Busy, busy times in Major League Soccer as of late.
From the Secondary Transfer Window closing two Thursdays ago, to a record-setting match day with 57 goals last Saturday, to the MLS All-Star Game presented by Target on Wednesday, there have been few moments to catch your breath.
Let’s get reacquainted with the first portion mentioned above, after teams completed roster additions (and, hopefully, enhancements) in the sprint to Decision Day on Oct. 9. Some big names came into the league this summer, a period that MLS Commissioner Don Garber called “by far the most active signing period that we’ve had in our history” when being interviewed by ESPN’s Taylor Twellman during halftime of the MLS All-Stars beating the Liga MX All-Stars 2-1.
Here are the biggest incoming moves of the MLS Secondary Transfer Window, which help set the stage for how clubs may climb (or fall down) the table these next two months. Clubs might not even be done, since they can still sign out-of-contract players (domestic or international) through the Roster Freeze Date on Sept. 2.
Let’s get into it, with players listed in alphabetical order by last name.
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What a signing – and it was done using Targeted Allocation Money, of all mechanisms.
Bale chose LAFC after leaving a trophy-filled nine-year career at Real Madrid, and we’re already seeing returns with two goals in four substitute appearances (fewer than 100 minutes played). Remember: He once commanded the world’s largest transfer fee (reported $130 million upon leaving Tottenham in 2013).
The 33-year-old superstar is in MLS because “he wants to be happy,” as teammate Carlos Vela phrased it earlier this week, and also to reach peak form and fitness before Wales enter their first World Cup in 64 years.
Need further evidence, from the man himself, that he’s enjoying himself? We present Exhibit A:
From seemingly out of nowhere, D.C. United swung for the fences and got Benteke, a striker with 280 games of Premier League experience and 45 caps for World Cup-bound Belgium. It’s the biggest indicator yet of what the Black-and-Red could become under new manager Wayne Rooney, landing a Designated Player from Crystal Palace with strong finishing ability.
Benteke, 31, still has plenty left in the tank and will look to form an immediate understanding with Taxi Fountas. The Greek international could float just underneath D.C.’s new No. 9, combining with each other and generating scoring chances.
The Benteke-Taxi one-two punch should dictate the speed at which D.C. can achieve their desired turnaround in Rooney’s vision.
Toronto FC have, over the last six weeks or so, completely transformed their roster’s top end, bringing in plenty of Italian influence. One of their key pieces is now Bernardeschi, the former Juventus star who’s arrived on a Designated Player deal without the Reds needing to provide a transfer fee.
Playing on the right wing of Bob Bradley’s preferred 4-3-3 formation, the 28-year-old already has two goals and two assists in three games, bringing power and incredible technical ability.
Entering the MLS summer transfer window, one of the biggest questions was what LAFC would do with their open DP spot. Already spoiled for choice up top, the answer ended up being a 27-year-old Gabon international winger who spent the last few seasons proving mighty effective for Saint-Etienne in France’s Ligue 1.
Chiellini is by far the most experienced defender in MLS, with the 37-year-old holding legendary status at Juventus and with the Italian national team. He, like Bale, arrived on a TAM deal (plus one that required no transfer fee) in a remarkable piece of business by LAFC’s front office.
Chiellini doesn’t have to be an every-game starter at the Supporters’ Shield leaders, either, given the depth they hold at center back. But his minute's load is slowly increasing, and the off-field qualities are proving invaluable as the Black & Gold’s loaded roster chases silverware.
Also, we’ll seize the chance to resurface this clip:
Columbus’ club-record signing at a reported $10 million, it feels like ages ago that Cucho arrived in MLS from Watford. That’s probably because he hit the ground running with the Crew, already totaling five goals in seven games – and forming a lucrative partnership with fellow DP Lucas Zelarayan.
What’s remarkable about Hernandez’s arrival, though, is the career juncture he’s in. A 23-year-old Colombian international with Premier League and LaLiga experience, the forward’s best days are ahead of him. As Crew president and general manager Tim Bezbatchenko remarked in early July, their No. 9 is a true sign of where the league is heading.
Again, we said lucrative:
Like with Lorenzo Insigne’s deal, we knew Herrera was coming to MLS this past winter. Mexico’s captain signed a pre-contract with Houston, capping a European career that included several titles with Porto and, most recently, Atletico Madrid.
The 32-year-old should play a key role for El Tri at the Qatar 2022 World Cup, and he’s already shown an ability to dictate games in the Dynamo’s three-man midfield.
HH might not be enough to bring his new club back to the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, but the move shows Houston’s new regime means business. He has the potential to inject serious energy into one of MLS’s biggest markets, too.
