We’re under three weeks (!!!) from the 2022 MLS season kicking off, but roster-building remains fluid ahead of MLS is Back weekend Feb. 26-27.

Where do all 28 clubs stand in terms of Designated Player and U22 Initiative flexibility? This features some of my own reporting and understanding, plus Matt Doyle’s expert analysis. It is running congruently with Doyle's annual roster check-in for all clubs as well – be sure to read that.

Quick housekeeping: These designations are fluid and still changing. Clubs value flexibility, so there are several players who could be moved on or off DP/U22 Initiative slots ahead of roster compliance day just ahead of the season.

Eastern Conference was yesterday. Western Conference is below. Off we go.

DESIGNATED PLAYERS

  • Sebastian Driussi
  • Cecilio Dominguez
  • Alex Ring

The top end of Austin FC’s roster was all sorted well before preseason, with no external additions in either DP or U22 Initiative category from last year.

The one difference is Alex Ring’s contract extension makes him a DP, replacing Tomas Pochettino, who left for River Plate on loan after an ineffectual debut season in MLS last year. Sebastian Driussi and Moussa Djitte both arrived last summer, and early signs were very promising with both on the field down the stretch. They’ll get a full preseason and the chance to hit the ground running.

U22 INITIATIVE PLAYERS

  • Moussa Djitte
  • Zan Kolmanic
  • Rodney Redes

Ring’s new contract is below the max TAM threshold ($1.62m in 2021), meaning Austin could carry three U22 Initiative slots. Ring can be bought down off his DP spot, but Austin would need to sign a Young DP to still be allowed to carry three U22 Initiative players.

In the meantime, Djitte looks like their starting No. 9 and Kolmanic is a rising Slovenian international left back. Can Redes be more effective in 2022 after being limited to 0g/1a in 709 minutes during their expansion year?

ARMCHAIR ANALYST: MATT DOYLE'S TAKE

They need a DP-caliber “movement in the box” coach for Djitte. He’s really good in every phase of play but is too often a statue once they reach the 18.

If they can’t get that kind of off-ball danger out of him, they might need to buy Ring down and do some shopping in the summer window.

DESIGNATED PLAYERS

  • N/A

After declining the purchase option on midfielder Younes Namli this winter, the Colorado Rapids could theoretically add three DPs. Not a bad spot for last year’s top Western Conference team.

It is unlikely they’ll add three DPs, at least in the traditional sense, but Colorado are intent on making meaningful additions.

“I don’t like looking at us going out in our first playoff game two years running without a goal," EVP & general manager Padraig Smith told media in January. "We’re looking to add in the attacking area.”

It’s worth noting Namli’s purchase option wasn’t insignificant – likely to be more than $2 million, perhaps in the $2-3 million range – and they would have picked it up if he was a better/more valuable fit. They also laid out transfer fees for U22 Initiative signings Lucas Esteves and Max Alves. But we’ll see.

One truth about the Rapids in their recent evolution: They aren’t married to designations. Much like the Philadelphia Union, it’s more amorphous. They don’t currently have DPs in the true sense, though there's a number of players either definitely or very likely to be making above the max budget charge ($612k), meaning they could be eligible to be named DPs. They also picked up midfielder Bryan Acosta on the cheap (Re-Entry Draft), after he had been a DP with FC Dallas.

Still, there may well be a bonafide DP forward to arrive this winter. There will definitely be attacking additions, but we’ll see where they land on the roster sheet.

“The short answer is yes: We’re already looking at a number of players who would be a DP-level No. 9 or TAM-level No. 9," Smith said. "I just look at these mechanisms as ways to make our team stronger. Last year we finished top of the Western Conference, but we can’t be complacent. We need to move forward."

U22 INITIATIVE PLAYERS

  • Lucas Esteves
  • Max Alves

Colorado went out and made use of the U22 Initiative by signing a pair of Brazilians.

