SUBSCRIBE TO THE PODCAST:iTunes | Stitcher | RSS FEED | DOWNLOAD
MLS's summer transfer & trade window is now closed, which means the year's biggest moves have all been completed.
That is not to say, however, that all the moves have been completed. The transfer window may be closed, but the roster freeze date is still weeks away on September 15, so there could still be a few out-of-contract players added at any point up until then. There can also be USL loans, and there remains the possibility that a few MLS players could be headed overseas, since the transfer window in Europe remains open until September 1 (give or take a day).
Nonetheless, we are where we are, and the roster you're looking at now is likely the roster they'll go to battle with for the rest of the 2016 season.
With that in mind, here's my list of what I liked and what I didn't for each of the 20 teams, going in reverse order of the Supporters' Shield standings:
What I liked: Um... everything? The Fire added three attackers – one guy who's a veteran of the Eredivisie, one who's a young target forward with international experience, and one who's been in MLS for a year-and-a-half and could be an asset in the right situation. They brought all that on board while cutting down on their overall expenses by getting rid of two under-performing DPs and hoarding TAM, GAM and draft picks.
I get why Chicago fans are frustrated, but this team set itself up for an incredible January. (The trick, of course, is having an incredible January. Here's Transfermarkt's list of Argentinean No. 10s to peruse while you're waiting, Fire folks.)
What I didn't like: I didn't like the fact that I didn't love anything they did. And I still don't like that this team plays without a true playmaker, which is the biggest reason for their attacking struggles. Can Collin Fernandez get some playing time, please?
- Best move: Flipping Kennedy Igboananike – a guy they weren't going to keep, and weren't going to use – to D.C. for TAM. In a league of parity, getting just a little bit of blood from that stone matters.
Columbus Crew SC
What I liked: They got younger in several spots, which is nice.
What I didn't like: This:
GOAL: Hernan Bernardello curls in a long-distance equalizer
What I didn't like: Were there really no takers for Johan Venegas? He's a Costa Rican international in the prime of his career, and this league is littered with teams who badly need playmaking and scoring from the wing. He could at least have been turned into an upgrade at center back, which has been a problem spot for the Impact all season.
- Best move: Pretty easily Bernardello. That said, Matteo Mancosu has a goal and an assist in 52 minutes, which is pretty damn nice. I'm usually skeptical of signing over-30 forwards in this league, but the Impact have had, with Didier Drogba and Marco Di Vaio, considerable success in that department.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC
What I liked: They added a pair of Canadian internationals on the backline, and signed their most promising future Canadian international on the wing. Things haven't gone as smoothly this season as I'd anticipated for the 'Caps, but they're taking on more of a local(ish) flavor and are determined to grow the domestic game. For the long-term health of the franchise, for the league and for the Canadian national team, that's huge.
What I didn't like: Everything that happened after the Fabian Espindola trade. Vancouver tried to make lemonade out of that particular lemon, but man... acquiring a DP, then having to sell him when he won't report? That's tough.
- Best move: I'm trying to resist the urge to start the Alphonso Davies hype train, ok? Suffice it to say I've enjoyed watching the kid play thus far, and let's leave it at that.
What I liked: The midfield gap that appeared in mid-June has seemingly been closed with the addition of Alejandro Bedoya. The Union should once again be a balanced team through the middle, which should in turn take some of the weight off of the shoulders of the young & overburdened backline.
I also love that they finally signed another academy kid in Derrick Jones. Philly's invested a ton in their academy over the last few years, and it's nice to see that start to pay off.
What I didn't like:Sebastien Le Toux is a club icon – more than any other player, he's the guy I think of when "Philadelphia Union" flashes on my screen.
There is no room for sentimentality in this business, of course. But yeah, I'd have liked to see Le Toux play the final few years of his career in Chester and retire with the club he loves.
- Best move: Bedoya. But if they end up selling C.J. Sapong, then picking up Charlie Davies at the 11th hour could be crucial.
New York Red Bulls
What I liked: Synergy! RBNY needed another goal-scorer, so in comes Omer Damari from RB Leipzig. They also addressed the gap left by the trade of Lloyd Sam (and the continued tepid play of Gonzalo Veron) by adding Austrian international winger Daniel Royer.
This was all in keeping with the type of club RBNY have become in the last few years. Thierry Henry's not walking through that door, and Youri Djorkaeff's not walking through that door, and Lothar Matthaeus isn't walking through that door, and – so far, anyway – that's mostly fine.
What I didn't like: They had to go over Damari because Anatole Abang hasn't developed as expected. The 20-year-old Cameroon international has 0 goals and 0 assists in 221 minutes, and hasn't pushed Bradley Wright-Phillips at all.
- Best move: Investing heavily in their academy and USL team. Five of those academy graduates got onto the field in Wednesday night's CCL win, and young, local depth like that makes splashy transfer windows less necessary.
GOAL New York Red Bulls, Alex MUYL No. 19 | @NewYorkRedBulls@AntiguaOficial#SCCL#SoyAficionadohttps://t.co/wV2dpnHiTc— CONCACAF (@CONCACAF) August 4, 2016
What I liked: Everything. TFC now go three-deep at pretty much every spot on the field because they were patient with the kids and targeted with their signings (something that hasn't been the case in the past). Last night that allowed them to pick up a win – their third straight – without the likes of Michael Bradley, Will Johnson, Benoit Cheyrou, Clint Irwin, Eriq Zavaleta or Ashtone Morgan, and with a half-fit Jozy Altidore just easing back into the lineup. All of those guys are either full-fledged internationals or MLS starters.
