The introduction of Targeted Allocation Money has seen MLS teams tap into the international market like never before.
The 2017 season was proof of that.
MLS clubs continued to scour the globe for talent this year, and they did well in that regard as there was no shortage of players from the international market who came in and made an immediate impact in their debut seasons in the league. Some teams were a cut above the rest in identifying talent, however, as they were able to bolster their rosters with the addition of multiple regular contributors, starters, and star players.
Here is the list of the five clubs that did best on the international market in 2017:
5. Real Salt Lake
Notable players acquired: Albert Rusnak, Brooks Lennon, Jefferson Savarino
Real Salt Lake may have fallen short in their goal to reach the playoffs, but there were plenty of reasons for optimism after seeing the likes of Rusnak, Lennon, and Savarino deliver. Rusnak was the biggest contributor of the trio, proving to be a quality successor in Javier Morales' playmaker role by scoring seven goals and dishing out 14 assists. The young attacking duo of Lennon and Savarino showed promise, meanwhile, in part-time starting roles. Lennon finished with three goals and four assists, and Savarino had six goals and five assists after arriving in May. There is certainly hope for the future in Salt Lake.
4. Sporting Kansas City
Notable players acquired: Gerso Fernandes, Latif Blessing, Ilie Sanchez
If one team showed how to ball on a budget in 2017, it was Sporting KC. The club did not splash the same types of cash that others in the league did to improve their rosters, but it found good quality in Gerso, Blessing, and Sanchez. Gerso and Sanchez were lineup regulars, with the former bringing dynamic play out wide and the latter providing a steady presence in the Kansas City midfield. Blessing, who LAFC thought highly enough of to take in this month's Expansion Draft, also showed good things with his speed and dribbling ability. Sporting KC may have suffered another early playoff elimination in the Western Conference, but a good part of their regular-season success (and their US Open Cup win) was thanks to the players they brought in from abroad.
3. New York City FC
Notable players acquired: Alexander Callens, Alexander Ring, Yangel Herrera, Maximiliano Moralez, Rodney Wallace
Replacing the goal-scoring exploits of departed midfielder Frank Lampard seemed like a tough task, but NYCFC did a great job of making up for his absence by signing a combination of talented youngsters and veterans. Ring and Herrera picked up the slack in the midfield by becoming regular starters early in the season, and Moralez and Wallace made up for the loss of goals with their dangerous play in the final third. Peruvian central defender Callens also chipped in tremendously, playing every single minute of the regular season for an NYCFC team that improved defensively en route to taking second place in the Eastern Conference.
2. Houston Dynamo
Notable players acquired: Alberth Elis, Adolfo Machado, Tomas Martinez, Romell Quioto, Juan David Cabezas
The Dynamo returned to the postseason for the first time since 2013, and a big reason for that was the play of the international players the club signed this year. Elis and Quioto combined for 17 goals and provided deadly transition play at the tip of the attack, while Martinez helped improve the midfield after arriving midseason from Braga in Portugal. There was also the overlooked contributions of Machado, the Panamanian center back who started in all but one regular-season match as an improved Houston finished in fourth place in the west before reaching the conference finals in the playoffs. In a similar vein, Cabezas provided a steady, steely defensive presence in the midfield and was voted by local media as the team's 2017 MVP.
1. Atlanta United
Notable players acquired: Miguel Almiron, Yamil Asad, Carlos Carmona, Greg Garza, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Josef Martinez, Hector Villalba
It might be a little unfair to the other teams on the list given that Atlanta had to build a roster from scratch, but you need only to look at fellow expansion club Minnesota United to see how tough it can be to tap into the international market. Besides, Atlanta United hit the mark on almost all their international signings. Dynamic attackers Almiron and Martinez were the two stars that led the way for Atlanta, but several other players like Villalba and Gonzalez Pirez contributed greatly in supporting roles to help the club reach the postseason with an exciting and attractive brand of soccer.