The silly season is coming to an end and the regular season looms. That means most MLS rosters have been refined or reloaded or entirely rebuilt over the past few months, and this is your one-stop shop to get a look back at how that process has played out.
Still, some teams are left with more work to do than others, and the primary transfer window is open, and will remain so until June 1. After a brief respite, the secondary transfer window opens from July 7 and closes on August 5.
That means the shopping continues.
So here's a quick look at where teams stand, and what they could be looking to add in the next two months.
The Offseason So Far: The big move was inking new head coach Gabriel Heinze. That was the most important thing on their to-do list this winter.
The player moves thus far have been much more understated, as Atlanta have signed a trio of homegrowns (keep an eye on winger Machop Chol), and Heinze brought veteran attacker Lisandro Lopez with him from Argentina. Neither Lopez nor Chol nor any of the other homegrowns are likely to be starters.
Mikey Ambrose or Andrew Gutman could be. There is significant overseas interest in young George Bello, and I think it's pretty telling that Atlanta's front office went out and got two left backs this offseason (though I guess it should be noted the terms of Gutman's loan from Celtic have yet to be completely worked out, as I understand it). I don't think they would've done that if they expected to have Bello long-term, and we all know Atlanta aren't afraid of selling starters.
What's Next: It looks very much like Eric Remedi is on the way out and young Franco Ibarra is on the way in, which has the defensive midfield position settled.
Also keep an eye on right back Franco Escobar, who's had rumors swirling and is sending a bunch of cryptic tweets. If he goes, then my guess is a new right back is on the way in.
Regardless, this isn't a roster than demands a ton of surgery.
(Editor's note: On Wednesday, Atlanta re-signed Cubo Torres, who Doyle has listed as third on the No. 9 depth chart)
March 16 Update:
They have, in fact, done a bunch of surgery over the past six weeks.
Atlanta went into Arthur Blank's bag to come out with not just Heinze and Ibarra, but also highly-rated defensive midfielder Santiago Sosa from River Plate. Yes, \that \River Plate. It's my guess -- and everyone else's -- that he'll be the starting No. 6, with Ibarra as his backup. There's also a chance that Sosa plays as the No. 8 while Ibarra starts at d-mid, but we'll have to see how things evolve.
Then they went out and got themselves a potential answer at right back by snagging 23-year-old Venezuela Ronald Hernandez on loan from Aberdeen. He is obviously much less of a sure thing than Sosa (and let's all remember that there actually are no sure things in this league), but Venezuelans of recent vintage have a pretty good track record of success in MLS, even if Venezuelan right backs haven't exactly been lights out.
Remedi was traded to San Jose, and replaced by Ibarra and Sosa. Escobar was loaned to Newell's Old Boys, and replaced by Hernandez. Center back Fernando Meza, who was loaned to Defensa y Justica, was the third man out and he's yet to be replaced, though recent reports have Atlanta targeting Independiente center back and once-capped Argentine international Alan Franco as the new man in.
Given this front office's track-record, both recent and longstanding, I'm not betting against their ability to get this deal across the finish line. And doing so would give Atlanta, on paper, one of the very best and deepest rosters in the league.
That, plus the return of Josef Martinez (he's going full-on in training) makes this season at Mercedes Benz stadium something of a referendum on three things:
- The strength of the Argentine SuperLiga relative to MLS
- The ability of ambitious owners to spend their way out of a bad patch
- Heinze as a head coach
The third one is the biggest one. If Heinze is what he's supposed to be -- what his track record pretty much says he is -- then Atlanta are back.
For what it's worth: If you think Atlanta's depth chart at the No. 8 looks different than what we have it as below, yell at Tom Bogert. This is clipped from his doc.
April 4 Update:
No official moves since the last update, but it sure seems like the-at-this-point-somewhat-drawn-out deal for Franco is going to get done. Or maybe already is done, but not announced yet. It’s kind of weird, but when you’ve got Heinze going on Zoom calls saying “The center back is already signed. It’s Alan Franco. He already signed like a week ago,” I tend to lean in the direction of the guy being an Atlanta player this year.
And that should do it for the major additions. I think the only other adjustment of note here is that Barco is playing inside as more of a No. 10, while Marcelino Moreno seems to be more a playmaking left winger.
We’ll get a chance to assess how quickly they’re answering last year’s questions on Tuesday when the Five Stripes open their CCL campaign against an Alajuelense side that’s unbeaten in 16.
The Offseason So Far: The biggest news, aside from a second rebrand in two years, was the sale of homegrown attacker Djordje Mihailovic to CF Montréal for a boatload of allocation cash, which should give the Fire a good amount of flexibility. They also bid adieu to veteran center forward CJ Sapong, which opens up a fairly sizable chunk of the cap and allows yet more flexibility.
So far they've used that flexibility to get younger, continuing a trend from last offseason. In have come forward Chinonso Offor (age 20), defender Jhon Espinoza (21) and winger Stanislav Ivanov (21). They also made some waves by signing highly regarded 17-year-old Colombian forward Jhon Duran, who can't come to Chicago until next year, but is the kind of aggressive "buy to flip" move we often see from Portuguese clubs.
The reality, though, is that none of this has changed Chicago's projected starting XI all that much.
What's Next: Change might be coming, though. Veteran CB Francisco Calvo has been repeatedly linked to a move back to Costa Rica, while DP d-mid Gaston Gimenez is reportedly on Boca Juniors' wish list. Each of those moves would make sense to a degree, so I think it's worth it to take a wait-and-see approach.
March 16 Update:
No changes at all. Chicago haven't made a single 2021-related move since mid-December when they traded Mihailovic and Brandt Bronico. Boca's interest in Gimenez never actually materialized into anything tangible, and Calvo was there on Day 1 of preseason starting at center back.
