From first-place Toronto FC to last-place D.C. United and every other club between them in the standings, every front office is scheming on how to improve their current roster.
It's just the nature of the business. Rosters are in a constant state of evolution and fine-tuning. Whether those tweaks are aimed for the Secondary Transfer Window deadline on October 29 or the winter window, shortlists are always evolving.
Not all teams have obvious needs, either. Here's where all 26 clubs could strengthen themselves heading towards the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs:
Atlanta United: Center mid
Atlanta United technical director Carlos Bocanegra has already admitted the team don't have a ton of flexibility for the rest of 2020 after signing DP midfielder Marcelino Moreno and he went as far as to say not to expect any more signings this window.
The club were dealt a sour plate at the start of the season when former Landon Donovan MLS MVP Josef Martinez went down with a torn ACL, which was the first in a chain of events that included parting ways with head coach Frank de Boer, transferring Pity Martinez and watching Ezequiel Barco struggle with injuries as he's started just eight of the club's 18 games. They have routinely played without a DP on the field of late. Oh, and temporary Josef replacement Cubo Torres also went down injured.
On top of all that, they have obviously missed Darlington Nagbe after his trade to Columbus. He's quite a difficult player to replace and they haven't as of yet.
Chicago Fire FC: Right back depth
Boris Sekulic is the club's starter at right back, but the club doesn't really have a natural option behind him when playing a back four. Przemyslaw Frankowski can adeptly play as a wingback in a back three (another formation head coach Raphael Wicky has played) and midfielder Brandt Bronico has played spot duty in the past.
Chicago had a hugely busy winter ahead of the 2020 season, meaning the club shouldn't have a ton of moves to make this offseason.
FC Cincinnati: Defense
After setting a single-season record for goals conceded in their expansion 2019 season, FC Cincinnati have certainly let in fewer goals this season, but it has come at the cost of attacking output. The team has regularly assumed a cautious approach to keep goals out and it included a run of five games without a goal. Improved team defending would make them more adventurous in attack.
Their 2-1 win on Wednesday against Columbus Crew SC gave the team 10 goals on the season after 18 matches as DP signings Jurgen Locadia and Yuya Kubo have failed to meet expectations just yet, though they haven't received a ton of service. Head coach Jaap Stam will hope a proper preseason and offseason reinforcements will be the elixir to FC Cincy's 2020 struggles, given the Dutchman took over in the middle of the season.
One name to watch on the Cincy backline this offseason will be Andrew Gutman. The Celtic man is on loan but FCC may look to make it a permanent move.
Colorado Rapids: Center forward
In their trade of Kei Kamara to Minnesota United, the Rapids were content to go younger at the position, leaving even more opportunities for Diego Rubio and Andre Shinyashiki. The club should be covered for the rest of the season, but they may revisit the depth chart in the winter.
Shinyashiki, the reigning AT&T MLS Rookie of the Year, scored in each of his last two appearances through the center. He can play left wing as well, while Rubio has shown his versatility since joining the Rapids in 2019.
The club hasn't played a match since September 23 due to COVID-19 positives though and has matches postponed through October 21 at the moment.
Columbus Crew SC: N/A
The Crew have shown that when at full strength they're among the best teams in the league, but injuries have piled up. The club addressed those shortcomings by adding four veterans this window, including forward Krisztian Nemeth as the latest last week, meaning the squad is just about full.
All they really need is for Darlington Nagbe and Lucas Zelarayan to return from injury.
"We’ll get through this period, we may not win every game, but we’re not worried or concerned," Porter said earlier this week. "We know where we’re at and we know what we’re capable of.”
FC Dallas: Goal-scoring winger
Although they transferred right back Reggie Cannon, center forward Zdenek Ondrasek and released GK Jesse Gonzalez, they have managed to cover each of those departures with the current roster.
So Dallas are well set all around the pitch, both by quantity and quality. So I'll do a Matt Doyle and suggest a goal-scoring winger because what team couldn't use another outlet for goals?
Just like a bunch of other teams, the club is unlikely to make any signings before deadline day. They have all DP slots filled and most senior roster slots accounted for, too. Technical director Andre Zanotta said as much at the end of September.
