Armchair Analyst: Matt Doyle

MLS Western Conference roster build status

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.

Austin FC logo
Austin FC

The Offseason So Far: Busy, obviously. Claudio Reyna & co. are putting together the team's debut season roster, and while there have been some missteps -- the Houston Dynamo pilfering Joe Corona from them is hilarious, and I'm not a big Danny Hoesen guy -- there's more to be excited about than not.

That excitement starts with Alexander Ring at d-mid, moves to a backline containing a nice mix of MLS experience and high-upside newcomers. It continues up to the wings where, again, there's a good mix of MLS veterans and high-upside kids, as well as the thus-far only DP on the roster in Paraguay international Cecilio Dominguez.

There's still work to be done, and some of these moves won't work out. Nobody bats a thousand in their expansion season. But I like this foundation.

What's Next: One part missing from the foundation thus far is a clear starter as the No. 10, or perhaps as more of a dual No. 8 along with top overall SuperDraft pick Daniel Pereira. I'm assuming that manager Josh Wolff, who spent more than half a decade as Gregg Berhalter's right-hand man, has similar ideas about the game and is building a team that will play in a way somewhat reminiscent of Berhalter's US men's national team.

That could in part explain the decision to take Pereira over Philip Mayaka with that No. 1 pick. Pereira's more suited as an advanced midfielder -- think the role Sebastian Lletget plays for the USMNT -- in the type of 4-3-3 that we've seen from the US over the past two years. Mayaka would be more like the role Artur played under Berhalter & Wolff at the Columbus Crew.

Anyway, if Pereira is penciled in as a starter in one of those spots, right now the other name would be Diego Fagundez, who signed as a free agent. But Austin FC have also been strongly linked (as in, it might happen before we hit "publish" on this column) to 25-year-old Argentine central midfielder Tomas Pochettino, who's put himself in the shop window thanks to an excellent past couple of months with Talleres.

After that's taken care of they'll need to find some depth behind Ring, who is the only defensive midfielder on the roster. They'll also need to figure out if Hoesen really is the guy to lead the line.

EDIT: Austin signed veteran free agent center forward Aaron Schoenfeld this morning. Good depth piece.

March 17 Update

It didn't happen before we hit publish, but Austin did in fact end up signing Pochettino to a DP contract. He should slot pretty snugly into that central midfield as more of a No. 8 than a No. 10, though I'm expecting a Berhalter-esque system from Wolff, one in which we see dual free-8s rather than a strict delineation between an 8 and a 10.

They also got Slovenian youth international left back Zan Kolmanic on loan from NK Maribor (there's an option to buy in there), and d-mid Sebastian Berhalter on loan from the Crew. I'm not sure there's an option to buy in that one, but it's easier to see a path to playing time for Berhalter with Austin than Columbus, so this one sure seems to make sense for both teams and the kid himself.

These are smart, Year 1 Nashville SC-esque moves. All of them taken together, along with the signing of Schoenfeld and giant center back Freddy Kleemann from the SuperDraft, gives Austin a lot of depth and youth at a lot of spots. If their DPs are good, they will do well.

I still think they have a hole and a pretty massive question mark at center forward, though. That is Year 1 Nashville as well, and while it didn't cost those folks in the original Music City a playoff spot last year, there's a significant difference between the East in 2020 and the West in 2021.

Regardless, I think Austin's probably done for this window other than maybe adding a veteran for d-mid depth.

April 5 Update:

No moves of any sort since the last update. Austin seem to be who we thought they were — i.e., Wolff is running something similar to Berhalter’s USMNT system in preseason.

If the Rookie of the Year award still existed, Pereira would be a strong frontrunner.

Colorado Rapids logo
Colorado Rapids

The Offseason So Far: Only two incoming moves, but they were big ones: veteran winger Michael Barrios from FC Dallas for peanuts, and then Mayaka -- the consensus best talent in the draft -- fell into their laps at No. 3. Both of those guys will have the chance to win starting jobs, and Mayaka should be either a long-term piece in their core, or the type of player they can sell for millions within a few years.

Going outbound there hasn't been much, as the Rapids declined options on a few end-of-the-roster players.

What's Next: Cole Bassett is still around, and with no U-20s this year and, apparently, his failure to crack the rotation for the U-23s, it feels less like he's going to be sold in 2021. If it was otherwise then maybe I'd say "focus on a box-arriving, goalscoring midfield addition," but that's not the way the wind appears to be blowing.

Diego Rubio and Andre Shinyashiki are still around, and that's the extent of Colorado's depth chart at center forward, so I'd argue that should be next. But the Rapids are, according to reports and whispers from around the league, pretty content with that duo. 

So I'd argue that what comes next is probably a left back. Sam Vines is going to be hella busy all year and is the type of talent that seems destined for a top-five European league. Right now the only name I've got behind him on the depth chart is veteran right back Steven Beitashour. That's not enough.

