What you need to know

Houston Dynamo sign attacker Bassi from Ligue 2's Metz

Houston Dynamo FC’s roster overhaul continued Monday, announcing they’ve signed attacking midfielder Amine Bassi from Ligue 2 side FC Metz. The 25-year-old former Moroccan youth international is under contract through the 2024 season with options for 2025-26. The signing was completed using Targeted Allocation Money (TAM). Bassi is Houston’s second key attacking import this winter after acquiring Paraguayan international winger Iván Franco on loan from Club Libertad earlier this month. They'll join DP striker Sebastián Ferreira in the final third.

LA Galaxy transfer Grandsir to Ligue 2's Le Havre AC

The LA Galaxy have transferred winger Samuel Grandsir to Ligue 2 leaders Le Havre and maintained an undisclosed sell-on fee. The move ends Grandsir’s two-year stint in Galaxy colors, after the 26-year-old joined ahead of the 2021 campaign from Ligue 1 side AS Monaco. Grandsir departs with seven goals and 13 assists in 73 games across all competitions, continuing LA’s winger turnover after they traded DP Kévin Cabral to the Colorado Rapids earlier this winter.

Callens signs for Girona

The Alexander Callens sweepstakes have ended with the Peruvian international defender signing outside of MLS. La Liga side Girona announced Monday they’ve signed the longtime New York City FC standout and 2022 MLS Defender of the Year finalist, putting the 30-year-old back in Spain. Callens was out of contract following the 2022 MLS season and was eligible to sign abroad for free or within MLS (met free agency requirements).

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Small-Sided: New wingers, old wingers and bygone center backs

We’re a month and two days out from the start of the MLS season. We’re a week and six days out from Seattle taking the field at the Club World Cup. And we’re a month, a week, and five days from the start of an MLS run at defending their CCL title for the first time. Basically, we’re close, but not really close and a lot of things are still moving into place, but very few things are actually in place and it still feels like the overall picture of the 2023 season is still incredibly blurry. Hope that clears some things up. Anyway, let’s talk some of it out.

Houston are moving up the intrigue ratings

At some point before the season begins we’ll sit down and rank every team by nothing but how interesting I find them. I promise somehow, someway I’ll make that interesting to you too. But for now, I just wanted to tell you Houston would be up there pretty high.

The Dynamo have had an interesting couple of years here. They brought in former Crew technical director Pat Onstad to be their GM. They brought in Hector Herrera to roam midfield at what is not BBVA Compass Stadium nor BBVA Stadium nor PNC Stadium, but is now in fact Shell Energy Stadium. And, most intriguingly, they brought in Paulo Nagamura to manage the team for only a year before moving on to longtime D.C. United head coach Ben Olsen.

That’s the shorthand, 10,000-foot, national writer view of it all anyway. It really did feel like they were building up momentum towards something we hadn’t seen in Houston for a while, then it all kind of cratered out during a frustrating 2022, and now I have no idea what direction the team is trending or if that even matters.

I will say, a part of me is trending towards optimism again with Houston. They just announced a partnership with a new analytics consulting company called SRC FTBL and they’ve quietly (?) had a busy offseason. There’s been a mass culling, with 12 players heading out after the end of the 2022 season and two starters - Matias Vera and Adam Lundqvist - heading out in the last couple of weeks. Meanwhile, they’ve brought in MLS veterans Artur, Brad Smith and Franco Escobar plus two new wingers in Iván Franco and Amine Bassi and I’d imagine there are a few more moves on the way.

And, again, all of this will lead to a roster led by, for better or worse, an extremely MLS guy in Olsen. There were some highs in D.C. during his time, but there were a whole lot of lows. All considered, it’s hard to know exactly how much of that was on him, but his tactics objectively had a… let’s call it rigidity to them.

How all of this will come together and manifest itself on the field will be fascinating. I remain confident in the direction Houston’s infrastructure is heading as an organization. However, I’m less sure in how quickly those positive moves from an organizational standpoint will manifest on the field.

The Galaxy are making the right subtractions

No other league requires you to go back to go forward like MLS. The Galaxy have done an excellent job of subtraction this offseason at one position in particular and it may pay major dividends. LA have jettisoned wingers Kevin Cabral and Samuel Grandsir, and Douglas Costa might be next.

Now, you can’t give them too much credit. They made the moves in the first place. But you have to appreciate the fact they’ve been able to fill up the hole they dug for themselves. Now they have roster flexibility to try, once again, at the single most crucial position for them heading into the season and that could prove critical for a team that should have Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup aspirations this year. If they (finally) get this right, they’re going to be a problem in attack. I mean, they probably will be anyway, but they could take it to an elite level with an effective winger or two.

How the Galaxy will fill those roles, especially before a summer transfer ban kicks in, has become one of the single-most important questions of the offseason.

Parity giveth and taketh

MLS teams lost out on the chase for Alexander Callens. The reports during that chase indicate it wasn’t for lack of trying. Instead, it feels more like teams simply couldn’t offer Callens the kind of DP money he wanted.

We could deep dive into this, but I’ll spare you the soapbox (and the 4,000 words) today. However, I’ll just say it’s interesting to think about moments like this as indications of what’s equal parts engaging and frustrating about this league. Every team has to color within the lines. Whatever team is best at it wins. We’ll probably forever be trying to find the balance between keeping some semblance of parity alive and holding onto the league’s best players and that’s just the way it is.

Perhaps moves like this are precursors to what kind of changes might eventually come to the league. Because it’s less about what kind of salary space teams had and more about the roster spots available and what teams were actually able to offer to a free agent. Any shifts will happen incrementally and there’s a part of me that believes that’s for the better, but it’s not farfetched to think down the line those roster spots could be removed in favor of a more traditional salary cap. Maybe, just maybe, teams missing out on the biggest free agent of the offseason will be a footnote in a seismic change down the road.

Other Things

Minnesota United sign Swedish center back Marqués: Minnesota United FC have bolstered their defense before the 2023 MLS season, announcing Monday they’ve signed Swedish center back Mikael Marqués from AFC Eskilstuna. The 21-year-old, who last played in his homeland’s second division (Superettan), has signed with the Loons through the 2025 season with an option for 2026.

Colorado Rapids sign Ronan from EPL's Wolverhampton Wanderers: The Colorado Rapids have acquired midfielder Connor Ronan from English Premier League side Wolverhampton Wanderers. Ronan has signed a four-year deal through the 2026 MLS season, with an additional club option for 2027. The 24-year-old former Ireland youth international has logged 15 appearances for Wolves after working his way up through their youth ranks. He made his EPL debut last November during a short substitute appearance against Brighton & Hove Albion.

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