Armchair Analyst: Matt Doyle

Transfer tiers: Ranking Western Conference clubs so far

Lloris transfer doyle

Even though the Primary Transfer Window doesn’t open until Jan. 31, we are, in fact, in the heart of silly season. That means lots of reports, even more rumors, and some actual moves by teams aimed towards winning a trophy or three next season.

Most teams still have a good chunk of work to do. But now, with preseason starting to kick into gear, it seems apt to take a look at what’s been done already. So I will go, team by team, through the new additions (via trade, transfer, free agency and loan) that I think will be significant this year.

The Western Conference is below, while the Eastern Conference assessment came out yesterday.

Big Deals Are Done
  • LW: Pedro de la Vega (reported $7.5m transfer from Lanús – not announced yet)
  • CB: Nathan (MLS free agent)

Just about everyone in the West is really taking their time, save for Craig Waibel and the Sounders. With the departure of Nico Lodeiro via free agency, they had one DP slot open and, with the reported arrival of de la Vega, they have filled it.

If he’s the inverted, 1v1 playmaking wizard he’s billed to be – think Ignacio Piatti – then he fits perfectly for a Sounders team that needed just a little bit more on-the-ball juice to push into the elite of MLS last year.

Nathan, meanwhile, should be a solid depth piece at CB.

Good Work Done, But More Needed
  • CM: Chris Durkin (trade from D.C. United for Jared Stroud, Lucas Bartlett and $300k GAM)
  • LB: Nikolas Dyhr (transfer from FC Midtjylland for a reported $550k)
  • RB: Tomas Totland (transfer from BK Häcken for a reported $500k)

Part of St. Louis’ game model involves getting the fullbacks forward, but when they did so last year, they tended to concede too many chances in transition, so upgrading those spots was a priority. Job well done there (at least on paper). Durkin, meanwhile, has been solid at several spots and should add to the squad’s overall depth.

But while St. Louis don’t have any pressing needs, they have a few spots that are upgradeable – d-mid, maybe center back, maybe right wing – and, with the reported sale of Niko Gioacchini, a shortage of forwards if they intend to stay with two up top.

If, however, they’re shifting to a 4-2-3-1, then the question is whether or not they spend that open DP slot on a new No. 10.

EDIT: As I was writing the above blurb, reports of a potential deal for Hannover striker Cedric Teuchert have popped up. Teuchert’s played all across the front line during his career, but had his best year last year in the 2. Bundesliga alongside a target forward in a two. So that should give us a big hint as to which direction St. Louis are headed.

  • FW: Damir Kreilach (MLS free agent)
  • FW/W: Fafà Picault (MLS free agent)

I know Kreilach’s been a midfielder for most of his career, but he’s clearly Brian White’s primary backup at this point. Picault, meanwhile, has been a dogged two-way player his whole MLS career, both on the wing and as a forward. Part of me wonders if Vanni Sartini might be thinking about transitioning him to right wingback, but… probably not.

Good signings for a team with a lot of games on the schedule this year. But they need a true right wingback (I still expect Richie Laryea to be in Vancouver soon) to be as good as they were last season. Some center-back depth wouldn’t hurt, either.

  • CB: Kamal Miller (trade from Miami for up to $775k GAM, int'l roster spot and a sell-on percentage)
  • GK: Maxime Crépeau (MLS free agent)

They added two starting-caliber – potentially All-Star level – starters who are the definition of MLS proven, and who have experience with new head coach Phil Neville (he assisted with the Canadian men’s national team at last summer’s Gold Cup).

Well done. Now they’ve presumably turned their sights to those open DP slots on the front line. If they get those moves right, this team could contend.

  • LW: Djordje Mihailovic (transfer from AZ Alkmaar for a reported fee north of $3m)
  • GK: Zack Steffen (transfer from Manchester City for an undisclosed fee)
  • DM/RB: Jasper Löffelsend (trade from RSL for an int’l roster slot and up to $100k GAM)
  • LB: Sam Vines (transfer from Royal Antwerp for an undisclosed fee)
  • AM: Omir Fernandez (MLS free agent)

The Rapids have probably improved more than any other team in the league – not just the West, but the whole league – this offseason. They’ve also taken the long-held and not-incorrect narrative about the team being something of an afterthought and stood it on its head given the not-inconsiderable spending that’s been done.

