The primary (for MLS and a few other leagues) transfer window is closing May 7. It coincides with the regular season rounding the quarter pole – the point in time at which you can actually start deciding who's got it figured out, and who really, really needs some help.
Truth be told, though, I think that even the two teams who've got it mostly figured out (LAFC and Seattle) could use some help. Everyone's got work to do before the deadline.
Bear in mind that while it's hard to pry players out of Europe at this point in the season, it's actually a good time to go shopping in certain part of Latin America. Moves can and will be made.
Here's what I think should be the priority for each of them:
They've got all their Designated Player slots filled, all their international slots filled, their entire supplemental roster and their entire reserve roster. They only have one slot left: The 20th senior roster slot. And while TAM, GAM and total spend against the cap are mysteries, it's a fair bet that the Five Stripes are somewhere in the neighborhood of "capped out." If they're going to make a big move, it'll be a trade – remember, this isn't just a transfer window, it's also the trade window – rather than a transfer.
But I doubt they're going to make a big trade this week, so that (along with their cap situation) limits their options. Best case is they can find a serviceable left back via USL to soak up some minutes at a spot that's been problematic all year long.
On this week's Mass Confrontation my colleague Bobby Warshaw told the world it makes him cry, every single week, to see Bastian Schweinsteiger playing center back instead of central midfield. I'm in the same boat, and would like to see that spot addressed.
But both fullback slots are more pressing needs for this Fire team, who lost Brandon Vincent at Matt Polster over the winter and have gone to a mix-and-match, patch-and-pray rotation at both left back and right back. It cost them two goals and two results last week, one in particularly brutal fashion:
I'm still stunned they didn't sign their Homegrown left back Andrew Gutman, who's playing (very well) on loan from Celtic with the Charlotte Independence in the USL Championship. Maybe see if fences can be mended there? (Ed. Note: The Fire acquired Minnesota United left back Francisco Calvo on Friday.)
As with Atlanta, the Fire don't have room for a big move – they've got a full boat of DPs and internationals, and I doubt they have much GAM, TAM or cap room left.
Here is the good news: Everybody in MLS needs center back depth. Here is more good news: FC Cincinnati have pretty good center back depth! They can probably use that and one of their excess defensive midfielders to swing a trade for a forward.
And oh my goodness do they need a forward. Cincy have scored once in their past five games, and while Fanendo Adi is coming back, he has a grand total of 10 goals in his last 40 games across all competitions and isn't reliably available. Darren Mattocks, meanwhile, has not been able to step up and make a case for more playing time in Adi's absence.
Cincinnati's goalscoring woes are deeper and more holistic than just the lack of a top quality striker. They don't appear to have any clearcut attacking patterns and are way too happy to settle for long-balls in the general vicinity of whoever happens to be the lone forward. Alan Koch needs to figure some stuff out.
But if you get the right No. 9, you can use that guy as the focal point and just work backwards toward a solution. It's not ideal, but it may be their best bet.
Cincinnati have a free DP slot and multiple free international roster slots. They'd have to cut or trade a senior roster player if they sign someone new, but that shouldn't stand in their way if the right guy comes available.
Columbus Crew SC
Get. A. DP. Winger.
Columbus are one of the few teams in MLS with center back depth that's more than just serviceable – they have guys who'd actually be coveted on the trade market, so they could probably swing a big move within the league. But they also have an open DP slot and multiple open international slots, so they could also swing a big move via a potentially high-quality import.
And they need it. They underperformed their expected goals by a staggering amount last season (to the point it nearly cost them the playoffs), and are actually off to a worse start this year. They've scored just eight times in 10 games all season.
The Rapids swung for the fences multiple times over the winter of 2017/18, missed on literally every signing and are quite literally still paying for it. They reversed course over the past eight months or so and have mostly stayed within the league for their signings, and while it's helped their attack – Colorado can be fun going forward this year – they're a disaster defensively.
