Armchair Analyst: Matt Doyle

Where MLS Western Conference depth charts & rosters stand for 2023

Doyle West roster update

The 28th MLS season starts this weekend, so here’s the final roster build column of the offseason. Just bear in mind that the Primary Transfer Window is open until April 24, so these can and will change over the next two months.

The most recent Eastern Conference updates are live as well. In we go:

Offseason So Far (Jan. 3)

Declined options on several veterans, with the most prominent being central midfielder Felipe Martins as well as backup goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell. None of these were major moves, really, though just eyeballing it suggests they cleared out about $1.5 million in cap room – with by far the biggest chunk of that taken up by Danny Hoesen’s salary.

And then Austin did the obvious, smart thing: They replaced Hoesen with a better player. I don’t know how much, exactly, Gyasi Zardes will be making after signing with el Verde in free agency, but for cap purposes he represents the same, exact max hit as Hoesen.

The simplest way to make a good team better is by straightforward upgrades like that. Gyasi may not be the same guy he was from 2018-21 when he averaged a goal every other game, but he still looked like a reliable goalscorer in 2,000 minutes with Colorado last year, and that’s more than Austin’s ever managed from the No. 9 in their two years of existence.

They went less proven in replacing Felipe with second-year man Sofiane Djeffal, but I love that move. Djeffal is good. And while I can’t say I’ve seen a ton of Matt Bersano, in his limited minutes he’s looked like an entirely competent backup ‘keeper.

Their other moves were re-signing veteran utility man Hector Jimenez and taking a flier on a couple of kids, one via the draft (CJ Fodrey gives me Brek Shea vibes) and one via waivers (Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez). Between Fodrey, Ocampo-Chavez and Owen Wolff, head coach Josh Wolff now has some relatively high-upside prospects to develop, which adds a new layer to the overall project.

What’s Next?

Maybe a fifth center back and a fifth central midfielder? Beyond that, though, there’s just not much to pick at. This Austin team is good and complete.

Feel free to laminate that.

EDIT #1: Late Tuesday night – too late for me to rewrite the whole blurb – Fab Romano reported Austin were signing Finnish international CB Leo Vaisanen. It went official on Wednesday morning, but after writing 12,000 words over the past two days I'm too burned out to rewrite this whole blurb.

Anyway, one more decent central midfielder and they should feel comfortable calling it an offseason.

EDIT #2: Also early on Wednesday morning it turns out the team bid adieu to Ruben Gabrielsen, who went back home to Norway. I missed that! So Austin's Vaisanen seems to be a 1-for-1 replacement, and Austin are back to needing a fifth center back (in my opinion).

Feb. 5 Update

They did more than I thought, adding not only Vaisanen but also left back Adam Lundqvist for a tranche of GAM from Houston, and then signing free-agent center back Amro Tarek.

The Vaisanen deal is the big one because it turned out to be a straight swap for Ruben Gabrielsen, who went back home to Norway for what were reportedly personal reasons. Gabrielsen was really good last year – you could pretty easily make a case he was one of the 10-best CBs in MLS – and the shoes the 25-year-old Vaisanen has got to fill are freaking huge. It’s not quite a make-or-break signing, but I’d argue it’s their most important move of the winter (bigger, even than getting Gyasi).

The Tarek deal is easy to explain: He’s a big, left-footed CB with MLS experience, and while he was never able to turn his multiple opportunities into a consistent starting role, he makes a lot of sense as a depth piece for this team. If they’re asking him to play 2,000 minutes in the hole Gabrielsen’s exit made, however, they’re in trouble.

Moving for Lundqvist caught me off guard. The Swede had his moments with the Dynamo, especially in possession, but for all he brought to the table on that side of the ball, he typically took something off of it on the other side. Of course, Houston could never keep the ball, while Austin always aim to get a lot of it. So if you want to frame this acquisition in your head, I think it’s as simple as “we will defend better by keeping the ball better, and Lundqvist will help us keep the ball better.” I respect the commitment to Wolff’s principles.

The other roster move was loaning Moussa Djitte out for half the season to Ajaccio in Ligue 2, a loan that comes with a transfer clause. Hitting that clause would open up a U22 Initiative slot, though how they’d use that is obviously a question for a different transfer window. Will Bruin’s in town on trial, and he’d presumably be the third-string No. 9 if he’s signed.

Undergirding all of this is Claudio Reyna’s stepping down as sporting director in the midst of one of the ugliest scandals in US men’s national team history. It seems like Wolff has the loudest voice in the room on Verde’s player personnel moves now.

Feb. 20 Update

Added some center forward depth by signing veteran free agent Will Bruin, and subtracted some center back depth by loaning out Jhohan Romaña.

They’re pretty clearly set with this roster.

ATX lineup 2.20.23

Offseason So Far (Jan. 3)

A number of options declined, with the two biggest out-of-contract players being Gyasi Zardes, who left for Austin in free agency, and midfielder Felipe Gutierrez, whose late-season cameo on loan wasn’t enough to make the Rapids brain trust want to keep him full-time.

As is typical for this ballin’ on a budget group, their acquisitions have been understated. Cole Bassett is back after a disastrous loan spell in the Netherlands; he should help a midfield that looked pretty bad last year. Center back Moise Bombito was taken third overall in the SuperDraft and could very well see some minutes right away. They also gave up a bunch of GAM for Cincy winger Calvin Harris, a move I don’t dislike even if Harris does seem kind of redundant now that they also have Kevin Cabral after sending $1m of GAM to the LA Galaxy for the Frenchman’s rights.

