What you need to know

Messi wins 2023 FIFA Men's Player award

Inter Miami CF's superstar No. 10 won The Best FIFA Men's Player award for a record third time Monday evening. Messi beat out Manchester City's Erling Haaland and former Paris Saint-Germain teammate Kylian Mbappe.

San Jose Earthquakes transfer Cowell to Chivas

The San Jose Earthquakes have transferred homegrown forward Cade Cowell to Chivas. Cowell, 20, departs for a reported $4 million fee plus add-ons and a sell-on percentage. That outlay constitutes a club-record deal for San Jose.

New York City FC acquire Andrés Perea from Union

New York City FC have acquired midfielder Andrés Perea from the Philadelphia Union. To complete the trade, NYCFC have sent Philadelphia $650,000 in General Allocation Money (GAM) split across the next two seasons plus an additional $150k in conditional-based GAM. Perea spent the second half of the 2023 season on loan with NYCFC, never quite settling at Philadelphia after an offseason trade from Orlando City SC. The Colombian-born US international (one cap) has 5g/3a in 92 career matches (43 starts) since joining the league in 2020.

CF Montréal sign Sosa, Breza from Bologna

CF Montréal have acquired central defender Joaquín Sosa on loan from Italian Serie A side Bologna. The former Uruguay youth international's loan extends through the 2024 MLS season, increasing backline options for new head coach Laurent Courtois. The club also announced Monday they have acquired goalkeeper Sebastian Breza from Bologna FC 1909. The 25-year-old former Canadian youth international is under contract through 2025 with options for 2026-27. Breza previously spent 2021-22 on loan at Montréal from Bologna, appearing in 38 matches across all competitions and helping the club win the 2021 Canadian Championship.

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Who are the most high-variance teams heading into 2024?

A few weeks from now, me and my colleagues at Major League Soccer soccer dot com will do something very brave. We’re going to get together and publicly share our predictions for the MLS season. Please, hold your applause. We do this despite knowing some team account will inevitably take the time at the end of the season to post a tweet that says like “WE KEPT RECEIPTS [eyes emoji] [flexed arm emoji] [face blowing smoke out of its nose]” with a picture of the predictions attached and we’ll have to concede that, yeah, most of us picked that team to finish 10th and they actually finished eighth after a win on Decision Day moved them up two spots. They got us there. This is our burden. Please, hold your applause.

But I’ll just go ahead and remind everyone that assigning one spot in the standings to each team is a bad way to gauge a team heading into the season. Some teams are destined for the top four. Some teams are destined for mediocrity. And some teams could tilt towards either end of the spectrum depending on a few breaks.

Take, for example, last year’s Toronto side. They clearly had top-end talent like few other teams in MLS. They also had a clear lack of depth and an aging roster. In Bob Bradley’s second season in charge, it seemed plausible they could stay healthy and put it all together for an excellent 2023. It also seemed like one or two injuries and some chemistry issues could derail the whole thing. One year and one Wooden Spoon later, and I’ll openly admit I was not correct when I picked them to finish in the top four. Please, hold your applause.

The question today is, “Who could be this year’s Toronto?” Not in a Wooden Spoon-winning kind of way, but in a “this is all hanging by a thread and could tilt either way at a moment’s notice” kind of way. I know, rosters aren’t even finished yet. This could all change in an instant. We’ll go ahead and take a risk here, anyway. Please clap.

The Coyotes started to unravel down the stretch in 2023. They seemed totally gassed after their outstanding Leagues Cup run. Hany Mukhtar stopped producing at the absurd level we’ve come to expect, new DP forward Sam Surridge scored two more goals than I did and Nashville averaged 1.1 points per game over their final 10 matches before bowing out in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs to Orlando City in Round One with consecutive 1-0 losses. In that span, they averaged 0.8 goals per game. Only Chicago struggled to find the net more.

Now, the argument against Nashville being high variance is Gary Smith’s rigid game model keeps their floor from being too low. But as good as their defense has been, a step back season for Mukhtar could be a bit disastrous. Would you be that surprised? How long can one dude carry an entire attack on his back?

Then again, how surprised would you be if he put up another MVP-caliber season? Not very, right? He could be outstanding yet again and Surridge could take a major leap forward and Nashville could rack up points.