And it’s still probably not enough, right? They have a DP No. 9 (Rafael Navarro) who had one goal in 10 appearances last year, and a DP winger (Kévin Cabral) who has eight goals in 88 MLS appearances over three years. Mihailovic will juice the chance creation (as long as Colorado don’t play him as a No. 8 like AZ inexplicably did), as will Vines, but will anybody finish? Based on what we’ve seen from Navarro and Cabral… oof.

They’re still looking for a new d-mid as well, and the rumored return of old friend Kellyn Acosta would help. But as long as there are unproductive DPs in the attack, there’s work to do.

We’re Waiting…
  • LW: Jáder Obrian (Re-Entry Draft selection from FC Dallas)
  • LB: Guilherme Biro (transfer from Mirassol for an undisclosed fee)

New CSO Rodolfo Borrell has quietly rebuilt the team’s left side, but there remain many, many holes to fill. None of the center backs looked starting-caliber last season, and all three are injury-prone vets at this point; Owen Wolff and Danny Pereira are individually talented but maybe not the best fit together in central midfield; Gyasi Zardes is a one-dimensional super-sub at this point; DP right winger Emiliano Rigoni has not at all lived up to that billing.

This does not look like a playoff-level team in any way at the moment, and the clock is ticking.

  • W/AM: Enes Sali (U22 Initiative signing from FCV Farul Constanța for an undisclosed fee)

I’m stretching it, maybe, by expecting Sali to contribute this year. The kid’s still just 17 years old and Dallas have a lot of proven and promising guys in front of him, even with Alan Velasco out for the season. But still, he’s a full international already and has a decent rep. So he could maybe work his way into the rotation, especially if he shines as a chance creator.

Still, though, Dallas need to do more. To that end, they are reportedly negotiating for Benfica super-sub and Croatian international center forward Petar Musa.

I would love this move for them, though even if they push it over the line, they’d need to keep going with a couple more center back signings and maybe another backup d-mid as well.

  • No significant additions

They have one DP slot open and potentially could open another if they move on from Sebastián Ferreira. They have an in-demand Coco Carrasquilla, who the Mexican press think is destined for a transfer to Club América. They have already lost last year’s starting center forward, Corey Baird, in free agency.

The Dynamo have a couple of talented kids to play on the front line, but no proven performers there. They could possibly upgrade Amine Bassi as the No. 10. They could and should add depth behind Artur at d-mid, and they could upgrade their left side by adding an attacking left back. And if Alberth Elis is indeed coming back to MLS, they have to make sure it’s in Dynamo orange.

For a team that won the US Open Cup and made it to the Western Conference Final last year, it sure feels like there’s a lot of work to be done.

  • GK: Hugo Lloris (transfer from Tottenham Hotspur)

Lloris is old (37) and his shot-stopping fell off pretty hard last year in the Prem, where he was just about in the 50th percentile in PSxG-GA as per FBRef via Opta. But he was closer to the 70th percentile in the Champions League and at the World Cup, and in limited minutes last year with Spurs, he’s been excellent at keeping the ball out of the net:

Hugo Lloris stats

LAFC are also linked with Santos Laguna’s Mexican international left back Omar Campos, who would be a much-needed replacement for the departed Diego Palacios.

So John Thorrington’s starting to cook. But with Dénis Bouanga making noises about wanting a return to Europe, Carlos Vela unsigned, no depth in the midfield, little depth on the backline, no true No. 9* on the roster given Mario González's loan to Sporting de Gijón in Spain, and two open DP slots… it’s a lot. The man needs to keep cooking.

(*) This might be underselling Nathan Ordaz, who came up as a winger but has looked pretty promising as sort of a false 9 in his first-team minutes.

