Salt Lake uniform from 2017-21. Rusnak had 3g/2a in 32 games last year, his worst campaign production-wise in MLS. With João Paulo back from a torn ACL, that should free Rusnak up to be more attacking and influence the Sounders’ buildup.
Acquired: February 2021 in MLS free agency
MLS production: 88g/35a in 342 games (267 starts)
Outlook: There’s no reason to sugarcoat it: Nashville need a secondary goalscoring option beyond Hany Mukhtar. Sapong was that guy in 2021 with 12g/5a, but he cooled off last year as the reigning Landon Donovan MLS MVP and Golden Boot presented by Audi winner took off. Plus, with Ake Loba loaned out to Liga MX’s Mazatlán FC and Nashville unable to utilize his DP spot for now, even more responsibility rests on Sapong’s shoulders.
Acquired: July 2022 transfer from Italy’s Juventus for a reported $3.8 million fee
MLS production: 1g/0a seven games (two starts)
Outlook: Brought in last summer to ostensibly be New England’s Adam Buksa replacement, Vrioni was limited to about 250 minutes of game time as he battled injury and fitness. For the record-setting 2021 Supporters’ Shield winners to make a postseason return, they’ll likely need the Albanian international striker to hit 12-15 goals this year. It’ll also be interesting to see how Vrioni fits alongside fellow DP striker Gustavo Bou.