We’re growing ever closer to the 2023 season, people. As MLS is Back (Feb. 25) nears, clubs are working around the clock to construct the best possible rosters.
During this offseason period, I’m play-acting as an MLS general manager and taking a close look at players from around the world that MLS teams should consider signing.
Let’s get to it.
After sneaking onto Japan’s World Cup roster as an injury replacement, Shuto Machino’s stock is on the rise.
At 23, Machino finished second in the J1 League (Japan’s top flight) in goals with 13 in 2022 for Shonan Bellmare. Machino has never played at a higher level than the J1 League, which means his goalscoring won’t automatically translate to another league. But his mixture of off-ball movement, aerial ability and strength with both feet makes him a dangerous No. 9.
With the right offer, an MLS team could lure Machino away from Shonan Bellmare and add him to their frontline.
I’m not going to lie to you: I got sucked in. Watching footage of Yasuto Wakizaka is a mesmerizing experience.
With a skillful right foot and good acceleration, the 27-year-old is a joy to watch in central midfield. Wakizaka can get out of tight spots, break lines with his passing and with his dribbling, and has some real end product, too. He tallied five goals and 10 assists in the J1 League in 2022 for Kawasaki Frontale.
Up to this point in his career, Wakizaka has been a one-club man. Maybe that changes during the next couple of transfer windows?
In addition to playing for one of the best-named soccer clubs in the world, Yuma Suzuki brings a lot to an attack. With his speed, Suzuki can beat an opposing defender and break into the box before shooting on goal or finding a teammate. And with his aerial ability, Suzuki makes himself an option for his teammates inside the box.
The 26-year-old forward finished 2022 with seven goals and 10 assists for Kashima Antlers (J1 League) and averaged 0.53 non-penalty goals plus assists per 90 minutes.
Suzuki has already spent some time in Europe for Belgium’s Sint-Truiden. Now, a move across the Atlantic could be a strong next step for him.
Lee Seung-woo plays downhill. At just 5-foot-8, his center of gravity is low enough that he can turn and accelerate out of tight spaces before breaking into the box or the final third. That helped Seung-woo have a breakout year in 2022 with 14 goals and three assists for Suwon in the K League 1 (South Korean top flight).
With a clever right foot and plenty of creativity in the final third, the 25-year-old is a valuable wide option. It remains to be seen if Seung-woo can repeat his production from last season, but based on his profile and his numbers in 2022, an MLS team in need of depth out wide could be a great landing spot for the South Korean international.
Some MLS teams might already be a few steps ahead of me on this one, but Oh Hyeon-gyu is coming off of a great season.
Not only did he make his debut for South Korea, but he also scored 13 goals in his first full season as a starter in the K League 1. When you watch Oh play, you see a striker who works hard in the box, hunts for space and can finish in several different ways. He can rise up and head the ball home, plus he can hit the ball with accuracy from difficult angles with both feet.
Oh is still a somewhat unproven talent, but at just 21, there’s still so much room for him to improve as a striker. With this one, you’re thinking about potential more than anything else.
Let’s take this in: 17 goals, five assists, four World Cup appearances, three World Cup starts and two World Cup goals.
It’s going to be tough for Cho Gue-sung to improve on his most recent year, but a big move to MLS could be a decent starting point. At 24, Cho has a good combination of physicality, aerial ability and skill with his feet. He’s a well-rounded goalscorer with excellent instincts in and around the box.
According to reports, Minnesota United FC have some interest in acquiring Cho from South Korea. Clubs across Europe have been linked as well. It’s safe to say Cho is a wanted man after a strong showing in Qatar.
Ahmed Sayed, also known as “Zizo”, is one of the biggest players to watch in Egypt right now. He’s one of the leading scorers in the Egyptian Premier League and has 13 combined goals and assists in just over 1,200 minutes this season.
Those are some top-tier numbers, though there are some penalties mixed in there. Now, the quality of the Egyptian league isn’t incredibly high, so the numbers have to be taken with a grain of salt. Still, when you watch Zizo play, you see a confident attacker with a fantastic right foot and playmaking ability. He’s not going to beat you with his speed every time down the field, but the 27-year-old can unlock a defense.
Zizo might be happy in Egypt, but he would be an intriguing signing by any number of MLS teams.
Playing for one of the biggest clubs in all of Africa, Aliou Dieng has plenty of experience winning big games. The Mali international has played 149 games for Al Ahly across all competitions since joining the Egyptian Premier League-based team in 2019. He has experience in the FIFA Club World Cup, he’s played in the CAF Champions League and he’s been a difference-maker for Al Ahly in central midfield.
Dieng is a rangy, imposing defensive-minded player. He gets from Point A to Point B incredibly quickly in central midfield and can connect passes with his right foot. Dieng is also a fun player to watch – and he could help boost a midfield near you sometime later this year.