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 14 Western Conference teams.
Don’t sell Driussi
TOM BOGERT (TB): Austin kept the overwhelming majority of their core that advanced to the 2022 Western Conference Final. The one place I would have pointed is maybe center forward, with a player like Gyasi Zardes.
Then they signed Gyasi Zardes in free agency, a move made official this week. The next point would be depth… but they’ve already added midfielder Sofiane Djeffal and forward Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez to add to the roster, so depth is arriving.
Honestly, the only offseason need is to not lose MVP finalist Sebastián Driussi, who reportedly has interest in Europe.
MATT DOYLE (MD): About the only thing I can come up with is “sign a young No. 10 who can maybe be Driussi’s successor.”
TB: After declining the purchase option for Brazilian defender Lucas Esteves from Palmeiras, the Rapids could use another left back.
That won’t be Colorado’s only remaining move of the winter, though they’ve already made a few significant additions in acquiring forward Kévin Cabral from the LA Galaxy (trade) and recalling homegrown midfielder Cole Bassett from a loan at Eredivisie side Fortuna Sittard.
RB, another CB
TB: The rotating door at right back for FC Dallas continues this winter. Academy graduate Reggie Cannon was transferred to Boavista… then academy graduate Bryan Reynolds was transferred to Roma… then Nanu didn’t work on loan (from Porto) this year.
So, they’re back in the market for a new starting right back and are in advanced talks to sign Geovane Jesus from Cruzeiro. The 21-year-old helped Cruzeiro win Serie B, the Brazilian second tier, this year. He has made 43 first-team appearances.
Elsewhere in defense, there’s more shifting at center back. Club legend Matt Hedges is leaving in free agency, while the purchase option for Joshué Quiñónez wasn’t picked up this winter.
Dallas already added CB Sebastien Ibeagha in free agency, but could use another option for the position.
MD: I don’t expect Dallas will spend big on what will presumably be a backup center back, so with that in mind, how about former Tampa Bay Rowdie (and Atlanta United fill-in!) Lawrence Wyke? He’s a free agent, and his expert distribution from the back makes him a good fit for a team that wants to keep the ball.
Difference-maker in attack, defensive depth
So, that’s sorted. But the team needs another difference-maker in attack, one who can help create chances for Ferreira and take some of the goalscoring burden.
The Dynamo have worked this offseason to keep reshaping the roster and shedding contracts they inherited. Center back Tim Parker (to St. Louis) and forward Fafà Picault (to Nashville) were traded, while a handful of senior contract options were declined. As such, they need some defensive depth as well.
MD: They need a playmaking winger. Can they maybe land Uruguayan international Facundo Pellistri on loan from Manchester United? In theory, he’d be a perfect fit.
Keep as many out-of-contract players as possible
TB: After winning MLS Cup and the Supporters' Shield, LAFC went into the offseason with a handful of key squad players who could potentially leave for free: Ryan Hollingshead, Eddie Segura, Sebastian Méndez, Franco Escobar and Cristian Tello.
So far, the Black & Gold have officially re-signed Hollingshead. Nothing is sorted on the others.
Keeping together an MLS Cup-winning squad is difficult. Departures will be inevitable, like the expected transfer of midfielder José Cifuentes to Europe, but LAFC are working to keep most of the others currently out of contract.
MD: We need to see what happens with the Ecuadorian contingent before we can figure out what the priority should be for LAFC, but I think it’s pretty safe assumption that they’ll be shopping for left backs and central midfielders this winter no matter what.
TB: To start the offseason, the Galaxy traded winger Kévin Cabral to the Colorado Rapids. It’s a potentially significant chip to push the team forward.
With Cabral departing, and Douglas Costa being inconsistent, I’d assume they address it on the wings to accentuate attacking midfielder Riqui Puig and strikers Chicharito and Dejan Joveljic. The midfield is set with Puig ahead of Mark Delgado and Gastón Brugman, one of the strongest trios in the league.
The Galaxy are under sanctions in which they can’t sign players from outside MLS during the summer, so I’d assume they’ll try to do as much as they can this winter.
MD: Offloading Cabral opens up a DP slot, one which they will once again use on a winger in the hopes that they can find a guy capable of being both a secondary playmaker and a secondary goalscorer.
The shape of the Galaxy roster (they use their U22 slots) means they’ll have to either shop cheap or shop young. How about Luca Orellano from Velez Sarsfield?
TB: Minnesota have acted swiftly this offseason, adding center back Doneil Henry, fullback Zarek Valentin and goalkeeper Clint Irwin while completing a permanent deal to keep previously on-loan midfielder Joseph Rosales.
Even with Henry in, the club could probably use another option in central defense, particularly pending the recovery of key center back Bakaye Dibassy.
MD: Creating some CB depth has to be the main focus. Trinidadian international Leland Archer was one of the best at that spot in the USL Championship last year, and he has the size for the spot that Adrian Heath likes.
