Warshaw: Each MLS team's biggest transfer-window need

Tito Villalba - Frank De Boer - handshake

The MLS secondary transfer window opens on Tuesday, and you can be sure that clubs across MLS are pursuing, completing or at the very least mulling over a range of transactions. Here's my rundown of who needs what most. 

Atlanta United

The Five Stripes have already made a couple mid-level moves this season, acquiring Justin Meram via trade and Emerson Hyndman from the Premier League. With everyone healthy, Atlanta are two deep at every position, including multiple spots with multiple starting-level options.

The big question mark for Atlanta remains at left back. Are they happy with Brek Shea, Michael Parkhurst and potentially George Bello, or do they feel they need an upgrade? I’d understand the urge to get someone new, but I would stand pat with Parkhurst. What you lose in pace or attacking vigor, you maintain in leadership and winning experience.

Chicago Fire

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Fire coach Veljko Paunovic | USA Today Sports Images

Forget signing someone new and use that money to book a romantic 30-person getaway. Could the Fire use a left back? Yes. Could they use a right back? Probably. But they’ve also shown they are pretty good as currently constructed. More than a new player, they need an emotional reset. There is something off about the team’s body language and demeanor. If they find some confidence and swagger, it would go a lot further than any new signings.

FC Cincinnati

Find the right head coach. As we’ve seen across the league this season (San Jose, New England, Orlando and LA), the head coach is more important than anyone else in the team. I’m perhaps the only person who still believes this, but... the right coach could get FCC’s roster to the playoffs. Look at what Matias Almeyda has done with San Jose! It wouldn’t be wrong for FCC to offload as many players as possible to accumulate as many resources as possible, but I’m also curious to see what a different coach could do with the group.

Colorado Rapids

The Rapids (and I would put San Jose in the same category) have a dilemma that must keep their executives awake at night. They are winning more than the perceived opinion of their talent suggests they should be winning. In other words, nobody would have guessed three months ago that this roster could go 5-0-2 over a two month stretch. That’s not bad news, obviously… but it gives you really difficult decisions. You have to ask yourself whether it’s sustainable.

Are they good players who were underappreciated? Or are they mediocre players who happen to be having a good couple months? You could have that conversation for six of the Rapids’ starters right now. It’s even tougher for Colorado at the moment because they don’t have a permanent coach in place. Taking that all into account, I imagine the Rapids will stand pat. They will try to ride their camaraderie and positive environment into the playoffs, while giving the likes of Jonathan Lewis, Sam Nicholson, Danny Wilson, Tommy Smith et al a full year to show they are MLS-worthy.

Columbus Crew SC

The Athletic’sSam Stejskal and Paul Tenorio reported that Columbus are in the market for a winger, an attacking midfielder and a goalkeeper, and the Crew duly revealed the signing of Curacao 'keeper Eloy Room on Friday. I personally don’t like the idea of paying for international GKs in MLS, given the success of players like Tim Melia, Tyler Miller and Maxime Crepeau.

It’s difficult to argue with the other two positions, though. The decision point will be the allocation of the resources. It’s tough to gauge whether the Crew need the star winger or playmaker more; I’d bet they will base the decision on the value of the options, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them swing big.

FC Dallas

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FCD's Jesus Ferreira | USA Today Sports Images

Dallas’ big win would be to sell Paxton Pomykal. It would suck in the short term, no doubt. They already sold Carlos Gruezo, though. While I’m a big fan of the way Dallas play, it’s a long shot that they get to MLS Cup this year. They are too far behind the rest of the West in talent. 

Jesus Ferreira, Edwin Cerrillo, Brandon Servania and Michael Barrios might get there in the future, but it probably won’t be this year. So cash in all of the chips, use the $8-10 million of revenue generated by Gruezo and Paxton and go for the Brian Fernandez-caliber player in the winter. Then you have a bonafide attacking star to make the game easier for Ferreira et al, and you can hunt for trophies in 2020 and beyond.

D.C. United

Let’s keep on the sale theme: D.C. should, borderline need to, sell Lucho Acosta. It hurts to say, given how incredible he was to watch in 2018, but Acosta has not been good enough in 2019. He has not been a top-10 attacking midfielder, and D.C. United appear to be stalled in neutral.

They wouldn’t get a big sum because Acosta’s contract expires in six months, but you have to add the amount Acosta would cost on his next contract. Use the money of the sale to bring back Yamil Asad, who has only played once since returning to Argentina, plus you save the $1-2 million per year that Acosta would likely earn on his next deal.

