Daily Kickoff - 2.9.24
What you need to know

LAFC sign Atuesta on loan from Palmeiras

LAFC have brought Eduard Atuesta back to the club by acquiring the Colombian international midfielder from Palmeiras. The 26-year-old arrives on a season-long loan (through 2024; with a purchase option) from the Brazilian top-flight side, a move completed two-plus years after he was transferred from LAFC to Palmeiras for reportedly $4 million upfront.

McGuire returns to Orlando after Blackburn move denied

Duncan McGuire's planned six-month loan to English second-tier side Blackburn Rovers wasn't approved due to an administrative issue. As a result, the striker will return to Orlando City SC as next steps are determined.

Orlando sign Slovenian defender Brekalo

Orlando City SC have a new center back, acquiring David Brekalo from Norwegian top-flight club Viking FK. The 25-year-old Slovenian international is under contract through the 2027 MLS season with an option for 2028.

San Jose sign defender Wilson

The San Jose Earthquakes have signed defender Bruno Wilson after he played for Portuguese top-flight side FC Vizela. The 27-year-old center back and former Portugal youth international is under contract through the 2025 MLS season with an option for 2026.

New York City loan Andrade to Chinese club

New York City FC have loaned forward Thiago Andrade to Chinese top-flight side Shenzhen Peng City FC for the 2024 season. The 23-year-old spent last year on loan at Athletico Paranaense in his native Brazil.

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We’re previewing all 29 teams over 10 days in as Daily Kickoff a style as we can. 

Yesterday we checked in on Columbus Crew, Sporting Kansas City and San Jose Earthquakes. Today, it’s Charlotte FC, Inter Miami CF and Vancouver Whitecaps FC.

Yes, we know the rosters aren’t finalized yet. The rosters are never finalized.

2023 By The Numbers (per American Soccer Analysis)

There’s no way around it. Charlotte caught a handful of breaks on their way to a Wild Card berth. They certainly didn’t make the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs because of their attack, which finished just ahead of Toronto and Colorado in expected goals scored. They definitely didn’t make the playoffs because of their defense, which finished just ahead of five other non-playoff teams in expected goals allowed. They made the playoffs in year two because of MLS reasons. There’s nothing wrong with that, but let’s be upfront about it. 

2024 Final Standing Range

Between eighth and 14th in the Eastern Conference.

The East is simply too good right now for this group to break through. There’s reason for optimism, though. They jettisoned DPs Karol Swiderski and Kamil Jozwiak and will have no problem spending big to bring in replacements. In theory, those players should fit into a much more balanced attack. Or at least be more productive than Jozwiak. 

They’ve also brought in a new head coach, Dean Smith (not that one; the other one), who may give their game model a refresh. It’s an unknown, but you can make any unknown a reason for optimism if you work hard enough. 

In the end, it will come down to the DPs. The lone remaining DP, Argentine striker Enzo Copetti, underwhelmed last year. In 23 starts, he scored six times as part of an attack that seemed mismatched from the jump when he arrived. Swiderski’s move could potentially allow him some space to thrive. That, of course, is dependent on the two new DPs. It seems like a No. 10 is in the cards and a winger wouldn’t be surprising. The Crown reportedly went after No. 10 Albert Grønbæk from FK Bodø/Glimt and were willing to spend $10+ million to get him in. They’re going to splash some cash for whoever they acquire. That doesn’t guarantee success, but it doesn’t hurt either.

In the meantime, they seem to have a new No. 6 in Djbril Diani from Ligue 2 side Caen. That could help. And they seem likely to promote Serbian international Nikola Petković to the first team. Charlotte reportedly spent $3 million to bring him in last year.

Player of the People

Ben Bender? Being a SuperDraft pick and having great hair goes a long way.

This could all go pretty well if…

The new DPs arrive soon, start flying from the jump and turn into bonafide stars while elevating Copetti. Otherwise… there’s a lot of work to do.

2023 By The Numbers (per American Soccer Analysis)

We’re clearly talking about two entirely different teams for 2023. Pre-Messi Inter Miami averaged 0.82 points per game over 22 games. After Messi arrived, Miami averaged… 1.33 points per game. That’s it? Alright, I guess.

They’ll always have the 2023 Leagues Cup title, though!

2024 Final Standing Range

Between first and eighth in the Eastern Conference.

