A bevy of noteworthy signings have already been made this winter, hinting at another influential influx of overseas talent in 2018.
Here’s an overview of who’s signed on for the season ahead, where they’ve come from and what it might mean for MLS.
More money, more ambition
It’s no shock to see bullish new clubs splash cash on big moves for star players, as LAFC did with Carlos Vela and Atlanta United did last winter with Miguel Almiron and seem keen to continue doing this offseason, given the drumbeat of reports about the Five Stripes targeting Ezequiel Barco.
NYCFC already made a Barco-like splash this offseason, landing Almiron's compatriot, 20-year-old attacking midfielder Jesus Medina, in a transfer from Paraguay's Libertad.
As occurred with NYCFC supporter reaction to Medina's signing, new acquisitions generally aim to capture the attention of a fan base and lay down statements of intent to friends and foes alike.
What’s more striking to this longtime MLS observer, and perhaps more indicative of the league’s dramatic on-field progress in recent years, is the amount of resources invested in what used to be budget or fringe roles, and/or by clubs not particularly known for spending big on the transfer market.
According to some reports, traditionally budget-minded FC Dallas paid out a $1.5 million transfer free for recent signing Anton Nedyalkov (pictured above) from Bulgaria’s CSKA Sofia, who was scouted in person by technical director Fernando Clavijo. Whether or not you believe that supposed price tag, we’re talking about major time and money spent on a Bulgarian left back. A left back!
Out in San Jose, the Earthquakes splashed out a club-record transfer fee – according to the player’s agent, at least – to acquire Magnus Eriksson (pictured at the top), the leading scorer in Sweden’s top flight last season, as their attacking spearhead. And in the heartland, Sporting Kansas City committed a significant outlay to bolster their anemic offense with the signing of French playmaker Yohan Croizet.
With baseball historically more central to their culture than footy, Venezuela have long been South America’s doormat; in fact they’ve never qualified for a World Cup in their history. But the beautiful game is blossoming there, and MLS scouts are taking notice.
New York City FC’s Yangel Herrera, a highly promising loanee from the Cityzens’ sibling club Manchester City, led the La Vinotinto to the 2017 U-20 World Cup final, and his elder Josef Martinez was a razor-sharp finisher for ATLUTD. Next year they’ll be joined in MLS by more of their countrymen.
Atlanta have signed young defender Jose Hernandez. The LA Galaxy bolstered their back line with experienced fullback Rolf Feltscher (pictured above). The Vancouver Whitecaps spent a chunk of Targeted Allocation Money to reel in striker Anthony Blondell, the leading scorer in Venezuela’s first division last season. Budding national team No. 8 Junior Moreno is headed to join D.C. United. Don’t be surprised if more follow in the months ahead.
Will they all prove as talented as Herrera or Martinez? That might be a tall order. But technical staffs around the league are eager to cultivate relationships in one of world football’s emerging markets.
Scouring Scandinavia … still
Many snickered when Minnesota United dived headlong into northernmost Europe for several of their most prominent signings ahead of their 2017 MLS expansion bow, only to have several fizzle, most notably their erstwhile captain, the star-crossed Vadim Demidov.
Yet even if those moves didn’t all work out, it made sense for the Loons to compare their native climate and culture, and league characteristics, to those of Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland. And based on several of this winter’s signings to date, other MLS teams – particularly the Quakes and their new Swedish head coach Mikael Stahre – believe those parallels remain in place.
We’ve already mentioned Eriksson (pictured above); San Jose also bought Swedish-Colombian left back Joel Qwiberg. The Colorado Rapids aim to spruce up their creativity with Swedish attacking midfielder Johan Blomberg. NYCFC picked up Swede Anton Tinnerholm, the 2017 Allsvenskan Defender of the Year, on a free from Malmö.
Looking further afield
Many clubs don’t like to brag about their scouting networks, usually guided by the logic that discussing such matters risks chipping away at any hard-earned competitive advantage over rivals. But we’re seeing some clear signs that MLS teams increasingly have the wherewithal to spy for talent further and further from home, even in nations and leagues that can be tricky to evaluate and shop.
We already mentioned Nedyalkov. Mohamed El-Munir is set to become the first Libyan in MLS history, with Orlando City having secured the services of the 25-year-old left back from Serbian heavyweights Partizan Belgrade. LAFC boss Bob Bradley called on his former Egyptian national team charge Omar Gaber (pictured above) to join him in the City of Angels’ grand new project.
That’s not to say that MLS talentspotters have spurned more established hunting grounds. D.C. made versatile Tico midfielder Ulises Segura the first of what’s likely to be another round of winter captures from Costa Rica. The fertile fields of Argentina continue to serve the league well, as shown by Atlanta’s Franco Escobar and LAFC’s Rodrigo Pacheco. And Orlando returned to the NASL to pick up that league’s 2017 golden boot winner, Brazilian Stefano Pinho.
This winter’s silly season has just barely cranked into motion. But the incoming arrivals already suggest we’ll have plenty more to talk about in the weeks to come.
Full list of international arrivals for 2018 (as of Jan. 4)
D - Franco Escobar (12/8/17 - transfer from Newell's Old Boys)
D - Jose Hernandez (12/13/17 - transfer from Caracas FC)
M - Johan Blomberg (11/21/17 - free)
M - Ulises Segura (12/21/17 - transfer from Deportivo Saprissa)
M - Junior Moreno (1/2/18 - transfer from Zulia FC)
D - Anton Nedyalkov (12/21/17 - transfer from CSKA Sofia)
D - Reto Ziegler (1/2/18 - transfer from Luzern)
D - Jorgen Skjelvik (12/14/17 - free)
D - Rolf Feltscher (12/19/17 – free)
M - Monday Bassey Etim (5/5/17 - free)
F - Carlos Vela (8/9/17 - transfer from Real Sociedad)
F - Rodrigo Pacheco (9/6/17 - loan from Lanus)
D/M - Omar Gaber (11/21/17 - loan from FC Basel)
D - Anton Tinnerholm (12/13/17 - free)
M - Jesus Medina (12/31/17 - transfer)
F - Stefano Pinho (12/18/17 - free)
D - Mohamed El-Munir (12/27/17 - free)
D - Julio Cascante (1/2/18 - transfer from Saprissa)
F - Alfredo Ortuño (1/3/18 - free)
D - Joel Qwiberg (12/1/17 - transfer from IF Brommapojkarna)
F - Magnus Eriksson (12/20/17 - transfer from Djurgardens)
M - Yohan Croizet (12/15/17 - transfer from KV Mechelen)
F - Anthony Blondell (11/30/17 - transfer from Monagas SC)
This article, which was originally published Dec. 29, 2017, was updated Jan. 4, 2018 to include additional signings.