It’s January, which means it’s TRANSFER TIME!
Erm, sorry about the yelling. But I really do love the transfer season. Teams are making a bunch of offseason moves while they all try to build the best possible squads before the 2023 regular season kicks off Feb. 25. It’s great.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be playacting as an MLS general manager. I’m going to take a close look at players from around the world that MLS teams should consider signing. This week, we’re starting with European-based players.
Let’s get to it.
We’ve seen MLS teams shop for players from recently-relegated teams in the past – take LAFC signing Dénis Bouanga from Saint-Etienne last year after they dropped from Ligue 1 to Ligue 2 in France, as an example. Jorge de Frutos is another relegated player MLS teams should be calling about.
Currently playing for Levante in Spain’s second division, de Frutos is a right-footed winger who racked up four goals and seven assists in LaLiga last year in 1,760 minutes to go along with 10.1 combined expected goals (xG) and expected assisted goals (xAG). That averages out to 0.52 xG+xAG per 90, which put de Frutos 28th in all of LaLiga. The 25-year-old has good close control, speed to break in behind and can finish with both feet.
If an MLS team is looking for a winger – and they should be, given how poorly players at that spot fared last year – de Frutos is an intriguing option who could come at a bargain price.
At 6-foot-2, Ross Stewart knows his role.
Playing for Sunderland in the English Championship, Stewart is a lanky but strong striker who has been one of Sunderland’s best players this year. After scoring 24 goals in the English third tier last season, Stewart has continued his scoring streak into the country's second tier with nine goals in 870 league minutes this season.
With good spatial awareness, the Scottish international striker finds gaps in the box and finishes at a good clip. Plus, with plenty of height, Stewart can act as a focal point by holding up the ball with his back to goal.
It could be difficult to get Sunderland to part ways with Stewart as they push for promotion, but everyone has their price. An ambitious MLS team with a goalscorer-sized gap in their frontline should put an offer on the table.
On top of having a surname with fantastic nickname potential, Ilias Chair fits the profile MLS teams are constantly searching for: a smooth, technical No. 10.
Chair can also play quite comfortably in the half-spaces, but regardless of where a manager chooses to position him on the field, he has tons of quality. According to FBref, he’s second in the English Championship in xAG per 90 minutes so far this season. The midfielder is averaging 0.31 per 90, which shows he can create real chances for his teammates.
Chair is comfortable between the lines, conducts counterattacks and can play some lovely passes to help break down opposing defenses. He was also part of Morocco's semifinal run at the 2022 FIFA World Cup, appearing in their third-place match defeat against Croatia.
Signing a playmaker like Chair during his prime would be a big statement of intent from an MLS team. At 25, he has a valuable mixture of youth and creative ability that we simply don’t see very often in this league.
Well, well, well… how’s this for a familiar name?
Alberth Elis was one of the best wingers in MLS with Houston Dynamo FC before joining Boavista in Portugal back in 2020. Now playing for recently-relegated Bordeaux in the French second tier, it could be time for Elis to make his move back to North America.
The Honduran international was one of the best wingers in France last year, scoring 0.57 goals per 90 to go along with 0.53 xG+xAG per 90, according to FBref. With fantastic physicality, speed, dribbling ability and a knack for being in the right place at the right time, Elis could pick up right where he left off in MLS.
At 26 – he’ll be 27 before the MLS regular season starts – the Honduran international is nearing the end of his prime. While MLS teams should be aware of that, proven goal-scoring wingers don’t grow on trees (even if he'd likely require Allocation Order maneuvering).
Jonathan Tomkinson might not be a household name in the US, but youth national team diehards will certainly know about him. Tomkinson is a Plano, Texas native and spent time in the FC Dallas and Solar SC academies before moving to Norwich City in England.
A 6-foot-4 center back, Tomkinson has worked his way up the ladder at Norwich and made his first-team league debut in a start against Burnley back in October. He’s still raw, as most young center backs tend to be, but he has good defensive range and a decent right foot. Unfortunately for Tomkinson, he hasn’t played another minute for Norwich City in the Championship since that game against Burnley.
With minutes few and far between in England, a loan move to MLS in January could be the perfect next step for him. The 2024 Olympics are still more than a year away, but Tomkinson should be pushing for that squad. It’s hard to push if you’re not on the field, though.
Ruslan Malinovskyi is the biggest name on this list by a pretty wide margin. If you watched Ukraine in World Cup qualifying or during Euro 2020, you watched Malinovskyi control the midfield. If you’ve watched Serie A at some point over the last four years, you’ve seen Malinovskyi contribute in pretty much every facet of the game.
Malinovskyi, 29, is out of contract with Atalanta at the end of this season. Could an MLS team swoop in and sign him to a pre-contract in January?
He’s had more than 10 combined goals and assists in each of the last three Serie A seasons and his scouting chart over on FBref shows a whole lot of green. Malinovskyi has plenty of technical ability, can rotate into pretty much any position in the midfield and forward line, and would immediately add a dose of creativity and stability to your favorite MLS club.
The blueprint is there. Back in 2021, Chicago Fire FC signed Jhon Durán from Envigado FC in Colombia, making him the youngest international signing in MLS history. Now just over a year after he joined the Fire, Durán’s name is popping up in transfer rumors connecting him to high-profile teams all over Europe (Benfica and Liverpool, to name two).
Schjelderup is one year older than Durán was when he put pen to paper, but he’s another young, dynamic attacker who could boost his stock in MLS. At just 18, the young Norwegian left winger has 10g/1a in 17 games for Nordsjælland in the Danish top flight this season. He has a phenomenal right foot and will cut right past you, shift inside and fire the ball into the back of the net – even if you know it’s coming.
There’s still room for Schjelderup to develop both on and off the ball, but he’s an incredibly talented player with a bright future.
Speed. Strength. Quality in the box. Anastasios Douvikas is showing it all in the Eredivisie right now for Utrecht.
Douvikas is sixth in the league in xG per 90 minutes, averaging a very strong 0.61 tally. He’s also averaging 0.20 xAG, which is nothing to sneeze at for a striker. With six goals this year, Douvikas constantly pops up in good spots in the box to punish opposing defenses. He also moves into the half-spaces and makes threatening runs in behind opposing backlines both in possession and in transition.
In addition to breaking out in the Netherlands, Douvikas has 15 caps with Greece at the international level. He’s a rising star up front – and could be a great value buy for an MLS team.