Lucas Esteves arrived in the summer from Palmeiras, after Sam Vines was transferred to Belgium's Royal Antwerp, and is the starting left back. Attacking midfielder Max Alves was signed this offseason from Flamengo and comes highly rated by the club.

ARMCHAIR ANALYST: MATT DOYLE'S TAKE

For the love of God, go spend $7 million on a sure-thing No. 9.

DESIGNATED PLAYERS

  • Franco Jara
  • Jesus Ferreira
  • Alan Velasco

It's been quite the offseason for Dallas, huh? “Club-” or “league-record” has been used quite a few times.

Ricardo Pepi departed for FC Augsburg in a club-record $20 million deal. Paul Arriola was acquired in a league-record $2 million GAM trade from D.C. United. Alan Velasco was signed in a club-record $7 million deal. Jesus Ferreira became the first homegrown DP (believed to be the first homegrown to land a DP contract at the same club).

Velasco is thought of as one of the top talents in Argentina, a huge coup and signal of intent for FCD in this new era. They said earlier this offseason they were absolutely going to reinvest the Pepi money (and Bryan Reynolds money, and Tanner Tessmann money, etc). Velasco for $7 million is a really strong start.

As the dust settles, Dallas have all three DP spots filled while Arriola, who was a DP with D.C. United, signed a long-term contract extension with FCD and won’t be a DP.

It’s a new era for Dallas.

U22 INITIATIVE PLAYERS

  • Szabolcs Schon

Given Velasco and Ferreira are Young DPs, Dallas can add up to three U22 Initiative players. Currently just Hungarian international winger Szabolcs Schon is on the roster as such, so there could be more movement.

ARMCHAIR ANALYST: MATT DOYLE'S TAKE

I’m of the opinion they’ve spent the Ricardo Pepi money well – and also that they sold him at the exact right time. And because of that there just aren’t a lot of holes to plug on this roster right now.

The only place they’re a little thin is central midfield, with just a five-man rotation for three spots (though it should be noted both Arriola and Ferreira can drop in and do the job if the situation calls for it). I have to imagine they’re planning to use one of those open U22 slots to help fill out the depth chart.

DESIGNATED PLAYERS

  • Sebastian Ferreira
  • Teenage Hadebe

With new ownership, a new front office and new coaching staff, the Dynamo made their first big foray into their new era with the signing of Paraguayan forward Sebastian Ferreira. He seems to have the kind of profile that should thrive in MLS and he’s off to a good start this preseason.

But… that’s it so far at the top end of their roster, with three U22 Initiative slots and one DP spot still open. Defender Teenage Hadebe can be bought down, meaning they can sign two more DPs. That’s a total of five roster spots in which acquisition costs don’t need to be factored into the salary cap.

It’s a place for a new regime to make its mark.

If you asked me this question two months ago, I’d have assumed Hadebe would already be bought down with a number of key acquisitions arriving. There's still plenty of time before the Primary Transfer Window closes, likely at the beginning of May.

U22 INITIATIVE PLAYERS

  • N/A

Still no U22 Initiative signings as of writing. With new ownership and big promises, one would expect some of those to be filled before long.

ARMCHAIR ANALYST: MATT DOYLE'S TAKE

They have a lot of flexibility here and it kind of shocks me that, aside from the Ferreira signing, they haven’t done much with it. New owner, new front office… we all expected big moves.

The most obvious thing here is 34-year-old Darwin Quintero’s been brought back as the No. 10. Quintero’s still good for occasional flashes of genius, but he hasn’t really been a game-after-game centerpiece since his Santos Laguna days.

So I say bring in a new, in-his-prime No. 10 and shift Darwin to the Ilsinho role.

DESIGNATED PLAYERS

  • Alan Pulido
  • Gadi Kinda
  • Johnny Russell

With Alan Pulido likely out for the season, he’s expected to land on the season-ending injured reserve. That comes with minimal roster relief. SKC can use Pulido's senior roster spot and his international spot, but not his DP spot.

So they’re stuck there in terms of finding a replacement, something SKC are public in their desire to accomplish.