There's got to be at least one more attacking move coming, right?
April 4 Update:
If there is one more attacking move coming, it hasn’t happened yet. The Fire have continued to stand pat and haven’t done a thing since moving Mihailovic and Bronico. There haven’t even been any rumors.
At this point I expect them to slow-play things and see what they’ve got already on the roster, then make a move in the summer window.
The Offseason So Far: The teardown of that original, Year 1 roster has continued into Year 3, as Cincy declined options on veterans Kendall Waston, Greg Garza, Spencer Richey and Mathieu Deplagne, as well as a bunch of reserves and one of last year's more expensive signings in TAM playmaker Siem De Jong (zero goals and zero assists in 793 minutes). It is an ongoing process that appears nowhere close to complete, given how much the remaining players — including the DPs — struggled in 2020.
Veteran left back Ronald Matarrita has been the biggest signing thus far, and a clear starter. I suspect they'll find a starting role for winger Calvin Harris, who they took second overall in the SuperDraft and who requires an international roster slot. You don't draft a guy like that to sit him.
What's Next: A lot, I think. GM Gerard Nijkamp has been pretty open about the state of the roster.
“No. 10 is a priority, winger is a priority, center back is a priority and No. 9 is a priority," he told media on a conference call last week, and let's parse this a bit:
- No. 10 as a priority makes sense regardless of formation (I think they're aiming for Jaap Stam's preferred 4-3-3) or other additions. Cincy had near zero reliable chance creation out of midfield last year, and in this league that doesn't cut it. No. 10s rule in MLS.
- Winger as a priority confuses me somewhat given the additions of Harris and Alvaro Barreal, who arrived in September. I'm not saying they don't need help there, but I'm surprised to see it mentioned as a priority.
- Center back is clearly a priority. I'd argue it's even more important to their future success than getting the right No. 10.
But the one that really clarifies what's about to happen is Nijkamp listing No. 9 as a priority. Jurgen Locadia's loan goes until June and it's probably pretty fair to assume there's little interest in bringing him back long-term given he managed just 1 goal in about 1,400 minutes. I'd say the writing's on the wall for Yuya Kubo, last year's other DP signing (three goals and zero assists in 1300 minutes) as well. Plus Allan Cruz doesn't seem to be a first-choice player by Stam's reckoning, and that's no way to spend a DP slot.
These gigantic moves might not happen until the summer window, so listing them as "what's next" is probably somewhat inaccurate. But you should understand what the overall picture is pointing toward here.
March 16 Update:
Only one official move since the last update, but it was a big one: they splashed out a reported $13 million for Brenner, a 21-year-old Brazilian center forward from traditional powerhouse Sao Paulo.
That's not the kind of money you spend on a backup in this league. That is the kind of money you spend on a guy you expect to start from Day 1, and given that Brenner is almost exclusively a creature of the box, it means something's going to happen with either Locadia's position, or his long-term future in Cincy. The same could be true of Kubo. Some stuff there has to be sorted out because there's no comfortable way to fit all three of those guys into the same lineup, and that's not a super-targeted way of building a winning MLS roster.
The move that hasn't happened but looks like it's going to is the move for their No. 10. Cincy reportedly gave D.C. United a heap of allocation cash for Luciano Acosta's MLS rights, and then Atlas literally put out a press release saying that Lucho is heading to Ohio. That was nearly a week ago, and there's been nothing confirming it from the Cincy front office, but there's little reason to think this isn't getting done.
Now for the fly in the ointment: Frankie Amaya, perhaps the only silver lining of the first two seasons of Cincy's MLS existence, has asked out.
That was more than a month ago. Cincy have remained resolute that they are not going to trade him, and Amaya reported for camp this weekend, though he's yet to play as he goes through quarantine protocol.
There were at least three teams that offered upwards of seven figures worth of allocation cash to Cincy for Amaya's rights, and were turned down. You don't turn down that kind of cash for a kid you intend to sit, so Amaya's probably a safe bet to be in the starting XI. But Nijkamp and Stam clearly have some work to do in terms of getting everyone on the same page.
And that defense, which has struggled so badly over the past two years? Matarrita's been the only offseason addition thus far.
Lots of work to do. Tons.
April 4 Update:
They got the Luciano Acosta deal across the finish line, but didn’t stop there. They also went out and got young winger Isaac Atanga from FC Nordsjaelland, and then added 21-year-old Ecuadorian center back Gustavo Vallecilla on loan.
On paper, the latter two are good signings who should compete for real playing time and maybe even win a starting spot.
There can be no “maybe” when it comes to Lucho. He’s wearing the 10 and has to be The Man for this team.
Cincy aren’t releasing their XIs thus far in preseason, so a lot of what we have as their depth chart is something of a stab in the dark. The No. 8 position is a mystery because Amaya is clearly in the doghouse this year, and Allan Cruz was clearly in the doghouse last year. Your guess is as good as mine as to how this shakes out.
Also unclear is the long-term status of Locadia, or where he’s expected to play (if he plays at all) now that Brenner’s in town. And the utter lack of depth behind the frequently injured Matarrita has to be a real concern.
This team clearly has much more talent than it did 18 months ago, but I’m still unsure as to how all that talent fits together, or whether it can work in MLS.
The Offseason So Far: The rich got richer, as Columbus hit the free agent market hard and often. They brought in veteran center forward Bradley Wright-Phillips, veteran winger Kevin Molino and veteran d-mid Perry Kitchen. They also traded for veteran goalkeeper (and Ohio native!) Evan Bush, which gives them proven depth for when Eloy Room heads out on international duty this year. Bush replaces Andrew Tarbell, who headed to Austin after the Crew declined his option.