Which… yeah, that’s the big news this winter, isn’t it? I would not have done that deal, but the idea is Cabral can blossom in Colorado in the same way Julian Carranza blossomed in Philly after Miami just couldn’t figure out how to use/develop him. And look, Cabral clearly knows where the goal is – he takes a ton of flak for missing wide-open looks that worse, less gifted players are never in a position to flub in the first place. So this does have “we paid 20 cents on the dollar for a $5m talent” potential.

But man, finishing is real and Cabral just does not do it. Seven figures worth of GAM is a huge bet that things can change.

What’s Next?

Left back/wingback Lucas Esteves saw his loan expire, and there’s no word on a replacement. Academy kid Jackson Travis is probably two years away, and while second-year pro Anthony Markanich could be in the mix, I find it more likely one of the wingers on the roster – Sam Nicholson and Braian Galvan being the two most obvious candidates – is about to see their job description adjusted.

The real question now is what formation Robin Fraser will have this team lining up in. He’s toggled between a 4-3-3, a 4-2-3-1 and a 3-4-2-1 over the past few years, and while I think there’s an argument for the latter, my hunch is a team that already had a bunch of wingers – and spent most of this winter adding wingers to their wingers – is going to play with wingers.

Feb. 5 Update

The formation question is still the big one, but even if I assume they’re committed to the 4-3-3, I remain less certain about the depth chart I’m dropping into this section than I am about any of the 28 other MLS teams.

Anyway, the Rapids were busy shopping over the past month, and for the first time in years they did most of it in Europe. The incoming pieces are:

  • DP center back Andreas Maxso from Brondby, who lots of smart folks I’ve spoken with are very high on.
  • Irish central midfielder Connor Ronan, who was very good in Scotland but couldn’t quite break through with Wolves.
  • Australian left back Alex Gersbach, who was purchased from Ligue 2 side Grenoble.

I’m pretty sure all three of those guys were brought in to be starters, and while I maintain Diego Rubio’s better when he plays underneath a true center forward – it’s worth noting that 18-year-old homegrown Darren Yapi, a true No. 9, has been tearing it up in preseason – I’m finding it hard to look at this roster and not see a return to the 4-3-3 coming up. Wingers on wingers on wingers, man.

They’ve been trying hard to find a new starting goalkeeper all winter, by the way, and reports say they’re on the verge of signing a Serbian from the Eredivisie as a starter. For now, the job remains William Yarbrough’s – but I expect that to change.

Feb. 20 Update

The job is no longer Yarbrough’s, as the Rapids got their goalkeeper. They acquired Serb Marko Ilic on loan (with a purchase option) from Belgian side KV Kortrijk late last week.

It seems like this’ll be their final significant move of the window, but Padraig Smith’s always on the hunt for potential deals, so the door’s never really closed in Commerce City.

COL lineup 2 2.20.23

Offseason So Far (Jan. 3)

Letting Matt Hedges walk in free agency… boy, I dunno. Yes, he’s getting long in the tooth and he was on a big number, but one thing we’ve seen repeatedly over the years is teams who walk away from proven MLS center backs usually regret that choice quickly and unreservedly.

Thus far they’ve only addressed Hedges’ departure by signing a free agent of their own in Seb Ibeagha, who acquitted himself well in MLS Cup and is one of the more reliable third center backs in the league. Is he in line for a starting job in Frisco, or was the Hedges move made with more playing time for Nkosi Tafari in mind? Or is there actually another big move coming?

Elsewhere, U22 Initiative signing Geovane Jesus should be an upgrade at right back (a problem spot last year), while the rest of the additions have been kids signed to provide depth mostly in attack.

What’s Next?

Nothing is clearly next, aside from adding a fourth center back via one mechanism or another. I don’t think they’ll be shopping for a starter here, though; I think they’re more likely to look for a youngish depth piece.

After that, the hope would be an amicable parting of ways can be found with DP center forward Franco Jara this month. A return home to Argentina has been rumored, and I’m sure they’d love to have that DP slot opened up as quickly as possible. But even if he sticks around to the bitter end, that only means June 30 – his contract expires mid-summer. Which is to say I don’t think there’s any real urgency to get a move done and a buyout strikes me as unlikely.

Feb. 5 Update

Dallas went way under the radar to find Amet Korca, a 22-year-old Albanian-American center back who’s a local kid – he’s from Arlington and came through the Solar academy program – and has nearly 70 appearances across the top two tiers of Croatian football. Where he fits on the depth chart… your guess is as good as mine.

The potentially much bigger news is they were able to find that amicable parting of ways with Jara. That DP slot remains open, and while part of me thinks they can just sit on it and wait until the summer to do something, the other part of me is saying “why buy him out now if you don’t intend to make a move in this window?”

Something’s got to be coming, right? I think you could argue an upgrade at the 6 is the spot where you could add the most value.

The Primary Transfer Window is open until April 24.

Feb. 20 Update

Only move of the past six weeks was signing SuperDraft pick Herbert Endeley, which came just after homegrown winger Tarik Scott suffered a gruesome and likely season-ending knee injury. Endeley’s a little extra depth at a spot that had suddenly grown thin.

DP slot’s still open, by the way.

EDIT: Just after I finished writing that blurb, los Toros Tejanos pulled off a pretty significant move, sending homegrown central midfielder Brandon Servania to Toronto FC in exchange for Spanish center forward Jesús Jiménez and an international roster slot (TFC are also eating part of Jiménez’s salary).

I… don’t really love this from Dallas’s point of view. The international slot doesn’t allow them to go out and make a new signing, since it’ll be occupied by Jiménez himself. And while he started off last season in good form, he fell off a cliff in late June, scoring just once over the final four months of the season. And it’s not like he was a Golden Boot-caliber guy in Poland before that.

Maybe Nico Estevez can coax something more out of him, and given how far Servania had fallen down the depth chart, it’s not like Dallas have given up the farm here.

