What you need to know

LAFC defender Giorgio Chiellini retires

Legendary Italian center back Giorgio Chiellini, who joined LAFC in June 2022, has retired from professional soccer. The 39-year-old, standing among the game’s best-ever players at his position, announced the news Tuesday. He was out of contract after the 2023 MLS season.

Charlotte FC name Dean Smith head coach

Charlotte FC have appointed Dean Smith as head coach, the club announced Tuesday, handing the former Premier League manager a multi-year contract. Smith, 52, recently led Norwich City and Leicester City. He's most renowned for leading Aston Villa back to the Premier League in 2019.

FC Cincinnati's Chris Albright named 2023 MLS Sporting Executive of the Year

FC Cincinnati general manager Chris Albright, as part of Major League Soccer’s 2023 Mark Abbott Club and Executive Awards, has been named Sporting Executive of the Year. The year-end award recognizes how Albright, who signed a contract extension this fall, has elevated FC Cincinnati to elite status since joining in October 2021 from the Philadelphia Union. The Orange & Blue, after three straight last-place finishes upon entering the league (2019-21) have qualified for two straight Audi MLS Cup Playoffs and won the 2023 MLS Supporters’ Shield.

Inter Miami to face Al Nassr in Riyadh Season Cup

Two of the game's greatest-ever players will meet on Feb. 1 (1 pm ET) as part of Inter Miami CF's first-ever international tour, pitting Lionel Messi's club against Cristiano Ronaldo's Al Nassr FC. The preseason friendly, contested at the Kingdom Arena in Riyadh (Saudi Arabia’s capital city), is part of the Riyadh Season Cup. Additionally, Inter Miami will face Al Hilal SFC – current Saudi Pro League leaders – on Jan. 29 (1 pm ET) at the same venue to begin a round-robin tournament format.

Orlando City SC make year-end roster moves

After being on loan during their club-record season, Orlando City are in discussions to bring back winger Iván Angulo and midfielder Wilder Cartagena for 2024. Additionally, Orlando confirmed they’re in talks to transfer Antônio Carlos even though his contract option was picked up. As previously announced, the Lions and midfielder/captain Mauricio Pereyra agreed to mutually terminate the player’s contract as he explores new opportunities.

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Five players contenders should look to in the trade market

First things first, let’s address the Sam-sized elephant in the room. After writing what we can only assume were 10,000+ Daily Kickoffs in a row, our esteemed colleague J. Sam Jones has gone on vacation, proving even the best among us must touch non-soccer-related grass sometimes.

Happy vacation, Sam! And keep an eye out for Sir Minty. Rumor has it he’s been on a tear since the 2024 MLS ball dropped.

Now to the matter at hand: more MLS!

“More?” you say. Yes, dear reader, more. Because though the Columbus Crew just put an exclamation point on a ground-breaking 2023 season via one of the more stunning displays of progressive soccer MLS Cup has seen, we’re onto the next phase of the calendar: the offseason.

And that means trades, signings and transfers galore. Let’s start with that first one, trades.

Arguably the most underrated roster-building mechanism in the league, trades can turn contenders into champions. Look no further than the Crew, who acquired three of their key starters – Darlington Nagbe, Rudy Camacho and Malte Amundsen – as well as one super sub – Julian Gressel – via trade over the last four years.

Here are five players teams should consider trading for in 2024, even if it costs a grip of GAM.

One of the best ways to win in this league is to find yourself a proven center back who can eat up 2,000+ minutes a season at or above a league average level while on a team-friendly salary. That seems to be Joel Waterman. 

Waterman signed an extension with CF Montréal ahead of the 2023 season that lasts through 2024 with a club option for 2025 and made good on that deal by notching his second-straight 2,000+ minute-season while adding 1g/3a to bring his total to 4g/7a across the last two years – not bad for a center back.

The fact he locked down a starting spot under coaches with systems as varied as Wilfried Nancy and Hernán Losada shows he can play just about any style.

Montréal are, once again, in a rebuild, so it could behoove them to pull in a GAM haul for Waterman as they plan for the future.