They're now deeper and younger than they've ever been.
What I didn't like: You could quibble and say they maybe could've gotten some TAM or GAM for Damien Perquis -- there had to be interest in the league, right?
- Best move: Getting Jay Chapman onto the field long enough for him to prove that they didn't need to pull the trigger on an expensive, overseas playmaker as was rumored. Figuring out how to finally get Tosaint Ricketts into the fold is a close second.
Real Salt Lake
What I liked: The reality is that RSL have been handcuffed by some expensive, long-term contracts for players who haven't really produced, and have been in a 24-month waiting period to try to get out from underneath them.
Honestly, I think it was smart to try to wait those contracts out rather than to try to buy their way out of said contracts and forfeit an asset (such as TAM or GAM) you'll never get back, or make a quick play for the wrong guy (it's happened before!), or fail to give the kids time enough to develop.
Now, with the window shut, the RSL brass knows that it has long-term answers in Aaron Maund and Justen Glad on the backline, and in Omar Holness and Jordan Allen in midfield and attack to go along with in-their-prime building blocks like Joao Plata and Yura Movsisyan. That knowledge should allow the front office to be much more targeted and selective when it comes time to spend the big bucks this winter.
RSL's patience this year has set them up to be better in 2017 and beyond.
What I didn't like: I was really hoping they'd figure out a way to get Bofo Saucedo back from his loan and into the gameday roster.
- Best move: Just chillin'.
What I liked: They made a quick and smart "If A, then B" move with the Ever Alvardo signing, then the Amadou Dia trade for Cameron Porter. Peter Vermes & Co. have traditionally been very good at this sort of thing, and both Alvardo and Porter should be contributors in this league for a long while.
What I didn't like: Vermes was pretty up front about his feelings on the price of certain players.“I think there's been a lot of overpaying in our league,” is what he told MLSsoccer.com's Steve Brisendine earlier this week, and he's not wrong. That said, there have been a ton of bargains found throughout the league as well, so Vermes's take really does seem like something of a deflection.
To the point: Sporting didn't need to go out there and spend multiple millions of dollars on a Lodeiro or a Sebastian Giovinco. What they needed was a goal-scoring winger, and the best of those in the league this year – Ignacio Piatti, Kevin Molino, Joao Plata, Chris Pontius – weren't overpays by any stretch.
- Best move: Maybe Porter becomes that goal-scoring winger and I shut my dumb mouth?
What I liked: Analytics.
What I didn't like: Hello? Is this thing on?
- Best move: Hiring Bruce Arena eight years ago.
New York City FC
What I liked: It's pretty apparent that they weren't going to use Kwadwo Poku, so as soon as they were bowled over by an offer (and Miami FC absolutely bowled them over), they took the money and ran. That's good business, and smart business, and the folks at NYCFC who made that decision should be commended.
What I didn't like: I think they could have gotten more for Mullins this past winter when they were batting away offers left and right. There was some cost to hanging onto him, but... I mean, it doesn't matter, right? They nailed their high-profile moves and are in first place for a reason.
- Best move: Getting this guy healthy:
Nobody in MLS knows how to track a late runner, and he's feasting. Let the man eat!
What I liked: In the last three months the Rapids have scored more than one goal in a game exactly... twice. Which sort of gives you an idea of how otherworldly their defense was until Lampard ripped them apart last Saturday.
They needed to get a guy who can score some goals, and so they went out and got Le Toux. Sure, he's on his back nine, and he's never really produced anywhere outside of Philly. But Colorado's window of opportunity is right now, and they basically got him for nothing. This was a smart move.
What I didn't like: We've seen older teams pretty consistently fade down the stretch over the years. The Rapids aren't exactly ancient, but they have some key pieces who are long in the tooth, and no ready-made replacements.
- Best move:Tim Howard sells tickets and sponsorships, and creates local buzz for a franchise that needs it. He's also a pretty decent 'keeper.
What I liked: I hadn't seen a ton of Alex Zendejas, but I'd seen enough to know that he wasn't going to displace Mauro Diaz any time in the next five years. And from what I've seen of the guys coming through the ranks via the Dallas Academy -- including and perhaps especially Paxton Pomykal -- I don't even think that Zendejas was the best central midfielder they had in the pipeline.
So when you get a solid offer for a guy like that, what do you do? You take it, and then you reinvest.
Hopefully between what they get for Zendejas and what they're getting for Fabian Castillo, they'll have enough to start their own USL club and close the 18/22 gap that sets so many US and Canadian kids back.
What I didn't like: If Maxi Urruti gets hurt or suspended, it's up to Tesho Akindele, Colin Bonner and Getterson to lead the line. Akindele's a good utility attacker, Bonner's a rookie and Getterson arrived from the Brazilian fourth tier.
Compare that front line to the front lines of previous MLS Cup and/or Supporters' Shield champions of recent years. Names like Fanendo Adi, Bradley Wright-Phillips, Obafemi Martins, Gyasi Zardes, Dom Dwyer... Does Dallas compare, even with a healthy Urruti? FCD could've slammed the door shut on the rest of the league with the right moves this window, but instead they've left it wide open.
Honestly? I think they're still probably the best team in the league. But the gap is a crack as opposed to a chasm.
- Best move: Hiring Oscar Pareja. He'll probably have Bonner scoring four or five goals in the playoffs and I'll look like an idiot.