I do expect another midfield signing now, for what it’s worth.

DAL Lineup_02_20

Offseason So Far (Jan. 3)

The biggest move thus far is hiring Ben Olsen as head coach. I have to admit this one caught me a little bit by surprise – Olsen is not the kind of splashy name I expected Houston's relatively new ownership group to want – but there is value in getting a guy who knows the league.

There’s also value in getting good players, and that’s been a bit more of a challenge for Houston thus far this winter. They parted ways with no less than a dozen from their roster (winger Fafa Picault, playmaker Darwin Quintero and center back Tim Parker being the most prominent), which is almost half the squad.

As of this writing, they’ve brought in just four, none of whom look like sure-thing starters. So yes, there is work to do.

What’s Next?

Inking free-agent left back Brad Smith is done as per Tommy Scoops, and Paraguayan winger Ivan Franco will be next (on a sub-DP deal).

And after that… I don’t really know. I mean, I’m sure there will be more signings – they have all three U22 slots available as far as I can tell – and I think there’s a strong argument the roster needs some pretty clear upgrades in a bunch of spots. There’s got to be some movement, but I’m not sure where it will come from.

So yeah, as of now they’re returning nine starters from the roster that finished 13th in the West and 25th overall last year. They need Franco to be really, really good, and they need Olsen to get this team to discover instant chemistry with each other.

Feb. 5 Update

Sir Scoops was right, with Smith and Franco, as well as veteran right back Franco Escobar, who we most recently saw hoisting MLS Cup with LAFC, signing in the week after the previous update.

As of now I think both fullbacks were brought in to be starters, while Franco appears destined to slug it with another new signing, winger/attacking midfielder Amine Bassi, who was acquired near the end of January, for the starting job on the left wing.

They were also busy moving pieces in the other direction, with longtime d-mid Matias Vera sent on loan to Argentinos Juniors, and left back Adam Lundqvist sold to in-state rivals Austin FC for what I thought was a pretty good haul of allocation cash. That leaves only one LB on the roster as of now, but that’ll change before the next update.

So there have been a lot of moves. I’m not sure what it adds up to, though, since so much of the spine has been held over from the group that came nowhere near making last year’s playoffs.

Feb. 20 Update

Houston were actually quite busy reinforcing that backline, picking up left back Djevencio van der Kust on loan from Utrecht, center back Micael and right back Mujeeb Murana from Dynamo 2, and former RSL homegrown Tate Schmitt as a free agent. Van der Kust or Schmitt could actually be thrust into the starting XI given Brad Smith’s injury status, so these aren’t just moves for the sake of making moves.

There was also one departure, as Houston parted ways with reserve goalkeeper Michael Nelson.

Dynamo lineup 2.20.23

Offseason So Far (Jan. 3)

Not gonna lie here: I really thought there’d be more to write about in this section by now. But other than declining a handful of options and seeing another handful of guys have their contracts expire, there just hasn’t been much. No blockbuster sales, no blockbuster signings and no real long-term clarity on what’s going to happen with the third DP slot (the one not occupied by Carlos Vela or Dénis Bouanga).

Which isn’t to say that nothing has happened. Latif Blessing was finally traded, landing in New England for at least $400k GAM. Sebastien Ibeagha signed with Dallas in free agency and it looks like fellow center back Eddie Segura is also gone, as there have been no hints that his re-signing is imminent.

Honduran CB Denil Maldonado has entered, presumably in their stead, while the biggest move of this winter thus far has been the addition of Croatian winger Stipe Biuk on a U22 Initiative deal. This wasn’t just a depth piece – he was signed for around $5m and was on the 40-man shortlist for the UEFA "Golden Boy" award. They are super, super excited about him.

It feels like even bigger moves have to happen in the coming weeks, though, right?

EDIT: An hour after I wrote the above, Tom bombed the news that LAFC have signed Aaron Long as a free agent. Guess they’re done worrying about central defense for the winter.

What’s Next?

Jose Cifuentes is still on the roster. I can’t imagine he’ll be there much longer, and the same goes for countryman Diego Palacios. And Jhegson Mendez… got to assume he’s gone for good after his outstanding World Cup performance with Ecuador.

With Long on board, and even with a path to playing time for academy kids like Tony Leone, Erik Duenas and Christian Torres, it’s the stuff in the paragraph above that will determine whether LAFC are the type of team that can make a Concacaf Champions League run and compete for more domestic silverware, or whether they’ll take a big step backwards in 2023.

My guess is I’ll have a lot to write about all this for the first update of this column, and that most of it will revolve around the threadbare central midfield.

Feb. 5 Update

In have come Long, veteran goalkeeper Eldin Jakupovic, and right back Sergi Palencia, all three of whom will most likely be in the starting mix, as well as some depth in central midfield and further down the list at ‘keeper.

But that is not remotely the biggest story for LAFC this offseason. This is: Cifuentes and Palacios are still here… and Chicho Arango is gone.

Look, we shouldn't be shocked by the second part of this as it was clear from basically Day 1 that head coach Steve Cherundolo didn’t really love the way Arango plays the No. 9. So when what’s been reported as a $6 million offer from Pachuca came in, well… LAFC did what selling teams do.

That leaves a massive hole up top. And bear in mind, while LAFC have a DP slot open, they can only use it on a Young DP or a DP whose salary doesn’t break the max TAM threshold because they’re required to keep multiple U22 Initiative slots open as well. It’s not precisely threading a needle in replacing Chicho, but the pool of options isn’t as wide or deep as it might appear at first glance (and no, I refuse to countenance the idea of Vela playing there long-term as a false 9).

