Just like that, opening weekend for Major League Soccer is upon us. The action is mere days away.
The offseason has been filled with storylines, key signings and more than a few big transfer sagas. Teams returned from their breaks for their preseason preparation and kicked around friendly matches to get up to speed for when the matches count.
Looking too deep into preseason may well be superfluous, but that doesn't mean there aren't key takeaways to dangerously read too much into. Here are a few things we learned this winter:
The Crew are darkhorse darlings
Every offseason has at least one darling. All the transactions are applauded and the team, on paper, looks tremendous. How it translates from paper to grass, of course, is another matter. Columbus Crew SC were one of those teams this offseason and their performances in a few of their friendlies only served to build the hype.
Irrespective of how much you read into preseason results, Columbus couldn't have done much more to boost their stock. They didn't lose a game, but more telling, the performances were comprehensive.
Their dress rehearsal for Week 1 ended quickly in a thumping over the Houston Dynamo, as they raced out to a 4-0 lead after just 23 minutes.
The Crew crammed a rebuild in over two transfer windows, adding Eloy Room and Luis Diaz last summer then Lucas Zelarayan and Darlington Nagbe this winter. If preseason is any indication as to what they may look like when the games count, their 2020 campaign may just live up to the offseason hype.
New big-money forwards under scrutiny
Preseason results don't matter, but there's something about a new Designated Player forward and checking in on how his goalscoring exploits warmed up in friendlies.
Alan Pulido (Sporting KC), Lucas Cavallini (Vancouver Whitecaps), Robert Beric (Chicago Fire FC), Adam Buksa (New England Revolution) and Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez (LA Galaxy) are a few new DP forwards who had a few games under their belts in preseason. Desperate for data points, and perhaps confirmation bias, they were under much scrutiny.
Chicharito nor Pulido found the back of the net, while Cavallini was on fire with four goals. Buksa had a few, even without creator-in-chief Carles Gil playing a minute for the Revs in preseason. Beric got one, too.
Will their preseason strike rates mean much? Who knows. But our collective eyes will be burning critical stares in their directions all season long. This winter offered just a sample.
Another big injury
An unfortunate annual tradition is that injuries claim significant time from at least one player every offseason, unfortunately just the nature of sports. Last year it was Milton Valenzuela, this year the most important casualty was D.C. United's Paul Arriola.
The US international was keen on taking another step forward in 2020 — In his own words: "I want to be an elite player... I need to be an elite player." — but that will have to wait, as he underwent surgery for a torn ACL on Monday.
United's collective attacking depth will be tested, particularly the acquisition of Julian Gressel. Their attacking unit will likely feature Yamil Asad, Edison Flores and Gressel underneath Ola Kamara.
Bits and pieces on the expansion clubs
Despite the fact that Inter Miami CF played a number of their friendlies behind closed doors, there were some things learned for both them and Nashville SC ahead of their inaugural MLS matches this weekend.
For Nashville, the defensive core is coming together. Walker Zimmerman arrived and paired Dave Romney in central defense, shielded by Dax McCarty and Anibal Godoy. The forwards continue to rotate, with Dom Badji, Daniel Rios and Abu Danladi competing for minutes as a lone striker in Gary Smith's 4-3-3.
In Miami, Rodolfo Pizarro found the scoresheet before he was even officially unveiled as an Inter player following his huge transfer from CF Monterrey. That game was the club's only one with the expected starting group that was available to the public. Dylan Nealis got the nod at right back and Roman Torres partnered Nicolas Figal in central defense.
Vamos to Week 1.
With all the furor surrounding the Galaxy's chase and acquisition of Chicharito, many forgot about the in-prime Argentinian international the LA had on their books already.
In Chicharito's preseason debut, Cristian Pavon did this madness.
Pavon slowly worked his way into form after arriving with the Galaxy last summer, eventually finishing with three goals and eight assists in 11 regular season appearances. He had a goal contribution in every one of his final eight games. Now, he'll have a full preseason under him and perhaps a more energetic tactical style with Chicharito in for Zlatan Ibrahimovic.