MLS Insider: Tom Bogert

Transfer needs: What Eastern Conference clubs must address this winter

1213-East-Transfer Needs

The MLS offseason rolls on as the 2022 FIFA World Cup draws to a close. We’re under a month out from preseason kicking off around the league (Jan. 6!), and clubs are working to set their 2023 rosters.

Here are offseason needs for all 15 Eastern Conference teams. Western Conference ones will come, erm, hopefully soon.

DP forward (if Josef leaves)

TOM BOGERT (TB): This is an easy call, though no resolution has technically been made on Josef Martínez. The Athletic’s Felipe Cardenas reported that Atlanta plan to move on from the club legend. If/when that happens, a new DP forward is their chief priority.

Additionally, Atlanta and Marcelino Moreno also need to figure out a resolution for 2023.

The midfielder is talented but the fit hasn’t been great and an exit (either via a trade within the league or transfer abroad) could be a way to create more flexibility/assets to alter the group.

As I was writing this, Atlanta traded homegrown center back George Campbell to CF Montréal for up to $900k in General Allocation Money (GAM). This will help with flexibility as well.

Adding Derrick Etienne in free agency as an MLS-proven, dangerous and vertical winger was also a need. Then, beyond that, more additions will likely come from further outgoings.

MATT DOYLE (MD): Josef sort of laid the template for the ideal No. 9 target in MLS – mid-20s South American with success in more than one league, but looking for a permanent home with stability. And it should be noted that Garth Lagerwey basically followed that blueprint in the signing of Raúl Ruidíaz at Seattle a half-decade ago.

That said, it feels like the No. 1 priority has to be getting something for Moreno. He’s a good player but does not fit. Maybe Montréal have another million worth of GAM socked away somewhere, or perhaps the Rapids want to come to the table?

DP striker, another No. 6

TB: This is kind of cheating because, as I’ve reported for a bit, Charlotte are in the final stages of signing Enzo Copetti from Argentina’s Racing Club as a DP No. 9.

Copetti’s specific profile – more of a pure finisher, someone who works hard off the ball and makes direct runs – should open more room for Karol Swiderski between the lines (as well as for their wingers). Again, I want to point out that no deal has been announced yet.

Beyond that, another defensive midfielder would be useful. Derrick Jones looked really, really good down the stretch at defensive midfield, though has never started more than 14 games in an MLS season. Brandt Bronico can play there as well but is more likely starting in a box-to-box role. Another option for cover/competition goes a long way.

MD: Yeah, it’s clear they need more bodies in central midfield. I’m a big believer in Jones’ talent, but even if he maxes it out there’s going to be depth issues if he and Bronico are the only deep-lying midfielders with significant top-flight experience at the spot on the roster entering 2023.

Defensive depth, another GK

TB: Is it weird to say I really like the potential starting XI for a team that finished 12th in the Eastern Conference last year and hasn’t made any significant changes yet? Probably, yeah, but still.

Chicago have a pretty defined lineup but could use more players challenging for minutes in defense at all spots. Homegrown goalkeeper Gaga Slonina joins Chelsea this winter after his club-record transfer and they need to add another shot-stopper. It just depends on if they believe Chris Brady is ready to start or if they want another veteran option to add with Brady and Spencer Richey.

It seems likely the Fire will use their newly-opened third DP spot on a center forward, which is for sure the better headline here. But for me, as long as Jhon Durán is still at the club (which won’t be for the long-term, of course, with a bunch of big clubs tracking him) then that’s not as pressing a need.

MD: I actually kind of wonder if they’ll keep the powder dry on that DP slot, then make a run at Poland international Krzysztof Piatek this summer after they sell Durán. He would check a couple of obvious on-field and off-field boxes, and obviously Hertha would be more than happy to sell.

Wingbacks, CB

TB: FC Cincinnati, ahead of schedule in their rebuild, have further flexibility to add to a club-best 2022 season.

One spot they could upgrade is at wingback, particularly on the right flank. Alvas Powell and Ray Gaddis are the current options there. On the other side, Álvaro Barreal was a revelation at the position… but he’s the only player currently under contract who can play there, so they’ll at least need cover. The same goes for center back, where FCC are currently light on numbers.

