The Portland Timbers swung big on Monday, announcing they’ve signed Brazilian No. 10 Evander as a Designated Player. To complete the deal, MLSsoccer.com’s Tom Bogert reports they sent a $10 million transfer fee to Danish Superliga club FC Midtjylland.
Thus, the offseason DP shopping began in earnest.
That move got us thinking: Which other clubs may be busy this winter when it comes to adding DPs? Who has the flexibility to add a game-changer and club centerpiece?
Before getting into specifics, let’s note Charlotte FC are reportedly adding Racing Club forward Enzo Copetti as a DP. Others like the New York Red Bulls, Philadelphia Union and San Jose Earthquakes also have room to maneuver.
Here are 10 clubs to track.
- Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, F
- Douglas Costa, F
LA have an open DP spot to work with after trading forward Kévin Cabral to the Colorado Rapids. Cabral was a Young DP in LA, so they’d likely go that route again when factoring in their U22 Initiative roster math.
It turns heads any time the Galaxy – one of MLS’s most-recognizable global brands – have a roster spot like this to work with. That’s even if they’re facing some roster sanctions stemming back to the 2019 season.
- Federico Bernardeschi, F
- Lorenzo Insigne, F
Toronto FC president Bill Manning addressed their DP situation in mid-October, after the 2017 MLS Cup champions missed the playoffs for the second straight year. Even though positions weren’t identified, some clarity was provided.
“We’re not going to go out and sign a Lorenzo, but we’re going to sign the right player,” Manning said. “Whatever wiggle room we need to make there, our organization has always been supportive of getting the right player.”
Manning, of course, was referring to last year when Toronto brought in Federico Bernardeschi (ex-Juventus) and Lorenzo Insigne (ex-Napoli), two Euro 2020 winners with Italy and former Serie A stars. They are the Reds’ long-term centerpieces as head coach and sporting director Bob Bradley remolds the squad.
Will Toronto use this DP spot on their leaky defense? They tried that with since-departed Mexican center back Carlos Salcedo, who stuck around for less than six months. Or will they get a striker or No. 10-type to go with their Italian wingers? We’ll see… their ownership group has shown a willingness to spend.
- Rodolfo Pizarro, M
- Leonardo Campana, F*
Let’s not bury the lede: Inter Miami are reportedly a genuine candidate in the Lionel Messi sweepstakes, should the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner indeed leave Paris Saint-Germain this summer. He’s eligible to sign a pre-contract in the winter, and still has plenty left in the tank – as we’re seeing with Argentina at the 2022 FIFA World Cup and before he turns 36 in June. Miami would reportedly make him the highest-paid player in MLS history.
Beyond Messi, things are a bit cloudier DP-wise as mid-December rolls around. Let’s go bullet-point style:
- Rodolfo Pizarro has been a DP, though the Mexican international midfielder spent last season on loan at Liga MX’s Monterrey. His future may lie elsewhere.
- Alejandro Pozuelo is out of contract after 2022. The Spanish playmaker was fantastic after a midseason trade from Toronto, and it’s unclear if he’ll return.
- Legendary striker Gonzalo Higuaín has retired. That’s certainly one spot open.
- Per MLSsoccer.com's Tom Bogert, Leonardo Campana will be a Young DP after Miami picked up his option from English Premier League side Wolverhampton Wanderers. The Ecuadorian international No. 9 was on a U22 Initiative tag in 2022, tallying 11g/2a in 26 games.
The super-short version: We’re in wait-and-see mode with Miami’s DPs. Messi would be a no-brainer, to state the obvious, and key decisions await sporting director Chris Henderson after Miami’s strong 2022.
- Xherdan Shaqiri, M
- Jairo Torres, F
There’s no need to speculate or theorize. Chicago head coach Ezra Hendrickson was direct in mid-October when discussing what type of player the Fire are seeking to fill their open DP spot: A highly-productive No. 9.
“[We want] someone that's a proven goalscorer because we think that to get to where we want to get, and that's back into the playoffs, we need someone that's a 12-plus, maybe even 15-plus goalscorer,” Hendrickson said.
Chicago’s ownership group has shown a willingness to spend, and there are no limitations DP-wise since Jairo Torres is a Young DP. The Mexican winger was injury-plagued upon joining in 2022 from Liga MX’s Atlas, but there’s promise there.
Fans will dream big, looking for a striker to get on the end of Xherdan Shaqiri’s service. The Swiss attacker and club-record signing was Chicago’s leading scorer (7g/11a) during his debut campaign, plus just helped Switzerland reach the Round of 16 at the World Cup.