There were actually a bunch of options declined, with veteran utility-man Hector Jimenez and winger Youness Mokhtar being the most notable aside from Tarbell. They also sold young right back Chris Cadden to Hibs, which presents perhaps the only actually hole on the roster.
What's Next: Right now the RB depth chart is 34-year-old Harrison Afful followed by as-yet unsigned first-round draft pick Justin Malou, who is much more of an old-fashioned, defense-minded fullback than a modern overlapping threat. I will be surprised if Columbus don't go out and address this before the season starts.
The other spot to look at and worry about a little bit is the wing, which could get really shallow really quick if Molino, Derrick Etienne, Jr. and Luis Diaz all go out on international duty at the same time — which, to be clear, is quite likely. I would expect another signing or two there, though more in the place-filler mold than the long-term solution mold.
March 16 Update:
Adding an Afful backup was, in fact, up next. Columbus signed MLS journeyman and utilityman Marlon Hairston just before camp opened, and to be honest I love this signing. I always felt like Hairston's ceiling at RB was higher than at any of the other, like, six positions he's been played at in his career, and it seems like the Crew agree. Maybe it doesn't work out and he's not actually meant to be a fullback, but this feels like a smart team taking a chance on a legitimately talented kid who's never had the opportunity to settle into a system at what is likely his best position.
On the same day they signed Hairston they loaned out young Sebastian Berhalter, a Homegrown d-mid and, yes, the son of former head coach Gregg Berhalter, to Austin FC. There's a clearer path to playing time with Austin -- we've got him penciled in as Alex Ring's primary backup, and Austin head coach Josh Wolff was the Crew's top assistant under Berhalter -- and they Crew got a bit of allocation cash to play with for their troubles.
Five days later Columbus became one of the first teams to make what appears to be a Young Money signing (that rule is not in the book yet, but the writing is on the wall) when they purchased 21-year-old Romanian international attacking midfielder Alexandru Matan for a reported $1.65 million.
There's no reason to think that this team is anything less than one of the absolute favorites to win MLS Cup this year. And, to be honest, any other trophy they try to compete for.
April 4 Update:
Nothing new since the last update. The Crew aren’t just as complete as any team in the league this year -- they’re as complete as any team I think I’ve ever seen in this league, with proven and potential talent at pretty much every spot.
They are loaded and have a legitimate chance to be one of the best teams we’ve ever seen in MLS. They open their CCL campaign on Thursday against Real Esteli, and we’ll see if they can leave a marker that suggests they’re ready to carve their name into the league’s record books.
The Offseason So Far: D.C. went outside the box to get new head coach Hernan Losada. That seemed to take up most of the front office's incoming bandwidth, as there've been few above-the-fold type of moves as of yet.
The biggest incoming name is probably Kimarni Smith, the winger from Clemson who was the fourth overall SuperDraft pick. D.C. then traded up for the No. 5 pick, which they used on Wake Forest center back Michael DeShields. To give you an idea of the type of prospect DeShields once was, he started over Mark McKenzie for most of the 2017 college season. Injuries have hurt him since then, but D.C. have done well in the draft before.
I thought the pick-up of Adrien Perez via the re-entry draft was a good move as well. He might not play a ton, but he always looked like quality, affordable depth when he managed to get on the field for LAFC.
And then there's the big outgoing news: DP winger/wingback Paul Arriola was loaned to Swansea City on Monday. Arriola is excellent, but this is actually a good move for D.C. since it allows Julian Gressel to play in his natural spot.
What's Next: Gressel's natural spot is right wingback, and that meshes well with Losada's preference for a 3-5-2. He did say on Extratime we should expect a level of tactical and formational flexibility from his teams, and I don't doubt that, but every head coach has a preferred way of playing, and that's been Losada's.
Maybe he'll take a look at the roster and decide a 4-2-3-1 makes more sense with this group. But I'm guessing not.
Regardless, they need more center backs and probably more left backs/wingbacks. And probably a top-tier center forward, and to figure out how they want to use Edison Flores — is he a second forward, or a 10?
Anyway, here's what I think the depth chart looks like if Losada really wants that 3-5-2.
March 16 Update:
D.C. are high on my list of teams I can't wait to watch in the preseason, largely because I really have no idea what to expect. Whispers out of camp are that the players are happy and communication has been good, but other than that it's a black box.
That includes their recent signings. American center back Brendan Hines-Ike, who joined D.C. on loan this month, has played in Europe for half-a-decade, but it's been for clubs like Orebro and Kortrijk in Scandinavia. His appearances -- he made more than 120 -- were not at the top of the Scuffed Watchlist. 19-year-old Venezuelan center forward Jovanny Bolivar is even more mysterious given his age and almost non-existent C.V.
Those are D.C.'s only moves since last month's update unless you count signing both first-round draft picks, Smith and DeShields. Which... you probably shouldn't, because why would you spend a top-five pick on a guy you're not going to sign?
Anyway, as mentioned, I'm leaning toward the assumption that Losada plays a 3-5-2. I honestly think they've gotten pretty close to being able to put out a very good XI, though Steve Birnbaum's injury (out until June) does knock them back a bit.
April 4 Update:
When we last updated, two of D.C.’s previous four signings had been center forwards. Since then, they made one more signing: Another center forward in might-become-a-Curaçao-international Nigel Robertha.
At the end of last season there were just two true forwards on the roster; now there are five. Six if you count Smith, who a lot of folks feel was more of a wide forward than an actual winger in college (shooters shoot). So my guess is that they’re going to end up going toward that 3-5-2 Losada has seemed to prefer.
