MLS Insider: Tom Bogert

Bale, Insigne, Herrera, Cucho: Find out when the new MLS stars will debut

The MLS Secondary Transfer Window opened on Thursday (July 7). Long before the window officially began, a number of high-profile signings were confirmed.

In terms of official registration, any player previously signed or in the process of being signed will be eligible to debut. But the process for visas is still holding up some players, plus there's fitness/health concerns for others.

As Week 19 arrives, here’s the status for potential debuts of some high-profile players.

Likely debut: July 23 vs. Charlotte FC

The original idea and aim for Toronto FC was that Lorenzo Insigne would be able to hit the ground running immediately following his arrival and hopefully be able to start his first eligible game. Unfortunately, that doesn’t appear to be the case.

Insigne has a slight calf injury, per head coach Bob Bradley, and they are targeting July 23 against Charlotte FC for his debut.

“Lorenzo, in the periods now that he’s been on the field, there’s been discomfort,” Bradley told the media. “He’s been taken off the field. There’s been a discussion, we’ve looked back at everything from Napoli and we continue to assess what we see day-in and day-out. My guess is that it’s going to take him a few weeks to get ready.”

If this timeline holds, Insigne will miss another three games and will have been unavailable for TFC’s first 21 games of the season. TFC are seven points below the Eastern Conference's Audi MLS Cup Playoffs line.

Insigne made a blockbuster move to Toronto from Napoli, agreed and announced in January ahead of his contract expiring this summer. The 31-year-old had 11g/9a in 32 Serie A appearances and is a key starter for the Italian national team, still in his prime.

Likely debut: Saturday vs. San Jose Earthquakes

Insigne’s compatriot Domenico Criscito, however, will be available to debut on Saturday against the Quakes (7:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+).

The veteran defender, who signed a deal through 2023 after time with Genoa in Serie A, will aid a young backline. Criscito appeared in 20 games with Genoa over the 2021-22 Serie A campaign.

“[Criscito has] arrived in good shape and he will be available for the game,” Bradley said this week.

Likely debut: Saturday at Chicago Fire FC

After arriving in a club-record transfer of more than $10 million from Watford, Colombian international Cucho Hernandez will pull on the Columbus Crew's No. 9 shirt on a matchday for the first time this weekend.

Due to a lack of full training sessions, though, Hernandez is likely to come off the bench, according to head coach Caleb Porter. But he certainly will play a part in Saturday's match in Chicago (8 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+).

"Is that 15 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes? We'll have to wait and see," Porter told reporters Tuesday.

Hernandez arrives at a time of need for Columbus, who have slipped to 10th in the Eastern Conference table, though sit just three points below the playoff line. They are in the bottom third in MLS in goals, expected goals and shots on target.

The 23-year-old had five goals and two assists in the Premier League last season as Watford were relegated, and has also scored 11 goals in LaLiga across various loan stints.

Likely debut: Saturday vs. FC Dallas

Hector Herrera is here, ready and will debut against rivals FC Dallas on Saturday in the year's second Texas Derby match (8:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+).

The 32-year-old Mexico international spent nearly a decade in Europe, first starring with FC Porto and then with Atletico Madrid the last few years. He won league titles with both clubs.

Herrera is the face of Houston’s roster evolution, agreeing to a pre-contract agreement this winter for the summer when his Atleti contract expired. He and Paraguay international forward Sebastian Ferreira have been the club’s two biggest acquisitions under new ownership and a new front office.

Likely debut: TBD, soon?

Gareth Bale is currently going through the visa process and, as of Wednesday, was not yet in Los Angeles.

“The process is ongoing,” head coach Steve Cherundolo said. “I don’t have an answer.”

Cherundolo didn’t 100% rule Bale out from debuting against the LA Galaxy on Friday (10 pm ET | ESPN, ESPN Deportes), but it seems unlikely at this point. LAFC have been saying since they signed the former Real Madrid superstar that they would be cognizant of what is best for his body and long-term success at the club.

After facing the Galaxy on Friday, LAFC travel to Nashville next Sunday.

Bale, 32, just led Wales to their first World Cup berth in more than 60 years. The forward won five UEFA Champions Leagues with Real Madrid and rose to stardom with Tottenham in the Premier League.

Likely debut: Friday against LA Galaxy

Giorgio Chiellini has been in Los Angeles and involved in training sessions with his new club. He’ll be available to debut on Friday against the LA Galaxy.

It’s more a question of whether Cherundolo will start the Italian legend in his first available game or if they’ll stick with the continuity of the group between Mamadou Fall and Jesus Murillo. And, unlike Cucho, center backs aren’t prime candidates to come off the bench and change the game. But maybe if Chiellini doesn’t start, there’ll be an opportunity for him to debut.

“When I saw the team, I said they have fantastic defenders,” Chiellini said at his introductory press conference. “Why did they call me?”

Chiellini, 37, won nine Serie A titles with Juventus and earned 117 caps with Italy.

Likely debut: “Mid-July”

It all depends on when he receives his visa, which, as should be well known by now, is impossible to say with certainty. Bruce Arena said as much this week when discussing the transfer.

“He’ll be available once he gets his visa and you never know how long it takes,” Arena told media on a virtual press conference. “He’ll be here around mid-July, maybe a couple days after that, maybe a couple days before that.”

Vrioni is another import from Serie A – well, technically. He was signed from Juventus though didn’t play much for the club, spending last season on loan in Austria's Bundesliga for WSG Tirol, where he was among the league's top scorers.

The Albanian international joins after Poland international Adam Buksa was transferred to Ligue 1's RC Lens earlier this summer.

The New England Revolution visit the Philadelphia Union on July 16 and Columbus Crew on July 23, their two closest games to “mid-July."

Likely debut: TBD on visa process

It’s not an MLS debut for the former Landon Donovan MLS MVP, but it’s an Inter Miami CF debut. Alejandro Pozuelo has been acquired by Inter Miami in a trade with Toronto FC and, because it’s a Canadian club to an American club, they need to go through the visa process.

Miami don’t have a firm timeline, but given his fitness and familiarity with the league, he’ll be able to debut immediately once that visa comes in.

Pozuelo was acquired by Miami in a trade with Toronto this week, a blockbuster to kick off the trade market this summer. Pozuelo won the 2020 MLS MVP award but didn’t fit well with Bob Bradley’s system. The club was also working to open another DP spot to add Italy international Fernando Bernardeschi as he departs Juventus.

Pozuelo lands in Miami, where the fit should be much better. He’ll help lead a potential push for the playoffs after a surprisingly solid first half of the season in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year.