D.C. United: New head coach
Not exactly the premise of this piece, but selecting the right head coach will be D.C. United's chief concern moving forward. It'd be rash to sign too many players before identifying the right candidate and his or her preferred style.
Plus, it would help future planning to get a feel for the team with two of their key players back in the mix. United have been without USMNT winger Paul Arriola all season after he tore his ACL in February, while club-record signing Edison Flores has made only six starts this season due to injuries. He recently returned while Arriola hasn't ruled out getting back on the field before the end of the season.
Houston Dynamo: Defensive mid
The Dynamo's attack has largely been fine under first year head coach Tab Ramos, but the club is on a dip of form with one win in its last nine matches due in part to a leaky defense. They could use another defensive midfielder.
Houston acquired Wilfried Zahibo from the New England Revolution this summer but his strength is more in possession than on defense. Matias Vera has been a constant at the heart of the midfield and wouldn't go wrong with some help alongside him.
The club addressed obvious immediate needs, signing center back Jesus David Murillo, right back Mark Segbers and winger Mahala Opoku all within an eight-day span. Given winter acquisition Kenneth Vermeer lost his starting spot to Pablo Sisniega, perhaps another goalkeeper will be a target during the offseason.
As for right now... LAFC were thin before those reinforcements were acquired. They are currently without the likes of Carlos Vela, Mark-Anthony Kaye, Andy Najar and Tristan Blackmon (not medically cleared) as well as Diego Rossi, Brian Rodriguez, Diego Palacios and Jose Cifuentes (quarantine post-international duty). That's about seven regular starters who should all be back at some point.
LA Galaxy: Center back
After a brief uptick in form, in which the Galaxy reeled off four consecutive wins from August 22-September 6, the outlook is once again bleak for the Galaxy.
While a lot of headlines have been directed at the confounding lack of goals from Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, the Galaxy have also conceded 19 goals in their current six-game losing streak landing them bottom of the Western Conference. The four wins from their earlier streak are still their only four of the season.
The club was linked with Argentine center back Alan Franco for much of the offseason, and even once again during the league's suspension of play due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but a deal never came to fruition. The only addition to the heart of defense was Nick DePuy, who was signed from the club's USL Championship affiliate. Center back Diego Polenta moved on from the club this offseason, too, while Dave Romney was traded to Nashville.
Inter Miami: Another creative No. 10
Miami acquired a creative, playmaking No. 10, but he turns 36 this month: The experienced Federico Higuain should help in big moments down the stretch, but it's uncertain what happens after this year.
Inter already have DP Rodolfo Pizarro, of course, but Miami still rank bottom half in the league in chances created from open play.
The playmaker would be the icing on the cake after a busy Secondary Transfer Window which has seen three starters arrive in Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Blaise Matuidi and Gonzalo Higuain. Miami have a ton of talent all over the pitch and are hoping the results will follow.
Minnesota United: Fullback depth
Minnesota have a number of versatile players comfortable at playing across multiple positions, chief among them Hassani Dotson. The second-year player has played in the central midfield roles as well as fullback, while new signing Bakaye Dibassy is comfortable at either center or left back. Still, one or two injuries could leave the team thin at the back, particularly without reigning MLS Defender of the Year Ike Opara.
The club's strongest XI is among the best in the conference, giving the club all the confidence as the season nears the playoffs.
Montreal Impact: Center back
The Impact's acquisition of Tottenham Under-23 center back Luis Binks went exceptionally well in Thierry Henry's first season as head coach, but the club has already transferred him to sister club Bologna, where he'll join after the MLS season.
They'll be in need of a defensive jolt this offseason and should have plenty of flexibility to do so, with the club's transfer of DP midfielder Saphir Taider giving Montreal two open DP slots.
Nashville SC: Goals
Already over the Secondary Transfer Window in their expansion season, Nashville added a DP forward in Jhonder Cadiz, another option on the wing in Alex Muyl as well as potentially a goalkeeper for the future in USYNT regular Brady Scott. Their positional needs appear to be spoken for through the rest of 2020.
