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Armchair Analyst: Transfer window instructions for all 20 MLS teams

The transfer window officially opens on Monday, July 4, which means it's time for MLS clubs to go shopping – or, at the very least, to swap some assets and try to shore up the roster ahead of the season's second half.

Around the league the feeling is that this will be one of the the busier summer windows in recent memory, in large part because the primary transfer window this winter was largely a non-event. A few key players were added here and there, but nothing compared to the wheeling and dealing that took place in January of 2014 and 2015, respectively.

Here's a team-by-team shopping/swapping list, starting at the top of the West:


Colorado Rapids

  • Currently: 1st place in the West (9-2-5; 32 points)
  • DP slots open: None
  • Biggest need: MF depth

The Rapids are having something close to a dream season, and making preseason prognosticators (including, and maybe especially me) look dumb as hell. They're about to upgrade the 'keeper spot with the arrival of Tim Howard, and they've found production from just about every attacker on the roster.

Only one thing has gone wrong so far in 2016: Dillon Serna tore his ACL last week. He’d been about fourth or fifth on the depth chart on the wing, so this isn’t a team-killing injury — and may, in fact, end up opening some playing time for fellow youngster Zach Pfeffer.

What I think they should do: Sit tight, since they still have six guys who can play on the wings. The bigger issue might be the depth Serna provided at left back, but everyone’s always keeping an eye open for a spare left back already, right?

FC Dallas

  • Currently: 2nd place in the West (9-5-4; 31 points)
  • DP slots open: None
  • Biggest need: Target forward

All due respect to the Rapids, but I still think Dallas are the most talented and best team in the league. They've proved they have depth and flexibility, and in Mauro Diaz they have one of the league's best playmakers.

What they don't have is a center forward who can take advantage of the chances Diaz creates, nor hold up the ball and do a little bit of playmaking as well. Technical director Fernando Clavijo says the team's determined to rectify that in the next couple of weeks, and I'll take him at his word.

What I think they should do: Use TAM to pay down one of their DPs and go after Trinidad & Tobago striker Kenwyne Jones, who's currently out of contract. Jones isn't the world's most clinical finisher, but he's damn good and, at age 31, still has gas in the tank. Plus he knows the ways of CONCACAF, so there won't be any weather – or travel-related adjustments.

Real Salt Lake

  • Currently: 3rd in the West (8-5-4; 28 points)
  • DP slots open: None
  • Biggest need: CB depth

Craig Waibel's pretty quietly retooled the roster and built a young core while kiiiiinda keeping the window of championship contention open for veterans Javier Morales, Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando.

Morales, however, is finally starting to slow down at least a little bit, and it'll take serious cash to replace him when the time comes. And to make it clear: That time is not now – not yet. In that sense, RSL's "rebuild" is a year ahead of schedule, and more than anything they should continue to just develop the kids they've got and build from within.

What I think they should do: Developing the kids is what got Justen Glad a starting spot, and he's been excellent:

So too has been Aaron Maund. The third man on the depth chart – veteran Jamison Olave – has, however, been gaffe-prone. Given that Chris Schuler has been healthy and productive with Real Monarchs in USL, and that he fits the locker room culture for RSL, bringing him back to the league and giving him Olave's minutes is a low-risk move that upgrades the team while keeping cap flexibility for the winter.

Sporting KC

  • Currently: 4th in the West (7-8-4; 25 points)
  • DP slots open: One
  • Biggest need: Goals from the wing

Look, their real "biggest need" is to stop giving the ball away along the backline and deep in midfield. Literally every rostered player in those spots has had at least one "what the hell was that?" moment this year, which accounts for their poor home record.

I'm not convinced that adding a new face to the mix is the best way to fix that – I think Sporting need to trust their system.

That's not necessarily the case on the wings, however, where they've been unable to replace the productivity of departed Hungarian international Krisztian Nemeth. Without any threat from that spot, teams are free to key on center forward Dom Dwyer, and without any productivity from that spot, Sporting are a cut below the West's best.