They also don’t have what we all assumed would be a $10 million (or more) treasure trove from selling Cifu to apply to whatever solution they came up with – or, at least, they don’t have it yet. I’m pretty shocked neither he nor Palacios were sold this winter, though maybe that just points to the obvious thing: LAFC really, really want to win CCL this spring, and they were never going to sell either of those two guys unless they got bowled over by an offer. That’s my read on the situation, anyway.

Even with holding onto them this team is super thin in midfield, left back and, obviously, at center forward. So expect more signings, with the biggest one being the center forward.

Feb. 20 Update

The only move of the past two weeks was inking German-American midfielder Tim Tillman from Greuther Furth. He’s a 24-year-old former German youth international who made nearly 90 appearances in the top two flights over there but fell out of favor this year after a good past couple of years.

What I’m saying is there’s possibly some unexplored upside here. Chances are he’ll be a solid starter at best (though as the roster stands right now, he’s definitely a reserve), but I like this move a lot from LAFC’s perspective.

They’ve also got former Fulham and Atlanta United midfielder Emerson Hyndman in town on trial, and while nothing’s signed there, I wouldn’t be shocked if that got done because even with the Tillman signing, LAFC are thin in midfield.

Still no new DP, and still no official No. 9 in town as of yet. There was a lot of smoke around a potential move for Chelsea’s Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang, but that one fell through. Haven’t heard a whisper of who they might be looking at since then.

LAFC roster 2.20.23

Offseason So Far (Jan. 3)

They got a million worth of GAM for Kevin Cabral, and while they have to eat half his salary for the next few years, at least they opened up that DP slot.

What they do with that open DP slot will likely be the biggest story of their offseason and will go a long way toward determining whether the 2023 Galaxy are a very good team or merely a very fun team.

They also managed to get some GAM for center back Derrick Williams and academy product Cameron Dunbar. Other than that, though, it was all “option declined” or “out of contract” and literally zero new additions as of this writing (though free-agent center back Chris Mavinga is reportedly coming, per Tommy Scoops).

What’s Next?

A DP left winger. I don’t know who, though I’ve heard whispers that former Galaxy man Cristian Pavon could be on his way back to Carson. From a purely on-field perspective, that’d make a lot of sense.

The other thing that’d make a lot of sense is opening up another DP slot by buying out the ultra-disappointing Douglas Costa, who has one full year left on his very expensive salary. That has been rumored, as has a return to Gremio. We shall see.

However it plays out, the point is to look at where the likes of LAFC, Toronto FC, Miami and Atlanta are shopping these days. The Galaxy can shop there, too, and have. And if they do it again and come away with their own Insigne and Bernardeschi to add to Chicharito and Riqui Puig, 100 goals doesn’t seem entirely unreasonable.

Feb. 5 Update

The drama came from the failed transfer of right back Julian Araujo to FC Barcelona – yes, that FC Barcelona – for a fee upwards of $4 million. The relevant paperwork was, according to multiple reports, filed 18 seconds late.

Araujo didn’t play in the Galaxy’s subsequent preseason game. I can not blame him.

Worth taking away from that game is the fact the Galaxy started it in a 3-5-2 with both Chicharito and Dejan Joveljic starting up top. Add in the fact Samuel Grandsir was transferred to Ligue 2's Le Havre, Costa is still on the roster with no higher-level replacement in the offing, and no other true wingers have been brought in…

Look, I’ve been spamming the Extratime group text with my theory that there is no new DP winger of any sort on the way, and that the actual third DP has been there all along: It’s Riqui. I bet we’ll get an explanation at some point that it makes the most sense, from a cap flexibility standpoint, for the Galaxy to move him into that slot.

If that’s how it goes, then I think with their current CB depth (three veterans, including the recently-signed Chris Mavinga, and two kids), the lack of wingers and a pair of double-digit strikers… I think they eventually commit to that 3-5-2.

Feb. 20 Update

They made two outgoing transfers. One was small – reserve central midfielder Carlos Harvey to Phoenix Rising of the USL. One was very large, as they reached an official agreement to sell Araujo to Barcelona. I’m not sure of the exact ins and outs of that one since it happened outside of Spain’s transfer window, but either way, the kid’s not with the Galaxy anymore.

His successor, 20-year-old Brazilian Lucas Calegari, is on his way from Fluminense. Based on the clips I’ve seen, the underlying numbers and the scouting reports of folks I’ve spoken with, he’s a pretty like-for-like Araujo replacement.

LA also addressed a need at winger by signing former USMNT attacker Tyler Boyd, who was last under contract with Turkish Super Lig side Besiktas. Boyd has had some good years in the past – though not super-recently – and is a bit more direct than the other guys in the mix, so he should balance what they’ve got well.

They got good performances out wide from Memo and Efra in their final preseason match as well.

Rounding out their recent moves is veteran center back Eriq Zavaleta (another TFC refugee), whose signing will provide some depth.

I have to admit I find the idea of the Galaxy trying to make do with a couple of cast-offs, a young kid they’ve mostly failed to develop and a DP they want to punt on actually kind of charming.

LA Lineup_02_20

Offseason So Far (Jan. 3)

Nothing dramatic from the Loons, who mostly saw a lot of their depth leave via one mechanism or another and who responded by acquiring a fistful of veterans as well as young winger Cameron Dunbar from the Galaxy.

This is all probably a little surprising given this side seems further from being able to make a deep playoff run than they were two years ago, but that could change if, say, Bongi Hlongwane or Mender Garcia really hit, or if Luis Amarilla actually makes good on his DP tag this year.

They do have some flexibility to buy Garcia down and open up a DP slot, but my guess is they won’t make that particular move until/unless they get to midseason and they’re once again stuck in the mud.

What’s Next?