Full seasons for Obinna Nwobodo and Matt Miazga will be a boost as well. If Brenner leaves in a lucrative transfer for Europe, then it’s very likely Cincy will add another DP forward.

MD: There have been whispers that FC Dallas homegrown fullbacks Reggie Cannon and Bryan Reynolds could be on their way back to MLS from Europe this winter. It’d take some Allocation Order magic to get into position to land either of them, but we’ve seen general manager Chris Albright exercise that kind of wizardry before.

Left wingback, CB, one more attacker

TB: At long last, Wilfried Nancy officially takes over as head coach. In two impressive years at CF Montréal, Nancy preferred a 3-4-2-1 system.

If that remains the case in Columbus, then the Crew really need to add a left wingback (unless they think Will Sands is ready for a key starting role). Pedro Santos had played left back in the Crew’s 4-2-3-1 last year, but he departed in free agency for D.C. United.

The Crew could use another center back as well. In attack, will Lucas Zelarayán play as a second striker off Cucho Hernández or as a No. 10? The answer to that question will dictate if they sign more of a striker or more of an attacking midfielder.

Columbus have their new head coach and they have their core (Zelarayán, Hernández, Darlington Nagbe, Jonathan Mensah, Aidan Morris, Milos Degenek, Eloy Room). It’s a really good spot to be in.

MD: I love Kevin Molino, but you just can’t count on him to stay healthy. This means they need one more high-level attacking piece.

If they’re really going to go for it, how about Cucho’s countryman Sebastian Villa from Boca Juniors? He’d fit better in the 4-2-3-1 than the 3-4-2-1, but I’m pretty sure he’s good enough to manage in either role.

D.C. United logo
D.C. United

Center mid, Right back

TB: D.C. United had a plan for where they wanted to upgrade this winter, and they’ve been moving both early and quickly. The Black-and-Red have already signed Pedro Santos, Tyler Miller, Derrick Williams and Mohanad Jeahze, while they’re closing on a deal for Poland international midfielder Mateusz Klich from Leeds United. So let’s look there at central midfield.

Klich would be a key piece under head coach Wayne Rooney, a Premier League-proven player and one with 41 caps for Poland.

After that, D.C. could do with another player at right back with Andy Najar. Other than that? The roster might be generally set for a bit.

MD: Based on his play last season, I’d say they need to buy Ravel Morrison out and get someone more productive in that slot.

I wouldn’t hate a trade for Marcelino Moreno here, but if they want to continue shopping in Europe – which has been their M.O. since Wayne Rooney grabbed the wheel – both Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ross Barkley are on expiring deals. Neither has hit the heights once hoped for from them, but both are more than good enough to be excellent MLS midfielders.

Inter Miami CF logo
Inter Miami CF

Decision on Alejandro Pozuelo

TB: Inter Miami are in the Lionel Messi sweepstakes and they are a real, genuine suitor. He could come as soon as this summer… but there isn’t anything definitive yet on the Argentine legend.

That complicates a decision the club needs to make immediately: The future of Alejandro Pozuelo.

Pozuelo was acquired last summer in a trade from Toronto FC before his contract expired this winter. Pozuelo has said he wants to stay and the club was very happy with him… but Miami are also keeping their DP spots open and flexible. And, if Messi does indeed sign, does Pozuelo make sense as a complementary piece?

Miami already sorted the future of striker Leo Campana, picking up his purchase option from Premier League side Wolverhampton Wanderers. That was a big move as well.

MD: Yeah, Tom’s right – figuring out the Messi situation so they can then figure out the Pozuelo situation is the whole deal.

I will mention, though, that they’ve been linked to Aaron Long in free agency. That’d be a very good signing for them, as would fellow free-agent center backs Alex Callens or Matt Hedges.

CF Montréal logo
CF Montréal

Almost everything

TB: Montréal’s offseason has been almost exclusively filled with outbound news.

Head coach Wilfried Nancy (finalist for 2022 Sigi Schmid MLS Coach of the Year), Djordje Mihailovic (best attacker), Victor Wanyama (lone DP), Ismaël Koné (wonderkid midfielder), Alistair Johnston (Canadian international defender) and both goalkeepers who combined to start all 34 games (James Pantemis, Sebastian Breza)… they’ve all left.

