MLS clubs are truly getting into the preseason swing this week, which means it's time to start taking proper stock of how everyone fared in the offseason moves department.
One of my favorite parts of that process is picking out all the ace signings that have flown under the radar. For every Lucas Zelarayan that comes into the league with great fanfare before starring, there are guys like Jose Andres Martinez who arrive practically unnoticed but still shine.
Last year's solid collection of under-heralded newcomers was led by a jackpot No. 1 choice, which only puts added pressure on choosing this year's crop. No biggie, we're up to it. In fact, I'll go ahead and ask if it's foolish to imagine that the 2021 class could even be better than Martinez et al? You get to be the judge as the year unfolds.
No. 5: Jhohan Romana (Austin FC)
The Austin FC center-back catch is big, strong, aces in the air and covers a lot of ground with speed and maximum intent. He also moves the ball along briskly and safely once he's confiscated it. If Romana sounds like the perfect guy to make Matt Besler's life easier this season, it just means you're paying attention. Perhaps because he's 22 and only broke out in Paraguay last season, it seems like not that many folks appreciated this smart pickup.
No. 4: Stanislav Ivanov (Chicago Fire FC)
For obvious reasons, offseason attack captures draw the most eyeballs. For some reason, this Chicago acquisition was kind of overlooked. Ivanov is an all-purpose winger to the bone. The 21-year-old, who is just cracking into Bulgaria’s senior team radar, happily runs at defenders on the ball and can get behind them without it. He creates his own shot when veering inside and serves tempting crosses when he stays wide. On a young Fire FC team, Ivanov could flourish.
No. 3: Derrick Williams (LA Galaxy)
Of everything that the LA Galaxy needed to address this offseason, a defender who can get them out of vexing situations arguably deserved to top the list. In 2020, the Carson crew were one of two teams to concede over 10 goals more than their expected goals allowed total. Things were too easy for foes far too often, but bringing in Williams is a big step in fixing that. He's a rangy defender that excels at leaping to the rescue when his teammates experience a breakdown. And at 28, he's probably just entering his prime as a center back.
No. 2: Kim Moon-Hwan (LAFC)
It's no secret that right back was a major headache for LAFC last season, which leaves me surprised that their offseason acquisition of this South Korea international has barely risen above a whisper. The 25-year-old is a clever defender who likes to keep the game in front of him. The speedster can also impact the final-third dynamic, as he showed during his Busan IPark days. Add it all together and it sure looks as though Moon-Hwan presents a classic "remedy for what ailed a contender" situation.
No. 1: Claudio Bravo (Portland Timbers)
Other than good health for some main cogs, Portland's main need ahead of the 2021 season was finding a starting left back. All the better if the new guy could inject a healthy dose of pace into the lineup. Not that everyone noticed, but Bravo ticks all the boxes. With an ability to break lines on the dribble, the young vet (he soon turns 24) can add a new layer of flavor to an already spicy Timbers attack. He's also excellent in recovery situations and a sharp tackler. A low-key coup for a low-key title contender? It appears so.