What I think they should do: Sign Luton Shelton with TAM. The 30-year-old Jamaican international didn't have a great two years in Russia, but he's been a productive goalscorer from the wing throughout his career and is out of contract. Sporting might have to rearrange a few other pieces of the roster to open up enough cap space, but given their needs and Shelton's fit, it would be worth it.

Vancouver Whitecaps

  • Currently: 5th in the West (7-7-3; 24 points)
  • DP slots open: About to be one...
  • Biggest need: Goals

Forward Octavio Rivero is the man who makes the "about to be one" thing real, since it seems very likely that he's off to Colo Colo of Chile. The ageless Blas Perez, the injured Masato Kudo and three-year veteran Erik Hurtado comprise the current striker corps, and to be fair they've all had moments.

Will they have enough moments between them to carry this team deep into the playoffs? Probably not.

What I think they should do: Kick the tires on Jones and any other high-level center forward they can find.

Portland Timbers

  • Currently: 6th in the West (6-6-5; 23 points)
  • DP slots open: None
  • Biggest need: Fullback depth

That "biggest need" take is almost all dependent upon what you think of A) Lucas Melano, and B) the Timbers' gappy defense. Personally I think the Melano of the past few weeks – the guy who's scoring and creating and drawing penalties – is the real Melano, which means that goal-scoring and penetration from the wing is no longer as big an issue as it was in the spring.

As for the defense, I'm wagering on things tightening up at the back now that Portland's mostly healthy and the new guys have a few months under their belts. And so... no major trades or other moves are really necessary, even with Dairon Asprilla headed to Millionarios.

What I think they should do: A couple of years back they discovered Alvas Powell, and have done a pretty nice job of developing him. Now go out and see if there's a left-footed version.

LA Galaxy

  • Currently: 7th in the West (5-3-8; 23 points)
  • DP slots open: None
  • Biggest need: Midfield creativity

LA does a very nice job of finishing their chances. The problem is that they don't create a whole bunch, even when all three DPs are on the field.

What I think they should do: Play the kids – especially Jose Villarreal. Whether he's up top, on the wing, or deeper in midfield itself, he's been one of the league's best per-90 chance creators. Dude has vision:

San Jose Earthquakes

  • Currently: 8th in the West (5-5-7; 22 points)
  • DP slots open: None
  • Biggest need: Youth in defense

A lot of the rosier predictions for the Quakes came with this caveat: They'll do well "if Clarence Goodson and Victor Bernardez can stay healthy." Neither of the 34-year-olds has really managed that, nor has their soon-to-be-30 backup, Andres Imperiale. Father Time remains undefeated.

Because of their DP and cap situation, San Jose don't have a lot of moves they can make this window. Expect them to be among the league's busiest teams come January, however.

What I think they should do: Find a young center back via trade if one is available. Teams will pick up the phone for names like Nick Hagglund or Damion Lowe.

Seattle Sounders

  • Currently: 9th in the West (5-9-2; 17 points)
  • DP slots open: One
  • Biggest need: Midfield creativity

Jordan Morris scored a goal this weekend, and he also created three chances. Nobody else on the Sounders created more than one.

They desperately need a No. 10, and they know it.

What I think they should do: Get a DP-caliber No. 10 in his mid-20s. Sounds so easy, right?

Garth Lagerwey has also said they're aiming for a "TAM-level signing," which I'm guessing will be on the wing. If they're going to run that 4-3-3 – and it looks like they're committed to it – they'll need someone who can score from out wide.

Houston Dynamo

  • Currently: 10th in the West (4-8-5; 17 points)
  • DP slots open: One
  • Biggest need: Clarity

"Clarity" in terms of tactical vision regardless of formation or personnel. They've shown huge progress in that regard under interim head coach Wade Barrett (bet large on that "interim" tag coming off in November, folks), and I don't think that will stop any time soon.