That’s a whole lot to replace from last season’s East No. 2 seed. There could be further departures, too. Montréal could be in need of at least five new starters.

The good news? Montreal have at their disposal…

  • A ton of allocation money accrued from three significant outbound transfers
  • All three DP spots open
  • Plenty of senior roster spots

While writing this, Montréal acquired US youth international center back George Campbell in a trade with Atlanta United for up to $900k in GAM. Don’t expect that to be MTL’s last foray into the trade market this winter.

MD: As mentioned above, I don’t think it’d be dumb to knock on Atlanta’s door again and see if they’re willing to deal Moreno. Or hell, given Montréal need more bodies deeper in central midfield, how about Franco Ibarra?

Nashville SC logo
Nashville SC

Striker, outgoings

TB: Nashville added Fafa Picault in a trade (from Houston) and turned Jacob Shaffelburg’s loan into a permanent deal (from Toronto). Beyond those wingers, the roster is generally set, though they have room to take another swing.

Maybe at center forward alongside Hany Mukhtar? More to the point at this stage, though, is the future of DP forward Aké Loba and U22 Initiative signing Rodrigo Piñeiro. If the club decides to move on from either/both international signings, then they’d open up more assets to use on potential incomings.

Central midfield is deep, as is central defense. Shaq Moore was a significant addition at right back, while Shaffelburg and Picault give Gary Smith further options in the squad.

MD: Obviously a buy-out and big-name striker signing is the best combo. Barring that, though, let’s imagine an intra-league move that makes sense: Toronto forward Ayo Akinola.

There’s an understandable concern with his injury history and defensive work rate, but:

  1. Players get over injuries all the time, and he looked fully fit near the end of last year.
  2. Nashville don’t press at all, which makes defense from the No. 9 more a question of effort than a question of mastering the scheme.

I’d see about working for another Shaffelburg-esque loan deal, with the potential to make it permanent.

Winger, Center back

TB: The Revs could bring back Nacho Gil, but if they play a 4-2-3-1, they still could use another winger beyond Dylan Borrero and others. In central defense the Revs lost Jon Bell in the Expansion Draft to St. Louis, creating the need to bring in another defender.

New England have some depth from two highly-rated homegrowns Noel Buck (CM) and Esmir Bajraktarevic (winger), both of whom should be ready to take rotation minutes in 2023.

The Revs acquired striker Bobby Wood earlier this offseason as they began their tweaks for next season. They also need a resolution on the future of striker Jozy Altidore, who spent the second half of 2022 on loan at Puebla in Liga MX.

MD: I’m just going to gently make the point that if they’re playing a 4-2-3-1, Gustavo Bou doesn’t really have a place in the XI (provided they’re going to be starting Giacomo Vrioni, a true No. 9, up top).

Bou going back to Racing with Colombian winger Johan Carbondero heading in the other direction could be a nice bit of work.

New York City FC logo
New York City FC

Try to re-sign Callens/Johnson, CM

TB: First on the priority list for NYCFC should be trying to hammer out deals with current free agents Alex Callens and Sean Johnson to stay at the club. The veterans have both been integral to NYCFC’s recent success and remain in their primes. They won’t be cheap, and both will have options, but that’s got to be their priority.

Elsewhere, reports suggest Nicolás Acevedo is close to signing with Brazilian club Bahia. If that happens, NYCFC are in desperate need of further additions in central midfield.

The future of Santi Rodríguez is also up in the air, but NYCFC are deep on wingers at the moment and should be able to cover.

MD: If the rumor of Brondby’s Christian Cappis to an Eastern Conference club is true – and to be clear, I have my doubts – NYCFC sure makes a lot of sense.

New York Red Bulls logo
New York Red Bulls

Starting-level CB, RB

TB: With Aaron Long leaving in free agency and the future of Kyle Duncan firmly “TBD,” the New York Red Bulls are in need of new defensive starters.

Sean Nealis has grown into a rock at center back while Long was injured in 2021 and worked to find consistency in 2022. Andrés Reyes is a starter, too, but Gerhard Struber often plays three at the back, so further competition/options there to replace Long is necessary.

Whoever comes in at right back (or if Duncan returns) will need to be able to play wingback as well.

