Voices: Sam Jones

Which teams are biggest winners of the 2022 MLS offseason so far?

There’s still plenty of offseason left. But preseason has started, and if teams want their roster makeovers to have an Opening Day impact, there's not much time. Fortunately for some of you, your team got their affairs in order early. Here are the teams that have done the most to change their fortunes for the better this offseason (so far).

Note: One or more of these teams will almost definitely have literally everything go wrong and the description of them as an offseason “winner” is going to be screenshotted by a “TERRIBLE MLS TAKES REVEALED” account or maybe even that team’s rival. I’m prepared to make that sacrifice. For soccer bloggers, the real offseason winner is martyrdom.

Second note: I haven't included Charlotte FC because, well, they have to make an entire team. And the jury's still out on how the on-paper group will look when MLS' 2022 expansion team actually plays soccer.

Nashville SC have had an offseason that an MLS nerd would describe as “exhilarating.” They picked up $1.25 million worth of Allocation Money by trading five international spots for $250k apiece and then added another $1 million by trading Alistair Johnston to CF Montréal.

On top of that, they added noted MLS Guys Ethan Zubak and Teal Bunbury as low-cost depth pieces. Then, on top of that, they pulled off one of the best moves of the entire offseason by luring former Red Bulls captain Sean Davis away from New York for the first time in his professional career on a free-agent deal.

They were a few \ahem\ “misplaced” penalty kicks away from making it to the Eastern Conference Final in just their second MLS season. Now they’ve added depth, a starter in midfield, and still likely have plenty of allocation money to play with to do whatever they want.

Additionally, Jhonder Cadiz and David Accam are no longer with the team. Nashville have an open DP spot now and Accam’s sizable salary is officially off the books. They’ve set themselves up to take another step forward in Year 3 and have room to bring in reinforcements wherever they need to add them whenever they want. That’s a lot of freedom for a team that already looked like an MLS Cup contender in 2021.

Wait, no, come back and hear me out.

Yeah, sure, I’m using “winner” loosely here. But isn’t there something to be said for a total rejection of the sunk cost fallacy? No one has been safe on the Inter Miami CF roster this offseason, including Lewis Morgan, Julian Carranza, Rodolfo Pizarro, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Nico Figal and reportedly Blaise Matuidi, all of whom are either gone for good or gone for the year at least.

You can’t and shouldn’t reward Miami for missing on their initial roster build in the first place or for the … let’s call it a financial restriction-based nudge that made a total teardown a more viable option. You have to give some credit to them for not wallowing in it though.

They could have been bad this year with a tremendous hole still left to steadily dig out of or they could blow up the hole with nitroglycerin and be bad this year with a chance to build for the future. I’d take the latter option. Now they just have to get the second roster build right. Hopefully, they learned plenty of lessons from the first one – and it doesn't hurt having Chris Henderson steering the ship.

Some newcomers so far are defender Damion Lowe, midfielder Jean Mota, winger Emerson Rodriguez and forward Leonardo Campana. On paper, it's starting to make sense.

From my understanding, they did a relatively typical Seattle Sounders FC thing and let a few guys go only to rework their deals. Kelyn Rowe, Stefan Cleveland, Will Bruin and Fredy Montero all re-joined Seattle via free agency. That’s all well and good, but what makes Seattle a “winner” this offseason is the other free-agent signing they made. You know, the biggest free-agent signing in MLS history?

Albert Rusnak put up 11 goals and 11 assists for Real Salt Lake last season. Now he’s joining an already loaded Sounders attack to make it somehow even more potent. Just to recap here, they already have Raul Ruidiaz, an increasingly healthy Jordan Morris, Nouhou, U22 Initiative forward Leo Chu, Cristian Roldan, Alex Roldan, Nouhou, Joao Paulo, Nouhou, MLS Defender of the Year candidate Yeimar Gomez Andrade, possibly-healthy-possibly-not-so-healthy Nicolas Lodeiro and Nouhou. Now they’re just casually tossing in a guy who contributed to 22 goals last season.

On Thursday, they added back to their war chest by sending left back Brad Smith to D.C. United for $750,000 in General Allocation Money. That's another shrewd move. And then they got $250k GAM from FC Dallas for an international roster spot on Friday. For those keeping track at home, that's $1 million in GAM.

I barely know how to process it other than to say that the only thing that can derail this team is injuries (again). The ceiling is as high as it possibly could be.

There’s a bit of good and bad here. But more than enough good to convince me that LAFC have improved enough to be a playoff team again.

The bad here is that midfielder Eduard Atuesta and defender Tristan Blackmon left for less than it felt like they should have. Atuesta, 24 years old and a Best XI-caliber midfielder, went to Palmeiras for somewhere around $4 million. That’s not nearly the price tag it seemed like Atuesta was destined for. Meanwhile, Blackmon got swooped up in the Expansion Draft and quickly shifted to Vancouver Whitecaps FC, a team that made the playoffs last year. It happens.

That being said, they’ve made up for it by getting defender Franco Escobar from Atlanta United for just $250,000 in General Allocation Money guaranteed, getting forward Ismael Tajouri-Shradi in the same Expansion Draft they lost Blackmon in, bringing in midfielder Kellyn Acosta in a major trade, signing midfielder Ilie Sanchez as a free agent and, most importantly, grabbing goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau in a trade with Vancouver.

Escobar is easily good enough to start if he’s healthy. Tajouri-Shradi is a solid depth piece. Acosta and Sanchez will both help steady their midfield. And Crepeau might genuinely be the piece that takes them from fringe playoff team back to a contender.

Last year, Crepeau finished as the fourth-best 'keeper in the league by American Soccer Analysis’ goals added metric, and the fourth-best 'keeper by actual goals allowed against expected goals. Last year, LAFC finished first in expected goal differential. Their three (!) keepers, Jamal Blackman, Pablo Sisniega and Tomas Romero, finished 27th, 46th and 65th in goals allowed against expected goals, respectively. Only 66 keepers played actual MLS minutes last year.

Crepeau is an enormous upgrade. His signing alone makes LAFC an offseason winner.

I’m pairing these last two together for essentially the same reason. They both got some windfall from a major transfer and immediately invested money into the team.

After sending Ricardo Pepi to Augsburg in exchange for somewhere around $20 million, FC Dallas are on the verge of making a club-record signing. Reports indicate that 19-year-old winger Alan Velasco is on his way from Independiente for around $7 million. Additionally, Dallas locked in Jesus Ferreira by signing him to a Young DP deal and just completed the single largest trade in MLS history by bringing in Paul Arriola for $2 million in allocation money.

Meanwhile, Orlando City SC sold Daryl Dike to West Brom for around $10 million and a DP spot opened up when Nani moved on from the Lions. They’ve already brought in three major transfers. Cesar Araujo arrived on a U22 Initiative deal from Montevideo Wanderers for around $2 million, Facundo Torres comes from Penarol on a Young DP deal by way of a $10 million transfer, and striker Ercan Kara comes from Rapid Vienna for a reported fee of around $2 million. They also re-signed Mauricio Pereyra to a DP deal.

I’m not sure if these moves will make either team immediately better after losing so much, but they’ve both set themselves up to make up for key losses. That’s better than some teams can say.