If a lion's share of the fun each MLS offseason is following the maneuvers of MLS clubs, then this winter was a hoot-and-a-half for almost everyone.
Each and every year, it just gets harder to narrow down the field of top candidates for the Newcomer of the Year award. Clubs keep drawing better players from abroad, and many of them at a younger age. This offseason continued that trend, and the 2020 haul has compelled us to stack up the best incoming transfers.
Before we get started with the countdown, let's clarify a couple of parameters. We've only included players that have arrived during the offseason, which means no Franco Jara, who is already set to join FC Dallas this summer. We're also only considering true newcomers, so guys like D.C. United winger Yamil Asad, who previously shined in MLS, weren't eligible for the list. It's also worth noting that as MLS teams attract better talent in greater numbers, we easily could have mocked up a top 25 and still would have agonized over leaving a handful of names off the list.
Due to the sheer volume of fine winter pick-ups, the honorable mentions could fill half a school bus: Oswaldo Alanis, Luis Amarilla, Robert Beric, Adam Buksa, Alexander Buttner, Yimmi Chara, Yeimar Gomez Andrade, Yuya Kubo, Jurgen Locadia, Randall Leal, Christian Makoun, Felipe Mora, Hany Mukhtar, Younes Namli, Matej Oravec, Tom Pettersson, Pablo Piatti, Steeven Saba, Vito Wormgoor and Lucas Zelarayan.
No. 10: Kenneth Vermeer
When it came time for LAFC to find a new goalkeeper, it was important they grab someone who can stop opponents’ counterattack. As a top shelf shot-stopper who’s quick off his line, Vermeer fits those requirements. He's also good at sending his team forward out of the back. The Dutchman won't be the best at commanding crosses, but how often will the Supporters' Shield holders be pinned into their own end?
No. 9: Lucas Cavallini
Vancouver's new striker might actually land a bit higher on the list if they had more quality in the playmaking stable. Even without established stars in the Caps' No. 10 and wing slots, expect Cavallini to win them some games. He's tough as nails in a crowd, races behind a defense and can score with either peg or his head.
No. 8: Dario Zuparic
Portland's central defense needed a smart tackler to compliment Larrys Mabiala, and they definitely got it in Zuparic. The 27-year-old, who got advanced schooling in the defensive dark arts during four seasons in Italy, is a shutdown artist. He's speedy, takes excellent angles to the ball and generally dispossesses without fouling. He's also pretty smooth working out of the back and hits a mean long ball to flank runners (hello, Yimmi!).
No. 7: Alan Pulido
Much like with Mexico teammate Marco Fabian in Philadelphia last year, I'm not quite as high on Sporting Kansas City's new DP forward as many are. Still, if he keeps things moving on the way to the area (he should) and bags 12-15 goals (he certainly could), most fans will probably be happy enough with his contributions.
No. 6: Thiago Santos
Any FC Dallas supporter who wished for a multi-tool defensive midfielder at the end of last season has seen their prayers answered. Thiago Santos is a speedy veteran who acts as a foreboding presence and starts transitions once he's regained possession. He loves to jump passing lanes and confront dribblers before attacks get deep into his end, which should embolden FCD’s counterattack abilities.
No. 5: Edison Flores
For a D.C. United side that lost Wayne Rooney, Lucho Acosta and now Paul Arriola (ACL injury) during a single offseason, there can be no greater pick-up than a lethal attacker with an array of skills. Enter Flores, who can produce offense in a wide variety of ways. The Peru star is a hard-charging winger with an uncanny knack for finding the soft spots around the area. Even better, he's just entering his prime.
No. 4: Antonio Carlos
I have great news for Orlando City fans: Your team has successfully filled their greatest need by landing a slick center back who can organize the backline. The 26-year-old is a human stop sign that’s equally adept in the air and cleanly deals with ball-carriers. And he's Brazilian, so you know he's supremely comfy with the ball at his feet. Antonio Carlos won't just halt the other team's rushes, he'll also start them for your side.
No. 3: Joao Paulo
Some players wow you with ability, while others impress via how their functionality transforms a team for the better. Joao Paulo will tick both boxes for Seattle. Yes, the 28-year-old is excellent at guarding the backline, a fiery competitor and a leader. What really sets him apart, though, is the wildly clever ways he can turn defense into attack. His deep-lying passing game should reduce Nico Lodeiro's workload, allowing the Sounders playmaker to focus more on unlocking the opponent's defense.
No. 2: Rodolfo Pizarro
It doesn't matter if Inter Miami positions the Mexico ace underneath the striker or out on the right wing. Whichever station he mans, Pizarro is going to create loads of offense, and often in a stylish manner befitting Diego Alonso's team. He can make any defender look foolish on the dribble, pick out any pass needed or just finish plays himself.
No. 1: Javier Hernandez
How do you fill the god-sized, lion-shaped void left by departing superstar Zlatan? It sounds funny, but a "Little Pea" is just about does the trick. Right off the top, Chicharito is going to fill seats, sell shirts and draw attention to the LA Galaxy in the entertainment capital of the world (no small feat). Most importantly, with the support of Cristian Pavon, Aleksandar Katai, Sebastian Lletget and friends, he's a great bet to surpass the 20-goal mark. What's more, he'll do it in a system-friendly manner, unsettling defenses for his teammates.