MLS Insider: Tom Bogert

Which clubs had the most compelling offseasons in MLS?

The 2021-22 offseason is over and MLS is Back weekend is upon us. It was a short cool-down period for many teams, with MLS Cup coming in mid-December and opening weekend in late February. But, boy, did teams get a lot accomplished.

We're leaving Charlotte FC out of this particular discussion, just because we all know how intriguing expansion roster builds are, plus the fact that we’ve covered it at length.

Teams are listed in no particular order.

It is hard to overstate how challenging a situation Inter Miami CF found themselves in after two seasons in terms of squad building.

They swung and missed on two (official) DPs – no debate – in the frustrating lack of production from Rodolfo Pizarro for a $12 million transfer fee and the two-years-too-late acquisition of Blaise Matuidi… which was falsely reported and landed the team with sanctions for the 2022 and 2023 seasons. There were about a dozen players not performing up to their cap numbers, too.

It looked like a multi-year rebuild, as is reasonable to expect. It’s not easy to get out of so many contracts in one window. Particularly when other teams know you're trying to get out of so many contracts in one window. But, man, Miami redefined that.

Pizarro was loaned to CF Monterrey, while Matuidi will be leaving the official roster in some capacity (likely a buyout, but to be announced by roster compliance on Friday). Most contract options they had the option to decline were, well, declined. Ryan Shawcross retired, and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez and Nico Figal were moved to South America. Julián Carranza was traded to Philadelphia, while 2020 club MVP Lewis Morgan, a rare bright spot, was traded to the New York Red Bulls for a then-league-record $1.2 million GAM, crucial in making up allocation money to bring in additions. We could go on.

All in all, 17 players went out. That’s almost a full matchday squad!

It was a whirlwind. While impressive, it’s also half the battle. The other half is incomings, which Miami did plenty of too, with reason for cautious optimism.

USMNT right back DeAndre Yedlin was signed with no transfer fee after being bought out by Turkey's Fenerbahce, a shrewd move. Jamaica international Damion Lowe joins Yedlin on the new-look backline, while highly-rated U22 Initiative signings Leonardo Campana and Emerson Rodríguez give new life (and dynamism) to an evolving attack. Campana and Rodríguez will hit the budget at cap-friendly numbers thanks to the U22 Initiative, key for Miami’s situation.

Brazilian midfielder Jean Mota arrived, too. Sporting director Chris Henderson was in Seattle when they acquired João Paulo and orchestrated the deal for Gregore in Miami, so his track record is solid in acquiring in-prime Brazilian midfielders; this move certainly gets the benefit of the doubt.

Miami can still add a DP and U22 Initiative signing, so the summer should be busy, too.

Lastly: There's also the seemingly real possibility that Gonzalo Higuaín plays like some sort of No. 10 or hybrid second forward or “go be free and score/create goals” role underneath Campana at times, and I am certainly compelled to see how that plays out. Phil Neville and the club have kept their plans under wraps. Week 1 should tell us a lot in terms of personnel and tactics.

Another supercharged teardown and rebuild in the Eastern Conference, Toronto FC will also be a completely new team in 2022.

It started in the front office/coaching staff, with Bob Bradley taking over as sporting director/head coach. They will likely have, what, six new starters in 2022? Looks like it. We’re up to 17 players out, with at least one more departure on the way. For both Miami and Toronto to do this in the same offseason is bonkers.

Two DPs are out, with Yeferson Soteldo and Jozy Altidore officially gone. Superstar winger Lorenzo Insigne joins in July, while Mexican international center back Carlos Salcedo is here now. Those two join incumbent DP and 2020 MLS MVP Alejandro Pozuelo to fill out that part of the roster.

Ayo Akinola has been given a runway at center forward with Altidore gone, signing a new U22 Initiative deal. Toronto cleared the decks in defense, with Auro out and Kemar Lawrence soon to follow. Winger Jacob Shaffelburg looks to be the new starter at left back, which is a super interesting positional swap. Wonderkid winger Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty looks to be the starting right back. That’s where Liverpool played him when he went on a training stint this winter, per sources, and clubs in Europe love him as a wingback. He won’t be here long, so enjoy these minutes.

How will Bradley use his son Michael as the USMNT and TFC legend turns 35 later this summer? Can Bradley get the most out of Insigne, the same way he challenged Carlos Vela to be LAFC’s Lionel Messi before he delivered the single-best personal season in MLS history in 2019? Is this Akinola’s true breakout year? How can homegrown midfielder Ralph Priso level up under Bradley? There’s a ton to watch here.

