As five MLS clubs kicked off preseason this week to begin preparations for the 2020 season, and with the rest of the league soon to follow, transactions have piled up. There was a bit of a lull over the holidays — you're never fully ready to be 100 percent at work until the first Monday after New Years Day anyway, right? — but mid-January brought a number of signings.
And there's still many more to come. Look at the rosters, outside of the obvious positional holes and financial flexibility, multiple clubs don't even have enough players under contract to submit an 18-man matchday squad. If this week was any indication, there will be more social media teases, announcements and press conferences coming soon.
For now? Here's a look at a few of the big transfers over the last few days.
P.S.: We're more than covered by scribes smarter than me on D.C. United's huge signing of Peru international Edison Flores to leave him out of this space. Charlie Boehm broke down why it shows D.C. United means business, while Peter Galindo dove deep into Flores' ability and why you should be excited.
Rapids get their DP No. 10
The Colorado Rapids were clear for a long time: They were firmly intent on acquiring a Designated Player attacking midfielder this winter. Wednesday they got their man, Danish No. 10 Younes Namli.
Rapids EVP and GM Pádraig Smith said the club had Namli on the radar for two years and tried to sign him back when he was with PEC Zwolle, but opted to join Russian Premier League side FC Krasnodar and continued to crush fools with Eredivisie dribbling skills like this:
So disrespectful. So smooth. Known for his dribbling and creative quality, Namli figures to put MLS defenders on the wrong side of a viral clip or two.
At Krasnodar, though, he never quite settled in. He made six starts in the club's 18 league games to date, with just a goal and an assist. The underwhelming boxscore tally isn't an aberration for Namli, who had his most productive statistical season in 2018/19 with four goals and seven assists.
It's not something the Rapids are worried about, though.
"We see this all the time, if you look at Josef Martinez's raw-goal numbers at Torino or even Carles Gil coming in last year and the incredible impact he had in New England despite not scoring too many goals in Spain," Smith told MLSsoccer.com. "There's no doubt in our mind that's something Younes can do and do very well. He'll create chances and be goal-dangerous himself."
LAFC tap South America once more, sign Jose Cifuentes
Don't allow the frequency at which LAFC dip into South America for highly-rated young talent to mitigate its impact. Jose Cifuentes has the potential to be an awesome signing. It's MLS 3.0 'tings. This is the fourth player they signed who was a standout at the U-20 World Cup, following Diego Palacios, Brian Rodriguez and Francisco Ginella.
It's a sumptuous platter of high-potential young players. LAFC's EVP & GM John Thorrington has talked about increasing probabilities to their favor in most things they do and their transfer policy is just another example. One highly-rated young player can fail. It's extremely unlikely all four players who stood out at the U-20 World Cup not reach their potential.
That's the macro look at the club signing Cifuentes, a defensive midfielder who has already graduated to Ecuador's senior national team. The micro is he's a fine player in his own right at the moment and offers the club something a little different in midfield: An anchor.
"He's a great midfielder," beIN Sports commentator and South American soccer expert Jaime Macias told MLSsoccer.com. "He performed great at the U-20 World Cup, my question is that he played in a team that almost had no fans. How will he deal with pressure in an environment expecting a lot from him? To compare him with big-time internationals, he's a similar type of player to Yaya Toure and Michael Essien. Essien was good enough in possession, but he was a monster defensively. That's the type of player Cifuentes is."
Rapids add to impressive wing group with Benezet
With a number of MLS clubs interested in his signature, Nico Benezet is Colorado-bound to join the Rapids. Despite being slowed by joining Toronto FC last summer — thus without a true preseason foundation underneath him — and a minor injury, he showed flashes with TFC. It'll be intriguing to see what the Ligue 1 veteran offers without those hurdles.
"He's another player in keeping with what we're trying to do here: He's fast, good on the ball, technically proficient, sees the game well and brings some experience to the attacking line that'll help some of our younger wingers develop," Smith said.
The Rapids' options out wide currently include Jonathan Lewis, Benezet, Sam Nicholson and Andre Shinyashiki. Deep, talented and fast. They should be a fun team to watch in 2020 once again.
Orlando sign Junior Urso
My man's nickname is bear. He says things like "when someone calls me Bear I feel stronger,” at his introductory press conference. I mean, come on.
Orlando City will be Junior Urso's eighth club since his professional debut in 2011 and the 30-year-old has been a regular starter at every stop. He's not a journeyman because he couldn't find the right club, he's more of a globetrotter adapting to new clubs regularly. Orlando shouldn't be much of a difference, given his pedigree and the fact he'll be over the maximum budget charge.
A tenacious midfielder, Urso can play as a No. 6 (holding midfielder) or a No. 8 (box-to-box midfielder). If Oscar Pareja plays a 4-2-3-1 like he did in Dallas, Urso and Sebastian Mendez — signed last offseason and enjoyed a solid first season in the league — will likely head into preseason as the first-choice pair. But Orlando are deep in midfield, with Ori Rosell and Andres Perea as further options to lock down the midfield.
- Admittedly I said the exact same about when he landed with SKC, but, former American Soccer Savior Gedion Zelalem has found a good fit with NYCFC. How many minutes can he earn behind Alex Ring and Keaton Parks?
- The Houston Dynamo have got their starting GK for 2020, as former Croatian youth international Marko Maric joins. He made 67 appearances in the last three seasons while on loan in Norway.
- The Vancouver Whitecaps parted ways with Jon Erice, meaning seven (!) of their 14 winter signings last year are no longer with the club.
- After spending a reported €500,000 transfer fee a year ago, the Chicago Fire parted ways with defender Marcelo. They now have 16 players under contract for 2020, but the move frees up valuable TAM and cap space.