Nonetheless, reports out of the team’s first preseason friendlies have them in more of a 3-4-2-1.
Either way it does seem clear that this will be a three-at-the-back side with true wingbacks. That plays to some of the strengths of this side, especially with Arriola back (and temporarily injured) from his ill-fated Swansea loan. Arriola’s mostly played as a winger in MLS, but he spent a ton of time at wingback for Xolos back when he was taking his first steps as a pro.
Anyway, I’m going to leave the depth chart in 3-5-2 form. But this is one that could obviously change.
The Offseason So Far: As with Atlanta and D.C., the biggest offseason story was the hiring of a new manager in Phil Neville. That's been accompanied by something of a housecleaning — Luis Robles, Andres Reyes and Wil Trapp are probably the most significant departures — and minimal additions. Miami have signed some homegrowns and re-signed Brek Shea, and that's been about it. They haven't even signed their first-round picks yet.
I imagine things will pick up soon.
What's Next: Defensive reinforcements, I'd say. Miami weren't particularly good in any area of the pitch last year under Diego Alonso, but center defense was probably the sorest spot. Leandro Gonzalez Pirez looked miles off his Best XI form and there's a reason Nico Figal spent most of the year at right back. The only other center backs on the roster are a trio of kids, one of whom is a converted defensive midfielder who did not look up to it in his first MLS season (Christian Makoun) and the other two of whom would be making their MLS debuts in 2021.
I expect at least one big signing at this spot, and likely a new left back as well (unless they really, really believe in Patrick Seagrist). And then it's just a matter of hoping that the versions of Gonzalo Higuain, Matias Pellegrini and Blaise Matuidi that showed up in 2020 were mirages, and the 2021 versions of those players will be far superior.
Neville, for what it's worth, often defaulted to the 4-4-1-1 with the English women's national team, but I'm going to list the depth chart in a 4-2-3-1 instead.
March 16 Update:
Defensive reinforcements were, in fact, the next big-ticket item on the list.
The 33-year-old hasn't played much soccer at all in the past two years; fewer than 1000 minutes, with the plurality of those coming with the Stoke reserves in the Premier League 2. I think it's fair to be skeptical of his ability to handle the rigors of an MLS season.
Less so with Gregore, a highly rated 27-year-old Brazilian hard man who really does seem, on paper, to be a perfect fit. Jones should also be a good fit, soaking up minutes at either left back or on either wing.
For obvious reasons, I have fewer questions about the two of them than I do about Shawcross. And at the same time, I'd argue that the Shawcross signing is the one they need to hit the most.
Neville's got his hands full, clearly. But this roster's got legitimate talent.
April 4 Update:
Miami kept busy since last update, signing veteran English left back Kieran Gibbs (he’ll arrive in July) and MLS veteran right back Kelvin Leerdam, who’s been one of the better right backs in the league over the past four years for the Sounders.
Both guys are in their 30s, which has been a theme for Inter lately as three of their past five signings have been 30+ and one of the other two -- Jones, another ex-Sounder -- turns 30 this summer. So the team’s bringing in new faces, but it’s clearly not going to be getting any younger in terms of the minutes distribution this year. They're likely to be one of the oldest teams in the league on a per-minute basis, unless there’s a massive breakthrough among the kids who uniformly underdelivered in 2020.
They probably will be better this year, though. And that is clearly the alpha and omega reasoning of their offseason approach.
Miami had to cancel three preseason games for health and safety reasons.
The Offseason So Far: Goodbye Impact, hello Club de Foot Montréal. The new name is the biggest news for Thierry Henry & Co.
On the player personnel side, there's been much more of an exodus than an influx. Significant contributors over the last few years (or at least guys who got a significant amount of playing time) like Bojan, Jukka Raitala, Maxi Urruti and Orji Okwonkwo have departed, and to replace them Montréal have stayed mostly within the league, trading for Djordje Mihailovic, Kamal Miller and Kiki Struna. They also brought in 18-year-old attacker Sunusi Ibrahim from Nigeria, which is a mystery box of a signing.
Montréal will definitely be younger this year. That will probably work in their favor.
What's Next: Another experienced center back, perhaps? Henry mostly played with five at the back in his first season as an MLS head coach, and while Struna probably represents an upgrade, there's a reason he was available in the first place. And even if he does suddenly level up, Montréal are just one injury away from being perilously thin back there.
The other potentially perilously thin spot could be right wingback, though I wouldn't expect them to try to hit a home run of a signing there.
As for center forward, though, they might need to swing for the fences. They spent a lot of allocation cash last autumn to bring in Mason Toye, and he's probably atop the depth chart for that spot right now. But over the course of his three-year-long MLS career, he's looked like a starting-caliber center forward for only about two months. Henry needs to bring the best out of him, or a move could be in the offing.
March 16 Update:
Nobody's changed more over the past month than CF Montréal, and it has little to do with any signings. It has to do with Henry bidding bon voyage and heading back across the ocean in order to be with his family, who weren't able to join him at any point in 2020 during a global pandemic. It's understandable -- last year was a nightmare. This year has already been a nightmare, and while things are getting better, they're not close to "over" yet. Henry made the decision that I imagine a lot of parents would.
And so up the ladder climbs Wilfried Nancy. The Frenchman had been on Henry's staff and has been with Montréal in one capacity or another for a decade. When whispers started coming out that Henry was going to leave, almost everyone I spoke with said that Nancy was the obvious guy to replace him. To Montréal's credit, that's how it went.