March 17 Update

"The Rapids Way" is to sign homegrowns -- their own, and anyone else's they can get their hands on.

I think this is who the Colorado Rapids are now, and I find it fun that there's another team taking the Philadelphia Union/FC Dallas route.

At the same time, I understand very well why a segment of the fanbase is holding out hope for a DP No. 9. I would be surprised if they get their wish.

April 5 Update:

No incoming moves, though the Rapids did straighten out their depth chart by loaning five players to Colorado Springs of the USL for the entire 2021 season (with a right of recall included, obviously). This says three things:

  1. The Rapids believe playing time at a lower level is more valuable for these players than practice time with the first team.
  2. The Rapids are confident in their depth ahead of those guys.
  3. The young players who weren’t loaned out have a real shot at playing time.

Obviously this is a discussion for a different column, but the fact that Yapi, Larraz and Toure are still with the first team is something of a tell. Yapi, in particular, fits a need as a big, physical, true center forward.

Maybe, though, it means nothing at all. We shall see.

Also worth noting that Robin Fraser’s been using Younes Namli in central midfield thus far in preseason.

FC Dallas logo
FC Dallas

The Offseason So Far: Really, really, REALLY busy. They sold their starting right back for nearly $10 million to a Champions League club, and declined the option on one of their long-time pillars in central defense. They traded the man who'd been their starting right winger for more than half a decade, and declined the option on a DP. They, as usual, lent out an academy kid to Bayern Munich.

In have come at least two likely new starters: right winger Jader Obrian from the Colombian top flight, and veteran center back Jose Antonio Martinez, a Spaniard with nearly 100 appearances in Spain's top two divisions. They also took a flier on a pair of young attackers, one foreign (Venezuelan winger Freddy Vargas) and one domestic (former Union homegrown Kalil ElMedkhar).

If Paxton Pomykal comes back healthy, then he basically counts as a new offseason addition as well, and would change the nature of the starting lineup. But health is a massive "if" at this point in Pomykal's career and shouldn't be assumed.

What's Next: All of the above means the usual thing, which is that Dallas's roster is completely stuffed and it'll be the play of the guys at the top-end — the DPs — who determine if the team makes a playoff appearance or makes a playoff run. Neither of the DPs, center forward Franco Jara and central midfielder Bryan Acosta, impressed last year, and both will have to fight the kids for a starting role.

The players they'll be fighting with are all likely already on the roster, and as it stands the only real question is how they replace Bryan Reynolds at right back. I think there's a chance that Ryan Hollingshead, the league's best left back, flips sides and John Nelson becomes the starting left back. I also think it's possible that Hollingshead stays where he is and Homegrown Eddie Munjoma gets the first crack at replacing Reynolds, or perhaps converted winger Ema Twumasi gets slotted in.

There could be another DP joining their ranks, though. Reports have Uruguayan winger Carlos de Pena on the way to Frisco from Dynamo Kiev. If he's signed, slide him into the XI at left wing.

March 17 Update

Only two moves since the last update, as they loaned young center back Justin Che to Bayern Munich and young-but-much-older-than-Che central midfielder Brandon Servania to SKN St. Polten of the Austrian Bundesliga. Servania's was described as a "short-term loan," though given the state of the roster it feels more like a showcase with an eye toward a sale.

The de Pena reports haven't just quieted; they've disappeared entirely. It's not clear if Dallas are in the market for another addition or not, though I lean toward "no."

Part of the reason why might be Pomykal's return to health. He's had a green light from the start of preseason and figures to spend more time out wide than as a central midfielder this year given the roster construction. It's kind of like adding a new player, even though I'm told by sources close to the team that we should expect Dallas to very heavily manage the kid's minutes throughout at least the first half of 2021.

Anyway, there's not a lot of gaps here. As always with Dallas, it's a question of whether their DPs can produce at a level commensurate with their DP tag.

Homegrown watchers might find it worth noting that Jesus Ferreira got the No. 9 kit and Edwin Cerrillo got the No. 6.

April 5 Update:

Out of nowhere Dallas got an offer they couldn’t refuse for Thiago Santos, the veteran Brazilian d-mid who came in last year for a fee reported to be around $1 million from Palmeiras, was pretty good, and then was sold for a fee reported to be a bit over $1 million to Gremio, one of the other Brazilian giants.

Again: Santos was pretty good. He’d have been a good signing even if they hadn’t made a little cash off of having him in town for a year. The fact he was a good signing and they made some cash is excellent.

It does leave something of a question mark at d-mid, though. Servania’s still on loan and fell off hard last year, anyway; Acosta’s always been much more of a No. 8 because of his strong YOLO tendencies with regard to decision-making; Cerrillo got off to a great start in 2019, but has mostly been waaaay down toward the end of the bench for the past 24 months.

He is wearing that No. 6, though.