Gadi Kinda and Johnny Russell are the other two DPs. They, alongside Daniel Salloi, can all add plenty of goals, which can alleviate the burden for whatever forward they end up signing.

U22 INITIATIVE PLAYERS

  • Marinos Tzionis
  • Logan Ndenbe
  • Robert Voloder

As for the U22 Initiative trio, they are all likely to be added to the roster via this mechanism. But SKC aren’t married to that concept and could find room in the budget for any one of those three if another U22 Initiative deal could be finalized.

Essentially, they’re probably done for the moment with the U22 Initiative, but that could easily change if the right deal presents itself. Wait for roster compliance day.

ARMCHAIR ANALYST: MATT DOYLE'S TAKE

With Pulido out for the season, the obvious thing is to buy down Kinda and go get a DP-caliber No. 9 to take Pulido’s minutes. The J.J. Macias loan rumors are interesting – he’d certainly be a positional fit, though his utter lack of productivity over the past 12 months makes him far less than a sure thing.

DESIGNATED PLAYERS

  • Chicharito
  • Douglas Costa
  • Kevin Cabral

In year two under Greg Vanney, LA have more star power.

As first reported by MLSsoccer.com, the Galaxy have signed former Brazil international winger Douglas Costa. He'll technically be on loan from Juvenuts (via Gremio) for six months, then sign a one-and-a-half-year contract through 2023. The former Bayern Munich star was on loan at Gremio, but the Brazilian club got relegated and looked to cut costs.

Costa is a few years removed from being a really productive Serie A player at Juventus, though his last few seasons haven't been great, including the lackluster Gremio stint. On his day, he's an electric dribbler and a goal-dangerous winger. The 31-year-old projects as a high-risk, high-reward signing.

He is the club's final DP, occupying a spot vacated by Jonathan dos Santos this winter. Chicharito remains after his renaissance season while Young DP Kevin Cabral allows them to use all three U22 Initiative slots.

U22 INITIATIVE PLAYERS

  • Dejan Joveljic
  • Efrain Alvarez
  • Julian Araujo

My favorite part about the U22 Initiative is how teams choose to use it. You can add three new players from abroad, sign academy products to lucrative new deals to keep them at the club for longer (and compensate them well), or a little of both. The Galaxy did a little of both.

They splashed $4 million for Joveljic, then gave academy products Araujo and Alvarez new, lucrative long-term contracts. Araujo (though not technically a homegrown player) has become one of the best right backs in MLS and is now with the Mexican national team, while Alvarez is also a Mexican international and working to find consistency in MLS.

ARMCHAIR ANALYST: MATT DOYLE'S TAKE

Pray Chicharito’s got 3000 good minutes in his legs this year.

DESIGNATED PLAYERS

  • Carlos Vela
  • Brian Rodriguez

Sources expected LAFC to sign a DP this winter, but their chase has yet to come to fruition. There is still plenty of time before the Primary Transfer Window closes, expected the first week of May, but there's no third DP yet as the Steve Cherundolo era nears its first official game.

"For us, we’ve already added a few pieces we think will be incredibly helpful to the group as we build," EVP & general manager John Thorrington told media at the beginning of January. "… The additional conversations going on for further positions to bolster the squad all the way through a potential DP.”

The Black & Gold made an offer to sign Uruguay international Jonathan Rodriguez from Cruz Azul, but he ended up in Saudi Arabia instead. Brian Rodriguez remains through the European transfer window, though reports suggest Brazilian clubs are interested in signing him. The Brazilian transfer window remains open until April. Rodriguez is a Young DP, meaning LAFC can sign a senior DP (as they tried with Jonathan Rodriguez) and still use all three U22 Initiative slots.

Carlos Vela, meanwhile, has been oft-injured over the last two seasons but has the chance to remind folks of his 2019 form, which was literally the best individual season in MLS history.

U22 INITIATIVE PLAYERS

  • Jose Cifuentes
  • Diego Palacios
  • Francisco Ginella

The 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup was a fruitful ground for MLS recruitment and acquisition. LAFC's U22 Initiative payroll is a microcosm of that.