Also to Montréal's credit is that they did make some signings, bringing in MLS veteran No. 9 Erik Hurtado, Egyptian attacking midfielder Ahmed Hamdi from El Gouna, Argentine winger Joaquin Torres on loan from Newell's Old Boys, and Norwegian-American center forward Bjorn Johnsen on a permanent move from Ulsan Hyundai in the K-League.
I have no idea how any of this is going to fit or work, but I do know that I'm a big Johnsen fan because he went on Extratime and apparently likes my cats.
As with all new coach-related formations and depth charts, I'm throwing darts here. But it just stands to reason that the guys they spent the most on are going to be the guys closest to the top of the list.
April 4 Update:
Nothing really of note since the Hurtado signing two months ago, and with a dearth of information coming out of camp thus far in preseason, I am still throwing darts with regard to what sort of XI Nancy’s going to trot out.
The Offseason So Far: Nashville have quietly moved on from a bunch of guys on the bottom half of their roster, while a little more loudly flipping international roster slots and one contributor — central midfielder Derrick Jones — for a bunch of allocation cash, which they are currently just sitting on. They haven't touched a dime of it as of yet.
That's because they've only added one player to the roster, but even that's not official. Uruguayan youth international attacker Rodrigo Pineiro has been linked to Nashville for months now, and eventually his ship's going to come in. So that's one.
I'm guessing they'll eventually sign first-round draft pick Irakoze Donasiyano, which would make it two. While signing Donasiyano solves some things in terms of roster slots, it actually raises some questions in terms of the depth chart. Is he a cover-every-blade-of-grass No. 8, or a Latif Blessing-style pressing 10, or a winger? Could right back be his eventual home?
For what it's worth I hope they use him as a pressing 10. He's fun.
What's Next: Presumably they'll use some of that cash to replace Jones in central midfield. As it stands they're just three deep (four, if you count Donasiyano) for the two deeper-lying spots, and that's not enough when you consider age (Dax McCarty) and injury history (Anibal Godoy). It's a safe bet they've got someone in mind there.
It's also a safe bet they're going to add a third goalkeeper and a fifth center back, though I don't imagine those are priorities.
Know what might be a priority? The No. 10. It's just Hany Mukhtar, who underwhelmed last year. After him on the depth chart would potentially be Donasiyano and then a bunch of out-of-position wingers. It's not a glaring need and it's almost certainly not "next," but it's definitely something to keep in mind.
March 16 Update:
They pushed the Pineiro signing across the finish line, which is the big splash. They then did what they've done since Day 1: Make low-profile additions to boost the team's depth at minimal cost, and with minimal exposure. None of goalkeeper Bryan Meredith, left back Nick Hinds nor center back Robert Castellanos will likely be starters on anything more than a rotation basis, but all three seem like sensible ways to flesh out the depth chart.
There's a world in which free-agent signing CJ Sapong wins the starting job, though I don't think that's super likely at this point. Sapong more likely just checks the "veteran knowhow" and "late-game target for when we're throwing everything and the kitchen sink in order to get an equalizer" boxes.
This team is deep, and it's clear that they're going to give Mukhtar another year before deciding whether or not to upgrade. I'd be surprised if there are any significant moves yet to be made this window.
April 4 Update:
Not only no significant moves since the last update, but no moves at all. Nashville have fielded some unsigned players in their preseason appearances, but as of now there’s been nothing leaking out about any of them being signed.
I think that’s fine. Clearly Nashville’s plan is to be roughly the same exact team they were last year, doing roughly the same exact things. Just execute 5 or 10 percent better and hope that Pineiro can give you a boost.
I like a good, linear approach to building.
The Offseason So Far: New England got busy early, clearing out a good chunk of the bottom half of the roster in early December, including team legends Kelyn Rowe, Lee Nguyen and Diego Fagundez. Fagundez's departure to Austin FC really does mark the end of an era, even though he became only a bit player over the past couple of seasons.
They were also busier on the incoming side earlier than most teams, bringing in left back Christian Mafla and central midfielder Wilfrid Kaptoum. It's a good bet that both of those guys will be starters.
The Revs' depth chart is robust almost everywhere.
What's Next: It's not robust in central defense, though, where the only option after incumbent starters Henry Kessler and Andrew Farrell is USL journeyman Collin Verfuth. Verfuth might overperform expectations, but even if he does three center backs is not enough to make it through an MLS season. There will be more incoming, and I wouldn't be at all shocked if one of them was designed to push for a starting spot. Kessler and Farrell were good last year, though neither was so good they should be deemed untouchable.
Competition for minutes is healthy.
March 16 Update:
The Revs had made two moves in the past six weeks. First they signed first-round SuperDraft pick Edward Kizza, a center forward who was widely considered to be a top-10 talent but dropped to 24th for off-field issues after being suspended from his college team, the University of Pittsburgh, this past year. Sources have told me he, uh, maybe should've taken quarantine protocols more seriously.
Let's hope it's lessons learned and that Kizza is able to bring his talent to bear for the Revs, as he does fill a clear need.
Next in was Icelandic winger Arnor Ingvi Trautason from Malmo. Bruce Arena had said earlier in the offseason that the Revs were planning to make one more "big move," and I think Trautason might be it? His résumé doesn't exactly jump off the page, but he's in his prime and would seem to be a natural fit as a starter on that left wing, knocking Teal Bunbury back into a jack-of-all-attacking-trades super-sub role.
The Revs still obviously need center-back depth, but I do think "depth" -- not a new starter -- is what it'll be.
April 4 Update:
It was, in fact, center back depth that the Revs added, signing 23-year-old Jon Bell from the Revolution II. Bell’s already become something of a fan favorite if Revs Twitter is to be believed.
