The SuperDraft is in the rearview mirror, along with a raft of accompanying signings, trades and other transactions. The 2018 preseason officially kicked off today, with several MLS teams already taking to the training field.
So a new MLS season is mere weeks away. Who did the best work in upgrading their roster over the past week or so? Here’s my top five – with a modest caveat: I’ve left Friday’s SuperDraft selections out of the reckoning here, because the draft is such a distinct beast unto itself.
Atlanta United sign Ezequiel Barco
Ezequiel Barco finally completed his much-awaited move to Atlanta on Friday. | USA Today Sports Images
No prizes for originality here, I’ll admit. You’ve probably heard an awful lot about the significance of the teenage Argentinean playmaker, whose long-running transfer drama finally reached its conclusion on Friday, when the Five Stripes rather amusingly did their best to upstage the entire draft by announcing his signing, which involves a league-record fee.
I’m actually not certain that Barco will be an instant hit in ATL. He’s young and hasn’t even played at a professional club other than Independiente, much less at one in a wholly new country, culture and league. But he doesn’t have to be. His arrival suggests a succession plan for Miguel Almiron, the Paraguayan maestro who orchestrated United’s attack last year and could move on to Europe soon. That sort of planning empowers players and advances the club’s wider vision. It’s a big deal.
LA Galaxy trade for Ola Kamara
Ola Kamara's 2017 goal reel with Columbus Crew SC
From Eduardo “El Tanque” Hurtado to Carlos Ruiz to Landon Donovan to Robbie Keane, the Galaxy’s glittering history has been built on menacing front lines staffed by special attacking players. Last year their attack had some big names, but not nearly enough goals: The entire forward corps scored only 14 league goals combined, which is only one more than star winger Romain Alessandrini netted by himself.
Kamara knows where the net is, as he’s shown with 34 goals in 59 games for Columbus Crew SC since arriving in MLS two years ago. That’s a fairly incredible strike rate, and LA parted with popular Homegrown Gyasi Zardes and $400,000 in allocation funds to bring it to their franchise. The likes of Alessandrini, Sebastian Lletget and the dos Santos brothers should be able to provide him service to keep him on a similar trajectory in SoCal.
Portland Timbers sign Andy Polo
The Timbers will be hoping Polo (in red) can add a new dimension to their attack. | USA Today Sports Images
This deal took a while to sort out, but the Rose City squad stuck with it because they believe the Peruvian winger brings the skillset that they need. Portland have plenty of quality in their midfield and attack. But Polo offers a blend of one-on-one skill and blazing speed that can help stretch the field for creative teammates like Diego Valeri and Sebastian Blanco.
Another factor here: Like Barco, Polo is an asset for the future as well as the present. He’s 23 years old and could well get a run in the global spotlight when Peru take part in the World Cup this summer.
Montreal Impact sign Michael Petrasso
With Montreal focusing on young, Canadian acquisitions, Petrasso could lead that youth movement. | USA Today Sports Images
The Impact seemed to make a point of getting younger this winter, and it could also be said that they got more Canadian. With the capture of Petrasso, the signing of Homegrowns James Pantemis, Thomas Meilleur-Giguere and Jason Beaulieu and the trade for Raheem Edwards, IMFC now boast an impressive core of domestic talent. That’s a reasonable strategy in both financial and competitive terms, even if Ignacio Piatti remains the straw that stirs the drink in Montreal.
Petrasso could well turn out to by IMFC’s wild card. Hailed as one of the more talented Canucks of his generation as he rose through Toronto FC’s youth system, he ventured abroad at a young age and experienced the highs and lows of life in Europe’s big leagues at Queens Park Rangers. The Impact are describing him as a right back, but he’s got a winger’s toolkit that offers additional versatility. Petrasso will be familiar with his environment and has plenty to prove.
Earthquakes sign Eric Calvillo
This one is flying under the radar. Yet if you’ve spent any time over the last few years drooling over the gifts of Christian Pulisic, or Haji Wright or Luca de la Torre or Josh Perez, you should have taken note of Calvillo joining the Quakes this week. The midfielder from Palmdale, California rose through the US youth national team system in that same talented crop, then took a less conventional route into the pros with the NASL’s New York Cosmos.
Two-footed, technically adept and able to work deep midfield or the flanks, Calvillo just turned 20 and already has two solid years of pro experience under his belt. And consider this tidbit from the Quakes’ press release announcing his signing: “During the 2017 season, he completed 88% of his passes and conceded just 12 fouls in nearly 1,200 minutes played.” The kid can flat out play, and he might just be a hidden gem of a pickup for San Jose.