The 2023 regular season is racing towards Matchday 4, but front offices remain hard at work to improve teams.
Here’s the latest I’m hearing in the transfer world around MLS.
St. Louis interested in Roberto Firmino
St. Louis CITY SC are among the clubs interested in Liverpool striker Roberto Firmino, sources tell MLSsoccer.com.
Firmino, 31, recently informed Liverpool that he will depart the club when his contract expires this summer. The Brazil international originally joined Liverpool in 2015 and has been the starting No. 9 during the Premier League club’s return to glory.
Firmino has 108g/79a in 355 appearances for the storied English club, leading the lines as Liverpool won their first league title since 1990 and the 2019 UEFA Champions League. They have finished top three in the EPL each of the last four seasons and made two more Champions League finals in addition to the aforementioned 2019 title.
Notably, St. Louis sporting director Lutz Pfannenstiel has a connection with Firmino. He was at Hoffenheim when the club signed the Brazilian, playing a key role in the original acquisition as well as his transfer to Liverpool. The pair have kept a connection ever since.
How likely is it that St. Louis, currently in their expansion year, pull it off? It’s too early to tell, but a host of clubs will attempt to sign Firmino, ranging from Europe to MLS to the Middle East. He has been linked with Italian Serie A side Inter Milan (according to Transfermarkt’s Manuel Veth) and others.
LAFC are reportedly interested as well, as should most MLS clubs who can swing the budget/roster math. St. Louis have room to add Firmino as a Designated Player, as do LAFC. St. Louis CITY's current DPs are two other Bundesliga alums: midfielder Eduard Löwen and striker João Klauss. LAFC's two DPs are forwards Carlos Vela and Dénis Bouanga.
Firmino has a few other MLS-based connections as well: Philadelphia Union sporting director Ernst Tanner was also at Hoffenheim when Firmino was signed, while Nashville SC CEO Ian Ayre was Liverpool's CEO when Firmino was acquired in 2015.
LA Galaxy finalizing deal for Argentine youth int’l
The LA Galaxy are finalizing a deal to sign Argentine youth international left back Julián Aude from Lanús, sources tell MLSsoccer.com. He would hit the roster as a U22 Initiative signing.
Aude, 19, has already made 54 first-team appearances for his boyhood Argentine Primera División side. He started three games for Argentina at the 2023 South American U-20 Championship in January.
The Galaxy already had all three U22 Initiative slots filled with striker Dejan Joveljić, homegrown Efraín Álvarez and new right-back addition Lucas Calegari, but will likely move Álvarez off the roster designation to maximize salary cap space and add Aude. For the U22 Initiative, transfer fees are not calculated into a budget hit and the player’s salary hits the cap at a fixed rate, based on age. Aude will hit the cap at $150,000 because he is under 21.
The Galaxy are facing a transfer restriction this summer, in which they can essentially only add players from within the league. The official language, announced in December, reads: “The Galaxy will be prohibited from registering a player who requires the receipt of an International Transfer Certificate (ITC) from outside of the United States and Canada during the Secondary Transfer Window in 2023.”
That gives urgency that international additions, like Aude and Calegari (loan from Brazil’s Fluminense with a purchase option), have to be done in the Primary Transfer Window, which closes on April 24.
Chicago Fire finalizing deal for U22 Initiative left back
Chicago Fire FC are finalizing the acquisition of Mexican left back Alonso Aceves on loan from Liga MX’s Pachuca. The deal includes a purchase option and he will hit the cap via the U22 Initiative.
The Athletic’s Paul Tenorio first reported the news.
Aceves, 21, joined Spanish second-tier club Real Oviedo on loan in the summer and made 10 appearances before returning to Pachuca in January. He has 23 appearances with the Pachuca first team.
The Fire had been looking to make an addition at left back during this window, giving another option alongside Venezuelan international Miguel Navarro. They recently added Greek forward Georgios Koutsias on a U22 Initiative deal (from PAOK), as well as veteran striker Kei Kamara in a trade with CF Montréal. They remain in the market for a DP center forward.
Pachuca have completed a few deals with MLS teams this winter, sending around $6 million to acquire striker Chicho Arango from LAFC. Going the other way, center back Micky Tapias left the club to join Minnesota United FC.
D.C. United closing in on deal for Premier League midfielder
D.C. United are closing in on a deal to sign midfielder Lewis O’Brien on loan from Nottingham Forest, sources tell MLSsoccer.com.
O’Brien, 24, joined Forest in a transfer worth around $10 million last summer and has made 13 Premier League appearances this season. He excelled in the Championship with Huddersfield Town, making 131 appearances with the club before joining Forest.
The deal would be an opportunistic one for D.C. United.
O’Brien was supposed to join Championship club Blackburn on deadline day in January, but the paperwork was filed just too late. The clubs appealed the decision, but it was ruled the move could not be registered for this season. As a result, O'Brien was without a club for regular minutes.
With most transfer windows closed in the world, MLS has been an option for weeks. D.C. swooped in to land on the precipice of a deal.
O’Brien would join a midfield group that’s led by former Leeds United standout Mateusz Klich, homegrown Chris Durkin and Iceland international Victor Pálsson. Klich, a key part of the Black-and-Red’s rebuild under manager Wayne Rooney, arrived this winter as a DP.
O’Brien would be D.C.’s third Premier League signing in the last two transfer windows after the club previously acquired Klich and striker Christian Benteke.
Minnesota United closing on deal for South Korea int’l
Minnesota United are closing in on a deal for once-capped South Korea international forward Jeong Sang-Bin from Premier League side Wolverhampton Wanderers, sources tell MLSsoccer.com. He would be a U22 Initiative signing. No deal is quite finalized yet, but sources express optimism it'll get there soon for the player to travel and complete the move.
Jeong, 20, is an attacker who can play through the center or out wide. He was dubbed the “Korean Mbappe” when he broke out in 2021 with K League 1 side Suwon Samsung Bluewings, posting 6g/2a in 24 appearances that year, before joining Wolves. He’s been on loan in Switzerland with Grasshoppers this season, though hasn’t played regularly.
Jeong would be Minnesota’s second-ever U22 Initiative signing after the club brought in South African international Bongokuhle Hlongwane before the 2022 season.
NYCFC remain an option for Ledezma
New York City FC remain an option to sign US youth international midfielder Richard Ledezma on loan from Eredivisie side PSV, sources tell MLSsoccer.com, though no deal is close.
Sources initially told MLSsoccer.com about talks for Ledezma about a month ago and, while little progress has been made since, sources aren’t ruling out the potential of this deal getting done, though stress it’s a complicated one.
Ledezma, 22, joined PSV in 2019 as a highly-rated rising talent and introduced himself to the casual USMNT scene with an impressive performance at the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup. Injuries have stalled his progress a bit in the Netherlands, but he has still made 23 appearances with the PSV first team.
Reports in the Netherlands suggest PSV won’t sanction a loan until Ledezma extends his contract.
Real Salt Lake have Ledezma’s MLS rights, as he was a product of their academy, so NYCFC would have to trade for those as well.