The only other official transaction in the past three weeks was that they signed first-round SuperDraft pick Nicky Hernandez, who might also figure into the d-mid battle.

Pomykal, for what it’s worth, played a half-hour this past weekend, but is still wearing a non-contact pinney in training. Reports out of Dallas say to expect him to play as a “false winger” in limited minutes to start the year, though the plan is to eventually move him back to the No. 8 role.

Houston Dynamo FC logo
Houston Dynamo FC

The Offseason So Far: Another really busy team out there in the West, Houston have mostly flown under the radar with their acquisitions. But they also made headlines when they finally sold Mauro Manotas, getting $4 million from their star center forward from Club Tijuana. Manotas's replacement was likely already on the roster, though they did for good measure flip veteran center back Kiki Struna for veteran center forward Maxi Urruti in a trade with CF Montreal.

Working within the league like that has been their M.O. this winter. They pilfered Corona from Austin (again: this was HILARIOUS and a worthy first shot in the Texas Triangle Derby), threw cash at RBNY for Tim Parker, then did the same with Dallas for veteran winger Fafa Picault and with Nashville for central midfielder Derrick Jones.

All of those guys have shown the ability to perform somewhere on the scale from "okay" to "really quite good" in MLS, and adding more guys in that range is a pretty good idea for a team that's struggled pretty badly for most of the past eight years.

I also thought they were clever in the draft in trading down for allocation cash, but still ending up with the consensus best center back on the board in Generation adidas signee Ethan Bartlow. Between him and Parker, a glaring need from last year has been addressed.

What's Next: I genuinely don't think anything is next unless something falls in their laps. And while nobody's going to predict titles for this team, I really do like their offseason -- they got better and younger almost everywhere and even started signing some more Homegrowns. This team feels like it's finally building an identity and a culture.

Here's the catch: they have zero DPs. It's hard to win without DPs in this league, and everybody saw the massive drop-off last year once they sold Alberth Elis.

So while I like a lot of what they did this winter, and the structure is better overall, I'm not sure it'll matter that much in the standings if they don't have match-winners. If it turns out they don't, then that's job No. 1 in the summer window.

EDIT: So in between the time I wrote that blurb and we hit "publish," reports of former RSL center back Carlos Salcedo moving from Tigres to the Dynamo have surfaced. Salcedo and Parker, together, would represent one of the best center back combinations in the league.

March 17 Update

They have not, in fact, bought Salcedo for upwards of $10 million even if those rumors are yet to entirely go away. For the record: I straight-up do not believe those rumors, and even if they were true, I would advise Houston to spend their money elsewhere. Salcedo is very good, but he's not 8-figures good. If he was, Tigres would not be selling him. Splitting that cash outlay up into three reasonably high-level DPs would be a more strategically sound use of funds, regardless.

The only actual moves Houston have made since this last update are loaning out homegrown playmaker Marcelo Palomino to the USL's Charlotte Independence, and then re-signing Honduran legends Maynor Figueroa (CB) and Boniek Garcia (CM). That is all.

I'll re-up my opinion that they had a good offseason, and a much better structure to build from than in recent years. But that lack of match-winners can be killer.

April 5 Update:

The Dynamo cleared out some room in a still-somewhat-overstuffed winger rotation by sending Niko Hansen to Minnesota for $125,000 in GAM spread over the next two years. That’s a good bit of business for a guy who was maybe fifth on the depth chart.

The rest of it has held steady, though it’s worth noting two things: Jones maybe has a better chance of starting than I originally thought, and Darwin Quintero maybe doesn’t.

Also the Salcedo rumors have died down, which makes sense since they were not remotely believable in the first place.

Los Angeles Football Club logo
Los Angeles Football Club

The Offseason So Far: I think, if not for the pandemic, this would've been the offseason during which LAFC sort of burst onto the global scene as a selling club. There's been significant interest in the likes of Diego Rossi, Eduard Atuesta, Latif Blessing and Eddie Segura, and if budgets hadn't been destroyed by COVID-19, it's a fair bet that one or more of those guys would've been sold.

But that's not the way things are. LAFC have instead kept their young core almost entirely intact, with only Young DP winger Brian Rodriguez — a likely backup in 2021 as the roster stands — heading out on loan (with an option to buy) to UD Almeria in Spain.

Yes, that means LAFC have an open DP slot. They haven't done anything with it yet, and there aren't even any rumors percolating. Yet.

More importantly, they brought on-loan center back Jesus David Murillo back permanently, added Marco Farfan as depth behind Diego Palacios, brought in Corey Baird as depth all across the front line and added their presumptive starting right back in Kim Moon-Hwan. Raheem Edwards (as yet unsigned) was added in the Re-Entry Draft.

They also let Bradley Wright-Phillips walk in free agency, which is what leads me to believe that Rodriguez's DP slot is being kept open for a center forward signing.