In all honesty, LAFC are one of the two most interesting teams to watch over the next month. The other is…

  • RB: Miki Yamane (acquired from Kawasaki Frontale for an undisclosed fee)
  • RW: Gabriel Pec (acquired from Vasco da Gama for a reported $10m – not announced yet)

Yamane, a 30-year-old Japanese international who’s been named J1 League Best XI three times (imagine that, a fullback actually getting Best XI!), has officially been signed and announced. He is very much an attacking right back who does his best work overlapping an inverted, direct-to-goal winger.

That’s what Pec is. The 22-year-old Brazilian’s deal has not been announced yet, but he’s been super-productive at a high level, and that production should translate seamlessly to MLS as he gets onto the end of Yamane’s endline pullbacks or Riqui Puig’s midfield through-balls.

It’s a really good start to this winter as CSO Will Kuntz takes the reins. The next steps will be adding another attacking DP – Ghanaian international winger Joseph Paintsil of Genk seems to be the favorite – and another U22 piece. Surprisingly, they’re looking at the wing for that spot as well, and reportedly are pursuing Dinamo Zagreb/Croatian youth international winger Gabrijel Rukavina. Plus, they’ve been linked to Alberth Elis.

I went into the offseason thinking they’d upgrade at center forward, but instead, Kuntz seems to have given Dejan Joveljić a vote of confidence. The clear idea is upgrading the guys around Joveljic will turn the Serbian international into the kind of consistent goalscorer he’s had the talent to become.

For what it’s worth, I still think goalkeeper is an issue, and one that free-agent signing John McCarthy doesn’t fix.

  • DM: Alejandro Bran (loan from CS Herediano)
  • CB: Hugo Bacharach (SuperDraft pick – not officially signed)

Bran’s a 22-year-old full Costa Rican international with almost 80 games worth of experience in the trenches of the best Central American league. Even if the move doesn’t work out, this is a smart loan.

And I’m going to break my own rule by listing Bacharach here (it is never wise to expect a rookie to win a significant role right away). I just think he fits what Minnesota need from the backline so well, his on-ball skill level is so high, and his measurables are so good (he’s both huge and pretty quick), that I can’t imagine him not being productive right away.

But Minnesota still don’t have a head coach, and they still don’t really have any starting-caliber fullbacks, and their new CSO hasn’t been formally introduced yet, so the whole thing feels pretty incomplete.

  • No significant additions

RSL did some good work in the SuperDraft, signed another homegrown, and then got potentially the next Diego Luna when they bought Fidel Barajas from USL Championship side Charleston Battery.

I like all three additions long-term, though none of them should be expected to move the needle this year. Whereas one of the guys they shipped out – DP attacker Jefferson Savarino – opens up room to make exactly that type of acquisition.

They’ll either go for a DP No. 10 and keep Luna on the left wing or move Luna to the 10 and get a DP left winger. I’m hoping it’s the latter.

  • FW: Preston Judd (acquired from LA Galaxy for up to $250k GAM)
  • CM: Alfredo Morales (rights acquired from NYCFC for a future SuperDraft pick)

Morales is a veteran winner who can probably soak up some minutes at positions of need, while Judd has been a goal machine at the USL Championship level with monstrous underlying numbers in limited MLS minutes. He could end up being a steal, and at the very least is a great option to have as a late-game chasing-a-result sub in the Goonies mold.

But the Quakes have an open DP slot and a need for a true No. 10. They also have a big old question mark at left wing following the transfer of Cade Cowell to Chivas de Guadalajara.

They could end up filling both those slots from within – Niko Tsakiris could be a free 8 in a 4-3-3, or Cruz Medina could be a true No. 10 in a 4-2-3-1, while Benji Kikanovic could end up being the starting left winger. That would be a pretty strong wager on head coach Luchi Gonzalez’s player development ability.

But I feel like they’ll make a move here.

  • No significant additions

Their DP No. 10 (Gadi Kinda) signed elsewhere as a free agent. They now have an open DP slot and a clear need.

That said, Sporting are deep and healthy entering this season, which is a dramatic reversal from last year. I wonder if they’ll wait until the summer window to add a new No. 10 (and maybe a new center back) since it’s generally easier to get shopping done once most European leagues hit their offseason.