Forward, center back
Portland won’t be extremely active this offseason (most of their roster is set), but they’ll look to make a couple of key moves, namely by adding a center forward. The Timbers are looking to add a starting-level player to challenge Felipe Mora and Jaroslaw Niezgoda for minutes and have numerous targets (TAM-level or perhaps even Young DP) to make that happen.
They could use more depth in defense, while another priority would be to keep midfielder Eryk Williamson.
MD: The Timber seem deep and flexible everywhere, though that could change if they offload Williamson or don’t bring Cristhian Paredes back. Should it work out that way, they should absolutely make a run at Jhegson Méndez, who is likely to be a free agent (and probably will sign in Europe, but still).
Keep Cordova, add defensive help
TB: Real Salt Lake are still in talks to keep forward Sergio Córdova after his loan from Augsburg in the German Bundesliga – though they would have liked to have had this sorted weeks ago. Córdova’s future is still up in the air, and if he doesn’t return, then a significant signing at center forward will be needed.
The good news is Damir Kreilach should be back to full health in 2023 after missing most of last year, so that’ll represent an attacking boost.
Elsewhere, RSL are light in central defense.
MD: They badly need center back depth, or maybe even a new starter if they feel like Marcelo Silva’s at the age to move into a reserve role.
TB: With Luchi Gonzalez taking over in San Jose, they’re entering a new era in 2023.
The squad has some solid pieces already – like striker Jeremy Ebobisse, winger Cristian Espinoza, midfielder Jackson Yueill and more – and have done a nice job in the last year of overturning the roster from the Matias Almeyda reign.
They don’t have an obvious need (though maybe midfield depth), so I’ll just keep it general: Another difference-maker. It’s quality over quantity at the moment, and they do have a DP spot open.
MD: Tunisian international Aïssa Laïdouni would tie that midfield together nicely, wouldn’t he?
Another left back
TB: The Seattle Sounders still have their entire on-field Concacaf Champions League-winning core together, though general manager Garth Lagerwey just moved on to Atlanta United. The squad is largely set and there probably isn’t a ton of room for big changes.
Any significant incoming (or need for significant incoming) would probably be in reaction to a player leaving.
Outside of that… a natural option behind Nouhou at left back would be very useful, particularly one that offers something more going forward.
MD: The obvious issue is a lack of center-forward depth behind Raúl Ruidíaz and, quite possibly, Fredy Montero. In my eyes, what they need is a specialist: A big guy they can bring off the bench for the final 10 minutes of close games when so much of any team’s approach revolves around pumping crosses into the box.
Obviously this isn’t the type of player you’d spend a ton on. So given those parameters, either Óttar Magnús Karlsson or JJ Williams – both of whom were very productive in the USL last season – fit the bill.
TB: Sporting Kansas City will get two DPs (Alan Pulido, Gadi Kinda) back from injury after both missed the entirety of the 2022 season. They also re-signed right back Graham Zusi, midfielder Roger Espinoza and center back Andreu Fontàs.
SKC made one key addition so far, acquiring defensive midfielder Nemanja Radoja in a position of need. Really, all that’s left is in central defense.
Nicolas Isimat-Mirin is out of contract. This was one spot of worry last year, so they’ll need to get it right.
MD: Their need for a CB capable of shrinking the field has been on the front burner since Ike Opara departed after the 2018 season.
Guys like that don’t come cheap, but I’m wondering if Flamengo’s Leo Pereira, who spent a year with Orlando back in his early 20s, fits the bill.
Starting DM, depth
TB: St. Louis CITY are working through their inaugural roster build. Preseason starts in less than a month and they’re in a good spot, but obviously, they have further signings to make.
The biggest priority is a starter in defensive midfield next to DP Eduard Löwen. Will it be a player from within MLS or abroad? If it’s within the league, they still haven’t made a “big” allocation money trade, so they could do that here.
Outside of that? Just further depth. They’ve accrued some solid depth from around the league (like Jon Bell, Nico Gioacchini, Jared Stroud and Aziel Jackson) and promoted players from their MLS NEXT Pro team, but they still need to fill out the roster.
MD: Don’t overthink it. Just use the top spot in the Allocation Order to get former FC Dallas d-mid Carlos Gruezo.
CB, use third DP spot
The Whitecaps are working on it, holding an interest in Uruguayan center back Mathias Laborda. The defender is out of contract this winter after winning a league title with Nacional.
As for that open DP spot… it probably makes sense to use it on another forward following Lucas Cavallini leaving. Perhaps someone who could play next to Brian White and also a traditional forward, to give head coach Vanni Sartini flexibility and options.
MD: I actually like this roster build a lot, but they’re still thin behind Julian Gressel at right wingback. Finding a kid who can fill that spot – maybe Canadian O’Vonte Mullings, who’s a natural attacker and was very good for RBNY II in USL last year – makes a lot of sense.