Part of the reason for that is they don't have an actual defensive midfielder on the roster (to be clear there have been other issues, myriad and sundry, for their defensive inadequacy, and I'm nowhere near convinced that raw talent was the biggest problem). They need to address that.
Stealing away one of Cincinnati's d-mids (Caleb Stanko's probably available, right?) makes some sense. But I have what I think is a better idea:
But he's been beat out by his fellow Dallas academy alum Edwin Cerrillo and has played just two MLS minutes all year. Servania's not really a kid anymore, either – he's 20 (almost two full years older than Cerrillo), and at this point he needs to play. There does not appear to be a pathway for that in Dallas.
If I was Padraig Smith I'd see if I can get him on a season-long loan with some sort of permanent transfer option at the end of the year. If it works out, the Rapids could go into 2020 with a good, young core and a ton of cap room thanks to all the contracts coming off the books at the end of season.
And they'd have an actual defensive midfielder on the roster.
They're two deep at left back (Ryan Hollingshead, John Nelson) even with Pedroso gone, and will be three deep once they sign one of their academy kids (15-year-old Jonathan Gomez is the best prospect, though they have two older LBs who are closer to "ready"). Dallas draft well and they develop their own players better than anybody in the league, which gives them real flexibility to be patient and make the right moves.
Given that their top two left backs got hurt last month, they needed to make a move. And so they've done/are doing by bringing in Pedroso.
D.C. are actually deep almost everywhere but still have a good amount of roster flexibility (Paul Arriola's DP contract can be bought down via TAM, and they have an open international slot as well as multiple senior roster slots). What they haven't had is much attacking chemistry, and not a ton of productivity from the wings.
Remember Yamil Asad? He was really good. He's out of contract in six months and Velez Sarsfield barely used him all spring. For D.C., he's probably an immediate starter again.
This window is way less interesting simply because Houston 1) aren't big spenders, and 2) don't have an international slot open for another high-priced (or high-potential) import. They're also not likely to pull off a big, mid-season trade.
At this point I think it just makes sense to add a little bit more depth. Andrew Samuels has played almost entirely right back for Rio Grande Valley in the USL Championship, and has had his moments:
In college he was almost always a defensive midfielder, and he was very good there for the national championship-winning University of Maryland squad this past season.
Samuels isn't a likely starter or full-time difference-maker, but the regular season is a grind and depth is important.
It's not a dire one either, though. LA are 7-1-1 and have methodically pulled apart parts of the roster that weren't working over the past three seasons. They're going to keep doing that, and while I'd like to say "sign a better winger!" as my advice for this window, that's just not on the table.
Maybe find another loan option like Uriel Antuna and hope it works out? What's Luca de la Torre up to these days, anyway?
The depth chart at right back is Steven Beitashour, then a couple of potentially high-upside question marks in Tristan Blackmon and Shaft Brewer. The depth chart at left back is Jordan Harvey, then a total question mark in Niko Hamalainen.
I wouldn't be at all shocked if LAFC went after a cheap, veteran fullback who could play a little bit on either side, because if Beitashour or Harvey go down long-term, none of the three back-ups listed have looked ready to give meaningful minutes to a championship caliber team.
Apropos of everything, Bob Bradley's old friend Jonathan Bornstein is out of contract next month.
Minnesota United FC
Everybody needs a left back, and:
It hasn't worked out for Francisco Calvo in Minnesota, to the point where he's no longer in the gameday squad. Maybe this is just a one-game thing, but since they've posted two straight shutouts without him... maybe not.
Calvo hasn't been great for the Loons, but he has been for Costa Rica for a long, long time, and the talent's obviously there. If Minnesota shopped him, they'd have offers.
What would they want in return? Probably a bit of cap relief as well as some GAM or TAM. That could put them in a position to make a big splash in the summer window as they push for a playoff spot. (Ed. Note: Minnesota traded Calvo to the Fire on Friday for $400,000 in allocation money.)
Montreal are tossing shutouts like Pedro Martinez out there, with five in their last six. They've needed to because, without the injured Ignacio Piatti, they haven't been able to put the ball in the net consistently.
