We're just three weeks into the 2022 season, but lineup preferences are taking shape and depth charts are becoming more defined.
Some players find themselves on the outside looking in, creating opportunities elsewhere for more minutes. Clubs might be open to moving out-of-favor players to shuffle the salary cap around.
There are too many good examples of recent trades to name. This is a normal practice around MLS and all other American sports leagues, but one that comes to mind is Brian White. Vancouver acquired him in a trade from the New York Red Bulls last year when he wasn’t in Gerhard Struber's favor, thus making him available. He went to Vancouver and basically hasn’t stopped scoring.
Which players could be targeted around the league right now?
It’s early, of course. Injuries happen and decisions change. These players could get straight into the lineup and be off the market, while other players will emerge as options over the next months.
Couple reminders before getting underway:
- Primary Transfer Window remains open until May 4
- Secondary Transfer Window opens July 7 and runs through Aug. 4
The Minnesota United goalkeeping situation will, once again, be a position to watch. St. Clair and Tyler Miller are both starting-caliber players in the league. And, as St. Clair’s contract extension and pay raise kicks in this year, they’re both being paid like it.
As reported by MLSsoccer.com last month, a number of teams called Minnesota this offseason to inquire about St. Clair’s availability, including the New England Revolution (who will transfer starter Matt Turner to Arsenal this summer and need a starting GK soon). Those advances were rejected, with the Loons looking for a significant General Allocation Money (GAM) return to even consider a move.
“We’ve got four goalkeepers and we’re not giving them away,” head coach Adrian Heath said Sunday. “We will make decisions as and when we feel fit. But trust me, you can’t have enough good goalkeepers. So if we keep them, we keep them. If somebody offers us enough money, then maybe we’d have to think about it. But at this moment in time, I’ve got no thoughts of trading any of them or selling.”
St. Clair, 24, has started 18 regular-season and four Audi MLS Cup Playoff matches for Minnesota. He was the starter at the end of 2020 when Miller was out injured, then began 2021 as the starter before Miller retook the role.
If St. Clair convinced Minnesota he’s the starter moving forward, then this same premise applies for Miller. If a team has a need or wants to upgrade at goalkeeper, one of Minnesota's goalkeepers will do.
This development is natural. Zardes is a Designated Player and head coach Caleb Porter is currently starting Miguel Berry up top. No team wants a DP to sit on the bench. While Porter has said publicly this is a good problem to have and the team wants two good goal-scorers to choose from at center forward, Columbus are very open to moving him.
Zardes is in the final year of his contract with the Crew. Given that status, he would likely have a big say in if a trade happens, as it's unlikely a team would trade assets to acquire Zardes without assurances of signing him to a contract extension.
Zardes and Berry each have one goal to start the season, with the Crew picking up seven points from their first three games.
It’s also a World Cup year and this is Zardes’ best (if only) chance to make a World Cup roster given he’ll be 34 by the time of the next World Cup. Regular playing time would be key to his hopes of making the final 23-man squad, should a Qatar 2022 spot be obtained. He started two of the USMNT’s 11 WCQ matches so far.
This is one to watch as the season rolls on. Maybe the alchemy is completely different in four weeks if Zardes retakes the starting job. For now, though, it appears to be Berry’s to lose.
The 32-year-old forward has two goals while appearing in all three of D.C.’s matches so far, including one start.
Kamara is a proven goal-scorer in MLS, a desired trait on the market. He has 76 goals in 148 matches, including 19 goals and five assists last year in 1,819 minutes. Kamara carries a significant cap hit and is in the final year of his contract.
Stroud is really well-suited to Josh Wolff’s 4-3-3 formation, with his directness and verticality a useful weapon for Austin in 2021, particularly when they were struggling to create many chances. He had a goal and four assists in 22 appearances (13 starts) last season after arriving as a shrewd pickup in the Expansion Draft via the New York Red Bulls.
This year, though, that winger group is crowded and, through three games, Stroud may be the odd man out. Austin’s starting wingers of Cecilio Dominguez and Diego Fagundez seem set in stone, while the club added MLS veteran Ethan Finlay in free agency to add to Stroud, Jon Gallagher and Rodney Redes. That’s six-deep on the wings.
Stroud is yet to play a minute this season and hasn't been named to a matchday squad.
Stroud, 25, would be a good fit for any team in need of further competition on the wing or wide midfield. He re-signed this past offseason on a one-year deal with options through 2024.
Like Stroud, Bwana may have found himself way down the depth chart. It’s actually already happened to the talented winger once, as lack of opportunities played a part in his trade to Nashville SC from Seattle Sounders FC in 2020.
In Nashville, Bwana has run into a similar problem. The club has shifted to a preferred 3-4-2-1 formation, leaving fewer spots for Bwana to challenge for. Head coach Gary Smith says he’s suited for that second forward role… meaning Bwana is competing with 2021 MLS MVP finalist Hany Mukhtar. Nashville also signed forward Ake Loba for $6.8 million last year (club-record transfer), another high-priced attacker to compete with for minutes.
Bwana hasn't been in a matchday squad for Nashville yet this season.
Bwana, still only 22, has been a pro since 2018 and showed promise in around 500 minutes each of his first two years in the league before being traded to Nashville. He has four goals and three assists in 1,370 MLS minutes, spread across 38 appearances.
Bartlow is certainly off the mainstream radar given he has played zero MLS minutes since being drafted No. 6 overall in the 2021 MLS SuperDraft out of the University of Washington.
But Bartlow was the highest-rated center back around the draft, signing a Generation adidas deal as one of the top prospects in college soccer. Our very own Matthew Doyle said he expected Bartlow to go No. 2 overall. Typically, the highest-rated center back on draft day has a very high hit rate. But it hasn’t happened for him yet in Houston, missing most of the 2021 season with a concussion, and he's yet to debut.
It’s worth picking up the phone and seeing if the 22-year-old can be had for cheap, particularly given his Generation adidas status, meaning he doesn’t count against the cap nor takes up a senior roster spot.