Vela vs. Austin

Happy new year! The offseason hasn’t quite hit full swing yet, but with the holidays mostly in the rearview and the official opening of the transfer and trade windows dead ahead, it’s about to heat up. Which means that what we have at this point are lots of rosters have been torn down along with a few that have been steadily built up.

So now seems a good time to take stock of where all 29 teams stand in their offseason overhauls, and to take a look at what’s to come.

With that in mind, here’s version 1.0 of our annual Offseason Roster Build compendium. Eastern Conference was yesterday, while the Western Conference is as follows below.

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).

Austin depth chart w:out Gabrielsen

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.

COL depth chart Jan 4 Doyle

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.

DAL depth chart Jan 4 Doyle

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.

HOU depth chart Doyle Jan 4

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.

LAFC depth chart Jan 4 Doyle

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.

LA depth chart Jan 4 Doyle

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.

MIN depth chart Jan 4 Doyle

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.

POR depth chart Jan 4 Doyle

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 Cordova, 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.

RSL depth chart Jan 4 Doyle

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.

SJ Depth chart Jan 4 Doyle

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.

SEA depth chart

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.

SKC depth chart Jan 4 Doyle

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.

STL depth chart Jan 4 Doyle

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.

VAN Lineup