MLS Insider: Tom Bogert

The most important offseason signing for every MLS club


Matchday 1 of the 2023 MLS season is nearly upon us.

It’s been a busy offseason as all teams plotted how to achieve their next leap forward. Some roster builds were much busier than others, but all 29 teams made moves to improve. The Primary Transfer Window also remains open through April 24, so business may not be done.

Here's the best signing for each club. Let’s start in reverse order to be ~different~ (or just annoying).

Reigning J1 League champion and Best XI selection Yohei Takaoka joined the Whitecaps in a transfer from Yokohama F. Marinos this winter.

While Takaoka’s best quality is his ball-playing ability, he should represent a big jump in shot-stopping from last year’s group as well. The 26-year-old should be a big upgrade at a position of need.

Sean Johnson is hugely important as well – the year-over-year improvement at goalkeeper will be stark – but Matt Hedges gets the edge here because he could potentially impact more players around him.

Hedges, 32, is FC Dallas’ all-time leader in appearances and was still quite good last year. For the worries about injuries like any other player at this career stage, Hedges has started at least 75% of his team’s games in all but one of the last 10 years (2021). If he hits that 26-28 starts threshold, it’ll go a long way for Toronto FC’s defense.

Johnson is the safer bet to still be elite for longer than Hedges because of his position, but I don’t have many doubts for this year.

A competent defensive midfielder is key in this league, particularly one who can cover a lot of ground, win duels and generally be a nuisance in defensive transition. This is heightened in a high-pressing system.

St. Louis went out and signed South African international Njabulo Blom for that duty. The 23-year-old was signed from Kaizer Chiefs, making 94 appearances for the storied club before joining the MLS newcomers this winter.

Captain/goalkeeper Roman Bürki is a good shout too, not just because of name recognition, but because he’ll be very busy in St. Louis' debut season.

I’ve said this a few times already on Extratime, but SKC going out and signing a significant defensive midfielder is huge. It was a troublesome position for most of last year, though Rémi Walter was solid by the end (the plan is for the Frenchman to play as a No. 8 again).

Nemanja Radoja had been a free agent after his Levante contract expired, but he just turned 30 and arrives with 181 appearances in LaLiga. He played with SKC center back Andreu Fontàs at Celta Vigo as well.

The Seattle Sounders returned an overwhelming majority of their Concacaf Champions League-winning core this offseason, so they didn’t do much by way of additions.

But Seattle did go out and trade for Héber from NYCFC, an important piece to supplement (and cover) star forward Raúl Ruidíaz… who is already dealing with an injury.

Héber, 31, had 24g/6a in 70 appearances (38 starts) with NYCFC. The Brazilian is an overqualified backup. Seattle needed a reliable secondary forward behind their DP and Peruvian international.

San Jose’s key offseason acquisition was adding Ecuador international defensive midfielder Carlos Gruezo from FC Augsburg on a DP deal.

Gruezo, 27, was stellar in MLS for FC Dallas from 2016-19 before heading to the German Bundesliga. Now he’s back and will be pivotal to San Jose’s success.

I really like the Jonathan Mensah signing too (trade from Columbus) as part of manager Luchi Gonzalez’s revamped defensive unit (from Gruezo at d-mid, through Mensah at center back to Daniel at goalkeeper).

Rising Colombian winger Andrés Gómez, who is Real Salt Lake's club-record signing (around $4 million), adds to an attack with some interesting options.

It’s probably unfair to put too much expectation on him – he’s only 20 years old and a U22 Initiative signing. But the     Millonarios product is very talented and should get plenty of minutes under manager Pablo Mastroeni.

Well, Portland have made exactly one external signing this offseason, so this one is easy. But even if they added a dozen dudes, it’d still be easy.

Evander is on the shortlist for the best signing by any MLS club this offseason, acquired from Denmark's FC Midtjylland when he was the Europa League leader in assists after the group stage. The 24-year-old Brazilian playmaker could be the club’s next big star.

As Philly looked to build out depth and competition, they acquired Argentine attacker Joaquín Torres from CF Montréal.