It's truly a new era for FC Dallas. The deal that sent Ricardo Pepi to FC Augsburg for upwards of $20 million is historic, but not unprecedented given the volume of big-money deals they’ve accrued for academy talents making the leap to Europe (Bryan Reynolds, Reggie Cannon, Tanner Tessmann, Chris Richards).

But taking some of the proceeds and immediately putting $7 million down to acquire Alan Velasco, one of the most exciting talents in South America? Now that’s unprecedented for this team. They also went out and made a new league record for most expensive trade, bringing in USMNT winger Paul Arriola for $2 million GAM (plus incentives) from D.C. United.

Dallas also gave Jesus Ferreira a new contract, making him a Young DP. That was unprecedented, too. It’s another path for these top talents coming out of the academy: Stay and get paid, keep balling out for us and maybe Europe is still in your future anyway.

“Unprecedented” was used a few times up above. But that’s really the only way to describe Dallas' offseason.

It feels like a new team, too. Dallas also named Nico Estevez head coach and the former USMNT assistant will play a 4-3-3 formation, with Velasco and Arriola on the wings and Ferreira the starting No. 9. You can throw in the (hopefully) return of a fully healthy Paxton Pomykal in midfield, Marco Farfan for Ryan Hollingshead at left back, plus maybe a new starting goalkeeper depending on if Maarten Paes or Jimmy Maurer is preferred.

The original era of LAFC is officially in the past, with just Carlos Vela remaining (essentially) from those first couple years. And this winter brought a different focus in terms of signings: intra-league acquisitions.

LAFC acquired:

They obviously won’t stop mining the international market, but this is easily the most emphasis LAFC have put on intra-league acquisitions since their expansion season. They had previously traded away the likes of Walker Zimmerman and Mark-Anthony Kaye, while letting Tyler Miller walk in free agency. All three players were replaced by acquisitions from abroad.

New head coach Steve Cherundolo gets to mold all the new talent and see who best fits where. Will Acosta be a No. 6 or No. 8? What will we see from Vela in (hopefully) a full season of health for the first time since 2019? How many points will Crepeau single-handedly add given his improvement on previous GKs?

Don’t forget LAFC still have an open DP spot and remain active in that search.

I mean, it’s Big Shaq time. What else do you need to feel compelled?

Chicago Fire FC made perhaps the splash of the offseason, and one of the biggest in club history, to sign Swiss international Xherdan Shaqiri for $7.5 million from Ligue 1's Lyon. He’s not the biggest name to ever play for the club or in the league but is still in his prime, unlike some others stars. He's 30 years old and a focal point of a Qatar 2022 World Cup-bound Switzerland national team.

Shaqiri is the crown jewel of Chicago's offseason but far from the only change.

Ezra Hendrickson arrived as head coach, one of the most well-respected assistants in the league who was among conversations for head coaching roles in the past. In addition to Shaqiri, the club added rising Mexican winger Jairo Torres from Atlas FC for $6 million. Colombian wonderkid forward Jhon Durán arrived after his 18th birthday this winter, and MLS-proven forward Kacper Przybylko was acquired in a trade with Philadelphia. It’s a completely new-look attack. Center back Rafael Czichos was acquired from German Bundesliga side FC Koln to lead the defense, too.

It’s certainly an exciting time for the Fire. Let’s see how the pieces fit.

Like Chicago, it’s a big splash from a new owner. Unlike Chicago, Orlando got to build around a team that has made the playoffs each of the last two seasons and keeps a well-respected head coach in Oscar Pareja.

The club spent serious money, acquiring Uruguay international winger Facundo Torres from Penarol for a reported fee of around $7 million plus incentives. The 21-year-old has been one of South America’s preeminent rising talents and just led his boyhood club to a league title before joining Orlando this winter.

Torres takes over at left wing with star Nani departing. A big-time center forward also departed, with Daryl Dike joining West Bromwich Albion in England's Championship. He’s been replaced by Ercan Kara, who was acquired from Austria's Rapid Vienna. Winger Chris Mueller also left the club this winter, with Benji Michel and Silvester van der Water battling to take up those minutes.

The defensive unit remains intact, plus there's a strong defensive midfield rotation. What can a new, high-priced attack provide for Pareja’s side?