Houston Dynamo

General manager Matt Jordan has done a really nice job putting together Houston’s roster, with the lowest salary budget in the league, according to the MLS Players Union. They don’t have any immediate needs, and should feel confident heading into any must-win game. The only upgrade that would be interesting to see is a more athletic attacking midfielder – a Miguel Almiron Lite, if you will. It could be a nice weapon, at least off the bench, to have someone who can run with Alberth Elis and Mauro Manotas on the break.

LA Galaxy

Let’s call it… contractual creativity. It seems the Galaxy really are intent on signing Argentine winger Cristian Pavon, as reported by Sam Stejskal. Pavon is the type of player that you sign if you can, regardless of need. Unfortunately, though, the Galaxy already have three Designated Players on their roster.

It appears they have two distinct options: Either restructure and extend Romain Alessandrini’s contract so he’s no longer a DP, or take Pavon on loan for a season until Alessandrini’s contract expires. Neither is easy, but neither is against the (letter of the) rules. It will be up to the Galaxy’s front office to negotiate multiple complex deals to suit everyone involved.


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LAFC celebrate another goal | USA Today Sports Images

The most difficult part for LAFC is to balance the present success with the need to plan for the future. They don’t need anything in 2019 (unless you have really lost faith in Christian Ramirez and Adama Diomande, who only have a combined three goals in the last 15 games). But they certainly need to start planning for the future.

If Eduard Atuesta, Diego Rossi, Latif Blessing and Mark-Anthony Kaye keep playing at the same level, Europe will come calling. At the very least, they are all due for very large, if not un-doable, raises. LAFC’s open Designated Player spot might not go toward a 2019 starter, but it could toward someone who’s projected to start in 2020 or 2021. Then, however, you have to balance the presence of a new DP in the locker room. It’s not exactly a problem for Bob Bradley and John Thorrington, but it’s not an easy process, either.

Minnesota United

Stejskal and Tenorio also included in their story in The Athletic that Minnesota are in the market for a left back and a winger. The idea that the Loons want a winger feels weird. They already have Ethan Finlay, Miguel Ibarra and Kevin Molino. It’s going to take a decent sum of money to find a player markedly better than them.

Minnesota could use a left back, though. It’d be fun to see what rookies Hassani Dotson or Chase Gasper could do with the spot, but you wouldn’t blame the Loons technical staff for wanting a more secure player. I’d say forget the idea of splitting the resources between winger and left defender, and make sure you get the right guy for the back line.

Montreal Impact

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Lee Nguyen | USA Today Sports Images

A passing center mid. Montreal have an “it” – sitting deep and hitting on the counter – but it’s clear they’d like to evolve and become more adventurous. Whenever they try to possess, however, they lose. Micheal Azira, Samuel Piette and Saphir Taider can do the dirty work in the middle; none of them are ball facilitators, though. In his fantasy trades column, Andrew Wiebe pondered the possibility of Lee Nguyen to Montreal. It’s probably a little too dreamy for Montreal at the moment, but Nguyen is the exact type of player that they could use.

New England Revolution

I know that Claude Dielna, Antonio Delamea and Michael Mancienne have left Revs fans scarred, but... they still need a central defender. Jalil Anibaba might be the best third-defender option in the league, but he’s probably not the guy to lead your back line into the playoffs. Specifically, the Revs could use a passing center back. They need someone who can break lines to Juan Agudelo and Carles Gil.

New York City FC

One week ago I would have said that NYCFC still needed a backup striker. Heber is the only natural forward on the team. Valentin Castellanos then put in a two-goal, two-PK performance last week against Philadelphia. In lieu of that, they should probably think about their right back depth. After Anton Tinnerholm, it’s only 16-year-old Joe Scally and rookie Abdi Mohamed. The right back spot is vital to how NYCFC play, and they could be in trouble if Tinnerholm goes down.

New York Red Bulls

The obvious answer is the same answer we’ve written in this column for the Red Bulls since 2015: a match-winning winger. In Matt Doyle’s words: “No team in the league has a roster that screams ‘sign Arjen Robben or Franck Ribery on an 18-month contract!’ quite like the Red Bulls do.” They have both the DP and international spots to do it, too. My suggestion that blows Doyle’s suggestions out of the water: Swoop in and steal Yamil Asad away from D.C. United.

Orlando City SC

Per Doyle: “Orlando need patience. The best thing they could do is ride through the rest of 2019, get the bad contracts off the books, and then keep building with smart acquisitions in 2020.”