What I think they should do: Stand pat unless someone offers to take Cubo Torres off their hands (not likely), then reassess in the winter transfer window. Houston have shown that the current group can be competitive, and Barrett deserves the next four months to figure out who's going to work for him going forward, and who should depart.


New York City FC

  • Currently: 1st in the East (7-5-6; 27 points)
  • DP slots open: None
  • Biggest need: Central defense

Even when NYCFC post a shutout – as they did on Sunday in a 2-0 win over the Red Bulls – they still look so vulnerable inside the box. The fact that they have what is arguably the league's best front three means they can outscore many opponents, but that's not a formula that usually wins on the road (where they'll play 10 of their final 16 games).

What I think they should do: Work the phones trying to unload one of their youngish guys with potential (Steven Mendoza, Patrick Mullins, Khiry Shelton) or – if anybody wants him – midfielder Mix Diskerud for a starting-caliber center back.

Philadelphia Union

  • Currently: 2nd in the East (7-6-5; 26 points)
  • DP slots open: Two
  • Biggest need: Front-line depth

Their biggest need is a bit more defensive know-how in central midfield, which is a question that should be answered when the one DP on the team – Maurice Edu – returns from injury in the coming weeks.

How sold are you on C.J. Sapong and Fabian Herbers? I think they're both legit, but with both of them out injured, the Union were punchless against Houston this weekend. And as good as I think both guys can be, neither is (at this point anyway) the type to bag 20 goals in a season.

I wouldn't let that steer me away from Sapong as the full-time starter when healthy. But it's a question the Union front office has to at least ponder.

What I think they should do: Stay the course.

Montreal Impact

  • Currently: 3rd in the East (6-4-6; 24 points)
  • DP slots open: None
  • Biggest need: Defensive midfield

Their biggest on-field need is defensive midfield, since most of the guys that they have on the roster are more box-to-box rather than pure backline shields. And they badly need a backline shield, as Marco Donadel's injury issues have shown.

Their biggest overall need, however, is to recognize that they're currently worse with Didier Drogba out there than they are without him, and to adjust accordingly. Drogba is still productive and capable of moments of attacking brilliance that nobody in the league can match:

The issue is that they need a group of worker bees behind him in order to cover for his defensive shortcomings. So far, Mauro Biello has been more idealistic rather than pragmatic in that regard.

What I think they should do: Flip one of their wingers for a physical, two-way central midfielder. And hope that both Donny Toia and Laurent Ciman return to the lineup and stay healthy.

New York Red Bulls

  • Currently: 4th in the East (7-9-2; 23 points)
  • DP slots open: One
  • Biggest need: Consistent finishing

The Red Bulls are still generating as many quality chances as anybody in the league, their recent slump notwithstanding, and by some measures they're actually over-performing their expected goals.

Still, it's hard not to notice how Lloyd Sam's production has plummeted and how DP Gonzalo Veron has been unable to fill the gap. And while Bradley Wright-Phillips is once again near the top of the league's goal-scoring race, he's very much been feast or famine in 2016, while in 2014 and 2015 he was the model of consistency.

Does this need to be fixed with a new import or two? Probably not.

What I think they should do: Keep giving time to rookie winger Alex Muyl, keep feeding BWP, and figure out how to get Anatole Abang more shots when he does come into the game – he has only three in 215 minutes. That's not enough.

D.C. United

  • Currently: 5th place in the East (5-6-6; 21 points)
  • DP slots open: Two
  • Biggest need: Target forward

When Alvaro Saborio has been good, D.C.'s been good. When he's been absent, so has D.C.'s attack.

Alhaji Kamara has looked dangerous in his brief run thus far, but he presents very much as a fox-in-the-box or a guy who prefers to run off the back shoulder of the defense, rather than provide the type of rugged hold-up play Saborio excels at. He's a change of pace, not a direct replacement.

D.C. need a direct replacement. Saborio's 34 years old and injury prone, and very much the key to the United offense.