The club's defensive unit has been among the best in the league, an atypical strength for an expansion side. They are in the top third in terms of goals conceded (17 in 17 games played) and expected goals against (21.97). The attack has lagged a bit, but Cadiz could be key in helping the club climb the Eastern Conference standings. He just made his debut off the bench on Wednesday in a match that Nashville won 3-1.
If Cadiz isn't the guy, Nashville could use another goal scorer. It wouldn't be surprising should the club stand pat for the rest of the window before reassessing the squad this winter.
New England Revolution: D-mid depth
Another club that dealt with an injury to one of their key stars, the Revs have admirably navigated the season without talisman Carles Gil. With fellow DPs Gustavo Bou and Adam Buksa still not at their best, either, it's been a collective effort by Bruce Arena's side.
Summer additions Matt Polster, Lee Nguyen, Kekuta Manneh and Tommy McNamara have all played a role in keeping the squad closer to the top of the Eastern Conference than the playoff line. They've coped well in attack, but if they were looking for further additions, perhaps they could use another defense-minded central midfielder to bolster the squad.
NYCFC: Center forward
With Heber out of the season, Alexandru Mitrita departed for Al-Ahli and Maxi Moralez limited to just six starts in 2020, NYCFC's once deep attack is suddenly thin.
The club still have the likes of Taty Castellanos, Jesus Medina, Gary Mackay-Steven and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi to lean on, but it'll get complicated with another absence if Moralez doesn't return soon, though head coach Ronny Deila said the midfield maestro could return this weekend.
Sporting director David Lee revealed to The Athletic's Sam Stejskal that the club will have two open DP slots for next year, with Medina's contract structured so that he won't be a DP, on top of Mitrita's exit. How will the club use those slots?
NY Red Bulls: Struber era needs
With a new head coach on board, the Red Bulls' task moving forward is deciding who does and does not optimally fit Gerhard Struber's style.
RBNY are still a pressing team, but Struber's tactical profile is likely to dial it up even more. His Barnsley team was among the most aggressive teams in the Championship last year, taking only a backseat to title winners Leeds United with Marcelo Bielsa as manager.
RBNY head of sport Kevin Thelwell said Struber is involved in the discussions with the squad from afar as he awaits his visa to travel to the United States, quarantine then make his coaching debut.
Orlando City SC: Left back
Orlando acquired center forward Matheus Aias and winger Alexander Alvarado, adding to an already strong attack. They have rotated throughout the fixture congestion as the season has wore on, with head coach Oscar Pareja trusting the depth of his squad.
The club seem to be covered at most positions, though with Joao Moutinho's injury, the club are a little thin at left back. Moutinho had been one of the club's top performers early in the season but has been out the club's last nine games with an injury. Kamal Miller has largely filled the role in his absence.
Philadelphia Union: Int'l slot for Burke
Okay it's not technically a position, but, it appears to be Philly's only pressing need. It looks like they need to maneuver with international roster slots to add Cory Burke back to the active roster for the first time in 18 months (!) after a nightmare that has seen him forced to bide his time on loan in Jamaica and Austria before finally getting back to the greater Philly metro area.
Head coach Jim Curtin didn't seem too worried.
“There are some moving parts that go on with that at this stage of the year," Curtin said this week. "I’ll just say we can find a way that Cory being an international will not prevent us from putting him on the field.”
Burke, 28, originally came to Philly through the club's second team. He starred in USL before moving to the Union first team, where he has 12 goals over 36 regular-season appearances (20 starts). His two loans since his last Union appearance were each successful, with 11 goals in 18 matches at Portmore United then four goals and two assists with SKN St. Pölten in Austria's Bundesliga.
Portland Timbers: Fullback depth?
Fullback depth seems to be a popular answer, but with a deep attack and midfield group, Portland are well set even without the injured Sebastian Blanco. Jaroslaw Niezgoda, Felipe Mora and Jeremy Ebobisse are all contributing goals while Diego Valeri still hasn't slowed down.