- Josef Martínez, F
- Luiz Araújo, F
- Thiago Almada, M
There’s a big asterisk here, and it surrounds Josef Martínez. It’s not 100% clear if the club’s all-time leading scorer is back for 2023, with The Athletic's Felipe Cardenas reporting the Venezeualan striker and Atlanta will part ways this offseason.
Since Martínez has one year remaining on his contract, he’d need either to be 1) traded to an MLS team 2) transferred outside of MLS or 3) bought out. An open-ended question, too, as new CEO/president Garth Lagerwey gets settled: Has that hire changed the Josef/ATLUTD situation at all?
To be clear: Atlanta don’t currently have an open DP spot. But with questions around Martínez, as well as transfer interest in Thiago Almada (at the World Cup with Argentina), the dynamic could change quickly for one of MLS’s highest-spending clubs.
- Carlos Vela, F
- Dénis Bouanga, F
The Black & Gold’s DP situation also carries an asterisk. Vela and Bouanga were DPs last season, as LAFC became the league’s eighth club to complete an MLS Cup/Supporters’ Shield double. Beyond those forwards, a couple of questions need to be answered.
If ex-Barcelona attacker Cristian Tello returns, will he require a DP spot? Does superstar forward Gareth Bale indeed progress onto a DP slot if he stays beyond summer 2023 (contract options)? How much more does Bale, now 33 and with an injury history, have in the tank? The Bale questions are probably the big ones (Wales’ captain insisted after their World Cup exit that he’s not retiring just yet).
On the DP front, LAFC’s situation is among the most compelling league-wide. Watch this one carefully.
For Montréal, it’s a clean DP slate with midfielder/captain Victor Wanyama unlikely to return. Will ownership open the checkbook or will they focus on other roster-building mechanisms (i.e. academy, trades, etc)?
Montréal have brought in some high-profile/high-impact DPs before. They used to have forwards Didier Drogba and Marco Di Vaio, while midfielder Ignacio Piatti was immense for the Canadian club.
But historically, Montréal haven’t filled all three DP slots. We’ll see if, facing roster turnover and searching for a new coach, that approach changes. They were the Eastern Conference's No. 2 seed in 2022, Montréal's best-ever MLS season.
- Facundo Torres, F
- Ercan Kara, F
For a third DP, Orlando may seek someone to complement Kara (Austrian No. 9) and Torres (Uruguay winger) in the final third. Both players arrived ahead of the 2022 season, and they combined for 20g/13a in league play as the club booked a third straight playoff trip.
Don’t be surprised if Orlando’s ownership group, entering its second full season, opens the checkbook. The club has a high-profile DP legacy too, with superstars Nani and Kaka both previously brought to play in central Florida.
- Jefferson Savarino, F
- Damir Kreilach, M/F
RSL, coming off a second playoff run under head coach Pablo Mastroeni, have some DP flexibility. It’s also the Claret-and-Cobalt’s first full offseason with their new ownership group, and they may splurge after making serious strides on the infrastructure/in-stadium experience front in 2022. Let’s see what shoes drop.
The simple version: RSL could sign one or two DP-level players, with Damir Kreilach able to be bought down with Targeted Allocation Money (TAM). There are also talks to bring back striker Sergio Córdova, who was TAM-able a season ago, while Savarino is a full DP.
As for positions? A DP winger to play opposite Savarino or a No. 9 are the most likely targets. The Venezuelan international had 7g/6a in a half-season, arriving from Brazil’s Atletico Mineiro, and could easily hit 25 combined G+A next year. RSL were linked with a DP defensive midfielder last year, but the emergence of U22 Initiative loanee Braian Ojeda (from Nottingham Forest) may have changed the calculus there.
- Andres Cubas, M
- Ryan Gauld, M
The Whitecaps have an open DP spot after they declined the 2023 contract option on striker Lucas Cavallini. The Canadian international No. 9 was coming off his best MLS season since becoming Vancouver’s club-record signing in 2020, but they went in another direction.
Now, defensive midfielder Cubas and playmaker Ryan Gauld present a really strong foundation up the spine. The former is a Paraguayan international and joined midseason after playing in France’s top two divisions, while Gauld is dubbed the “Scottish Messi” as an all-action No. 10. Gauld has 12g/15a in 46 MLS games.
To supplement those midfield string-pullers, Vancouver may go for another lead-the-line No. 9. They’ve shown confidence in Brian White, though more scoring punch wouldn’t hurt.
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