Jose Cifuentes is the standout. He was a leader of that exciting Ecuador team that eliminated the United States and finished third in the tournament, as was Diego Palacios (six players from that team have been signed by MLS clubs!). Francisco Ginella played for Uruguay at the tournament too (one of five players from that Uruguay team signed by MLS clubs!).

ARMCHAIR ANALYST: MATT DOYLE'S TAKE

Pray Vela's got 3000 good minutes in his legs this year.

DESIGNATED PLAYERS

  • Emanuel Reynoso
  • Adrien Hunou

Minnesota United were viewed ahead of last season as a contender for the top of the West, thanks largely to a full season of Emanuel Reynoso and further attacking reinforcements to build off a strong 2020 campaign.

Reynoso was very good again, but it took some time for Adrien Hunou (and Franco Fragapane) to get signed and integrated. Hunou never quite lived up to the DP billing.

With Jan Gregus departing to San Jose via the Re-Entry Draft, Minnesota have a final DP spot open. Thomas Chacon is also gone via a contract buyout (was a Young DP, spent 2021 on loan in Uruguay).

They are reportedly close to signing Luis Amarilla (remember him?!) and seem likely to hold the DP spot, though depending on cap maneuvering, could be bought down.

“We’ve got a little bit of work to do,” head coach Adrian Heath said a couple weeks ago in terms of transfers. “We know we’ve lost some good players and we’ve lost some experienced players … and we’ve got to replace that. But we’re active on two or three fronts at this moment in time, and if we can get the players we’ve identified and the players that we’re down the road with on one or two, then we’ll be pleased with the offseason.”

U22 INITIATIVE PLAYERS

  • Bongokuhle Hlongwane

South African international forward Bongokuhle Hlongwane is MNUFC's lone U22 Initiative signing at the moment, with room for two more pending Amarilla’s cap number (if he is the DP).

ARMCHAIR ANALYST: MATT DOYLE'S TAKE

Hard to forget how that central midfield got overrun in last year’s playoffs. Can Hassani Dotson step into a starting role and elevate the Loons? Is Wil Trapp still good enough to pull the strings from deep for a team with trophy aspirations?

I think Minnesota will sit on that open DP slot until the summer and try to find out. If the answer is “no,” that’s where they’ll cash their chips.

DESIGNATED PLAYERS

  • Hany Mukhtar
  • Ake Loba

Nashville SC’s roster looks largely set heading toward opening day, with the overwhelming majority of their core returning, club-record signing Ake Loba getting a full preseason to integrate into the team and Sean Davis a key arrival (free agency).

They still have another DP spot open if they want to use it, though. Plus, with trades of five international slots (for a total of $1.25 million GAM) and Alistair Johnston (to CF Montréal, for another $1 million GAM), they have a ton of allocation money at their disposal.

“We feel really good about the guys we’re bringing back," general manager Mike Jacobs told media in January. "We feel really good about the fact at some point if we feel like we want to refresh or upgrade the roster at some point, we have roster spots, international spots and a war chest of GAM. ... At this stage, we head to Bradenton (for preseason) to try and take inventory of the group of guys we have.”

It’s worth noting each of the last two summer windows, Nashville signed DP forwards (Jhonder Cadiz in 2020, then Loba last year). In speaking of cap gymnastics, it might make sense for Nashville to have one of their higher-paid non-DPs occupy the final DP spot for a bit to free up allocation money (like Ring in Austin).

Two-time MLS Defender of the Year Walker Zimmerman, club captain Dax McCarty and Panama international Anibal Godoy were among players who made more than the senior max budget charge ($612,000) last year.

U22 INITIATIVE PLAYERS

  • N/A

Nashville have all three U22 Initiative slots at their disposal. Uruguay youth international Rodrigo Pineiro was the club’s lone U22 Initiative player last year, but didn’t crack Gary Smith’s rotation and moved to Chile’s Unión Español this offseason. The Pineiro loan isn't officially announced by Nashville, but he's posted photos on social media training with his new club. So, yep.

