There are just two and a half weeks until the 2023 MLS season starts… but two and a half months until the Primary Transfer Window closes (April 24).
All teams prefer to complete their roster build as early as possible, rather than leaving it late.
Some big to-do list items need checking off soon. Here are seven I’m looking at.
No. 10 post-Maxi
This offseason, NYCFC’s departure list includes:
- Club legend No. 10, who still played at an elite level in last year’s Audi MLS Cup Playoffs (Maxi Moralez)
- Highly-talented Uruguay youth international attacker who was thought to be their No. 10 successor (Santi Rodríguez)
- Club-legend goalkeeper, who is NYCFC’s all-time appearances leader and a top-five goalkeeper in MLS (Sean Johnson)
- Five-year starter at right back (Anton Tinnerholm)
- Defensive anchor and top-five center back in MLS (Alex Callens)
- The only senior, natural center forward on the roster (Héber)
All of that occurred after their best player (Taty Castellanos) and a USMNT homegrown midfielder/defender (James Sands) also departed following NYCFC's MLS Cup 2021 win.
A high-level No. 10 remains the most crucial spot to replace after Moralez returned to Argentina’s Racing Club this winter. Rodríguez looked set to take the reins, plus played better and better as the 2022 season wore on, but his loan from Uruguay’s Montevideo City Torque expired.
It’s unfair to expect any like-for-like replacement for Moralez. He was a top-five No. 10 in MLS for a half-decade and so important to the club, but they need someone to be the creator-in-chief for this attack. With City Football Group’s network and scouting, expectations for this slot are lofty.
Starting No. 9
After adding Brazilian attacking midfielder Evander on a club-record deal from Danish Superliga side FC Midtjylland, Portland remain in the market for another addition, intent to sign a starting-caliber No. 9.
From what I’ve heard, it’s likely to be a player in the Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) range. So, not a huge transfer fee or contract, but still a significant add.
Portland have been working through targets, careful to strike the right deal for the right player. For now, with Jaroslaw Niezgoda (Polish DP), Felipe Mora (Chilean international returning from injury) and Nathan Fogaça (Brazilian talent) all on the roster, they don’t have an urgent need to just sign anyone by Matchday 1.
Center back post-Long
The club have Andrés Reyes and Sean Nealis as presumed starters at the position, so they’re in a solid spot. But when Gerhard Struber opts for a three-center back system, they’ll need another option. Hassan Ndam and Matthew Nocita round out the current depth chart.
RBNY have been busy this offseason retooling the striker corps with DP Dante Vanzeir, MLS veteran Cory Burke and rising Brazilian Elias Manoel all arriving. But they also haven’t neglected the defense, re-acquiring right back Kyle Duncan on loan from Belgium’s KV Oostende and adding homegrowns Curtis Ofori and Jayden Reid behind John Tolkin at left back.
One more key signing at central defense should lock up the core heading into the season.
DP No. 9
Still atop the Chicago Fire’s to-do list this offseason is acquiring a DP No. 9.
By the end of the 2022 campaign, rising Colombian forward Jhon Duran was the starter (and scoring goals), but he departed in a club-record transfer for Aston Villa last month that could reach $22 million when all is said and done. He's already made his English Premier League debut.
Last offseason’s other addition at center forward was Kacper Przybyłko, who had a disappointing first year in ChiTown following a trade from the Philadelphia Union. He’s still at the club… but the plan remains for a DP to arrive too.
Chicago had made an offer to sign South Korea international and Nottingham Forest forward Hwang Ui-Jo, but those talks are over. After spending $7.5 million to acquire Swiss international midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri, $6 million on Mexican winger Jairo Torres and more, the club may not be looking at the same spending profile.
All that matters is the new signing is a reliable, consistent, goal-scoring forward. Chicago’s 39 goals scored were the second-fewest in MLS last year.
No. 9 post-Arango
With Chicho Arango transferred to Liga MX’s Club Pachuca in a deal worth around $6 million and a sell-on percentage, LAFC have no senior natural center forwards left on the roster.
