Note:This column was originally published on December 23. Each team's blurb has been updated on Jan. 1, Jan. 18, Jan. 30, Feb. 14 and Feb. 24.
With the conclusion of Stage 2 of the 2016 MLS Re-Entry Draft, the first furious leg of the the annual silly season marathon is complete. Rosters haven't been entirely torn down or remade, but there's been some serious movement, a few significant trades and a few other acquisitions of note.
The next week or so should bring relative quiet. There may be a leak here about a move that'll be completed once the transfer window opens, or a USMNT'er potentially coming home, or whispers about a trade in the works. Some of thigs may even come to pass before the calendar turns to 2017 (back in the days of good old Chivas USA, you could count on at least one major announcement on either Christmas Eve, Christmas Day or New Year's Eve), but chances are it'll all be rumors.
This respite gives us a chance to take a look at the 22 teams and their 22 rosters, get a gauge on what they've done so far and what, potentially, is to come.
Ok, it's now officially one week before the season starts, and nearly every big move has been made. We've seen plenty of preseason games, we know – in a general/hopeful kind of way – what shape teams will play, and whether it'll be on the front or back foot.
We also know there are still a few holes left to fill.
Below are all 22 teams and the status of their rosters. We're going in order of the 2016 Supporters' Shield standings, followed by expansion clubs Atlanta United and Minnesota United FC.
The Offseason So Far: Dallas have added three fullbacks in, like, the last 15 seconds, so it's pretty clear they saw that as a spot they could upgrade this year. They're also loaded in central midfield and have a surfeit of quality wingers, though a good chunk of their talent in both spots isn't old enough to shave.
One of them is, however: Belgian international winger Roland Lamah is a direct replacement for Fabian Castillo, and is the presumed starter.
Yet there remain, as I see it, two big problems for Dallas at the moment:
- Mauro Diaz is going to miss the vast majority of this year, and there's no replacement yet.
- I still don't see an elite center forward on this roster.
I expect Javier Morales to sign with FCD in the next week, which should go a decent way towards solving that first issue. Morales isn't the pure creative force he was three years ago, but he can still be masterful over good chunks of time, and he's an ideal one-year replacement for Diaz. The resources they spend on him are resources they literally have to spend this year anyway, and his presence wouldn't clog the position up in the long-term.
No. 2 is still way up in the air, though the Dallas brass have dropped hints that the checkbook will be opening up for a No. 9 come January.
A less pressing issue for the moment is a lack of depth in central defense. I think this is something we could see Dallas address in free agency or perhaps in the SuperDraft.
JANUARY 1 UPDATE: They made the Javi signing official. Still no news on a target forward, but they've got space under the cap and TAM to spend, so my guess is they're doing some serious shopping at the moment. Fans will certainly hold out hope that whoever the new guys is performs better than Getterson.
JANUARY 18 UPDATE: Had a low-key great SuperDraft by picking up Wake Forest midfielder Jacori Hayes, who I think slots in pretty neatly as Kellyn Acosta's back-up. Hayes isn't as athletic and doesn't have the passing range, but he's maybe a touch better at receiving the ball in traffic and can get forward to good effect. If he sticks (and he will), Dallas are now four-deep in deep central midfield, and the onus to spend on that spot no longer really exists.
Still no official word on that No. 9, but it looks very much like young Paraguayan Cristian Colman is on the way, with FCD having beat out the likes of Sao Paulo, Gremio and Lanus. That should give you an idea of the kid's quality.
I still think they need one more center back for depth. Perhaps third-round pick Austin Ledbetter will be able to carve out a spot.
JANUARY 30 UPDATE: They got Colman. Dallas are stacked, and even without Diaz should probably be considered the favorites this year. Getting one more CB and a third 'keeper is about all that's left on the checklist.
FEBRUARY 13 UPDATE: From what I'm told Dallas are confident in Homegrown academy kid Aaron Guillen for the No. 3 spot on the CB depth chart, which is in keeping with their M.O. And they've been experimenting with Atiba Harris back there, as well as Maynor Figueroa, so I guess that's their depth behind Matt Hedges and Walker Zimmerman.
This is probably fine, but if you're going to pick a nit with Dallas, that's the one.