ARMCHAIR ANALYST: MATT DOYLE'S TAKE

Sit tight until the summer.

DESIGNATED PLAYERS

  • Jaroslaw Niezgoda
  • Yimmi Chara
  • Sebastian Blanco

One of the free-agent sagas of the offseason is just about done, with MLSsoccer.com reporting that the Timbers have agreed (again) to terms with Sebastian Blanco on a two-year contract. An announcement should come soon.

Blanco returned from a torn ACL last season and immediately picked up where he left off in terms of form. He turns 34 in March, though. Negotiations were long – they were on and off multiple times – but Blanco is staying home.

Will he be a DP? Yes. He will be classified as such come roster compliance day, but he can also be bought down to free up a DP spot. If Portland sign another DP alongside Blanco (with Jaroslaw Niezgoda and Yimmi Chara their other two DPs) at some point in the future, it’d need to be a Young DP to have more than one U22 Initiative player.

U22 INITIATIVE PLAYERS

  • David Ayala
  • Santiago Moreno

Portland added midfielder David Ayala via the U22 Initiative earlier this offseason. He’s an Argentine youth international and someone who can play next to either Diego Chara or Eryk Williamson. He’s a highly-rated youngster from Estudiantes; that could be a really nice move.

The Timbers also plan to fill their final U22 Initiative slot either now or in the summer. It will likely be a defender.

ARMCHAIR ANALYST: MATT DOYLE'S TAKE

Do nothing until summer. The health of Blanco and Niezgoda should determine what moves the Timbers make at that point.

DESIGNATED PLAYERS

  • Damir Kreilach

New ownership is in place. How quickly will the budgets open up as David Blitzer and Ryan Smith get settled in? How quickly can RSL acquire targets in a new budget after operating largely in a limited fashion with ownership in flux for a couple seasons?

So far, not much. They lost DP Albert Rusnak to Seattle via free agency, but just acquired forward Sergio Cordova on loan from FC Augsburg (a club Blitzer's group has an ownership stake in). They are reportedly signing Colombian international midfielder Gustavo Cuellar as well. He'd likely be a DP if they get that over the line.

For now, though? Some question marks, which isn't surprising considering ownership has only officially been in place for a month. Head coach Pablo Mastroeni teased there may be a few additions soon but he's focused on the group at hand.

"There could be a couple pieces, players that may join the group. I think for us the most important thing is get everyone healthy," Mastroeni said this week. "We've had quite a few injuries and we've had a great number of players out with Covid. So we have yet to have a session with the whole group. The majority of the group has been academy players and trialists, those are the guys that have been there from the beginning. So I think more than players in, it's getting the whole group together to be able to train as a group. Again the guys that have been training have been really sharp and I think we've laid a very good foundation for this preseason."

U22 INITIATIVE PLAYERS

  • N/A?

It does not appear that RSL currently have any U22 Initiative signings. This is a place where ownership could make a splash, though. DPs likely come first.

ARMCHAIR ANALYST: MATT DOYLE'S TAKE

Cuellar would be one hell of a signing if they can push that one across the line – a midfield centerpiece. I think he should be priority No. 1.

Priority No. 2 should be going large as hell on an attacker with Best XI potential, one who can play either as a No. 10 or as a playmaking winger, and whose primary function is creating chances for the guys around him.

Then they’ve got to find a left-footed LB/LWB with one of those U22 slots.

DESIGNATED PLAYERS

  • Eduardo "Chofis" Lopez
  • Cristian Espinoza

The Quakes' DP spots are in flux as new general manager Chris Leitch works through his first winter window. Previously the club's technical director, Leitch was interim GM over the summer and executed a big trade to acquire Jeremy Ebobisse, so he's not completely new here.

San Jose have an open DP spot, as Re-Entry Draft selection Jan Gregus won't be a DP. The midfielder was a DP in Minnesota over the last three years.