Philadelphia Union

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Marco Fabian | USA Today Sports Images

The Union already filled their main need: a 15-goal scorer, or at least someone to finish the depth chart at striker. Andrew Wooten is the guy, though TBD on which box he checks. They also allocated resources to securing Jamiro Monteiro for the rest of the season. The biggest thing on Philly’s wish list at this point is a real Marco Fabian sighting.

Portland Timbers

Pick a goalkeeper. It doesn’t matter which one, but Gio Savarese has to settle on either Steve Clark or Jeff Attinella. I understand why Savarese switched back and forth earlier in the year, but it’s either had its effect or won’t have its effect at this point. They need to anoint someone as the unquestioned No. 1 and start to build that player’s confidence.

Real Salt Lake

They have to offload Joao Plata. You can’t have an asset like that buried that deep on your depth chart. In terms of what to do with the funds… the pie-in-the-sky option would be an elite defensive midfielder. The realistic best thing that could happen to the team in the next two months, though, is for Justen Glad, Aaron Herrera or Donny Toia (or maybe Brooks Lennon?) to become a legitimate 1A option at their positions. Part of the “play your kids” thing is that you need them to actually become big-time players at some point. RSL haven’t had that happen yet. It could be close, though.

San Jose Earthquakes

My answer would be for San Jose to hold off and ride the wave. They appear to have an amazing vibe around the team, and that camaraderie can be a real advantage. They have the second most points in the West in the last 10 games! The loss to Minnesota on Wednesday might have been a warning sign, though. It still feels a little surreal for that roster to be riding so high. 

I’d guess that San Jose have their eyes on attacking midfielders. Magnus Eriksson has been good this year, yet I still find it hard to believe that Matias Almeyda sees Eriksson (or Vako) as the guy for the future. They’ve already brought in one former Almeyda player, winger Carlos Fierro. They were linked with another Argentine, as well. San Jose still have an open international spot, so there’s room to make another move.

Seattle Sounders

The big fish for the Sounders would come at defensive midfield. Cristian Roldan and Gustav Svensson have been very good, but there has to be some concern about them playing against Atuesta, Diego Chara or Jonathan dos Santos in a big playoff game. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Svensson used at center back, either, to help Xavier Arreaga adjust to life in MLS.

The smaller fish would be a pacey difference maker to use off the bench. In my last 24 Takeaways, I mentioned that the Sounders don’t have anyone to bring onto the field in the 75th minute that scares the opposition. Handwalla Bwana and Henry Wingo could both grow into the role. If the Sounders don’t want to wait, though, they could find someone in the market.

Sporting Kansas City

A DP striker!!! … would be the sexy choice. But we’ve been down this road before. To be honest, I have no idea what Sporting will or should do. It’s the same problem D.C. United are facing – you know the squad is good enough to win a trophy, but there’s clearly something off. The 5-1 loss at home to LAFC was embarrassing.

This is uncharted territory for Peter Vermes; SKC have made the playoffs every year since 2011. He’s never needed to kick his team in the butt like this. Do you wait until things kick into gear, or do you proactively look for a spark? Roger Espinoza’s return from injury should act as a de facto midseason signing. It’s possible, and somewhat sad to consider, that Vermes sits out the transfer window and starts a full rebuild in the offseason.

Toronto FC

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TFC's Terrence Boyd | USA Today Sports Images

The specific answer is pace. They need someone to stretch the field to give Alejandro Pozuelo, Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley and Jonathan Osorio room to operate in the middle. The only player on the roster who forces teams to back off is Jacob Shaffelburg. The larger answer is talent – pure, game-changing talent.

Toronto are still one giant piece away from their 2017 team, given Pozuelo has been the only replacement for the outgoing pair of Victor Vazquez and Sebastian Giovinco. Similar to other teams, the last big piece probably is not position specific. They would be fine getting a winger, a Giovinco-like second striker, or a Raul Ruidiaz-like poacher.

Vancouver Whitecaps

Keep hold of Ali Adnan, which they achieved by completing his permanent acquisition on Friday. As the saying goes, it’s cheaper and easier to keep a client than to find a new one. Adnan might be the ‘Caps most over-the-league-average player.

Other than that, Vancouver shouldn’t feel in a rush to make moves. They certainly need more production from their attackers, but I’m not sure they should hurry out to find replacements. It’s worth giving Lucas Venuto, Lass Bangura, Joaquin Ardaiz and Yordy Reyna – all highly-talented but mercurial players – a full year under Marc Dos Santos to see what they can do.