They also brought 21-year-old Brazilian central midfielder Maciel up from Revs II along with Bell. I’m not sure where Maciel fits in the pecking order, but it’s good to see New England get some early mileage out of their reserve side.
The Offseason So Far: There's been a fairly loud retooling of the roster happening. Alex Ring — one of the best defensive midfielders in the league — was sold to Austin for more than a million dollars of allocation cash, while starting left back Ronald Matarrita was sent to Cincy for about half that much. Winger Gary Mackay-Steven's contract was declined for obvious reasons, and young Joe Scally's multi-million-dollar move to Borussia Moenchengladbach's was finally made official.
That means the Pigeons are swimming both in allocation cash and roster spots.
So far, though, they've made only one move: signing Homegrown winger Andres Jasson.
What's Next: Presumably quite a bit. They have one open DP slot and the ability to open up another by buying down Jesus Medina. One of those DP slots is presumably earmarked for Uruguayan youth national team attacker Santiago Rodriguez, who was purchased by CFG months ago and has been linked to NYCFC for at least that long.
Rodriguez would, in theory, fill two holes: left wing starter and No. 10 backup for the thus-far irreplaceable, though now very old Maxi Moralez.
There needs to be more, though as the entirety of the returning frontline coterie has been plagued by either injury or inconsistency or both. I would expect two more attacking signings beyond Jasson and Rodriguez.
I would also expect the addition of a starting-caliber left back. After the sale of Matarrita there's only Gudmundur Thorarinsson for that spot, and Thorarinsson's play and profile suggest he's the back-up. Even if he's not, one left back is not enough.
They'll probably add a fourth center back and a third 'keeper as well. They should, anyway.
March 16 Update:
NYCFC have made three moves, adding Danish left back Malte Amundsen (who might be a starter) and reserve 'keeper Cody Mizell. They also reportedly traded for the rights to homegrown RBNY left back and former US U-20 national team starter Chris Gloster. That's it so far.
Let's check in with head coach Ronny Deila:
The man's not wrong. The long-expected arrival of Rodriguez has not materialized, there are still only three center backs on the roster and, with Heber hurt, just one center forward. This is basically the same team that wasn't quite good enough the last two years, except they're missing a couple of major pieces (Ring and Matarrita) and older-verging-on-too-old where it matters most (Moralez).
Deila has said he expects more arrivals. It's concerning that we're this far into a very prolonged offseason and there's, as yet, no clarity as to when said arrivals might be coming to the Bronx.
April 4 Update:
Only one official move since the last update, as the Pigeons paid their next-door neighbors $100k in GAM for the rights to erstwhile PSV and US youth national team left back Chris Gloster, then signed him.
I liked Gloster quite a bit at the 2019 U-20 World Cup, and PSV did as well -- they signed him away from Hannover 96 after that tournament. But he never even came close to breaking through, and this winter they were content to let him walk for free. Then the Red Bulls passed on inking him to a Homegrown deal, which is how he came available to NYCFC.
This is fine. There are a million different ways to a meaningful pro career, and just because the past two years haven’t seen any progress for Gloster doesn’t mean the next two will be the same. He’s still just 20 and is still talented.
More significant than the Gloster signing might be the fact that as of now, 19-year-old Homegrown Andres Jasson has won the starting left winger spot as per head coach Ronny Deila:
Jasson was pretty easily the best non-Gio Reyna attacker on those great NYCFC DA sides from a few years back.
It’s maybe worth mentioning that he didn’t start Sunday’s scrimmage vs. D.C. It’s definitely worth mentioning that NYCFC played their typical 4-3-3 -- which was somewhat in question in some corners of the universe given Deila’s historic preference for a 4-4-2 -- and that Jasson actually scored the second goal in a 2-1 win.
Another potential new addition has been heavily reported in both Germany and stateside: former USMNT midfielder Alfredo Morales. Morales, who has 16 US caps, has bounced between the Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga with three separate German clubs, usually playing as a midfield enforcer/ball-winner of some stripe. He should be a useful piece, even if he doesn’t precisely move the needle.
Anyway, I’ll just go ahead and mention that this is a big-market team with one DP slot open, another that they could open, and some real needs in terms of high-end attacking talent. The fact that the Rodriguez move never came through (or, at the very least, hasn’t come through yet) is a source of significant frustration in the fanbase, and I can’t blame them.
The Offseason So Far: I sort of expected a loud and busy offseason from the Red Bulls, but it hasn't quite lived up. They've officially subtracted one starter in center back Tim Parker, sending him to Houston for allocation cash, and one part-time starter in Marc Rzatkowski.
The incoming side has been more muted, which is of a piece with the recent RBNY approach. They brought in a young European fulllback (Tom Edwards) on loan, and they combed through South America to find a VERY young attacker (Wikelman Carmona), and they pulled Andres Reyes off the scrap-heap after his miserable year in Fort Lauderdale, and they promoted a goalkeeper from their USL side.
Perhaps some fireworks are coming, or perhaps the hiring of a new manager didn't really signal the start of a new era.
What's Next: I genuinely don't know. I have heard from folks across the league RBNY are open for business, but there hasn't yet been a massive outflow of talent. I have heard from folks across the league the checkbook is open for new head coach Gerhard Struber — I have written before and I'll write again that I don't believe he'd have taken the job if it wasn't — but there's yet to be any tangible evidence of that.
So there are some pretty massive questions. One of the biggest is which formation Struber will default to, and that could determine which direction they move in with regard to their signings.
- In his first game in charge of RBNY, in last year's playoffs, he used a 4-2-3-1.
- In the second half of his tenure with Barnsley, he used a 3-5-2.
- During the first half of his tenure with Barnsley and basically everything before that, he used a 4-4-2 diamond.