Which is to say that I don’t think there’s anything big next. Maybe they bring in a new starting center back if they decide Bakaye Dibassy isn’t going to be good to go by the time the season starts – remember, they absolutely cratered without the big Frenchman down the stretch last year – and lord knows they could use an injection of youth in the middle of that backline.

But that just doesn’t seem to be where this club is at right now. I think they’re pretty much going to just run it back and hope for better health and some progress from last year’s attacking signees.

Feb. 5 Update

Only two moves of any sort over the past month, as the Loons signed a draft pick and added a young-ish center back from the Swedish second tier in Mikael Marques. I don’t think he’s expected to start, but you never know with these things.

We also don’t know when Emanuel Reynoso will be in town. The Argie maestro is still down in his home country for unspecified reasons, and his return date is equally unspecified.

The regular season starts in less than three weeks.

Feb. 20 Update

Minnesota went out and got their hoped-for Dibassy replacement in Mexican center back Miguel Tapias, and obviously how the 26-year-old adjusts will be a big story this season.

But it pales in comparison to the Reynoso story. He’s still in Argentina, and he’s now had his pay suspended by the league for failure to report to preseason. The folks I’ve spoken with at the club are… “displeased” is not a strong enough word. It’s a really bad and weird situation, and it’s cast a shadow over everything the Loons have done this winter.

It also poses a very obvious tactical question, as the whole team is built to function around Bebelo’s singular chance creation genius. If there’s no No. 10 to pull the strings, how does any of that work?

For now, I’ve got them in a 4-3-3. But honestly, who knows?

MIN Lineup_02_20

Offseason So Far (Jan. 3)

They broke a record! Portland went out and dropped a big old bag on Brazilian playmaker Evander, the very right-footed No. 10 who was leading the Europa League in assists this year with FC Midtjylland.

He cost more than $10 million and if he’s as good as he looks – and he looks Hany Mukhtar-level good – he’ll be a steal even at that price. Especially since, at just 24, he’s the type of player you can conceivably build around for years and years.

And that, thus far, is it for inbound Timbers. The outbound crew were mostly fringe players, save for right back JoseCarlos Van Rankin, whose purchase option was not exercised.

What’s Next?

At this point, it seems like there are two possible things on the menu: A new starting center forward, as Tommy Scoops has reported. I completely get it given that holdovers Felipe Mora and Jaroslaw Niezgoda are both one-dimensional and injury-prone.

The second point is the fare of central midfielder Eryk Williamson, who pretty clearly fell out with head coach Giovanni Savarese down the stretch last year, to the point he was benched despite the Timbers playing for their lives.

It was a pretty insane decision. Portland collected 1.8 ppg in Williamson’s starts last year and just 1.0 ppg when he didn’t – and lo-and-behold they managed zero points from their final two games with Williamson on the bench for all but 16 minutes of the 180 on offer, and subsequently missed the playoffs by a point. You’ve got to be committed to not rating a guy who’s such a clear difference-maker if you’re going to keep him on the bench in that spot.

But that’s what Savarese did, and it stands to reason the Timbers would be amenable to shopping a guy who 1) clearly isn’t a guaranteed starter, and 2) would probably bring in a Paul Arriola-level of GAM if he was to be traded within the league.

And yeah, teams are interested.

Even if they make nice and keep Williamson, though, they probably need more central midfield depth. I wouldn’t even be shocked if SuperDraft pick Noel Caliskan won a role, which is something that has not happened often during Portland’s dozen seasons in the league.

Feb. 5 Update

The only move they’ve made in the past month is to bring back center forward Nathan Fogaca. The young Brazilian scored twice in 400 minutes last year, and given the injury and performance issues we’ve seen from the veterans in front of him, right now it looks like he’s in line for some real minutes.

That said, Mr. Scoops keeps insisting there’s another No. 9 on the way, and one with a starter’s profile. We shall see.

Williamson, meanwhile, remains in Portland and for all intents and purposes looks set to be starting from Day 1 this year.

Feb. 20 Update

Someone finally hit their number on center back Bill Tuiloma, who was shipped to Charlotte last week for up to $900k of GAM. That presumably will open enough room on the cap for them to bring in that No. 9 we’ve all been waiting for all offseason, though it does leave the Timbers short of bodies in central defense. So obviously expect another signing there, too.

Timbers lineup 2.20.23

Offseason So Far (Jan. 3)

They traded Aaron Herrera for $500k of GAM and an international roster slot, and I just don’t get it. Yes, Herrera’s one of the best-paid fullbacks in the league, which can make the roster budget dance dicey. But he’s one of the best-paid fullbacks in the league because he’s one of the best fullbacks in the league, and has shown the flexibility to also play wingback and right center back in a back five.

Even if RSL felt like they had to trade him – and they must’ve – I can’t get over how little they got for him. It feels like they undervalued him and Montréal pounced.

The other departed starter is striker Sergio Córdova, whose loan concluded at the end of the season. No word of a return to Utah has been heard, though I wouldn’t be surprised.

The rest of the exits were among depth pieces, and there were a lot of them: nine in all, though one (veteran CB Marcelo Silva) has re-signed.

Only two true additions thus far – a pair of Generation adidas attackers in Ilijah Paul and Bertin Jaquesson.

What’s Next?

Bring Cordova back and run it back? If not him (for what it’s worth I’m not entirely sure he’s worth a DP slot and thus would try to get him on loan again), then some other high-level No. 9 makes a lot of sense to me given the way the roster is constructed.

Unless the idea is they believe in Paul so much that they want Pablo Mastroeni to throw him out there from the jump. That feels like a stretch to me.

They could use one more center back as well, but beyond that there’s not a lot. They really are very deep, and if Damir Kreilach can come back healthy and play as he did during his first four years in Sandy, then there’s reason to think they can improve on last year’s regular-season showing and conjure another deep playoff run a la 2021.