Arango scored 30 goals in just over 3,700 minutes over the last 18 months for LAFC, plus had two goals in 234 postseason minutes en route to winning MLS Cup 2022. Those are big shoes to fill, and LAFC don’t have ultimate freedom in picking a replacement. The club can’t sign a senior DP over the max-TAM charge given their DP and U22 Initiative roster balance. They could sign a Young DP though.
In real English: LAFC can’t go out and sign an in-prime star like Carlos Vela.
Arango wasn’t a DP, to be fair. Adama Diomande, now of Toronto FC, wasn’t either and he was very productive over two seasons. They’ve gotten efficiency from this position before. They’ve also struck deals before, like Gareth Bale and Giorgio Chiellini arriving last summer on TAM contracts. They may be working that angle again.
Sources confirmed to MLSsoccer.com LAFC are in talks with Pierre-Emerick Aubamayang, but no deal is close. The 33-year-old was left off Chelsea’s UEFA Champions League squad; perhaps there’s a way he can come on a deal under max-TAM.
It’s worth pointing out again LAFC currently don’t have a natural center forward in their squad, so unless the plan is to have Vela as a false nine or Mahala Opoku as a less traditional option in their front three, two forwards could be on the way. Dénis Bouanga, their other DP alongside Vela, theoretically could play centrally as well. TBD.
No. 10 post-Mihailovic
CF Montréal have a Djordje Mihailovic-sized hole in the attack.
After the attacking midfielder was formally transferred to Eredivisie side AZ Alkmaar this winter, Joaquín Torres looked likely to have a chance at becoming the full-time starter. Then he was traded to the Philadelphia Union.
Reports linked twice-capped USMNT midfielder Alan Soñora with CF Montréal… but a deal never got done. Instead, he’s reportedly headed to Liga MX’s FC Juarez.
Montréal often target the trade market for key additions (and have already done so this offseason by landing defenders Aaron Herrera and George Campbell). They also have two open DP spots, but the club haven’t made a DP-level signing from abroad since Victor Wanyama in 2020. Before that? Saphir Taïder in 2018.
The LA Galaxy have spent the offseason revamping the wings, with Kévin Cabral traded to the Colorado Rapids and Samuel Grandsir transferred to Ligue 2 leaders Le Havre. All the while, reports have linked Douglas Costa with a move back to Brazil’s Grêmio (but he’s still here).
Head coach Greg Vanney prefers a 4-3-3 formation, so will it be one winger or multiple wingers this winter? Will they use the open DP spot on a winger or shift Riqui Puig to that designation for salary cap/U22 Initiative purposes?
Kevin Baxter of the LA Times reports the Galaxy are close to signing former USMNT winger Tyler Boyd. He was last under contract at Turkish Süper Lig side Beşiktaş. If that gets done, is that it? Or is more coming, bearing in mind the transfer sanctions they face this summer (simple version: can’t sign someone from abroad)?
A lot of questions surround the Galaxy as we get closer to Matchday 1 on Feb. 25.
There are other big needs around the league, but reporting (from myself or others) has revealed deals are close.
• Atlanta United DP No. 9: Greek international Giorgos Giakoumakis is soon joining from Scottish powerhouse Celtic FC.
• FC Cincinnati right wingback: Cincy still have Colombian international Santiago Arias in preseason. It’s very likely a deal gets done there.
• Vancouver Whitecaps DP No. 9: The Whitecaps are finalizing a deal for Venezuelan international and former RSL forward Sergio Córdova, who spent last year in MLS on loan from German Bundesliga side FC Augsburg.
• Whitecaps GK: Vancouver are finalizing a deal for J-League Best XI goalkeeper Yohei Takaoka from Yokohama F. Marinos.
• Colorado Rapids GK: After a deal for Austrian international Patrick Penz fell through at the last stage, the Rapids are reportedly close to signing Serbia international goalkeeper Marko Ilic.