Another player who inked a deal with his current team ahead of the 2023 season, Ronan was one of the few Colorado Rapids players who may have exceeded expectations in a down year that saw head coach Robin Frasier lose his job. A high-volume midfielder who can transition a team back and also provide the final pass, the former Wolves man created roughly triple the amount of xA of any other Rapids player in 2023. In fact, his total xA for the season ranked 14th in the league, just under the likes of Cucho Hernández and Hany Mukhtar and above Kai Wagner and Xherdan Shaqiri.

Ronan’s numbers were less convincing in defensive metrics like duels and tackles. With former Red Bulls manager Chris Armas taking the reins this year, it’s likely the Rapids will adopt a press-heavy system. Any team who wants a reliable midfield metronome with attacking-third talent may want to make the Rapids an offer they can’t refuse.

Brooks Lennon’s attacking numbers from the fullback position are undeniable (4g/10a in 2023). But do Atlanta United really need more in attack? After finishing 2023 with the second-most goals scored in the league, they conceded eight times in their Round One Best-of-3 playoff exit to the Columbus Crew. With Caleb Wiley flying forward from left back, plus one of the most talented attacking units in the league (even if Thiago Almada departs this off season), maybe it’s time to move on from Lennon in hopes of creating more balance next season.

At only 26-years-old, he’d provide a sure-fire shot in the arm to boost any ailing attack.

With 5g/5a in 2023 (tied for the RBNY goals-contribution lead), midfielder Frankie Amaya finally seemed to tap into the potential many saw when he went No. 1 overall to FC Cincinnati in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft. While his 10 goal contributions certainly jump off the page, particularly in light of only tallying nine total in his previous four MLS seasons, it’s Amaya’s work rate and defensive instincts that should attract suitors. 

Every team needs proven ball-winners, especially ones who also provide technical quality and can get on the scoresheet. Amaya fits the bill, and his professional work in midfield this year helped the Red Bulls conjure one of the better expected goal differentials in the league.

RBNY may want to consider selling high on Amaya as they look to freshen things up amid the search for a new head coach.

This one’s probably a Hail Mary, as a coach and GM who believe in youth as much as Wilfried Nancy and Tim Bezbatchenko do aren’t likely to depart with a 21-year-old who won MLS NEXT Pro MVP honors in 2022.

But maybe a log jam in attack forces the Crew’s hand this offseason. Russell-Rowe only played 527 minutes under Nancy this season. And despite putting up a very impressive 4g/3a in that limited time, he only played two minutes in the Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs.

If the window of opportunity to acquire one of Canada’s best young attacking prospects is even slightly cracked, GMs and sporting directors would be crazy not to shoot their shot.

Other things

New England Revolution acquire Nick Lima from Austin FC: The New England Revolution have bolstered their defense via the intra-league market, announcing Monday they have acquired fullback Nick Lima in a trade with Austin FC. To complete the cross-conference move, New England will send up to $300,000 in General Allocation Money (GAM) to Austin. The funds break down as $275k guaranteed GAM and $25k conditional GAM.

Nashville SC acquire Dru Yearwood from New York Red Bulls: Nashville SC have acquired midfielder Dru Yearwood in a trade with the New York Red Bulls, the Eastern Conference clubs announced Monday. To land the 23-year-old England native, Nashville sent $150,000 in General Allocation Money (GAM) – split evenly as $75k that's guaranteed in 2024 and $75k that's conditional in 2025. He will occupy a U22 Initiative roster spot with Nashville. 

CF Montréal acquire Raheem Edwards from LA Galaxy: CF Montréal have reacquired left back Raheem Edwards via a trade with the LA Galaxy, announcing Monday they have completed a cross-conference deal in exchange for $400,000 in 2024 General Allocation Money (GAM). Edwards, a 28-year-old Canadian international, previously competed for Montréal during the 2018 season. Since making his MLS debut in 2016, Edwards has tallied 8g/23a in 152 regular-season games across six different clubs – playing for Toronto FC, Chicago Fire FC, Minnesota United FC and LAFC, in addition to stops at LA and Montréal.

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Good luck out there. Make sure to plan ahead.