Given that, I'm going to assume it's a diamond. And if that's the case, there should be a DP-caliber forward added, as well as probably one shuttler and maybe another defensive midfielder. Perhaps they'll be starters, though perhaps they'll be depth pieces.
A lot of known unknowns and unknown unknowns with this team right now.
March 16 Update:
RBNY have had a very RBNY month.
- Homegrown signing? Check.
- Taking two players on loan from RB Salzburg? Check.
- Bringing in an unknown attacker from an obscure South American club? Check.
- Finding a clever way to sign a fringe US youth national team player? Check.
That has been the playbook for RBNY for a good, long while now. Maybe this is what Struber was expecting all along, but I sure wasn't -- and the folks around the league I've spoken to about the Red Bulls weren't, either.
Left back Andrew Gutman, who they got on loan from Atlanta United via Celtic after he spent the past two years on loan at FC Cincinnati, is somewhat closer to a sure thing. I thought he was quite good at times for Cincy, and if you can be good for Cincy then you've certainly been through the fire. But he's not exactly an ALL CAPS signing.
Could a big move or two actually be coming? I guess so. But recent history says the Red Bulls aren't going to build that way.
April 4 Update:
No moves since signing Harper a month ago, and almost zero leakage out of RBNY camp with regard to lineups, formations, depth charts or… really, anything at all. The one rumor is that Polish youth international forward Patryk Klimala could be on the way from Celtic, but, well, it hasn't happened yet. And the usual sources stateside haven't picked it up.
This team’s a black box right now.
The Offseason So Far: As of Monday morning, Orlando City's offseason needs seemed pretty straight forward: find a back-up left back (they checked that box by signing American Jonathan Suarez on loan from Liga MX club Queretaro FC) and maybe a young center back to start being groomed for a larger future role. You could've argued for young No. 10 as well in order to soak up the minutes Mauricio Pereyra can't play, or even displace him.
As of Monday evening, they had a much bigger and more obvious need: center forward. Daryl Dike's off to Barnsley on loan, and while 1) Orlando have a right of recall, and 2) Barnsley are not the type of club that can exercise the $20 million purchase option reportedly attached to the loan, if Dike shows well. I do not doubt he has the talent to attract interest from the types of sides that do have the financial clout to make godfather offers.
What I'm saying is I wouldn't be surprised if Dike's played his last game for Orlando.
What's Next: There is no clear successor as the No. 9 if Dike is gone for good, but there are options:
- Veteran Tesho Akindele goes way back with Oscar Pareja, but Tesho's always been a spot starter.
- Brazilian Matheus Aias — who's never really gotten much first-team run, but was very productive as a super-sub in the Segunda Division before signing with the Lions — is probably the odds-on favorite to get first crack at the job.
- Orlando traded up to take Derek Dodson, who in my opinion outplayed Dike in the 2019 College Cup final (in which Dodson's Georgetown team defeated Dike's Virginia), with the 8th overall pick.
Is that enough? I'm not sure, but it's entirely possible Orlando unearthed a gem in Aias or Pareja will coach Dodson up into an almost immediate contributor as he did with Dike and Akindele.
I suspect in addition to Dodson, Orlando's other two first-round picks will stick around. Rio Hope-Gund fits that young center back role (and was a teammate of Dodson's at Georgetown), while Brandon Hackenberg is a left-footed defender who, like the departed Kamal Miller, can play a bit of both left back and center back.
Orlando still have one open DP slot and the ability to open another, but don't expect any big signings.
March 16 Update:
Alexandre Pato! I have no idea how much he's got left in the tank, but it doesn't sound like the contract he signed last month will be too onerous, and he feels a lot like the type of veteran a smart team should take a chance on. If he hits, he scores goals and draws fans. If he doesn't hit it's not actually a big deal since you didn't burn a DP slot and don't really have long-term expectations.
The long-term expectations will come with whoever they sign to be Dike's permanent replacement. Given the way that he's playing in the Championship and the types of offers Orlando City have already reportedly received, it's hard to imagine he'll be coming back to MLS for anything more than just a brief cameo before the next window opens, if that.
The other significant signing of the past month is Dutch winger Silvester van der Water, who fills an obvious need given how hard Nani has faded down the stretch each of the past two seasons. A big challenge for Pareja in 2021 will be getting his veteran DP to accept a level of load management so that, when the biggest games of the season arrive, he actually has the legs to play like a DP.
Suarez didn't last long. His contract was terminated after allegations of sexual battery following an investigation by the league and the local sheriff's office. Obviously this is well down the list of things to be concerned about on the heels of an investigation like that, but it stands to reason that Orlando are back on the market for a left back.
They have been cagey with releasing info about trialists in camp thus far this offseason. They always are.
April 4 Update:
Orlando signed homegrown midfielder Wilfredo Rivera two weeks ago, and that’s been the only roster addition since mid-March -- though it’s worth noting that first-round SuperDraft pick Rio Hope-Gund has finally left Georgetown and is heading to central Florida, as per The Washington Post’s Steven Goff. Hope-Gund is a no-nonsense center back who’s not likely to figure prominently this year unless there's a rash of injuries, but also pretty clearly had MLS-caliber upside for one of the best college programs in the country.
Left back remains a glaring hole, though. It’s not at all clear how they’re going to try to fill that spot outside of just putting back-up right back Kyle Smith out there, and I’ll just gently say that I have my doubts about that plan’s long-term efficacy.
EDIT: On April 5 they added another homegrown midfielder in Raul Aguilera.
The Offseason So Far: Well, when you sell a pair of Best XI Homegrowns you've done a lot of things right. You've also left yourself with two big holes to fill.