What's Next: Center forward is the obvious spot to upgrade. Danny Musovski and Baird have both been useful there, but neither's the type of No. 9 most title-winning teams have. I expect LAFC to go big with this one, though it might not happen until the next window.

The same could be said for the goalkeeper corps. Kenneth Vermeer is an adventure, as is Pablo Sisniega, while Tomas Romero is very young. There is not a clear-cut No. 1 among them, though I could see LAFC's braintrust holding off on any real decision about that until the summer.

So my guess is that LAFC's done shopping for this window, save for signing Edwards and their second- and third-round draft picks (a center back and a midfielder). Don't be surprised if they come with the thunder this summer.

March 17 Update

Only one move since the last update, as LAFC signed center forward Cal Jennings.

The 23-year-old was a first-round SuperDraft pick of FC Dallas in 2020, but didn't sign and instead spent last summer playing for Indy Eleven in the USL Championship. He put up nine goals and one assist in 572 minutes, which — yes — is an absurd ROI at any level.

Will I love it if this team takes an overlooked second-tier domestic player and turns him into the next Chris Wondolowski? Yes. Yes I will.

We've got him down at the bottom of the depth chart for now, though.

April 5 Update:

Nothing new in terms of signings from LAFC, though Bob Bradley was good enough to talk to John Muller at Space Space Space for two hours and spell out his depth chart, which is below.

LA Galaxy logo
LA Galaxy

The Offseason So Far: They got their man in new head coach Greg Vanney. It seemed obvious, once he stepped down as head coach and technical director at Toronto FC, that he was headed for a similar role in Carson after the Galaxy had dismissed Guillermo Barros Schelotto. It took a while, but it did finally happen.

What's also happened has been a large exodus of largely disappointing players from the past few years, as well as a steady trickle of new signings. The two most important are Jorge Villafana, acquired from Portland for allocation cash and certainly the new starting left back, and goalkeeper Jonathan Bond, a veteran of the English Championship and League One.

Cristian Pavon is also technically, as of this writing, gone. But note that Vanney has spoken of Pavon over the past month as if the Argentine DP is in his plans.

What's Next: Finding a way to get Pavon back to Carson on a permanent basis, I'd imagine. He has been electric.

After that it's a question of figuring out the backline — they need at least one starting-caliber center back — and then central midfield. Jonathan dos Santos missed basically all of last year and is now in his 30s; how much gas does he have left? Would it be as a No. 6 or a No. 8? Should Sebastian Lletget move deeper to play as an 8 (or an 8.5, which is his USMNT role) and bring in a true No. 10 for a 4-2-3-1? Should Efrain Alvarez play there, or play at all? Do they need a true ball-winner no matter what?

Then there's the fact that even if Pavon comes back, there aren't enough wingers on this roster. The good news for Galaxy fans is that our own Tom Bogert has reported that the Galaxy are involved with Austrian international winger Husein Balic. Nothing is finished yet, but Balic has the profile of an MLS starter.

So does Julian Araujo, but there's no depth behind him. And — here's the big one — neither Chicharito nor his backup, Ethan Zubak, looked like MLS-caliber center forwards last year.

Vanney's got his hands full.

March 17 Update

Slowly and under-the-radar in a not-very-LA-Galaxy-like way, this team has been adding what appear to be worthwhile pieces.

They got Oniel Fisher off the free-agent market to provide depth at right back (and left back in a pinch), then brought Carlos Harvey back for depth in midfield. They added, with little fanfare, 28-year-old Irish international center back Derrick Williams, who I assume will start. They brought in 24-year-old French winger Samuel Grandsir, late of Monaco, and I presume he will start as well.

And then on Wednesday they announced the acquisition of veteran No. 10 Victor Vazquez, who was so integral to that great 2017 Toronto FC team Vanney coached. I doubt Vazquez is thought of as a starter, but if the 34-year-old has gas left in the tank (and cartilage left in the knees), he has "game-changing sub" written all over him. Think Ilsinho, except with the passing instead of the dribbling.

I still can not believe that pass.

And now for the elephant in the room: The status of Pavon. He has been charged with rape in his home country of Argentina, and is due in court on March 23. Vanney addressed Pavon's status on Wednesday.

"I don’t have enough information, really, to say on the Cristian thing. We are continuing to look to build the roster, whether that is with Cristian or without Cristian is still a little bit to be determined,” Vanney said during a press availability.

“To be candid, I think all options are on the table. We need to continue to move forward, keep our options open and keep looking at possibilities, assess the situation and when it’s time to move and get it finalized or move and move on, we need to be prepared to do so. I think when those conclusions are met and are clear, we’ll be ready for either one and so that’s our responsibility here over the next few weeks, to try to get clarity on this whole situation.”

I'll just leave it there for now, and say nothing more than that the need for a high-end DP winger remains. I think they still need a higher-quality back-up center forward as well, but regardless, this Galaxy team looks in better shape than I thought they would.