What I think they should do: We all know that United's not going to go out and break the bank on a new player, and that they haven't always had the best luck with imports. Their best bet is to try to pick up a center forward from within the league who might be on the trade block – perhaps Patrick Mullins or Juan Agudelo, or maybe even prying Bryan Rochez away from Orlando City.

Toronto FC

  • Currently: 6th in the East (5-6-5; 20 points)
  • DP slots open: None
  • Biggest need: Forward depth

Jordan Hamilton has been productive in his brief time up top this year, but – as is always the case with young players – it's not clear how long that will last. But even with the danger he's provided running the channels, there's still no real backup for the oft-injured Jozy Altidore, who is the only man on the roster that provides hold-up play. 

More than anything the Reds need to get Jozy healthy and keep him healthy, and at the same time hope that Sebastian Giovinco rediscovers his form (he's scored just twice in his last nine games). Those two things are linked, by the way.

What I think they should do: They have many, many central defenders, and they have a productive academy that's starting to churn out quality attackers. So TFC have pieces to move within the league, and will almost certainly be making myriad calls during the window.

Orlando City SC

  • Currently: 7th in the East (4-3-8; 20 points)
  • DP slots open: None
  • Biggest need: Patience

The decision to change so much this offseason still has me scratching my head. OCSC are a (mostly) young team that needs time to jell, and when the kids – guys like Cyle Larin, Cristian Higuita, Carlos Rivas, Tommy Redding and Rafael Ramos – have been given that time, they've been very good.

What I think they should do: Get out of the way and let them continue to be very good. This team is best off by continuing to strengthen the bonds from within rather than trying for another big-name signing.

New England Revolution

  • Currently: 8th in the East (4-6-7; 19 points)
  • DP slots open: One
  • Biggest need: Central defense

New England gave up two more goals off of crosses this weekend:

Nothing fancy here, folks. You can just beat them from out wide again and again and again.

What I think they should do: Figure out where they left A.J. Soares's phone number and give him a call. He's out of contract, in the prime of his career, excellent in the air and obviously fits next to Jose Goncalves.

Columbus Crew SC

  • Currently: 9th in the East (3-6-7; 16 points)
  • DP slots open: Two
  • Biggest need: Central defense and target forward

Ola Kamara has filled Kei Kamara's shoes in terms of the scoring burden, but Ola doesn't do anywhere near the same amount of hold-up work or playmaking. The backline, meanwhile, has been porous no matter who's out there. And while the Michael Parkhurst/Gaston Sauro pairing worked down the stretch last year, Sauro's propensity for long-term injuries has largely destroyed their chance at creating chemistry.

Gregg Berhalter knows this, and FS1's John Strong reported on Sunday's broadcast of a 3-2 loss at Sporting that Crew SC are looking for additions both up top and on the backline.

What I think they should do: Go all-in on a big-name No. 9 and a starting caliber center back. Columbus' window of opportunity with this group is closing, and they need reinforcements to keep it open.

Chicago Fire

  • Currently: 10th in the East (3-7-5; 14 points)
  • DP slots open: One
  • Biggest need: Midfield creativity

Chicago scored big in this winter's draft when they plucked two starting defenders. They signed two more from overseas, and once Matt Polster gets healthy they'll have their permanent d-mid as well. Add in box-to-box midfielder Khaly Thiam, and there's a young defensive core that can do real work.

The problem is very obviously the attack, which is the league's second-worst (15 goals) behind Seattle (14).

What I think they should do: Attacker Michael De Leeuw isn't a true No. 10, but he should nonetheless add a dose of creativity, and David Accam has 14 goals and four assists in 2,500 MLS minutes – a very nice return.

The problem is that they're probably both best at the same spot (second forward), an issue compounded by the mediocre output of DP target forward Kennedy Igboananike. That group does not seem to fit together.

Fire fans want the brain trust to cut bait, as they've already done with Gilberto. But the smarter play is to keep hoarding TAM and GAM, let the rest of this season play out, and then make a series of huge attacking moves in the winter window. They'll have more flexibility than anyone else in the league, and now need to show the patience to use it well.

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