National Writer: Charles Boehm

Stock up, stock down: MLS Secondary Transfer Window risers and fallers


After a frantic flurry of activity in its final days and hours, the MLS Secondary Transfer Window has now closed. With just a couple of small exceptions like free-agent signings, clubs can no longer make new additions to their rosters as the 2023 season moves into its final months.

So who did the best business? We offer up this snapshot of who seems to have done the most to improve themselves, and, well, who hasn’t.

Note: Even though the window shut in the late hours of Wednesday night, deals reached right at the end are still being officially announced as we publish this, so some acquisitions may not get as much analysis as others.


When David Blitzer and Ryan Smith completed their purchase of RSL at the start of last year, no one was quite sure how the new owners would mobilize their substantial resources to reinforce the roster. Their first focus was on significant upgrades to the gameday experience at America First Field, and their early public statements suggested a measured approach to transfer spending for a club where “the team is the star” has been a mantra for well over a decade.

Fast-forward to today and the Utahns have invested somewhere north of $16 million on new signings, highlighted by showcase summer additions Cristian Arango and Nelson Palacio. Arango in particular was a statement of intent, bringing the spearhead of last year’s MLS Cup-Supporters’ Shield double-winning LAFC side back to the league after just a few months with Liga MX’s Pachuca.

Salt Lake have brought in youth as well as proven experience, too, with highly-rated US youth international Sean Petrie, 16, also climbing aboard. Add in the broader context that RSL haven’t lost a league match since May and are still alive in the US Open Cup semifinals, and the Claret-and-Cobalt look legit.

The Yellow Football Team lost arguably their most talented player in this window, as Saudi club Al-Fateh rolled in with an offer for playmaker Lucas Zelarayán that neither player nor club could refuse. Key architect of the Crew’s 2020 MLS Cup title and a highly entertaining draw for Field, El Pirata is a big loss by any measure, and starting-caliber veterans Eloy Room and Miloš Degenek also followed him out the door.

But president and GM Tim Bezbatchenko didn’t let that scupper the ship. Columbus made sure they had enough time to replace Zelarayán with a proven MLS scorer by bringing ex-LAFC striker Diego Rossi back to the league from Turkey. They also addressed their most pressing positional need by acquiring center back Rudy Camacho, who knows coach Wilfried Nancy's system from their time together in Montréal, as well as Ukrainian defender Yevhen Cheberko.

To garnish all that, the Crew took advantage of winger Julian Gressel’s desire to move back to the eastern part of the continent for family reasons, sealing a deal with Vancouver to provide Cucho Hernández and the rest of their potent strike corps with one of the league’s elite deliverers of service. Good business for an MLS Cup dark horse.

We’ll admit it: We still harbor a suspicion that the Black & Gold may eventually rue letting go of Chicho. That said, they were their usual ambitious selves this summer and continue to look mighty tough to beat.

LAFC gave Steve Cherundolo another option up top with the purchase of Spaniard Mario González, kicked the tires on another rising Eastern European prospect with a loan move for Bulgarian midfielder Filip Krastev and re-signed center back Eddie Segura. We also like their June swoop for highly-touted teenage phenom Bajung Darboe.

The reigning champs also got younger still by bringing in 21-year-old Uruguayan winger Cristian Olivera from Spanish club Almería. To help fund all this, LAFC flipped Kwadwo Opoku to Montréal for one of the largest packages of General Allocation Money in league history.

Constrained by a summer ban on incoming international transfers as part of a sanctions package for violating MLS roster rules in 2019, the Gs didn’t seem too likely to wind up in this column as of just a few weeks ago. And to be fair, they are still languishing near the foot of the West table, a significant underachievement by any measure.

But Greg Vanney and senior VP of player personnel Will Kuntz got busy, and creative, to patch some of the many holes on their injury-ridden squad. They worked the phones to swing intra-league deals for proven producers of end product Michael Barrios and Diego Fagundez from conference adversaries, and reinforced their leaky defense with Tony Alfaro from New York City FC and free-agent Japanese international Maya Yoshida. Central midfielder Edwin Cerrillo arrived, too.

While it might all be happening too late to salvage their star-crossed season, the Galaxy are giving it a good go.


Wayne Rooney has steered the Black-and-Red, last year’s bottom MLS side, into the Eastern Conference’s ninth and final Audi MLS Cup Playoffs slot, and for that he deserves credit. But the vibes are not exactly great for the capital club, leaving us in doubt about their stretch-run prospects.

Consider that their most impressive midfielder in the season’s first half, Lewis O'Brien, has returned to England after his six-month loan. Victor Pálsson has also flown back across the Atlantic after being played out of position for most of his United tenure.

While Brazilian playmaker Gabriel Pirani could eventually turn out to be just as good as O’Brien, he’s young (21) and this is his first stint outside his homeland, which suggests patience is needed. Then add in the fallout from the recent incident between D.C. strikers Taxi Fountas and Nigel Robertha, which, pending the results of a league investigation, could well spell the end of one or the other’s time at the club.

Picking up Panama national teamers Éric Davis and José Fajardo in the wake of Los Canaleros' outstanding Gold Cup run was smart business, and Cristian Dájome and Erik Hurtado give Rooney some extra attacking options. But at ages 32, 29, 29 and 32, respectively, those look like short-term steps. Is it enough to keep D.C. above the playoff line?

At this point we can safely say the highly-ambitious project featuring Bob Bradley, Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi has fizzled, and it’s not yet clear where the Reds go from here. Bradley is out, the Italian DP duo don’t seem to have settled, to put it mildly, and TFC’s sequence of midseason transactions underline what a state of flux their unbalanced, injury-plagued roster is in.

Franco Ibarra and Latif Blessing represent useful additions, though local kid Mark-Anthony Kaye had to leave to swing the latter’s arrival from New England.

Signing South African forward Cassius Mailula via the U22 Initiative is certainly intriguing, particularly in light of his countrymen Bongokuhle Hlongwane and Njabulo Blom prospering in Minnesota and St. Louis, respectively. Even that, though, taken alongside the departures of Ayo Akinola and Matt Hedges, hints at another offseason rebuild ahoy on the north shore of Lake Ontario.

This perennial contender for trophies elected to by and large stand pat in this window. In some cases that means the important work has already been done, and we do still rate the Rave Green as a team to be reckoned with when on form.

Thing is, they haven’t really been on form for quite a while, and crashing out of Leagues Cup at the group stage means they’ve got a week or two of downtime and reflection. Are Seattle choosing to sit tight, or are they simply too constrained by their existing contracts and/or lack of moveable assets?

The Sounders’ core continues to age, and efforts like theirs to refresh it with homegrowns are often prone to bumps and sidetracks. Would some fresh blood have lifted spirits and raised intensity levels? If Brian Schmetzer & Co. aren’t yet at a crossroads, we suspect there’s one awaiting them in the near future.

Somewhat comparable to Seattle, _La Naranja_ don’t get a failing grade so much as an incomplete for this window.

Polish midfielder Sebastian Kowalczyk was their only arrival, though winger Nelson Quiñónes has also been converted from loanee to permanent acquisition via what the club called a seven-figure transfer fee, a move we like. And to be fair, HDFC are just months along from a significant winter overhaul timed with the arrival of head coach Ben Olsen.

Houston found a loan move for out-of-favor DP striker Sebas Ferreira, whose Dynamo career seems just about over whatever happens for him at Vasco da Gama. Perhaps the flexibility gained therein will pay off soon.

Majority owner Ted Segal took over just under a year ago, so like RSL, it may be that we see some big Houston moves take shape in 2024.