Dread it. Run from it. The regression to the mean eventually comes for us all.

No team overperformed their underlying numbers like St. Louis last season. They finished first in the West with 56 points. Per American Soccer Analysis’ expected points model, their underlying numbers were more like a 44-point team. That would have had them right on the edge of a Wild Card spot. If their luck had swung the other way, they would have been a 32-point team.

St. Louis’ underlying numbers feel a little too 2022 Austin for comfort heading into 2024. That being said, plenty of teams have taken a jump in their second year of existence. Including 2022 Austin. There’s a genuine chance they could have better underlying numbers and a better overall team in 2024, even if they don’t finish with as many points. Or they could be improved and get lucky again and rack up even more points. It all seems very much in play for a team that seems to largely be running it back this year.

Hey, speaking of wildly outperforming your underlying numbers, the 2023 Lions outperformed their expected points total by more than any other team in the league. In fact, only three teams in ASA’s database (back to 2013) outperformed their expected points total like 2023 Orlando. And, like St. Louis, they’re largely running it back in 2024.

That being said, all it takes is one big move for an elite No. 10 and they could be even better this year. The ceiling is somewhere around the 63 (!!) points they earned last season. The floor is something involving a regression to the mean plus bad luck swinging the other way as they struggle to stay above the playoff line. I’d be way more inclined to project they’ll be closer to the ceiling than the floor, but this league is weird.

On the other side of things, the Rapids were the unluckiest team in MLS last year. They’ve spent the offseason adding key pieces like attacker Djordje Mihailovic and goalkeeper Zack Steffen, while generally looking like a club eager to assure last year’s last place finish in the West won’t happen again. Odds are, they keep that from happening and are sitting in or near a playoff spot for most of the year. But you could also talk me into Mihailovic never getting comfortable and the team struggling to gel. And you could also talk me into Mihailovic getting extremely comfortable, playing with a chip on his shoulder and guiding Colorado to a 50-plus point season.

What even is this team?

Every year. Forever.

One more. I’m realizing I could keep doing this with pretty much every team in the league, but we’ll stop here. SKC are fascinating because they were so clearly one of the best teams in the league down the stretch last season. Once they got healthy, their results and their underlying numbers were excellent. Some of the West’s best. But so much is contingent on aging players staying healthy that it’s hard not to worry about this heading south again quickly. If they do stay healthy (and maybe add another key piece or two this offseason) they clearly have the ability to finish at or near the top of the West. Most folks will rightly lean towards the positive view of things heading into the year, but there will be some nerves attached to that prediction. Then again, there’s no reason to ever feel confident about any of these predictions. The only thing to ever be confident about here is “WE KEPT RECEIPTS [eyes emoji] [flexed arm emoji] [face blowing smoke out of its nose].”

Other Things

Chicago Fire acquire Arigoni on loan from FC Lugano: Chicago Fire FC have signed defender Allan Arigoni on loan from Swiss Super League side FC Lugano through the 2024 MLS season with a purchase option. The 25-year-old former Swiss youth international has spent his entire professional career in his home country, tallying 6g/16a in 145 games for Lugano and Grasshoppers.

Minnesota United sign defender Dodson: Minnesota United FC have acquired defender Derek Dodson after he recently played for USL Championship side Charleston Battery. Dodson is under contract through the 2024 MLS season with options for 2025-26. Orlando City SC previously selected Dodson in the 2021 MLS SuperDraft (No. 8 overall), though he never played for the Lions.

Houston Dynamo sign homegrown defender Sargeant: Houston Dynamo FC have signed homegrown fullback Kieran Sargeant to a first-team contract through the 2025 MLS season with options through 2027. The 20-year-old academy product just completed his junior season at Georgetown University, starting all 19 games as the Hoyas reached the second round of the 2023 NCAA Championship.

Chicago Fire FC sign MLS SuperDraft pick Dowd: Chicago Fire FC have signed goalkeeper Bryan Dowd to a first-team contract. The 21-year-old, selected No. 6 overall in the 2024 MLS SuperDraft out of Notre Dame, is under contract through the 2024 season with options through 2027. A local product, Dowd was previously a member of the Chicago Fire Academy and Chicago FC United before joining the Fighting Irish.

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Good luck out there. Find some time to hang out with your friends.