MLS Insider: Tom Bogert

Insider notebook: Zardes to Austin? Copetti to Charlotte? Vancouver shopping?

1207 Transfer_zardes

We’re fully stuck into the offseason like a Daniele De Rossi tackle, folks.

On the latest transfers around MLS, starting with some breaking news…

Austin in talks to sign Zardes

Austin FC are in talks with free-agent forward Gyasi Zardes, sources tell Nothing is done but the expectation across the league is a deal will get done.

Zardes, 31, would reunite with head coach Josh Wolff. They worked together during their time with the Columbus Crew and the US men’s national team.

Zardes has 97 career MLS goals, beginning his career with the LA Galaxy in 2013 as a versatile rising talent before finding a home in Columbus as a center forward thriving in a one-forward system. Austin FC play a one-forward system, where Zardes would likely be their preferred starter.

In one season together in Columbus, with Wolff as an assistant to USMNT manager Gregg Berhalter, Zardes had a career-best 19 goals in 33 matches.

Maxi Urruti and Moussa Djitté are Austin’s other options to lead the lines, with Landon Donovan MLS MVP finalist Sebastián Driussi playing underneath. Austin made the 2022 Western Conference Final during their second MLS season, falling to eventual champions LAFC.

Zardes ended 2022 with the Colorado Rapids, arriving in a trade from Columbus during the spring. He had 9g/2a in 26 appearances. Colorado made an offer to keep Zardes in free agency, but the forward is expected to head to Texas.

Charlotte reach verbal agreement for new DP

Charlotte FC have agreed on a deal (worth around $6 million) with Racing Club to sign forward Enzo Copetti, sources told The deal is still pending a medical and final details, so it’s not done, but almost there.

Copetti, who turns 27 in January, is in his prime and hit a new level across the last 18 months with the Argentine Primera División side. The Argentine had 21g/6a last year in all competitions.

Beyond the boxscore numbers, sources say the club were attracted to Copetti for his variance of finishing and dynamic off-ball movement. Against the ball, he’s described as a tenacious pressing presence. Leading up to the deal, Charlotte went to Argentina numerous times to scout and meet with Copetti.

Copetti is an out-and-out No. 9, signaling the likelihood Poland international Karol Swiderski will spend more time playing as a second forward/No. 10. Swiderski, previously viewed just as a center forward, blossomed under head coach Christian Lattanzio when tried in a No. 10 role towards the end of the 2022 MLS season. He’s coming off representing Poland at the World Cup.

The club’s third DP, Polish international winger Kamil Jozwiak, will have a full preseason after arriving in MLS from Derby County amid an ankle injury last spring. Charlotte still have a U22 Initiative spot to use as well.

Philly trade for Perea, Orlando cash in

The Philadelphia Union acquired one-time US international midfielder Andrés Perea from Orlando City SC for $750,000 in General Allocation Money (GAM) plus $100k in GAM incentives and a sell-on percentage. As part of the trade to Philly, Perea signed a new contract through 2025 with an option for 2026.

Perea, 22, is a former Colombia youth international but filed a one-time switch to the US in 2021. He has made 74 MLS appearances in three seasons, posting 3g/3a.

The Union’s intense, transition-based style should be a strong fit for Perea. Philly haven’t often utilized the trade market for significant additions under sporting director Ernst Tanner, but they’ve found success when they do, namely in acquiring striker Julián Carranza last winter from Inter Miami CF.

Sources say adding Perea doesn’t mean something is imminent in terms of an outbound transfer for José Martínez, Leon Flach or Jack McGlynn. The Union wanted to get deeper before playing likely more than 50 games next season between the MLS regular season, playoffs, US Open Cup, Concacaf Champions League and Leagues Cup.

With Paxten Aaronson transferred to German Bundesliga side Eintracht Frankfurt, the Union were in the market for further depth and had the allocation money to do so. Club captain Alejandro Bedoya turns 36 in April as well, while Perea adds a different profile than McGlynn in competition for minutes.

The Union also signed Kenya international midfielder Richard Odada from Red Star Belgrade in August. Odada didn’t debut at the end of 2022 after visa delays and with the Eastern Conference champions heading into the playoffs. McGlynn and Quinn Sullivan, homegrowns and key parts of the USYNT squad that won the 2022 Concacaf U-20 Championship, will also be challenging for minutes within the group.

Perea fell out of Orlando’s regular rotation after arriving from Colombian side Atlético Nacional three seasons ago (initially on loan), making just seven starts in 2022. He was also out of contract after 2023, becoming available in a trade after the player/club couldn’t reach an agreement.

Rising Uruguay youth international César Araújo took a starting spot last winter, while Peru international Wilder Cartagena is back for 2023 and is expected to partner Araújo.

Also: Orlando had a bid rejected for 19-year-old Paraguay international midfielder Diego Gómez from Libertad, per source. Talks have stopped at the moment.

Soon: Matt Hedges free-agency decision

Free agent center back Matt Hedges will likely soon decide on his next club.

Toronto FC, the San Jose Earthquakes and FC Cincinnati have made offers, per sources, with other clubs (including Houston Dynamo FC and Sporting Kansas City) interested as well. The offers vary in length, and Hedges prefers a third guaranteed year.

Hedges, 32, has spent his entire professional career with FC Dallas and is their club leader in appearances. FC Dallas declined his 2023 contract option when the sides couldn’t agree on a new deal, so he entered free agency.

Hedges has made 310 regular-season MLS appearances after debuting in 2012.