Feb. 5 Update

They broke the bank, setting a club record on the transfer fee for winger Carlos Andrés Gómez from Millonarios. It’s safe to assume he’ll line up on the opposite flank from Jefferson Savarino, their other DP winger, with Kreilach returning to line up between them.

It doesn’t seem like they intend to bring in a high-level No. 9, though, and made only a nominal effort to bring Cordova back (multiple sources confirmed to me their bid for last year’s leading goalscorer was in the six figures).

Thomas Scoopington IV says, however, there is a new left back coming. Which is kind of surprising since, between Oviedo and all the homegrowns, left back seemed pretty set. And homegrown center back Jaziel Orozco, meanwhile, is heading out to Liga MX on loan.

It’s very hard to try to anticipate where this front office will spend their resources in building this roster. I have no idea what’s coming next.

Feb. 20 Update

Tommy got it right, as that Colombian left back – Brayan Vera – arrived the day before Valentine’s Day.

One thing to note is while Vera’s primary position is left back, he can and has played some center back as well, and actually makes sense as a ball-carrying LCB in a 3-5-2. Which, of course, is a formation and tactical approach we’ve seen Pablo Mastroeni use before. I still think they’ll primarily set up in a 4-4-1-1, but they’ve got the flexibility to try different stuff now.

Their other addition is former D.C. United homegrown Moses Nyeman on loan from Belgium. I absolutely loved Nyeman as a prospect – everybody did – because he’s ridiculously ball-secure and has touchline-to-touchline passing range. There’s a world in which he grows into Pedro Ruiz’s role.

But “grows” is the operative word, because Nyeman at 19 looks exactly the same as he did when he was 14. He needs to not get pushed around if he’s going to play for Pablo, and he needs to ratchet up his defensive awareness about five levels as well.

RSL also picked up $300k worth of GAM for trading Córdova’s rights to the Whitecaps. As I intimated above, I’d have brought him back. But obviously the front office had other ideas, and we’ll see what happens at that No. 9 spot this year.

RSL lineup 2.20.23

Offseason So Far (Jan. 3)

Shea Salinas retired. Eight other guys either saw their options declined or their contracts expire, though one of them – Judson – has come to a deal with the team and will return. There’d been talk a month ago that Tommy Thompson would also find the right number with the team, but thus far that hasn’t happened, so he remains a free agent, as do the likes of Eric Remedi (in MLS terms) and Jan Gregus (not in MLS terms).

The Quakes are tracking heavily in the “Philadelphia Union” direction – budget DPs and a prolific academy – but they haven’t gone full Philly yet because they still clearly value the SuperDraft. This year’s top selection, center back Daniel Munie, hasn’t officially been signed yet, but basically everybody I talked to in and around the college game loved him. I even heard some Tim Ream comparisons with how smooth he is on the ball.

But that’s it for right now entering Year One under Luchi Gonzalez. San Jose’s roster is at 22 – 23 once they sign Munie.

What’s Next?

Signing Munie and maybe one or two of the other draft picks is probably next up.

After that, they’ve got to look at d-mid. I like Judson a lot, and the version of him they had in 2019 and 2020 was one of the most underrated players in the league and clearly a top-10 starting d-mid in MLS. The version of him they’ve seen since then has been significantly less effective.

Obviously I still think it was worth bringing him back. But they can’t be counting on him in a starting role. If they’re going to be Union West, then they have to do Union-style things like finding an elite, Jose Martinez-level d-mid on the cheap. That is not easy.

They could also use a backup goalkeeper and desperately need a backup center forward behind Jeremy Ebobisse. That becomes a truly urgent need if they take the reported offer from AEK Athens for winger/center forward Benji Kikanovic, who is the closest thing on the roster to an Ebobisse understudy.

And for what it’s worth, I suspect they’ll eventually take that offer. Kikanovic is good, but hardly irreplaceable, and imitating the Union doesn’t end with developing players. You develop and then sell players.

San Jose haven’t done much of that in their MLS existence, but it’s time.

Feb. 5 Update

The ‘Quakes imitated the Union in a way that wasn’t expected: They went out and got themselves a killer d-mid, and they spent money to do it. Think about all the great Union teams over the past half-decade, and what they all had in common was a high-level No. 6 to set the standard in midfield. And the Quakes needed a guy like that so, so bad.

So they paid a club-record fee to bring Carlos Gruezo back to MLS. The Ecuadorian veteran of both the Bundesliga and the World Cup just lives for all the dirty work, and putting a No. 6 like that at the back point of the midfield means all the young attackers you’re trying to develop and sell will be able to attack with a lot more freedom and abandon.

It’s maybe my single favorite move of the offseason by any team.

San Jose, in addition to re-signing Thompson and inking some homegrowns, also went out and got themselves competition for JT Marcinkowski in net, bringing in Brazilian ‘keeper Daniel. I think that one’s a coin flip.

They did not, for what it’s worth, end up selling anybody. Not yet, anyway.

Feb. 20 Update

Made another big move to solidify that defense in trading for longtime Crew lynchpin Jonathan Mensah. Though this is one they were forced into, as Nathan’s torn ACL essentially rules him out for the season, creating a hole to fill.

SJ lineup 2.20.23

Offseason So Far (Jan. 3)

The Sounders are locked into most of their biggest contracts for the next few years, so as expected they haven’t done much this winter. Bidding adieu to Will Bruin was, without a doubt, the biggest outgoing move, and while I’ve always been a Bruin fan, I think they pretty clearly upgraded at that spot by bringing in Heber from NYCFC.