Torres can play as a No. 10, second striker or on the wing (if/when they tweak the formation). His ability to eliminate defenders on the dribble is a new wrinkle the Union's attack hasn’t had, really, since Ilsinho retired.

I really like the Damion Lowe trade (from Inter Miami) as well, but I think Torres will be more impactful with how useful he’ll be off the bench when he doesn’t start.

On the shortlist for MLS's best signings of the offseason, Argentine winger Martín Ojeda looked like the real deal in preseason.

The 24-year-old was acquired from Godoy Cruz, where he had 32g/21a in 97 matches for the club. He can play on either wing, just as star Facundo Torres can, giving Orlando’s attack another dimension and further versatility.

Orlando had a busy offseason, from highly-rated SuperDraft additions to a new DP (Ojeda) and young talents from abroad.

Dante Vanzeir impressed plenty in the Belgian leagues, earning a debut with the Belgian national team.

Now, the 24-year-old could be the Red Bulls’ club-record signing if certain performance-based incentives hit. Over the last two years, he had 48g/21a in 92 matches with Union SG.

He's an in-prime center forward at the heart of RBNY’s attacking makeover this winter, joining the likes of Luquinhas and Lewis Morgan as final-third difference-makers.

NYCFC acquired Matt Freese in a trade with the Philadelphia Union shortly after Johnson headed to Toronto; the homegrown product was previously an overqualified backup behind three-time Allstate MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Andre Blake.

Freese now has the chance to win a starting role with NYCFC, likely battling Luis Barraza for the No. 1 shirt. The MLS Cup 2021 champions spent up to $750k in General Allocation Money (GAM) to get Freese, an indicator of the belief they have in the former US youth international.

At the time of writing, NYCFC stand to make a couple more key additions. So, watch this space.

Center back Dave Romney started all but five of Nashville SC’s first 91 regular-season matches, an integral part of an elite defensive unit next to Walker Zimmerman.

The Revs traded for Romney this winter, adding a key center back to a group that includes Andrew Farrell and Henry Kessler.

Nashville SC traded for livewire winger Fafà Picault from the Houston Dynamo this winter, looking to boost goal-scoring options around reigning Landon Donovan MLS MVP Hany Mukhtar.

Picault had 18g/8a in 61 appearances with the Dynamo. The veteran's dynamic pace will add to Nashville’s quality in transition.

CF Montréal went back to the trade market for a key addition, adding one of the best right backs in the league in Aaron Herrera.

Herrera made 124 MLS appearances with Real Salt Lake over five seasons, contributing a career-best 11 assists in 2021. He replaces Canadian international Alistair Johnston, who was transferred to Scottish powerhouse Celtic FC this winter.

Montréal's biggest move was working out a new deal to keep DP midfielder Victor Wanyama, who was awesome last year… but that isn’t a new signing.

Minnesota United’s 2022 season went off the rails at the end when center back Bakaye Dibassy went out injured. The defender will return at some point this season, but the Loons have made a handful of additions to the defensive unit, including Mexican center back Micky Tapias.

Tapias won the 2022 Liga MX Apertura with Pachuca but his contract was expiring this summer. Minnesota agreed on a pre-contract to sign him in the summer, then worked out a deal with Pachuca for the 26-year-old to sign immediately.

Josef Martínez got all the headlines because he’s an absolute star in this league, and is an important signing regardless… but Ukraine international center back Sergii Kryvtsov is a coup for Miami.

Kryvtsov won 17 major titles over 13 years with Shakhtar Donetsk, making 268 professional appearances in total, including time in the UEFA Champions League and Europa League. He’s the club’s new defensive anchor.

The LA Galaxy could still take a big swing with their final DP spot… but for now? Chris Mavinga joining in free agency is their best signing of the offseason.

Mavinga originally came to MLS in Toronto under Greg Vanney and reunites with his former coach in Southern California. He was integral to TFC’s treble-winning 2017 season.

I do like the Memo Rodríguez addition as well, which has flown under the radar.

After winning MLS Cup and the Supporters’ Shield, LAFC went out and added USMNT center back and former MLS Defender of the Year Aaron Long in free agency.

