We’re in the thick of transfer season, folks. MLS teams are making signings left and right as they prepare for the start of the 2023 regular season on Feb. 25.
During this offseason period, I’m playacting as an MLS general manager. I’m taking a close look at players from around the world MLS teams should consider signing. Last week, we looked at some Europe-based players. This week, we’re diving into South America.
Let’s get to it.
Pure No. 9.
If you’ve never watched Marcos Leonardo for Santos or for Brazil’s youth national teams, that’s the quick-hit summary of his game.
At just 19, Leonardo scored 13 goals in Brazil’s Serie A last year and another two goals in the Copa Sudamericana. For a teenager, hitting that goals tally and backing it up with a strong expected goals (xG) tally of 13.2 in league play is impressive. There’s room for Leonardo to develop his movement off the ball and to become even more explosive on it, but he’s an exciting striker prospect with 4,000 Brasileirão minutes under his belt.
Expect to see Leonardo’s name pop up on the scoresheet a lot over the next few years.
MLS teams love shopping in Argentina – and for good reason. There’s plenty of talent in the Argentine Primera División, including Boca Juniors winger Sebastian Villa.
Villa is a right-footed Colombian winger who racked up 11 combined non-penalty goals and assists in just under 1,300 minutes in 2022. That comes out to an average of 0.78 goals plus assists per 90 minutes, which is an impressive rate.
The 26-year-old has good speed, strong close control and is a real threat from set pieces. Villa provides excellent service from wide areas and can play on either wing, though he looks slightly more comfortable cutting inside from the left wing than driving to the endline on the right.
If an MLS team is looking for a top-tier secondary playmaker and goalscorer, Villa would be an impressive get.
Mauricio ticks all the boxes for an exciting signing. He’s young, he creates chances and he scores goals.
Playing for Internacional in Brazil, Mauricio can give life to an attack in so many different ways. According to FBref, the 21-year-old is in the 78th percentile in non-penalty xG plus expected assisted goals (xAG) per 90 minutes among attacking midfielders and wingers in elite men’s leagues. He pops up in all sorts of dangerous spots in the final third, has a great left foot and good vision.
2,370. 2,212. 2,273.
That’s how many minutes Fabricio Diaz has played in each of the last three seasons for Liverpool FC in Uruguay’s Primera División…as a teenager. Diaz made his professional debut at 16 and has been a staple at the base of midfield for Liverpool FC ever since.
With a good mix of physicality, defensive range, progressive dribbling and connective passing, there’s a reason why Diaz has played so much at such a young age. He’s not a game-changing on-ball presence yet, but he’s already improved dramatically from age 16 to age 19.
How much better will he be at age 21 than he is right now? That’s the question MLS teams should be asking themselves.
What can I say: I’m a sucker for young, promising, deep-lying midfielders.
Sandry and Diaz aren’t identical players – Sandry is more likely to open up the game with his passing – but they’re both happy to get down and dirty. Sandry can roam, cover ground quickly, snuff out opposing counterattacks and win the ball in midfield. He also has a nice long diagonal and a well-weighted through ball in his locker.
With his mobility, the young Brazilian could play as a lone No. 6, as half of a double pivot, or even as a free No. 8 in a 4-3-3 formation. He’s a versatile, exciting young midfielder… and let’s be real: every team in the world, not just in MLS, needs that.
Leo Ortiz’s numbers pop when you look at the stats. According to FBref, he’s in the 97th percentile or higher for progressive passes, dribbles completed and shot-creating actions per 90 minutes among center backs in elite men’s leagues.
The man is comfortable on the ball in the back.
With a strong right foot and no shortage of audacity, Ortiz can impact games with his range and his line-breaking passes. If Red Bull would be willing to sell to other MLS teams outside of the New York Red Bulls, Ortiz would be a fantastic get for a club that prioritizes keeping the ball.
Name a better match than MLS and Ecuador’s U-20 team. I dare you.
Players like José Cifuentes, Diego Palacios and Leonardo Campana all made their way to MLS after starring for Ecuador’s U-20 national team. Alan Minda could be the next player to follow in their footsteps.
Minda is a young, dynamic winger who loves to run behind the backline and break into space. He’s also perfectly happy to dribble at an opposing fullback and help break through the defense with his technical ability. Minda hasn’t made a huge impact at the professional level yet, only scoring two goals in just over 1,200 minutes across the last two seasons in Ecuador. But he clearly has talent.
Kevin Viveros is coming off of a fantastic 2022. He scored 18 goals for Carabobo FC in Venezuela and earned himself a loan move to Deportivo Cali in his native Colombia.
He has speed and a dangerous right foot, to go along with positional flexibility that allows him to play anywhere across the front three. Viveros has never played at an elite level, but he’s done exactly what you want a good player to do at a level that might be beneath them: dominate.
If Viveros shows well in Colombia this year, an MLS team looking for a bargain buy might want to pick up the phone.