Between that and retaining Fredy Montero, Seattle’s three-deep at center forward. I think that was the second-biggest question heading into the offseason.

The biggest question heading into the offseason, though, was always going to revolve around the health of veteran Joao Paulo and youngster Obed Vargas, and the good news is it seems like both are on track to be available in Morocco next month for the Club World Cup.

The Heber acquisition, the return to health of those two guys in particular, and the development of Ethan Dobbelaere and Reed Baker-Whiting into viable options at right back means there’s just not too much to fret over.

Also worth noting is the seamless move from Garth Lagerwey to Craig Waibel in the GM seat. The Sounders have been very good for a very long time because they just consistently make the high-floor, obviously correct moves both on the field and in the front office.

What’s Next?

Will they sell Nouhou? It kind of felt like last year was the time to do that, but then he put in another strong defensive showing at the World Cup, so could the right bid come in – finally – this winter?

I imagine they’re hoping for it. When locked in Nouhou is an incredible 1v1 defender who could help any number of teams in the big-five leagues, but he takes a ton off the table in attack as an overlapping fullback, and his inability to play high-value passes crushed the Sounders last year. Even if he’s not sold, I feel like Waibel should be looking for a starting-caliber LB to take over that spot.

And the other question is whether they will sell or loan Danny Leyva. The 19-year-old needs playing time and with JP and Obed back, and Josh Atencio still around, he’s not going to get it in Seattle.

There are rumors of interest from Liga MX giants UNAM Pumas, which would make a good amount of sense.

Feb. 5 Update

The Sounders got all their work done before the new year, and put in what I thought was a good accounting of themselves in the Club World Cup against Al Ahly, controlling the vast majority of the game before conceding a late heartbreaker. Anyone who’s been watching MLS teams play their first competitive games of the year in the CCL knew exactly what was coming, right?

Anyway, the Leyva move never came off – or maybe “hasn’t come off yet” – though it was actually Atencio who got the start (and played damn well) in Saturday’s loss.

It’s worth noting there was a bit of a tactical change on display in this game as Seattle shifted into a 3-2-2-3 in possession with Nouhou staying home, which makes their need for an attacking left back a little less urgent. Still, that’s a spot I think they could try to address, as is center back. Especially with Xavier Arreaga looking like he’s on his way out.

Feb. 20 Update

Nothing new for the Sounders. I’m pretty surprised Arreaga’s still around, to tell you the truth.

Once he is offloaded they’ll obviously want to sign another center back, and as mentioned above, an attacking left back is still a necessary addition.


Offseason So Far (Jan. 3)

I’m still trying to wrap my head around the Cristiano Ronaldo thing. My god.

Anyway, if you’re reading this, you’re the type of person who knows there was a real effort by Sporting KC to sign the Portuguese star – and that said effort came up short as Cristiano decamped for Saudi Arabia. Ahh, well.

While that sucked up all the headlines, the signing of 29-year-old twice-capped Serbian d-mid Nemanja Radoja, who made nearly 200 LaLiga appearances (and more than 20 in Europe) over the past eight years, flew under the radar. But he’s got the exact profile of what this team needed to run the show as the No. 6. We’ll see how it works out; I think there’s reason to be optimistic.

And in all, it’s been an offseason of remarkable stability. Radoja is the only official addition at this point, though I assume they’ll sign first-round SuperDraft pick Steven Afrifa as well. And there’s only been two departures in center backs Nicolas Isimat-Mirin and Kaveh Rad.

So… mostly very quiet other than the almost-signing that was heard around the world.

What’s Next?

The Kansas City Star’s Sam McDowell, in his tick-tock of the Ronaldo pursuit, reported “Sporting has already been contacted by another European star who expressed interest in such a move,” and that the interest is mutual.

Now, a “European star” does not mean a Ronaldo-caliber signing, but – god, I can’t believe I’m going to type this – would his old buddy Sergio Ramos move from actual Paris to the Paris of the Plains? Or maybe Giorgio Chiellini has been raving about life in MLS so much that his old buddy Leonardo Bonucci is ready to leave Juve for a life of parity?

I can’t bring myself to believe signings like that are plausible, but I chose to mention two center backs for a reason: for the fourth straight year, that’s where Sporting need the most help. I feel like they could do with two new starters, though they did bring back Andreu Fontas, and it’s probably fair to expect a step forward from young Robert Voloder in his second MLS season.

The rest of the roster looks set… save, perhaps, for the status of Alan Pulido. KC’s record signing hasn’t played much the past two years and has never played as well as Willy Agada did at the end of last season. He enters this year – the final year of his contract – as a backup.

Would it make sense to buy him out then use the open DP slot elsewhere and find a more affordable backup for Agada (Afrifa could be the guy)? I think it would.

But I don’t know if Sporting’s considering that in any way.

Feb. 5 Update

They went out and got a starting left back in veteran Tim Leibold, who’s got a ton of experience in the top three flights over in Germany (most of it in the 2. Bundesliga). They also waived Uri Rosell, picked up some midfield depth and… that is all.

I think they’re mostly done save for adding one more center back. I don’t know if they’re still in the market for a starter – Kortne Ford’s always had talent, and now that he’s actually stayed healthy for two months in a row he seems to have the inside track on starting next to Fontas.

They do have a couple of trialists in and they’ve kept a few of their draft picks around (none officially signed yet), so more moves around the edges will be coming. But it’s center back to keep an eye on because the rest of the roster’s set.

One extra note: I left Gadi Kinda off the depth chart below (the graphic only goes four deep!) as he’s still injured. That’s feeling more and more like a problem they may have to solve via a buyout.

Feb. 20 Update

They signed SuperDraft pick Chris Rindov and veteran journeyman Robert Castellanos, both center backs, in the wake of Ford’s season-ending injury last week. I might’ve jinxed him in that blurb above, man.

