Armchair Analyst: Matt Doyle

Western Conference: What every team needs in the transfer market

Doyle transfer column - 1.15.24

MLS preseason officially begins this week, and while there are what I would consider an unusual number of clubs with fully fleshed-out rosters, virtually everybody has at least one or two things they still need to address before the 2024 regular season kicks off the last week of February.

Here’s a team-by-team look, going in reverse alphabetical order and starting with the Western Conference. Because ‘Caps fans shouldn’t always have to be last, dammit!

Eastern Conference is coming tomorrow.

In we go:

Right wingback

Over the past 12 months, Vancouver have had two of the best right wingbacks in league history (Julian Gressel, Richie Laryea) on their roster. But Gressel was traded away and Laryea is, as of right now, some sort of free agent:

I do suspect they’ll push this one across the line in the next several weeks, at which point they can focus on creating some depth behind Brian White.

Right now they’ve got veteran Damir Kreilach, who’s more of a false 9, and youngster Levonte Johnson, who’s more of a winger, on the No. 9 depth chart. But with Simon Becher being transferred to Danish side AC Horsens (a good bit of business for the ‘Caps), White’s really the only guy who plays the position in a way that pins and occupies the center backs. And if you’re Vancouver, you desperately want a No. 9 that pins and occupies the center backs because that opens up space for Ryan Gauld to run free and create chances.

No pressing needs

This roster has several spots that can be improved upon, but no glaring needs – and that’ll hold even if St. Louis sell forward Nicholas Gioacchini to Como 1907 of Italy's Serie B, as has been rumored.

The real question is whether the presumed upgrades they’ve made on the wing and at wingback over the past six months actually hit, plus if veteran center back Joakim Nilsson can perform at a level commensurate with expectations.

DP No. 10

People have spoken about this spot as Sporting going out and getting a direct replacement for Gadi Kinda, which is understandable given how Kinda performed in the Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs.

But Kinda was more of a box-minded, off-ball attacker who didn’t break lines all that often with his passes. I think Sporting need a Zone 14-minded chance creator as the No. 10. More of an orchestrator than a pure attacker.

Either way, that’s the main spot to focus on, with center back next on the list.

Push the Pedro de la Vega signing across the finish line

Every Sounders blurb I’ve written this offseason has been about how the team functioned extraordinarily well both with and without the ball last year, but were missing that bit of 1v1, playmaking spice on the left wing. And de la Vega seems like a solution to that exact problem.

Once they get him signed (I’m assuming they will – I have zero inside info as to whether it’s close or not, or how bad his recent injury is, etc.), then the job is moving center back Xavier Arreaga for GAM.

No. 10? Center back?

Here’s where it stands at both spots: The Quakes have talented young options (homegrowns Niko Tsakiris and Cruz Medina at the No. 10; last year’s first-round pick Daniel Munie at center back) at both spots, but it’s not clear if any of the above are ready to be full-time MLS starters – let alone full-time MLS starters for a team that aspires to hit 50 points and a home playoff game this year.

I lean towards center back being the spot they’ll address first and with more urgency. But I don’t know for a fact that they’ll actually address either spot, let alone both, because at some point in the #PlayYourKids cycle, you have to take a deep breath and toss the kids into the deep end by giving them a ton of minutes.

This might be the year to do it.

DP No. 10/left winger

Now that they’ve sold Jefferson Savarino, RSL seem to have two choices: get a DP No. 10 and keep Diego Luna out on the left wing, or get a DP left winger and push Luna inside to be the No. 10.

Either way, all signs point to this year’s RSL being a 4-2-3-1 team with a greater emphasis on pitch control. That’s a significant departure from the game model we’ve seen out of Pablo Mastroeni over the past few seasons.

Two DP attackers

This roster is set and in pretty good condition as is – nobody in Portland will panic if they go into the season with Felipe Mora as the starting No. 9 and Dairon Asprilla at left wing. But those are the two spots I’m sure they’re zeroed in on for upgrading. Perhaps, though, they won’t go for both in this window? I could see them taking their time.