Getting him back is what they need most, and he'll help a lot. But the center forward combo of Maxi Urruti and Anthony Jackson-Hamel have combined for just two goals in about 900 minutes this year – and yeah, that was easy to see coming.
They need to figure out how to upgrade that spot if they're going to seriously compete for a trophy this year. They have an open DP slot, but no open international roster slots, so here is my suggestion: Lucas Cavallini. He could be available as soon as Monday if Puebla biff it at Tijuana this weekend.
New England Revolution
The Revs are in a similar position to the Rapids, in that they have a lot of not-so-great contracts they'll need to get off the books in the next 12-to-18 months, and they're so far out of contention that it probably doesn't make sense for them to spend big.
For what it's worth I like their attacking corps of wingers (rookie Tajon Buchanan is a real one), but they've got too many for too few spots. Cristian Penilla (who seems to be out of favor) possesses a lot of trade value, as does Diego Fagundez. So shop around a little bit, and see if there's a chance to land an experienced, reliable center back who can stop some of the bleeding back there.
New York City FC
They already addressed their biggest need of the window by grabbing Brazilian center forward Heber, who's been exceptional so far. But he's the only center forward on the roster at the moment...
Go grab a young(ish) back-up via USL or via trade. Everybody needs wingers, and it's probably time to flip Jonathan Lewis since Dome Torrent doesn't seem to rate him and letting him rot on the bench is just tanking his trade value.
Oh, and they should sign academy product Tayvon Gray. Watch him in the coming weeks with the US U-17s.
New York Red Bulls
Did they hold onto Bradley Wright-Phillips one offseason too long? It's beginning to look like it, because the numbers are ugly: One goal in 10 appearances this year, and just two in his last 18 across all competitions for the RBNY legend. He's been great for so long that he's earned a lot of rope, but at this point, it feels like he's used most of it.
If it's neither of those guys, then RBNY probably need to do some shopping at this spot. And it's pretty obvious they need to start laying contingency plans for Kaku and Michael Murillo as well. Murillo, who may have lost his starting job and clearly has his eyes on Europe, couldn't be more checked out:
I think they've partially addressed that with a formation change, and maybe more minutes for Kyle Duncan. Bigger changes are probably coming in the summer.
Right now they have a reserve roster slot open that they should consider using on Tom Barlow, who's tearing up USL right now with seven goals in seven games and the David Gass seal of approval. Barlow presents an element of physicality at center forward that the Red Bulls haven't had since Adolfo "El Tren" Valencia 20 years ago.
Orlando City SC
Up the Lions! They've gotten into a bit of a groove lately, having solidified their defense and diversified their attack a little bit.
I do, however, remain iffy on their goalkeeping situation and in Cristian Higuita they have a central midfield destroyer who could help a lot of teams. I'd maybe see what Seattle (they need DM help given Gustav Svensson's injury) or Sporting (Roger Espinoza's injured until mid-summer) have to offer in terms of cap flexibility and/or an international roster slot.
The Lions have to get something for Higuita who was, at one time not too long ago, on the fringes of the Colombian national team. The dude's a legit talent.
Philly cleared out some of the dead weight from the roster this offseason, their imports – Kai Wagner and Jamiro Monteiro especially – have delivered, and they're getting even more production out of their Homegrowns (Brenden Aaronson has been reliable and occasionally spectacular, while Matt Freese has filled in nicely for Andre Blake).
This team is deep and talented and flexible and even if Marco Fabian is healthy, I don't think that's enough. The Union need to somehow acquire a top-end, Best XI-caliber attacker if they're going to push into the league's elite.
They have a ton of trade chips and an open DP slot. They don't have any open international roster slots, but that could be remedied pretty easily.
I doubt anything happens in the next week, but keep an eye on this team come summer.
I mean, Brian Fernandez should be the guy. But wow are there some red flags with his behavior, both past and present:
On the field he's the perfect fit, and they're working hard to get him ASAP.