April 5 Update:

Nothing officially new since the Vazquez signing, though there are reports that the Galaxy have gone out and signed French winger Kevin Cabral from Ligue 2 side Valenciennes (remember, Vanney still has a ton of French connections from his playing days). Cabral makes a lot of sense if he’s signed under the still-not-yet-official Under-22 Player Initiative, though less so if he’s signed as a DP.

Now back to the elephant in the room: I have seen zero Pavon discourse over the past two weeks, since his trial began. It’s hard to imagine him back in Carson unless there is a full and unimpeachable exoneration, though.

Minnesota United FC logo
Minnesota United FC

The Offseason So Far: At this point in the offseason, it's fair to say Minnesota got worse. Kevin Molino signed elsewhere in free agency and Ozzie Alonso is still out there as well, perhaps looking for a new home. There is still no solution at center forward, and that doesn't just go for the starting No. 9 — most of the depth has been purged, as well.

But I don't think there's any cause for worry. The Loons always crush it in the SuperDraft and I suspect they did so again in 2021, by trading up to get winger Justin McMaster and center back Nabi Kibunguchy. Both have the profile of guys who will at the very least be contributors. The same can also be said of center back Callum Montgomery, a former top-five pick who never broke through with Dallas and who Minnesota got for a song. Shrewd move.

Signing Wil Trapp as a free agent is a bit of Ozzie insurance, while trading for Jukka Raitala gives needed depth on the backline.

What's Next: Signing Ozzie should be next, and then maybe finding a loan for Thomas Chacon, who seems unlikely to break through into any sort of regular role for Minnesota. Airlocking Chacon would necessitate at least one addition in attack, probably a veteran who can play some on the wing and some as a No. 10. There aren't too many players fitting that profile out there, but there's not none.

All of it pales in comparison to the No. 9 situation. When Minnesota fans read "what's next" up there they said, as one, "a DP center forward!!!"

I have been trying to speak Santos Borre into existence for you guys for four months now. I'll do it again here: Santos Borre, who's out of contract in the summer, is the perfect solution for the Loons.

March 17 Update

Re-signing Ozzie was, in fact, next. Beyond that it was just some trimming around the edges for Minnesota, who added homegrown attacker Patrick Weah (Tim's cousin), USL right back D.J. Taylor and veteran free agent center forward Juan Agudelo, while releasing Sam Gleadle.

In the long term, Weah's the most interesting name on there for obvious reasons. In the short last chance for Agudelo, right? He's somehow still just 28 years old, and as it stands right now he's the obvious starting center forward for a playoff team, and will be playing in front of one of the most prolific creators (small sample size alert!) in recent league history. He's also playing for, in Adrian Heath, a coach who has a very good history of getting the best out of wayward strikers.

I'm not about to talk myself into Agudelo as a starter for the 11th straight year, though. While Borre hasn't appeared on the Loons' radar outside of my columns and a few of the more obsessive corners of Twitter, they've been linked to Ligue 1 striker Adrien Hunou for months. Maybe, in the end, it won't be him, and maybe it won't happen until the summer window regardless. But they're clearly looking.

The other (at least partially) weird thing is that, yes, Chacon is still on the roster. For the third consecutive transfer window, Minnesota seem to be working hard to find him somewhere to go on loan, but it hasn't happened yet.

This team's in good shape but with Chacon or without him, they need more attacking depth.

April 5 Update:

I’m writing this in the early afternoon on Monday, April 5. It has been 46 hours since this tweet:

Something has happened since then: Minnesota finally officially loaned Chacon to Liverpool of Uruguay. So that saga is over.

But the No. 9 saga continues, as does the hunt for Molino’s replacement.

Also, while the information on Ike Opara remains scarce, it does seem less and less likely that we’ll see him on the field for the Loons this year.

Minnesota April 7
Portland Timbers logo
Portland Timbers

The Offseason So Far: When you're pretty certain you're championship-caliber as long as you're at full health, you might as well run it back for one more year. And that's what the Timbers have decided to do, though with the added benefit of some potential upgrades at both fullback slots.

That's where they've concentrated their efforts this winter, as they shipped out Jorge Villafana, Marco Farfan and Chris Duvall, and shipped in Claudio Bravo (the new presumptive starter at LB) and Josecarlos Van Rankin (the new presumptive starter at RB) to remake the fullback depth chart.

They also trimmed some depth pieces in central defense and midfield, and brought back forward Felipe Mora on a permanent basis.

What's Next: Bravo is the only LB on the roster, so it stands to reason that there will be another addition at that spot, though not a starter. There will be another addition at central defense as well, though not a starter. And perhaps another in central midfield, though — say it with me now — not a starter.

Portland have already made their biggest moves. Their offseason is mostly done.