Aaron Long market heating up

Following the United States’ elimination from the 2022 World Cup, the market for Aaron Long’s next club continues to heat up. Long captained the New York Red Bulls and earned 2018 MLS Defender of the Year honors with them.

Several MLS teams are interested in the 30-year-old center back, including the LA Galaxy, Colorado Rapids and others. No deal has been reached with any club yet, sources say.

With Long back from Qatar, his club future is now the primary focus. Talks will continue to advance with clubs in the coming days and weeks before a decision likely arrives at some point shortly.

Nancy takes over in Columbus

At long last, after being originally reported by in October that Wilfried Nancy was a target for the Columbus Crew’s coaching vacancy, Nancy was officially unveiled as their new head coach on Tuesday.

Columbus reached an undisclosed “financial agreement” with CF Montréal to buy Nancy out of his contract. Nancy takes over an attractive situation, with stars Lucas Zelarayán, Cucho Hernández and Darlington Nagbe headlining the Crew’s roster.

Nancy seemed ready to move on after some behind-the-scenes drama in Montréal, as Jeremy Filosa of 98.5 FM reported. While neither side commented on the specifics this week, Montréal club president and CEO Gabriel Gervais was direct in saying it was Nancy’s choice to leave.

“Despite the club's efforts to have Wilfried continue our project, we were forced to accept his decision to leave the organization,” Gervais said. “We want people who want to be with us and Wilfried has chosen a different path.”

Now, Nancy starts life in Columbus. He’s starting to give his opinion on potential additions to the roster, with Crew president and general manager Tim Bezbatchenko joking that Nancy already turned down a handful of players he suggested.

In addition to three coaches (Kwame Ampadu, Jules Gueguen and Maxime Chalier) who followed him from Montréal, Nancy is expected to further add to his staff. There are talks ongoing with numerous targets.

Sources add United States U-20 head coach Mikey Varas was among the candidates interviewed by Columbus for their vacancy. Varas was previously an assistant coach at FC Dallas under now-San Jose Earthquakes boss Luchi Gonzalez before taking the US U-20 job in November 2021.

Montréal ready for rebuild

CF Montréal will be among the league’s busiest clubs this winter. After Nancy officially joined Columbus, Montréal are well on their way in a coaching search. Once a new manager is hired, there’s a lot of work to do.

Lone DP Victor Wanyama, best attacker Djordje Mihailovic (to AZ Alkmaar), wonderkid midfielder Ismaël Koné (to Watford FC) and Canada international defender Alistair Johnston (to Celtic FC) have all departed, the latter three in lucrative transfers abroad. Montréal declined options on goalkeepers James Pantemis and Sebastian Breza, who combined to start all 34 games in 2022 as they finished second in the Eastern Conference.

The exodus for Montréal may not be complete. Reports from Turkey suggest that Beşiktaş are interested in defender Joel Waterman, while sources say that Canadian international defender Kamal Miller has interest from abroad as well.

In the wake of transfers abroad, all to address their roster, Montréal will have a ton of allocation money, three DP spots and significant salary cap space. They have a ton of resources to work with, but it’s not easy to be a developing/selling club and not miss a beat in replacing those top talents (internally or externally).

Whitecaps interested in Uruguayan center back

Vancouver Whitecaps FC are interested in Nacional center back Mathías Laborda, sources tell Laborda is out of contract this winter and can be signed as a free agent. No deal is agreed upon or done just yet.

Laborda, 23, is a former Uruguay youth international who is a three-time league champion with Nacional, including this year when legend Luis Suárez returned to the club. Laborda is a product of the Uruguayan side's youth system and has made over 100 senior appearances.

Vancouver have a solid core roster, but also lost some defensive depth this offseason. Laborda would add to a group of center backs that includes Ranko Veselinovic, Tristan Blackmon and Javain Brown as expected starters in Vanni Sartini’s preferred back-three system.

The Whitecaps also have an open DP spot following the departure of Canadian international striker Lucas Cavallini.

Bryce Duke, Reed Baker-Whiting training abroad

Inter Miami CF midfielder Bryce Duke is participating in an offseason training stint with LaLiga giants Atletico Madrid, sources tell

The trip is not a trial. It’s common for young MLS players to take part in offseason training stints abroad ahead of preseason. Duke will be with Miami as camp gets underway in early January.

Duke, 21, enjoyed a breakout 2022 season, his first with Miami after a trade from LAFC. He posted 1g/7a in 1,476 minutes (28 appearances, 16 starts) – all personal bests in his young career. Duke placed No. 21 on the 2022 22 Under 22 presented by BODYARMOR list.

Bryce Duke
Bryce Duke is entering his second Inter Miami season. (Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports)

Additionally, Seattle Sounders FC homegrown midfielder Reed Baker-Whiting is training with German Bundesliga club SC Freiburg. Sounder at Heart’s Jeremiah Oshan reports Freiburg are weighing up a potential offer to sign Baker-Whiting on loan with a purchase option.

Baker-Whiting, 17, is a highly-rated US youth international. He made his MLS debut in 2021 as a 16-year-old and has appeared in six MLS matches so far. Last year, Baker-Whiting trained with LaLiga’s Real Sociedad.

More news about MLS players training abroad is likely to come out over the month. Last winter the likes of Djordje Mihailovic (Bologna), Ismaël Koné (Bologna), Darren Yapi (Arsenal, Club Brugge), Yaya Toure (Arsenal, Rangers), Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty (Liverpool, Arsenal) and a cadre of FC Dallas players at Bayern Munich were among those to train abroad.