Adding Argentine right back Hernan Grana to the mix is better than fine, by the way – they needed more right back depth after Jose Salvatierra failed his physical last month. Grana and Homegrown Reggie Cannon will almost certainly split minutes during the congested early part of the season. Adding left back/left midfielder/central midfielder Carlos Cermeno, was also very nice, even if he doesn't exactly fill a need. I'm not sure exactly how the 21-year-old, once-capped Venezuelan will get onto the pitch, but his versatility and experience will be welcome for a team that expects to compete for four trophies this season.
One other note: Apparently 17-year-old Paxton Pomykal has been playing well beyond his years this preseason. I don't really expect him to figure into the mix until 2018, but if the raves I'm hearing are accurate, nobody should be too shocked to see him playing at least a few minutes here or there in center midfield (I think he's more of a No. 10, though others see him as a No. 8).
FEBRUARY 24 UPDATE: Dallas did finally address that depth need in central defense by signing draft pick Walker Hume, who pretty snugly fits the club's philosophy at that spot.
The main part of their their building came early because they were one of the earliest teams to play a meaningful match – their CCL quarterfinal vs. Arabe Unido. Everything from now until August is a matter of hoping the pieces they acquired fit together, and that Diaz comes back healthy.
The Offseason So Far: It's been a quiet but clever December from the powers that be in Colorado. They very probably should have lost Jared Watts in the Expansion Draft earlier this month, but made a couple of moves in the hours leading up to it, trading Joseph Greenspan to MNUFC and an international roster spot to Atlanta. Included in both transactions were handshake deals that both teams would pass on Watts, which means the Rapids bring back their entire starting backline and deep-lying midfield from the best defense in the league.
It looks very much like potential Homegrown center back Kortne Ford will be Greenspan's replacement on the depth chart, for what it's worth.
The bigger move is what happened further upfield. Jermaine Jones is gone, his rights traded to LA, and that's a level of dynamism that'll be tough to replace without going big for a Designated Player. A possible solution could be switching to something of an empty bucket 4-4-2 with Shkelzen Gashi moved into his more natural second forward position, and then either Dominique Badji or Kevin Doyle up top while allowing the wingers to do the bulk of the creative work.
The problem there is that both Sebastien Le Toux and Marco Pappa remain out of contract, Dillon Serna is coming back from a major injury and Marlon Hairston has never played more than 1,300 minutes in an MLS season. That is the whole of Colorado's wing rotation.
I suppose there's a chance that they could bring back exiled Argentinean DP Juan Ramirez for another crack at it, but my guess is we see a different signing from a different continent instead. And if Colorado want to remain among the league's elite, whoever that guy is will have to produce boxscore numbers.
JANUARY 1 UPDATE: No news, only the rumor that Ghanaian midfielder Bismark Adjei-Boateng could be on his way to Commerce City. The Man City product hasn't cracked that particular squad, though he's put together several strong years on loan in Norway.
He's a box-to-box destroyer or even a pure d-mid at times.
JANUARY 18 UPDATE: Adjei-Boateng's ship has yet to come in. Colorado's additions have been more muted, as they signed a pair of Homegrowns (Ford and playmaking midfielder Ricardo Perez), as well as a few draft picks (central midfielder Sam Hamilton and left back Liam Callahan both have a chance to stick around).
They are also very likely to add Alan Gordon via free agency.
Even if they sign all four of their draft picks and Gordon, they'd still have two roster slots open. My guess is that one of those will be a winger, and another will be a center mid. But the Rapids are often difficult to figure out.
JANUARY 30 UPDATE: Gordon arrived, and Adjei-Boateng arrived. They've now got depth and flexibility up top, in deep central midfield and along the backline. If the Rapids are able to defend like they did last season, they should be in better shape to be an attacking threat.
My guess is that they try to bolster that a little bit by going after a TAM-level winger over the next couple of weeks, and if they do that it's another argument in favor of a 4-4-2.
FEBRUARY 13 UPDATE: All quiet on the Rocky Mountain Front. Worth noting that Perez, the Homegrown midfielder I mentioned last month, has been playing significant minutes while Adjei-Boateng gets his paperwork squared away, but that's pretty clearly a depth consideration.
The big question for Colorado appears to be whether Tim Howard will be ready to go from in Week 1. I still wouldn't be shocked if there were a significant midfield addition between now and then, but there hasn't been so much as a whisper in weeks.