RBNY have already sorted out the long-term future of Elias Manoel, agreeing to a permanent transfer with Brazilian side Gremio (though it’s not formally announced yet). Manoel was on loan last summer/fall, while Cory Burke was signed in free agency after playing for Philadelphia.

Also: The contract for midfielder Cristian Cásseres Jr. expires at the end of the year. Let's watch whether the Venezuelan international will sign a new deal, leave now or wait until he can depart on a free transfer next winter.

MD: Seems like the best possible thing for them would be to find a taker for striker Patryk Klimala and then use the open international slot (and maybe even the open DP slot) on a young, project attacker.

How about Jesus Diaz from Porto’s B team?

Orlando City SC logo
Orlando City SC

DP attacker

TB: Orlando are in a bit of a transformational winter. Last year was their big reset (moving on from Nani + transferring Daryl Dike to West Brom, then bringing in Facundo Torres and Ercan Kara) but they have a lot of moves to make this winter as well.

As the dust settles, with Mauricio Pereyra re-signed on a non-DP deal, Orlando have an open DP spot and can use it anywhere in the attack. I leave the position (winger? No. 10? forward?) ambiguous because they really just need to ensure they get the right piece to complement Torres (who I could see playing through the center if they identify a winger).

I’m working under the impression that a deal to keep Peru international goalkeeper Pedro Gallese gets over the line. He’s currently a free agent and a top priority as well.

MD: Know what a good landing spot for Pozuelo would be? Yeah. He wouldn’t have to go far.

Philadelphia Union logo
Philadelphia Union

Left back if Kai Wagner leaves, depth

TB: For the Philadelphia Union, their biggest transaction to watch is the future of Best XI left back Kai Wagner. The expectation for months is that a transfer abroad will materialize.

If/when that happens, Philly will have a need at left back. Head coach Jim Curtin speaks highly of homegrown Matt Real, who has been behind Wagner for a few seasons now, while the club signed 19-year-old left back Anton Sorenson to a homegrown deal as well. With Leon Flach’s ability to play left back, maybe they could see how that group does for the first half of the season, but it’s more likely an external addition comes.

As for depth… I’m assuming Philly will add another center back and another forward. The latter could come from the second team (Venezuelan youth international Jose Riasco, maybe?).

The Union already acquired midfielder Andrés Perea in a trade with Orlando City, a big addition. Midfielder Richard Odada and center back Abasa Aremeyaw were added late in the Secondary Transfer Window last year, so they’ll be part of the depth as the club is likely to play 50-55 games in all competitions.

MD: Sporting director Ernst Tanner tends to either 1) find undervalued assets in MLS, or 2) shop in far-flung places for players most of us (except for Football Manager sickos like Tom) have never heard of.

I’m throwing darts here, but if they sell Wagner and don’t think Sorensen’s ready… how about Red Star Belgrade LB Irakli Azarovi? Philly’s done business there before, and the kid fits the profile of “develop and sell on.”

Toronto FC logo
Toronto FC

Starters at GK, LB, CB; Depth everywhere

TB: Toronto FC’s rebuild/reloading under Bob Bradley enters year two. The roster is almost unrecognizable from a year ago and there’s still some work to do as they transition to this new era.

The club identified defensive shortcomings from last year and cleared out space to address that. TFC need:

  • A new starting goalkeeper, after already adding a new backup goalkeeper
  • A new center back – they’re in talks with free agent Matt Hedges and remain in talks with Chris Mavinga, who is out of contract
  • A new starting left back (after Domenico Criscito retired) and backup left back (after Luca Petrasso and Jacob Shaffelburg were traded away)

Toronto already re-signed Jonathan Osorio, who was out of contract. That’s a big move. A midfield trio of Osorio, Mark-Anthony Kaye and Michael Bradley is really strong. So is a starting point in attack of DP wingers/Italian internationals Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi.

The roster is currently very thin. TFC wanted to create as much space/flexibility as they could, so depth signings are in dire need across the midfield, defense and on the wings, particularly if homegrowns Jayden Nelson and Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty end up transferring to Europe.

MD: Sam Adekugbe seems like a nice plug-and-play solution at left back, doesn’t he? Gotta get him out of the Turkish Süper Lig.