It’s a bummer. Ford’s career has been derailed by injuries time and again, but this time he’d stayed healthy long enough to win the starting job in central defense alongside Andreu Fontàs. Back to rehab for him, and back to having a massive, glaring question mark just before the season kicks off for Sporting.


Offseason So Far (Jan. 3)

Should I just, like, list the whole roster? I can’t remember how I’ve done the "offseason thus far" part for expansion teams before!

Anyway, St. Louis got themselves a DP No. 9 (good) and a DP goalkeeper (erm…), a bunch of veterans at center back (I like that), some talented kids to develop on the wings (that’s good), one workmanlike mid-20s central midfielder, two workmanlike mid-20s fullbacks and a few open questions.

We’ll get to those questions in a minute – that’s what the “What’s Next?” segment is for – but in general it’s best to understand this roster build as one that is designed to bring Energy Drink Soccer to life. Almost every player on the roster at this point would be described as “hard-working” and “physical” before you’d start ticking off their attributes with regard to technique or vision, which is just right in line with what we all thought the club identity would be.

And sporting director Lutz Phannenstiel basically confirmed all that on Extratime two months ago.

“I don't really believe in that word, Designated Player,” he said. “I believe that you need to have good players at a similar level who work together as a unit. If it's called a DP or it's called a Young DP or a TAM, whatever you call it, in the end of the day everyone is there to play a role within the team, within the structure. That is how we build so far the squad.”

What’s Next?

Continuing to build the midfield out. Eduard Lowen looks like a safe bet at the No. 8, but guys like Tomas Ostrak, Njabulo Blom and Aziel Jackson? All are massive question marks at this level.

And even if all three hit, there’s still a pretty flagrant lack of depth in the engine room. There will have to be new signings there in the coming weeks, and at least two of them will have to be guys capable of contributing right away in MLS. And man, it sure would help if at least one of them was DP caliber…

The other possible place to add a piece is right back, though I have a hunch first-round SuperDraft pick Owen O’Malley is slated to make the shift from college winger to pro fullback. He has the physical tools to do that job.

And then the final spot to address is backup goalkeeper behind Roman Burki.

EDIT: Ok, there's actually been some reporting that Lowen is on the DP deal and Burki is in a max-TAM spot. That's a reverse from what I've heard, but as nothing is official yet, I'm going to add this note here for now and revisit this when this column's updated in a few weeks.

We should have more clarity then.

Feb. 5 Update

They filled out the roster a bit, signing one homegrown, acquiring veteran ‘keeper Ben Lundt from Phoenix (good move IMO) and pushing the Indiana Vassilev deal over the line.

Interestingly, they see Vassilev as more of an 8 or even a 6 than as a winger, which is the spot he’d mostly played in Miami the past two seasons. So you’ll note he’s on the depth chart there below, and you’ll note that even with him there, they’re still probably a touch thin.

I’ll reiterate most of the guys they’ve signed in the front six are massive question marks, but that really does make this a fun exercise in roster-building and just in overall soccer theory. Because if you give talented players a clear blueprint to work from – and St. Louis will do exactly that – then they should be able to execute whether they’re proven or not, right?

Feb. 20 Update

Nothing major for City in the past two weeks, though they landed homegrown midfielder Miguel Perez. They’ve obviously kept a ton of powder dry to make in-season moves if they need to.

STL lineup 2.20.23

Offseason So Far (Jan. 3)

They didn't do much, but upgraded on the margins and got the guy who many considered to be the best player in the SuperDraft. The issue, of course, is J.C. Ngando looked like the best player in the SuperDraft while playing as a college No. 10. In the pros he’ll have to learn to play as a No. 8.

It’s a big jump. Most kids don’t make it, but Ngando is special on the ball in tight spaces and is just a natural ball-progressor. There is some Darlington Nagbe to his game when he drives forward, so you can understand why there’s real hope he can be an upgrade in the middle of the pitch – a spot where the ‘Caps, under both Vanni Sartini and Marc Dos Santos before him, have often played it too safe.

The other big addition is Uruguayan center back Mathias Laborda, which Tommy Scooped at the end of December.

Meanwhile, a ton of guys have left. That list includes veteran forwards Lucas Cavallini and Tosaint Ricketts, veteran midfielders Janio Bikel and Leonard Owusu, and veteran defenders Jake Nerwinski, Erik Godoy and Florian Jungwirth. It will, in short, be a new-look team at BC Place this year.

What’s Next?

A third-string center forward, maybe? That’s really about as deep as I can dig here, because even with all the departures, this roster’s stuffed.

The onus, now, is on Sartini to develop the young players and get the most out of the veterans, because there are some very good pieces in place.

Feb. 5 Update

They pushed the Laborda signing over the finish line, which is the only official move. One coming down the pike, though – one I like a lot – is they’re reportedly on the verge of buying Venezuelan forward Sergio Cordova, who I thought was very good last year for RSL, from Augsburg and making him a DP.

It makes sense. Brian White’s been very good in his MLS career when healthy, but just can’t stay healthy long enough to be a full-time striker.

The other move in the offing is even more necessary as the ‘Caps are about to bring in Japanese ‘keeper Yohei Takaoka, who’s been described to me as “The Nick Rimando of the J-League.” That’s quite a sell.

And by the way, they’re playing out of the old Christmas Tree 4-3-2-1 in preseason. It morphs into a 3-2-2-3 with the left back pushing up and the right back sliding in to be a third center back.

Feb. 20 Update

They pushed the Córdova and Takaoka moves across the line. I think both those guys are starters and have them listed there below, but since they arrived so late we might not see them there in Week 1.

VAN Lineup_02_20