This move was completed in the winter, as Insigne signed a pre-contract with Toronto after captaining Napoli in Serie A. He’s an entrenched Italian international who last summer helped the Azzurri win the delayed Euro 2020 title – a world-class winger who’s firmly in his prime.
Insigne, 31, has mostly played on the left wing of Toronto’s remade starting XI. He’s already got one goal and one assist in three games, dubbed their long-term centerpiece by club president Bill Manning.
One quick note: Toronto still have an open Designated Player spot. Perhaps a high-profile No. 9 joins Insigne and Bernardeschi up top come the wintertime?
A familiar face to MLS fans, Laryea is back with Toronto FC on loan through the summer of 2023 – roughly a half-year after joining Nottingham Forest from his hometown club on a reported $1 million transfer. The fullback helped them earn promotion to the Premier League, but minutes proved hard to come by as Canada’s first World Cup trip in 36 years nears.
After a half-decade at Chelsea, Miazga is back in MLS and arrives via Cincy’s hold of the Allocation Order’s top spot, an asset general manager Chris Albright deftly navigated this year. The center back rose to prominence from 2013-15 as a New York Red Bulls homegrown player, then spent time out on loan at clubs ranging from Belgium’s Anderlecht to Holland’s Vitesse – never quite breaking into the Blues’ first-team plans.
But the US men’s national teamer should be vitally important for FC Cincinnati as they chase their first-ever playoff appearance. That would cap a dramatic 2022 transformation under new leadership, possibly punting three-straight Wooden Spoons into the dustbin since joining MLS as an expansion club in 2019.
The simple version: Nashville SC got their guy. Moore arrives in the Music City from Spanish second division club Tenerife, landing the US men’s national team right back on a reported $2 million transfer fee.
Is it a stretch to call Puig the most interesting signing of the MLS summer transfer window? I don’t think so, as the 22-year-old spent the last few years with FC Barcelona’s first team. Again: FC Barcelona, an exit related to their financial situation and not being in manager Xavi Hernandez’s plans.
The Galaxy drew massive headlines when landing the attacking midfielder, on a TAM deal and one that required no transfer fee. Puig may be the most technically-gifted player in MLS, and his arrival is another stake-in-the-ground moment for where MLS is heading.
Now, there are questions afloat as to whether Puig is what LA need tactically and in their roster’s broader complexion. We’ll see soon if Puig can answer them, and if his future involves returning to Europe one day.
Is it destiny that Austin signed Sebastian Driussi and Rigoni – Argentina natives and former teammates at Russia’s Zenit St. Petersburg – exactly one year apart? That’s the hope in Texas’ capital city, where Driussi is charting a strong Landon Donovan MLS MVP case and Rigoni has arrived from Brazil’s São Paulo.
The 29-year-old should lift a Verde & Black attack that’s already scored 50 goals, the most in MLS. Sporting director Claudio Reyna has described their new DP as bringing a “very unique style,” geared towards continuing the club’s drastic year-two progression.
Of note: Austin needed to finagle some DP math to sign Rigoni, mutually agreeing to a contract termination with DP winger Cecilio Dominguez after he hadn’t played for several months following an investigation into a possible domestic dispute.
It’s always going to draw eyeballs when a playmaker has Benfica on his résumé, though it should be noted that the former Portugal youth international’s first-team experience has come across three different loan spells with Moreirense FC, Boavista FC and FC Paços de Ferreira. That’s not to knock down Nuno Santos, but more to note how challenging it is to break into Benfica’s first team.
Schöpf seems like a perfect fit in Vancouver’s midfield alongside Designated Players Ryan Gauld and Andres Cubas, a trio that balances each other out. He projects as a No. 8, one who’s been capped 32 times by Austria and arrives on a free after last playing for Arminia Bielefeld in Germany’s Bundesliga.
Schöpf is not necessarily a household name, but the best international signings aren’t always high-profile pieces with glamorous backgrounds. At least on paper, all signs point to the 28-year-old lifting the Whitecaps’ playoff potential.
Ostensibly, Vrioni should be the Revolution’s Adam Buksa replacement. And if you need some reminding: Buksa arrived in New England as a low-profile No. 9 and developed into a reported $10 million striker upon his transfer to Ligue 1’s Nice this summer, all before likely representing Poland at the World Cup later this fall.
Vrioni, arriving from Juventus as a third DP for the defending Supporters’ Shield winners, is coming off a goal-filled season while on loan in the Austrian Bundesliga. Attacking players from that league, historically, have found success when adjusting to MLS.
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