March 17 Update

\Mostly \done isn't \completely \done. The Timbers found time over the past six weeks to mutually terminate their contract with little-used backup No. 10 Tomas Conechny, who never pushed his way into Gio Savarese's plans.

I think you could argue parting ways with Conechny does leave them a little bit light at the 10, since their only clear back-up to Diego Valeri is Sebastian Blanco, who is the obvious starter at left wing. And maybe you could say they'd be smart to add one more fullback, as they're just one injury away from "we're down to our starters and literally no one else," and that's not enough depth for a team with ambitions towards multiple trophies.

I suspect they'll address that. Either way, 1-through-18 this team is stacked.

April 5 Update:

They went out and addressed my concern at left back by signing USL veteran Ismaila Jome, who’s a left back by trade. That makes them two-deep at each fullback slot, which is obviously good enough.

They also added youngster Jorge Gonzalez before sending him on loan to Louisville City.

Be aware that Savarese has tinkered with his lineups quite a bit in preseason, and what we’ve got listed below probably isn’t what Portland will look like over the next month. But it’s what I think they’ll eventually look like.

Real Salt Lake logo
Real Salt Lake

The Offseason So Far: Obviously no team is in more flux than Real Salt Lake, who are in the midst of an ownership change and cultural reboot. Dealing with the roster feels like just a small part of that.

Still, Kyle Beckerman's retirement is no small thing even if he wasn't, in 2020, the player he'd been even two years previous. That is a large void to fill in the locker room, one compounded by the retirement and departure of center back Nedum Onuoha. Obviously Onuoha isn't the cultural icon in Utah that Beckerman is, but he was a leader last summer during arguably the most difficult time in the club's history.

They traded Corey Baird for allocation cash, and Baird represents a larger void to fill on the pitch. The rest of the departures were fringe guys and, disappointingly, a couple of Homegrown attackers (Luis Arriaga and Julian Vazquez) who, for some reason, never developed.

More Homegrowns are inbound, as is Generation adidas right back/central midfielder Bret Halsey, whom RSL selected seventh overall. They also signed at least one former USMNT forward: Rubio Rubin from San Diego of the USL Championship, and possibly Bobby Wood, who reportedly won't arrive in Utah until this summer after his contract in Germany runs down.

What's Next: At least one center back — maybe two? — and perhaps nothing else. RSL actually do have a ton of depth everywhere but in the middle of the backline, and much of that depth is proven.

The issue, of course, is the top-end talent. Albert Rusnak took a massive step back last year, and Damir Kreilach is getting up there in age. Rubin, for all his potential as a youngster, is now a 24-year-old journeyman who's never put the ball in the net regularly outside of the USL. Young DP Jeizon Ramirez barely played last year, and after putting up 13g/7a in 2017, Justin Meram has put up 9g/7a total across the subsequent three years.

Anyway, that's all for a different column. What I'm saying is this: I don't think any big moves are coming this winter for RSL.

March 17 Update

I don't think getting Ecuadorian winger Anderson Julio on loan from Atletico San Luis in Liga MX necessarily counts as a big move, but it certainly could end up being a very good move. Julio wasn't great with San Luis — he was actually super underwhelming — but he's got the profile of a guy who could end up being a starter in this league if things break right, so why not kick the tires?

There are reports about getting Corinthians' attacking midfielder Mateus Vital on loan for the 2021 MLS season with a purchase option, and he absolutely would be a starter. But those seem to have faded in recent weeks.

Other than that: Nobody in, nobody out. Which doesn't really make for a crisis anywhere except center back, where they are perilously thin.

April 5 Update:

Nothing new since the last update, other than the notification that they did officially sign Wood. He’s expected to arrive in July, though Brian Dunseth has hinted that he may be arriving sooner than that.

RSL haven’t had any trouble scoring in preseason — they stomped the hell out of Colorado last week, cruising to a 3-0 win. But I’m sure they’d welcome Wood as soon as possible.

San Jose Earthquakes logo
San Jose Earthquakes

The Offseason So Far: Some big numbers came off the Quakes' books, as DP winger Vako and veteran center back Guram Kashia saw their contracts run down and not get renewed. They also traded Nick Lima to Austin for a good chunk of cash, then had the good fortune of having Austin select Danny Hoesen in the Expansion Draft, which meant San Jose got $50k worth of allocation cash for a player they weren't going to be bringing back anyway.

So far they have made only one significant move with all that cap space, all that cash and two open DP slots: signing Eduardo "Chofis" Lopez on loan from Chivas. So they got their No. 10 (they hope), and yes, it's yet another player who previously played for Matias Almeyda.

They also stayed local with the SuperDraft, taking Cal center forward Tommy Williamson (who never met a shot he didn't like, and IMO that's a good thing in a young forward) 12th overall. Maybe they'll get lucky and he'll turn into the next Wondo.

