Now that we have a start date for the 2021 MLS season, alarm bells are going off in earnest inside several front offices as technical departments enter the offseason home stretch with roster holes still to fill.
Some MLS clubs are scrambling to complete their squads more than others, and those are the cases we're here to talk about today. Obviously, not all jobs are created equal (say, the pressure of needing a starting forward vs. needing to procure a fourth center back), but we've factored all that into identifying the clubs with the most urgent to-do lists with a couple of months left before first kicks roll around.
Veteran defender Matt Besler is one key signing for Austin FC as they assemble their roster ahead of their 2021 expansion season | USA Today Sports
Thanks to the wonder of alphabetical order, we get to kick off with low-hanging fruit. It's almost cheating to pick the newest kids on the block here, but hey, almost means almost. They got all sorts of personnel business done between December's Expansion Draft and last week's SuperDraft, but have gone a little silent since then. Don't take that to mean they aren't busier than a one-handed juggler about now.
Austin's first ever major professional team have just 21 players signed to the roster (no MLS club has fewer at this time), so Claudio Reyna and friends are far from done. The defense needs depth across the back line, the midfield stable needs more bodies and the attack could use another pair of starting-caliber aces. The good news is they still have two Designated Player slots in the holster.
Next, we arrive at the club entering its third MLS season, and yet are still finding their way as if they were an expansion team. They seemed to be settling in as a tough defensive-minded out after Jaap Stam took over, and then dropped nine of their last 10 while being outscored 19-4 to sink to foot of the overall table.
A slew of players have been jettisoned during the offseason, but only a few have arrived. Now, the West End boys, with 24 players on their roster, still struggle for top-shelf quality and have no DP-spots readily available. There are four netminders, but none to inspire great hope. The defense crew is solid, but needs a couple more contributors. The midfield also has some good soldiers, but no quarterback to drive play. The forward line is a worrisome blend of "needs to do so much more in 2021" and unproven youngsters. And above all, there's no remains no real indicator of how this club wants to play.
The departure of Cristian Pavon has put the LA Galaxy on the hunt for more playmakers to support Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez (above). | USA Today Sports
The Carson crew's total of 27 signed players would seem to put them well ahead of the rest of the teams listed here, but the fact five of them are goalkeepers takes a lot of meaning out of that sum. As well as the obvious lineup upgrades required in attack, this team needs depth at several positions. For instance, there's no one behind right back Julian Araujo, who has become a hot transfer target for European clubs.
Obviously, dealing with the Cristian Pavon situation has been a large job, and the hard work will continue with him seemingly now settled back in with Boca Juniors. With but one Designated Player stall available, the Galaxy badly need at least two more reliable playmakers to help them get full value out of Chicharito in 2021. Finding suitable remedies is a major chore for a team that was already working with small margins for error before Pavon's loan expired and purchase talks proved fruitless.
New York City FC
Like Austin FC, the Cityzens are getting ready to enter February with just 21 players signed to the squad. Two of the guys who've exited stage left were Alex Ring (basically their cornerstone piece for four seasons) and Ronald Matarrita (a left back, arguably the toughest position to staff).
The Bronx bunch also need depth reinforcements in midfield, and questions need to be answered about the strike crew (Heber is coming off a major knee injury, Valentin Castellanos is coming off a hot-and-cold 2020, and neither is a prototype center forward). At least they have two open DP spots and a big wad of Allocation Money to deal with all the staffing problems.