Long is a SoCal native and is excited at the prospect of heading home and joining the reigning champs. The 30-year-old made 139 appearances over six seasons in the RBNY first team. He recovered from a torn Achilles in 2021 to make 28 starts in 2022.

I don’t think enough people are talking about how much of a talent Croatia youth international winger Stipe Biuk is, by the way.

Moroccan attacker Amine Bassi gives the Houston Dynamo a creative outlet they didn’t have outside of Darwin Quintero in past seasons (he was never much of a defender, but still dangerous at this stage of his career).

In Bassi, and with Quintero now back in Colombia, Houston envision that creative touch with a defensive presence as well. The 25-year-old can play centrally or out wide and create goal-scoring opportunities for DP forward Sebastián Ferreira.

Bassi edges out Paraguayan talent Iván Franco here because he seems likely to get the first crack at starting, but whatever I wrote about Bassi can apply to Franco as well.

D.C. United had an extremely busy winter and made numerous good signings. The likes of Tyler Miller, Ruan, Pedro Santos and more should raise the floor after finishing bottom of the league last year, but the best addition is DP midfielder Mateusz Klich.

If Klich hits, he’ll raise the ceiling of this group and help alleviate attacking pressure on fellow DPs Christian Benteke and Taxi Fountas. The 32-year-old had 24g/21a in 195 appearances with Leeds United, where he was a fan favorite and crucial to their long-awaited promotion to the English Premier League.

FC Dallas’ revolving door of right backs has a new starter in Brazilian fullback Geovane Jesus.

Jesus helped Cruzeiro win the Brazilian second division and is added via the U22 Initiative. The 21-year-old made 27 appearances for Cruzeiro last season en route to the title.

After naming Wilfried Nancy head coach, it’s been a slower offseason in terms of additions for the Columbus Crew. Perhaps the best signing so far is forward Christian Ramirez.

The 31-year-old was acquired from Aberdeen in Scotland, as he returns to MLS after last featuring for Houston Dynamo FC in 2021. He has 35g/10a in 105 appearances (76 starts) throughout his MLS career.

To fill the void left by Auston Trusty moving to Arsenal last summer, the Rapids went out and acquired Danish international center back Andreas Maxsø on a DP deal from Brøndby.

Maxsø captained his former Danish Superliga squad, helped them win the 2020-21 league title and departs with seven goals and two assists in 112 games for the club.

Right wingback was a clear position Cincy wanted to improve this winter, heading into year two under a new front office and coaching staff. Accordingly, they came away with Colombian international Santiago Arias on a free transfer.

Arias won three league titles with PSV in Europe and is a veteran of two FIFA World Cups and three Copa Américas. He was most recently with Atletico Madrid.

As Chicago continue to search for a new No. 9 to replace Jhon Durán (now at Aston Villa for up to $22 million!), the Fire’s top signing of the offseason is right back Arnaud Souquet.

Souquet, 30, arrives from Montpellier after making 149 appearances in France’s top flight. He’s a day-one starter.

Charlotte went down to Argentina and added a big-time DP No. 9 from Racing Club, acquiring Enzo Copetti for around a $6 million transfer fee.

The move solidifies an interesting adjustment towards the end of last season, in which Polish international Karol Swiderski played as a No. 10 instead of at center forward. Copetti will run the lines up top, open space for Swiderski and Co., and, most importantly for a DP No. 9, score goals.

MLS veteran forward Gyasi Zardes reunites with Josh Wolff after the pair spent a year together in Columbus when Wolff was on Gregg Berhalter’s MLS staff. That season was Zardes’ best goal-scoring season (19 goals in 33 games).

Wolff’s tactics lend to plenty of chances. Zardes has spent the last half-decade feasting on this type of system.

Greek international striker Giorgos Giakoumakis has the unenviable duty of “replacing” Atlanta legend Josef Martínez at center forward. Setting that aside, Giakoumakis looks the profile of a strong MLS DP No. 9.

Giakoumakis was acquired from Celtic FC, where he didn’t win consistent playing time but scored at an impressive rate and still won a Golden Boot in Scotland. His best season in Europe came in 2020-21 when he had 26 goals in 30 appearances in the Netherlands with VVV-Venlo.