One other note: Eryk Williamson has been balling out for T2 in the USL Championship since his return from a loan to Santa Clara (Portugal) last year. He's arguably been the best player in the entire league.
Real Salt Lake
There was a quiet coming-together of this group in April. A 2-2-0 record isn't great on paper, but they won the games they should and put in entirely credible performances in road losses at Seattle and at the Galaxy (they did a very good job on Zlatan, save for Justen Glad's late brain fart).
This team has a lot of depth in a lot of spots, and that means they have trade flexibility. The one who's likeliest to be shopped is Joao Plata, whose minutes look set to decline for the third straight season and whose productivity has matched his talent only in monthlong bursts. It's probably time for a change, for both him and them.
Maybe Columbus would be interested? If Caleb Porter can unlock Plata's ability then there's the high-level, goalscoring winger the Crew need. And in exchange RSL could/would get a bit of cap flexibility to perhaps make a bigger move in the summer window.
The Svensson injury is a real issue, as is backline depth. Garth Lagerwey is aware:
Expect some academy signings as well. My guess is that Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez, who just won the Golden Boot at the GA Cup in leading (along with Danny Leyva, who won the Golden Ball and is already on an MLS contract) Seattle's U-17s to the title, puts pen to paper on an MLS contract very soon (Ed. Note: Ocampo-Chavez was officially signed moments after this article was published). Maybe center back Josh Atencio as well.
Seattle were probably somewhere around the 12th-best academy in MLS four years ago. They're now at the very top, along with FC Dallas and the LA Galaxy. Lagerwey's done a remarkable job, but now it's time to do as Dallas do and start matriculating more of those guys into the first team.
San Jose Earthquakes
The Quakes have found some of their footing in the past few weeks, with a string of good performances and good results. They still need significant talent upgrades at multiple spots, but those will come in the summer and over the winter as they get off of some of the more questionable contracts that have been handed out over the past several years.
In other words, I don't think they're going to make any moves in the next week. But I have to suggest one, so how about going for Duke Lacroix, the starting LB for Reno 1868 in the USL Championship? He's a converted attacker who's still learning the position, but seems to be learning it quick (as befitting one with an Ivy League education).
Sporting Kansas City
They had to cancel training because they're down to just six healthy players. Nutmeg News was on it:
(nobody knows who runs Nutmeg News but my money is still on Dan Dickinson even though he vehemently denies it)
Of note: Swope Park Rangers' 20-year-old Brazilian left back Alexsander has been awesome so far this season, but is on loan from Athletico Paranaense. I don't know what the terms of the loan are with regard to exercising an option to buy, but one has to think they're significant given how urgent the need at LB is for the first team.
Clearly, though, they have needs almost everywhere.
I think they should trade for Higuita. They'd have to open up an international roster slot somehow, but that can be done if the situation gets desperate enough.
They need to address their issues at center back. I keep reminding folks that TFC went out of their way to hold onto the No. 1 spot in the allocation order, and that Omar Gonzalez is out of contract this summer, and that his season ends this weekend.
I wouldn't be shocked if Omar is suiting up at BMO two weeks from now.
I also wouldn't be shocked if they splashed out on a TAM-level winger, or made a trade for one. Is David Accam available? Could they bring Plata back to the 6? Or do they rate Lewis, who's not TAM-level but has the profile of a guy who could contribute mightily in the right set-up?
CB and winger are obviously the two spots they're working on.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC
The 'Caps made a ton of moves this winter, but most of them haven't come off – especially in attack. It's to the point now where left back PC is starting at left wing, neither of the TAM wingers (Lass Bangoura and Lucas Venuto) look like difference-makers (a combined 1g/0a in 650 minutes), and head coach Marc Dos Santos is calling out Young DP center forward Joaquin Ardaiz for his training habits. Not great.
I have no idea what they should do, but I do know that I don't trust their scouting infrastructure right now to make the right moves when it comes to signing imported goods. So just hold tight and maybe see if you can scavenge a proven MLS attacker for cheap.