They might have another spot open in the summer. Chofis is on loan through the end of June, when the Quakes will have to decide on whether or not to execute his purchase option from Chivas.

“I think Chofis wants to be here," Leitch told MLSsoccer.com. "Especially in the second half of last year, he really proved his quality. We expect him to start this year like he finished last year. We have a really good relationship with Chivas, there’s constant and open dialogue. Chofis is motivated to be here, Matias gets the most out of Chofis and hopefully he starts this year as we expect. Then as the summer comes a little closer, I hope that dialogue will continue.”

U22 INITIATIVE PLAYERS

  • Marcos Lopez

San Jose have just Peru international defender Marcos Lopez for their U22 Initiative slots. But there could be some movement this year.

“We very much value these roster spots, it’s an area we’re focused on," Leitch said when asked about DP and U22 Initiative slots.

ARMCHAIR ANALYST: MATT DOYLE'S TAKE

Chofis has got an incredible highlight reel but in between golazos he takes so much off the table. With the way this team is set up, an all-action, hard-running, goal-scoring No. 10 makes more sense than a head-down dribbler.

A Damir Kreilach-type would be ideal for this group – someone who excels at those third-man, box-arriving runs.

DESIGNATED PLAYERS

  • Raul Ruidiaz
  • Nicolas Lodeiro
  • Albert Rusnak

To put it lightly, another impressive offseason of cap gymnastics by Garth Lagerwey and the Sounders. Albert Rusnak was acquired in free agency and joins as a DP. They had a DP spot open because Joao Paulo has agreed to a contract extension and can be bought down from the DP spot he previously occupied.

Lodeiro and Ruidiaz are back, as is the majority of the squad from last year. Jordan Morris is fully healthy again. Surprise: The Sounders are going to be very good.

U22 INITIATIVE PLAYERS

  • Leo Chu

For now, Leo Chu is the only U22 Initiative signing. As pointed out by Jeremiah Oshan, Rusnak's contract cannot be bought down with TAM, meaning the Sounders can only sign one U22 Initiative player.

Regardless, the Sounders have plenty of high-end talent and somehow managed to have plenty of flexibility at the top of their roster.

ARMCHAIR ANALYST: MATT DOYLE'S TAKE

Try to win CCL. Sit tight until summer.

DESIGNATED PLAYERS

  • Ryan Gauld
  • Lucas Cavallini

The Whitecaps have an open DP spot with Ryan Gauld and Lucas Cavallini, though would need to sign a player under max-TAM or a Young DP to be roster compliant with all three U22 Initiative slots utilized.

The feeling around Vancouver is that they're in a good spot, where they don’t necessarily need to do anything major to the current roster – but there's the flexibility if so desired. That’s not a descriptor that would apply to the Whitecaps for a long time (if ever?).

Vancouver could have further flexibility, too. CanMNT forward Cavallini has interest in Europe and Mexico. He fell behind Brian White in the depth chart and could depart if the right deal presents itself, though sporting director Axel Schuster has asserted on multiple occasions that they’d be happy for Cavallini to stay and aren’t actively trying to transfer him.

With most European and the Liga MX transfer windows shutting for the winter, Cavallini’s future will be revisited in the summer. Unless a club from Argentina or Brazil enters the fray.

U22 INITIATIVE PLAYERS

  • Deiber Caicedo
  • Caio Alexandre
  • Pedro Vite

The Whitecaps have one of – if not the – most promising U22 Initiative situations in the league. Caicedo played almost every game last season and should stand to benefit from a full season of Vanni Sartini; Alexandre was a starter before a season-ending foot injury took him off the field; Vite may well soon be a full Ecuadorian international.

ARMCHAIR ANALYST: MATT DOYLE'S TAKE

Sell Cavallini and upgrade central midfield. If Caio Alexandre’s a starter (which I think is a reasonable assumption), he needs a bodyguard/ball-winner next to him. Russell Teibert is a good player, but he’s not a “does the defensive work of two” type of guy.