What's Next: I genuinely have no idea what's next, but if I were to guess it'd be a value-buy from either the lower leagues of Europe (think Kacper Przybylko or Kai Wagner), or an undiscovered gem from South America (Sergio Santos or Jose Martinez).
I don't think there's one position that demands a ton of immediate attention, though you could talk me into some urgency at left back since Wagner has been open about his desire to return to Europe, and there has been real interest in him on that side of the pond. If someone hits the right number then Philly will obviously sell, and then the depth chart is Homegrown Matt Real, who's pretty good, and even younger Homegrown Jack De Vries, who's spent his entire youth career as an attacker and is only really a left back in theory at this point.
That said if you're looking for the next Bryan Reynolds — a youth attacker who makes the switch to fullback and rips it up — De Vries isn't a bad bet.
So I guess my answer to "what's next" is "a value buy from somewhere to play some position, I think."
Oh, and they need a third 'keeper.
I hope you've enjoyed this in-depth look at the Union.
March 16 Update:
Ray Gaddis retired at age 31 after 221 games, 18,702 minutes and, sadly, no goals in all competitions for the Union. He's a Philly legend and deserves a plaque in the Union's ring of honor.
Gaddis was also their starting right back. Replacing his week-to-week mistake-free consistency won't be easy, and it likely won't come from a big signing. Expect either longtime understudy Olivier Mbaizo or homegrown Nathan Harriel, whose rights they acquired from Orlando for a draft pick this past winter, to get first crack at the spot. Only if neither can hold it down could I see Philly going out onto the transfer market and making a move here.
They did head to market and make a move to shore up their center-back depth chart, though, snagging Stuart Findlay from Kilmarnock for a small fee.
I wouldn't be entirely shocked if they found one more signing to make before the season started, but I do suspect their work is done for now.
April 4 Update:
Somewhat unexpected was their decision to go out and spend some of that Aaronson/McKenzie windfall on German-American Leon Flach, who’s spent the past half-decade at St. Pauli and has played for both the US and Germany at various youth levels. Flach can play both in the midfield and at left back, and while neither position is open now, we all know how the Union would feel about selling, say, Kai Wagner or Jamiro Monteiro if they got the right offer.
Anyway, my February speculation about De Vries to fullback was stupid as the kid’s been playing forward in preseason, and also stupid was the assumption that anyone but Anthony Fontana would get first crack at replacing Aaronson as the No. 10. Kid’s an assassin in the box:
Philly go to Saprissa for their CCL opener on Wednesday.
The Offseason So Far: Greg Vanney's off to sunny LA, replaced by his former Galaxy teammate Chris Armas. That is big news for the obvious reason: Vanney is not just the most successful coach in TFC history, but the only successful coach in TFC history. It's big news for the less obvious reason Armas was not anything approaching an obvious hire despite his connections to club president Bill Manning and GM Ali Curtis.
Armas, it is fair to say, struggled in his two years as head coach of the Red Bulls, as the results got consistently worse and few of the young players developed. That is not the resume of someone you'd expect to see hired by one of MLS's biggest-spending and most successful clubs.
A mitigating factor is it's unclear how much of what went wrong with the Red Bulls was truly on him. There's always been a certain level of direction from Austria about the type of soccer — tactics formation, even personnel — the team was supposed to play, and it's a fair guess Armas's hands were tied, to a degree.
And that's by way of saying we don't actually know what his preferred formation or tactical approach is. But given that most of the important pieces of a team that finished second in the Supporters' Shield race last year look like they'll be back, I'd hope at some point in the interview process Armas said "yeah, it's going to be a pretty straight-forward 4-2-3-1 that's heavy on possession. And sometimes we'll go to a 4-4-2 with Jozy and Ayo up top instead."
What's Next: Well, Jozy Altidore didn't get the move he'd apparently been angling for, but I wouldn't be surprised if there was something coming. Whether he's there or not, though, I do think it's an open competition between Jozy and Ayo Akinola for the starting No. 9 job, and my money's on the kid. Jozy still has flashes, but spent most of 2019 injured and most of 2020 looking like he didn't have any legs left.
The other place to look is left back where, as of now, Justin Morrow is unsigned and the presumptive starter is late first-round pick Matt Di Rosa. I like Di Rosa, who clearly has the talent to become an MLS starter. I'm just not sure he has the talent to become a Day 1 starter for a team with trophy ambitions.
March 16 Update:
Morrow was re-signed, as was depth center back Eriq Zavaleta. And over the past six weeks, that's it.
If Altidore was angling for a move he didn't get it, and if Toronto really were aiming to sign Santos Borre, they didn't get him. Yet, anyway, and despite a reported offer of $15 million.
Akinola's status complicates matters. He withdrew from January camp with Canada and then was part of neither the US nor Canada's U-23s for Olympic qualifying. Armas said that Akinola is waiting for medical clearance to play and that it could come by mid-March, but as of publication it hadn't yet arrived.
If Akinola is still healthy, and Jozy's still there and Borre is, eventually, acquired, that means the Reds have three starting-caliber center forwards. Does that mean it's back to the 4-4-2 or even a 3-5-2?
Impossible to say right now, but clearly some chips on the board are set to be moved.
April 4 Update:
The Reds literally haven’t made a new signing since last summer -- including Di Rosa, their first-round pick, who remains unsigned. It’s kind of crazy.
They’re clearly counting upon a good deal of improvement from within, as well as a return to form from some of the veteran holdovers. And I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they just bided their time until the summer window for any major roster adjustments.
We shall see.
Toronto face the toughest CCL task, opening up at Liga MX champions Club Leon on Wednesday.