Portland did lose fullbacks Jorge Moreira and Zarek Valentin before the season, though they have young options like Pablo Bonilla and Marco Farfan getting minutes. Another deep team that should be viewed as unlikely to make any changes before the window closes.
The Timbers just rattled off a six-game winning streak during which they outscored opponents 17-4. The MLS is Back Tournament champs may not be done adding silverware in 2020.
Real Salt Lake: Defense
With Justen Glad's contract expiring at the end of the season among other uncertainties, RSL might soon find themselves short at the back.
Glad, 23, signed his first professional contract with RSL in 2014 and has made 123 appearances for the club. He has started 13 of the club's 18 matches in 2020.
For now, the club continues to fight to qualify for the playoffs this season, currently tied for the final playoff place on 21 points. However it ends, RSL are in for an important offseason, both on and off the field.
San Jose Earthquakes: High-level attacker
The Quakes should have more flexibility this offseason than last year to make key changes to Matias Almeyda's squad and, while the team has had more trouble keeping goals out than scoring them, they could use a high-level attacker with their vacant DP slot.
MLS goal king Chris Wondolowski has started the club's last five games up top and the 37-year-old will be considering whether or not to call it a career after this season. The club has found goals from other positions, but would benefit from having a big-time option up front.
Seattle Sounders: N/A
Seattle, like more than a few other teams in the league, already addressed any obvious needs during this window. They were able to re-acquire a pair of 2019 MLS Cup starters in left back Brad Smith and Roman Torres. In those two moves, the Sounders added key defensive pieces who already fit directly into the locker room and club culture. No brainers.
Loading up for yet another playoff run, the Sounders don't have any immediate roster concerns both with quality and quantity. Raul Ruidiaz is currently recovering from COVID-19 while on international duty with Peru, but Will Bruin is an accomplished MLS goalscorer to hold down the fort until Ruidiaz returns. Perhaps the club could use another option at right back behind Kelvin Leerdam alongside Alex Roldan, though it's nitpicking.
Sporting KC: N/A
Thanks to their youthful depth and versatility — Gianluca Busio at the No. 6, who saw that coming this winter? — Sporting have been able to cope with a number of absences at various points: Felipe Gutierrez (out for the year), Roger Espinoza, Alan Pulido and others as they remain towards the top of the Western Conference.
They don't really have many spots in which they need a ton of change, so the real challenge for SKC heading towards the playoffs is to keep the starting XI fit and in form.
Toronto FC: Even more homegrown depth?
In a salary cap structure, it's a hugely valuable market inefficiency to get contributions from players towards the bottom of the wage bill. The club very much believes in youth as well, signing their 25th academy graduate, Ralph Priso, to a first team deal on Wednesday. He's the fourth academy talent to join the first team this year.
TFC have plenty of young depth on the roster and no obvious needs for the rest of the season. They added Tony Gallacher on loan from Liverpool as another quality option at left back, which had been their one need.
So I suppose they could keep looking at their academy to bolster the bottom of the roster, highlighting the club's first XI strength and relative depth. They're leading the Supporters' Shield race not just because Alejandro Pozuelo is the favorite for MVP and fellow DP Pablo Piatti has been solid as well, but because 20-year-old Homegrown forward Ayo Akinola has stepped up amid Jozy Altidore's injury concerns with eight goals in 888 minutes.
Vancouver Whitecaps: Creative midfielder
Sporting director Axel Schuster has already spoke about the club's desire for an increased creative presence through the midfield, particularly in the wake of the club's transfer of Inbeom Hwang.
Club-record signing Lucas Cavallini is finding form, with three goals in his last two games, but he has been struggling for dependable, consistent service all season long. Vancouver rank last in MLS in chances created, are fourth-bottom in big chances created, second-last in passes into the final third and last in passes into the box. It's a long-winded way of saying they could use another creator.
And, as alluded above, Schuster is targeting that type of player with a DP slot open.
"We would like to sign a player in the midfield but attacking the goal a little more than Inbeom’s style," Schuster said in August. Hwang had just three goals and six assists in 39 MLS appearances. "This is a position we were looking at anyway, but now we have a DP spot available.”