The other confounding factor: Diego Chara turns 38 in April and there’s no proven, reliable heir or back-up. If Father Time starts taking some hands from the still-ageless No. 6, then that could necessitate a hard pivot to fill what would become a pressing need. So that’s another reason to maybe keep the powder dry on one of the two open DP slots they’ve got.


I’m not going to be snarky and say “a manager” and “a coaching staff,” even though those are the right answers. 

As it stands, I like the roster quite a bit (provided Minnesota can get Emanuel Reynoso to preseason in shape and on time), even if there are some clear areas of improvement to be found. The most obvious ones are both fullback slots, where the Loons have lots of solid squad players but no clear-cut starters.

Get those DP wingers

Gabriel Pec, a 22-year-old Brazilian from Vasco da Gama, is expected to be done this week. He’d be a $10+ million signing, which would be the club record.

Soon-to-be 26-year-old Ghanaian Joseph Paintsil, whose Genk contract has an $8.5 million release clause, would be next. And this dude’s attacking radar is monstrous:

Joseph Paintsill - FbRef chart

The Galaxy are finally acting like a club with a scouting department instead of a rolodex.

There’s other stuff they still need to work on – I remain unconvinced by their goalkeepers – but all the focus has to be on getting these two moves across the line and giving Riqui Puig some new attacking toys to play with.

Midfield depth

There are a million different ways I could’ve gone here – clarity on the Carlos Vela situation; a full-time solution at the No. 9; a new contract for Dénis Bouanga to keep him happy in LA – but whether or not LAFC get any/all of that done, they clearly need to add quality pieces in central midfield if they’re going to make it through this season.

As of now, they’ve got only four central midfielders under contract. One of whom (Ilie) is entering his mid-30s, and two of whom (Mateusz Bogusz and Filip Krastev) are kids who struggled to make much of an impact last year (though I have high expectations for Bogusz this coming season).

It’s wild to think that the only teams with more roster work to do are Austin and Toronto, but that’s the situation the Black & Gold are staring at right now.

Sort out Sebastián Ferreira

Last year they worked out an unproductive loan for the Paraguayan DP that didn’t even open up that DP slot. It says a lot about the quality of the Dynamo's midfield that they were able to drive the team to a US Open Cup title and the Western Conference Final with one hand tied behind their backs.

The same shouldn’t be asked of them this year. Houston’s window for title contention is open now, and ownership needs to do what it takes to open up as much flexibility as possible to juice up that front line.

Add a starting center back

Nkosi Tafari is in his prime and is the first name on the team sheet. He’s got veterans Sebastien Ibeagha and Omar Gonzalez behind him.

That’s solid depth, but neither of those guys are a starter for a team with title aspirations. Dallas have to go out hunting for another in-his-prime center back who can go out there 40 times across all competitions this season.

Getting another young d-mid wouldn’t hurt, either.

Ball-winning central midfielder

The way I see this midfield coming together, Cole Bassett will play at the front point of the triangle as a sort of a ball-winning No. 10, while Connor Ronan will be the deep-lying playmaker. He’s gifted in that regard, but is not much of a defensive presence.

So can the Rapids go out and find a guy who does for them what Tristan Muyumba did for Atlanta last season? Yeah, they still need to get the Sam Vines deal over the line and, frankly, I think they need a hard think about the right wing depth chart.

But they’re drawing dead if they don’t get a guy who can win the ball into the deep midfield line of Chris Armas’ preferred 4-2-3-1.

Figure out right wing

Austin have been linked with River Plate center forward Miguel Borja, which is good, and have made a bunch of moves further down the depth chart this offseason to open up cap room and international roster slots. It is approaching a full rebuild.

But unless the game model changes – and I don’t think it will; not all that much, anyway – then they’re going to be in trouble when the ball gets out wide on the right. We saw it last year when they settled for cross after cross after cross after cross, and while there was plenty of blame to go around, the main culprit was DP right winger Emiliano Rigoni. He just wasn’t able to do the job asked of him in that spot, and it’s hard to imagine him improving as he solidly enters his 30s.

Once that’s done… well, there are a thousand other things this roster needs as well. Rodo Borrell’s work won’t stop anytime soon.