What's Next: I'm not sure anything is next, though I'd argue they could use a BIG center back and some central midfield depth. Their set-piece defense was catastrophic last season, to the point that a personnel upgrade might be required, and in the middle of the pitch they are one Judson injury away from a crisis.

Now, they have spoken glowingly about second-round SuperDraft pick George Asomani, a Ghanaian wrecking ball of a No. 6 who did very good work for NC State over the past couple of years. But "replace Judson" is a lot of ask of any draft pick.

That would be a fantastic story if that's how it works out, though.

March 17 Update

San Jose signed two more FOMs — Friends of Matias' — in central midfielder Eric Remedi and right back Luciano Abecasis. Both guys make sense, even if it's getting pretty funny how much of San Jose's transfer strategy comes down to "Have you played for Matias before? Yes? Ok, you're in."

Remedi, in particular, seems like a very good signing. He's been a good MLS player for a great team (Atlanta United, 2018) under a coach who demanded a similar level of two-way openness as Almeyda (Tata Martino), and while he's not exactly Judson, we've absolutely seen him do some of the things the Quakes ask Judson to do. The fact that he's been good in MLS and has a level of familiarity with Almeyda makes the signing a no-brainer.

They also added USL center forward Benjamin Kikanovic from Reno to fill out the depth chart.

I suspect that'll be it for the spring.

April 5 Update:

They got their work done early and it looks quite like the roster is complete, which means no changes since the last update. That includes the fact they haven’t officially signed first-round SuperDraft pick Tommy Williamson, though I do suspect that will eventually get done.

Seattle Sounders FC logo
Seattle Sounders FC

The Offseason So Far: So yeah, Jordan Morris is gone. It's not "officially gone for good" time, but my money is on him doing well enough with Swansea City to earn a permanent move to the EPL, either by helping the Swans to promotion or by catching the eye of one of the other EPL teams. It is very likely the end of an era.

It's not just Morris who's gone, though. Also out this offseason:

  • Joevin Jones
  • Gustav Svensson
  • Kelvin Leerdam
  • Roman Torres

Jones started in MLS Cup. Svensson and Leerdam should have started. Torres came back late in the season for one last hurrah as defensive depth and didn't play much, but his permanent departure is still meaningful.

The only inbound player thus far is veteran utility-man and Seattle native Kelyn Rowe. They were also able to keep Joao Paulo after hitting the right number to get him permanently from Botafogo.

What's Next: Depending upon what you think about the situation on the wings (we'll get there in a second), there are either three or four glaring needs: right back, center back depth, and either one or two starting-caliber wingers.

I didn't write "a starting right back" because maybe Alex Roldan can show he's got what it takes at that spot? He was more than just serviceable there in 2020, the first year he's ever played as a fullback at any level, and... I mean, stranger things have happened. But I do think it's more likely than not that Seattle go out and get an obvious starter there and Roldan becomes depth.

I went with "depth" at center back rather than going out and getting a clear-cut starter despite the fact that it is reasonable to ask if either Shane O'Neill or Xavier Arreaga are starting-caliber CBs for a high-level MLS team. Could they find an upgrade to partner with Yeimar Gomez Andrade? Possibly.

As for the wings, it's obvious they need at least one starter inbound in order to replace Morris. The question is whether they will need a second, as Cristian Roldan seems likely to go back to central midfield and Homegrowns Shandon HopeauEthan Dobbelaere and Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez haven't really been convincing on their journey toward the first team.

With all this happening (or not), bear this in mind: Seattle GM Garth Lagerwey hates to make big moves during the winter window. So there's a chance Rowe is the only new signing and Lagerwey just rides it out until summer.

March 17 Update

Well, it turns out they didn't actually lose Morris for good. But they definitely lost him for the year after he tore his ACL while on loan with Swansea. It's a tougher loss for the kid — who, I'm guessing was not planning on returning until after the 2022 World Cup — than it is for the Sounders, who I'm guessing had resigned themselves to needing to replace Morris at some point this year no matter what.

The news has not hurried Seattle's front office at all. Lagerwey has, over the past six weeks, brought in Seattle native Spencer Richey as a backup goalkeeper and former Sounders great Fredy Montero as, presumably, a back-up forward/change-of-formation sub.

They're going to move at their own pace, and we know very well by now that "their own pace" means big moves happen in the summer. Just the way it is, and given the level of success they've sustained with this approach, why change it?

I still think they could use a fourth center back, but what do I know.

April 5 Update:

The Sounders are obviously going to wait until summer to make any big signings. Still, I’m kind of surprised they haven’t made any moves to bolster the center back corps, especially since it seems like Brian Schmetzer is leaning toward a 3-5-2 to start the season.

This is a pretty big departure from the team that’s played almost exclusively out of a 4-2-3-1 over the past few years.