Yeah, that’s right, eighth. If you’ve been checking in with this newsletter throughout the offseason, you’ll know I’ve had some concerns about Miami’s performance in the regular season. And, to be clear, I brought those concerns up well before their preseason world tour saw winger Facundo Farías tear his ACL, Benjamin Cremaschi have sports hernia surgery and Sergio Busquets withstand a crunching lower-leg tackle vs. Vissel Kobe. We’re still waiting for an update there.

The bottom line is they’re relying on aging players to be great over a full MLS season, in addition to competing for trophies in every additional competition. That’s a lot of games, a lot of miles and a lot of energy. And that doesn’t even touch on their still very real concerns defensively.

But also… c’mon. It’s Lionel Messi. It’s Luis Suárez. Even if they aren’t playing in every game, they’re going to regularly complete otherworldly acts of soccer. That, plus a remarkably deep roster (when healthy) that includes new signing Julian Gressel and post-injury midfielders Gregore and Jean Mota (though there are transfer rumors), should be enough for at least one trophy. The potential is there to win three or four. Even if it seems doubtful to me right now that the Supporters’ Shield will be one of them.

Player of the People

Robert Taylor represents all of us who have found ourselves (or have wanted to find ourselves) in the overachievers' group during the group project and done a job worthy of the group’s approval.

This could all go pretty well if…

Messi does Messi things. Suárez does Suárez things. Everyone else stays healthy, the defense gets sorted and the depth pieces put in big performances. Every single trophy is on the table in that scenario.

2023 By The Numbers (per American Soccer Analysis)

The Whitecaps’ numbers were quietly very good last season, racking up the second-best expected goal differential in the Western Conference and the third-highest expected point total. They seemed like a genuine threat to take down LAFC in the playoffs, but, well, set pieces are hard. And they stayed hard for Vancouver throughout the entirety of 2023. The Whitecaps allowed 0.41 set-piece goals per game, the highest mark in the league. To be fair, their underlying numbers on set-piece defense were more mediocre than outright bad. 

In even better news, Ryan Gauld and Brian White’s stellar seasons weren’t mirages. In addition to passing the eye test with flying colors, both had excellent underlying numbers. Gauld finished in the 92nd percentile among attacking midfielders in non-penalty expected goals plus expected assists. White finished in the 94th percentile in the same category among forwards. They were one of the best one-two punches in MLS and there’s no reason to think that will stop anytime soon. 

2024 Final Standing Range

Between second and seventh in the Western Conference. 

I don’t think they quite have the juice to win the conference ahead of Seattle and LAFC, but I can imagine a world where they catch one of them. It’s a very solid side with two outstanding attackers and a setup that should allow them to grab points amongst the clutter in the middle of the West. That being said, you should know that I just watched them go punch for punch with Tigres in Concacaf Champions Cup action without midfielder Andrés Cubas and I thought to myself, “I’m incredibly prepared to overreact to this.” So. Take my bullishness with a grain of salt. 

Because there are still concerns here. They haven’t replaced Richie Laryea yet and parts of the roster are more decent than great. And, man, if anything happens to White or Gauld at any point during the season, who knows what they’ll do?

For now, they’re healthy. They’ve made smart MLS Guy signings in Damir Kreilach and Fafà Picault to add some depth in attack. And they have an open DP spot to add another key player to the mix. Maybe a No. 8 or a No. 10? We’ll see if they use that spot before the season begins or if they’ll reassess in the summer.

Player of the People

Yohei Takaoka is only 6-foot-0 and plays goalkeeper. He’s not quite the shortest starting goalkeeper in MLS – seems like it’s Maxime Crépeau at 5-foot-11, saved you a search – but he’s close. He represents all of us who wish we had the talent to overcome our undersizedness.  

This could all go pretty well if…

Gauld and White do Gauld and White things, Kreilach can be a genuine threat in attack and a new DP signing comes in to make everything a little better. Even just two out of three might be enough for a home playoff spot.

Other Things

Nashville sign midfielder Sejdić: Nashville SC have signed free-agent midfielder Amar Sejdić through the 2024 MLS season with an option for 2025. The 27-year-old German most recently played for Atlanta United.

San Jose acquire goalkeeper Biegański: The San Jose Earthquakes have acquired goalkeeper Mikołaj Biegański on loan from Polish second-tier side Wisła Kraków. The Polish youth international's deal lasts through the 2024 MLS season and has a purchase option.

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Good luck out there. Bring back the good old days.