The 2021 MLS regular season has long been over and the unforgiving nature of single-elimination playoffs has sent more and more clubs officially to the offseason, joining 13 clubs that missed the playoffs.
Here, we'll cover three questions for every team as the offseason begins in earnest. With most clubs already announcing their roster decisions, the depth charts will look lighter than the first crop of 13. Think of it as an exit interview, if you will. Matt Doyle, as always, has you covered on his preeminent season-in-review for each club. Read that, too.
He has gifs. It’s tough to beat gifs.
It felt like all season long, Orlando City SC were chasing the ever-elusive "fully healthy" haven.
Daryl Dike started the year on loan at Barnsley and Alexandre Pato suffered an injury during his first game that limited him to just 106 minutes. Joao Moutinho started just under half of the team's regular-season matches, Ruan only a few more than half. Pedro Gallese started only 22 times, the same number as Nani. As Dike was entering full fitness and form toward the end of the season, Nani, Mauricio Pereyra and Chris Mueller fell off.
This team had a strong "what if?" variance. Yet still, they made the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs for just the second time in club history. Though they lost in Round One to Nashville SC, Orlando hit the offseason cautiously optimistic.
Orlando have new owners, the Wilf family, while being in the sweet spot of returning a number of core pieces and coaching staff while also having a ton of top-end flexibility. It's a truly huge offseason for the club. Get it right and they go from being a solid playoff team to the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference. Get it wrong? Potentially reset all these good vibes for a bit, pending how long big contracts are signed for.
There are far more than three questions before the Lions, but here are three big ones.
After undergoing an ownership change this summer, the slate is blank for the Wilf family to make some big changes.
Nani is gone and Mauricio Pereyra is out of contract. They're in talks about bringing Pereyra back, but it's highly unlikely they'd acquiesce to another DP deal. They were the only DPs on the roster, so as of now there are three DP spots open. And the club didn't have any players occupying U22 Initiative slots (unless someone was reclassified as such without an announcement). So theoretically, that's six (!) wide open, lucrative roster spots open.
Up to six new players where acquisition costs can be written off and don't need to fit under the cap. Six potentially game-changing spots to play around with. That's exciting.
Orlando have been linked with a $10 million deal for Uruguayan international winger Facundo Torres. (Be careful, Torres was also "reportedly" signed by LAFC last winter, too, and that obviously never happened.) Guess we'll have to wait and find out, but if there's truth to that rumor and price point, that's an extremely encouraging sign for the rest of the winter.
EVP of soccer operations Luiz Muzzi has an extensive network in South America, same with director of soccer Ricardo Moreira and head coach Oscar Pareja. It's silly season, so expect them to be incorrectly linked to a bunch of South American talent just because of the opportunity + new ownership + club's ties to the region.
Different variations of this question, and subsets of this question in which specific players will be targeted, will rule their offseason.
We've been asking this question since essentially February, right? Well, Dike is still an Orlando City player.
The breakout forward reportedly had a ton of interest from England and elsewhere in Europe, but it's murky as to what was real and what wasn't. Orlando allegedly put a $20 million price tag on him and a long-expected summer move never materialized. Dike returned to Orlando.
“It’s funny. Of course some things were true, but, yeah, there were some things people were saying were very, very false,” Dike told MLSsoccer.com in September. “It goes both ways.”
Dike closed the season well, even when the rest of the attack fell out of form and he shouldered the burden. He had a goal or assist in nine of his final 10 games, including the playoff loss to Nashville – 8g/1a in those 10 games.
It's easy to forget given his meteoric rise, but let's remind ourselves: Dike made his MLS debut legitimately less than 18 months ago. He just turned 21 years old in the summer. We are very early in his career arc.
He isn't worried, either.
“With the transfers, whatever will be best for me will come,” Dike said. “I’m perfectly happy. I’m happy being here, I love the fans, I love the team, I love everything."
In addition to Nani leaving this offseason, the future of Pato, Pereyra and Uri Rosell are undecided. All three are out of contract but all three are in negotiations with the team about a potential return.
Can club and player(s) find common ground that makes sense for all?
Given the open DP spots and squad needs, high-priced attackers are expected to arrive. Pereyra may not be as crucial a starter, if a starter at all at full-strength, depending on how many players arrive. Pato too, given his injury history. Rosell made just six starts this year, with Junior Urso, Sebastian Mendez and Andres Perea all getting as many minutes as possible in central midfield.
Some veteran continuity in attack wouldn't be the worst thing given all of the expected top-end change.
- The attack is primed for a number of key additions.
- To steal a line from Doyle: "There are at least three, and potentially four gigantic moves for this team to make this offseason."
- The defensive foundation is rock-solid when everyone is healthy, from GK through DM.
- Can Pereyra and Pato return on cap-friendly charges?