Sporting Kansas City logo
Sporting Kansas City

The Offseason So Far: Another perennially competitive Western Conference team, and another drastic makeover. Gone for good is former captain and Defender of the Year Matt Besler. Gone for now (and perhaps for good) are former DPs Felipe Gutierrez and Gerso, as well as super-sub Erik Hurtado. Center back Winston Reid, who started in last year's playoff run, was also shown the door.

There have been two significant additions in central midfielder Remi Walter (Peter Vermes has suggested he'll be playing primarily at defensive midfield) and center back Nicolas Isimat-Mirin. Both guys look good on paper and Wyscout, but there's been more than the usual amount of buyer's remorse when it comes to high-priced imports for Sporting.

Gadi Kinda, of course, was not part of that. The Israeli No. 10 was one of the most productive attacking midfielders in the league last year, and Sporting brought him back permanently this winter.

What's Next: I'm sure their focus is on the front three. Their starters, left-to-right, are most likely Khiry SheltonAlan Pulido and Johnny Russell, and while on their day they can make an exceptional triumvirate, 1) none has ever been, at any point in their careers, a clinical finisher, and 2) the depth chart behind them is sketchy.

Among the wingers, Daniel Salloi got cursed by the soccer gods for that no-look goal in the 2018 playoffs and hasn't been the same since, while Homegrown 18-year-old Tyler Freeman is probably a year away and Homegrown Grayson Barber was just signed out of college.

Shelton is Pulido's backup at center forward. Behind them is Homegrown Wilson Harris, who's been super productive on a per-90 basis in the USL Championship, but unproven beyond that.

Sporting have a DP slot open, so they could make a move. I'm not sure it'll be a DP-sized move, but I do expect them to do something about that front three.

March 17 Update

Nothing new incoming, and only long-time supersub center forward Erik Hurtado, who signed as a free agent with CF Montréal, outgoing. Sporting got their work done early and seem just about set (and are cleverly doing stuff like signing Croatian youth international center backs to their USL reserve team).

The one caveat is that Vermes has walked back, at least a little, the notion that Walter is going to be a No. 6, and in recent weeks has talked of him more as a box-to-box guy.

We'll revisit that one after a few preseason games, but my guess is that the big moves are done.

April 5 Update:

Nothing new from Sporting this time, either. In general the Western Conference teams got their work done much earlier in the preseason than the Eastern Conference teams managed.

Busio, for what it’s worth, has gotten to work as Sporting’s 10. He’s not just wearing that number; he’s living that life:

Young center forward Wilson Harris, who had a few productive years in the USL with Sporting’s reserve side, has also had a productive preseason. Maybe this year really is going to be the a mass changing of the guard for Sporting.

Vancouver Whitecaps FC logo
Vancouver Whitecaps FC

The Offseason So Far: They've been moving slowly, mostly trimming the edges of the roster. The only regular contributor from 2020 who looks like he's not coming back in 2021 is veteran center forward Fredy Montero — an understandable decision given that's an area of depth for the 'Caps.

One of the reasons it's an area of depth is the arrival of first-round SuperDraft pick David Egbo, who went ninth overall. Egbo's not expected to play a ton in 2021, but he'll be useful when Lucas Cavallini and Tosaint Ricketts are on international duty with Canada.

Deiber Caicedo is, at this point, the only other official arrival, and he \is \expected to play a ton. The 20-year-old Colombian youth international already has around 4,000 first-team minutes, which means he's not purely a young prospect: he's got to contribute.

They really don't need to make any other signings. Except for one.

What's Next: Vancouver need their own Lucas Zelarayan or Bebelo Reynoso. This team is dying for a DP No. 10, and they have been linked to both Porto's Otavio and Benfica's Chiquinho. Sign either one of those guys and this offseason's a success.

That said, they'd still be a little light on the wings. Caicedo shouldn't be the only incoming winger, and I doubt he will be.

March 17 Update

Vancouver went HAM over the past month, getting right back Bruno Gaspar — a likely starter — on loan from Sporting CP in Lisbon, and then pilfering 22-year-old Brazilian central midfielder Caio Alexandre from cash-strapped Botafogo.

Both of those look, on the face of it, like shrewd moves for starting-caliber players on a budget. Local podcasts have begun calling it the Nikos Overheul Effect after the newly hired director off recruiting.

Overheul — or someone else in the front office — still needs to find this team a DP No. 10. Once they check that box, this team will actually look quite good.

April 5 Update:

The ‘Caps made one move: sending center back Jasser Khmiri on loan to San Antonio of the USL for the season.

This was not the move that the fanbase was hoping for. Vancouver still haven’t managed to bring in a DP No. 10, which means that 2020 SuperDraft pick Ryan Raposo is probably the only “real” No. 10 on the lineup. He could start there, or Alexandre could move up as sort of an 8-ish 10, or they could just go to a 4-4-2 with a two-forward set-up.

My money’s on Alexandre playing that spot to start the season. My money is also on Vancouver continuing to look for their Zelarayan or Reynoso.