FEBRUARY 24 UPDATE: Still nothing despite the fact that they have multiple open roster slots. Former Rapid Tony Cascio – who's impressed as a trialist – could occupy one of them, but beyond that it's almost impossible to divine what they intend to do with their open space.
My guess? Sit tight with the group they have and then reassess at midseason.
New York Red Bulls
The Offseason So Far: RBNY are coming off two straight playoff appearances in which they were the superior team but the worse finishers, and thus two straight playoff appearances in which they didn't make their stated goal of winning MLS Cup.
Since December they've quietly been creating cap space. Some of those guys will be re-signed (Aurelien Collin in particular), but I think we could see a new right back and maybe another central defender in Harrison.
We may – and this is just speculation – also see a new secondary goal-scorer from the wing. RBNY have spent on both Gonzalo Veron and Daniel Royer, have revived Mike Grella's career and built Alex Muyl into a fearsome two-way winger. None of those guys was able to find the back of the net when Bradley Wright-Phillips and Sacha Kljestan were sputtering this November.
I wouldn't stake my life on a big move like this being made. But I'd wager my own life and those of everyone I love that such a move has been seriously discussed.
No idea where the potential acquisition of Terrence Boyd would fit on this spectrum. I think the 2014 version of Boyd would've been a very good-to-excellent MLS striker, but the guy's barely played since then due to a series of injuries. And then there's the pesky fact that playing Boyd+BWP would mean a move away from the 4-2-3-1 and into a 4-4-2, which was tried and then mostly scrapped last spring.
Regardless, I think RBNY should be among the favorites next season. But with Kljestan, BWP and Collin all on the other side of 30, the window of opportunity for this particular group is starting to close, which may inject some urgency to make one "big" move if the money's right.
JANUARY 1 UPDATE: Just a single rumor about a veteran Argentine fullback, and nothing else. I'm also starting to question whether I was correct to be so certain they'd re-sign Collin (and to be clear, failing to sign him would be a mistake).
JANUARY 18 UPDATE: So they got Zeiko Lewis in the SuperDraft and might have made one or two other... whoa!
Seriously though I wrote 2000 words on the Dax McCarty trade, and what to expect in the immediate future, including some speculation on Boyd. Who just turned down a move to Huddersfield Town of the English Championship, so...
JANUARY 30 UPDATE: They played a 4-2-2-2 in their first preseason outing, and they were awesome. Best part for Red Bulls fans is that the kids – specifically Sean Davis and Tyler Adams – looked well up to the task of replacing McCarty. And Damien Perrinelle was re-signed, so there's some center back depth, and a couple of the other Homegrowns looked good, and...
Well, I'm burying the lede on this update. Fact is that RBNY haven't yet done anything with the cap space and allocation cash they got for Dax, and Boyd has signed in Germany, so that's one door shut. At this point the starting frontline is BWP and Veron, which didn't work last year, so I'm gonna keep beating the "New York will sign a target forward" drum.
They need some fullback depth as well. Right now three fullbacks on the roster (Connor Lade, Kemar Lawrence, Justin Bilyeu) had injury-plagued seasons, and the fourth (Sal Zizzo) really struggled in 2016.
FEBRUARY 13 UPDATE: Yeah, it's a little bit weird that the only additions New York have made since the McCarty trade have been Homegrowns, USL kids and 18-year-old Cameroonian center back Hassan Ndam, who will almost certainly get more USL minutes than MLS minutes.
Time is running out to make the type of needle-moving acquisition most (including me!) expected after the captain was traded – RBNY have their first real game on February 22 against Vancouver in the CCL. It's starting to feel like this team is going to sink or swim with the kids, and if they do, indeed, swim, then it will truly be a feather in the cap of Jesse Marsch & Co.
Nobody – not even FC Dallas – have bet as hard on Homegrowns as it seems like New York are about to. Success will breed copycats across the league, and that would very much usher in a new era for MLS.
FEBRUARY 24 UPDATE: Aaron Long was the USL Defender of the Year in 2016, and the 24-year-old converted midfielder led RBNY II to the title. On Wednesday it was announced he'd signed a full MLS contract in the morning, and in the evening he started in RBNY's 1-1 draw against Vancouver in the CONCACAF Champions League quarters.
Was this the kind of signing RBNY fans expected after seeing McCarty shipped out? Definitely not. Was Long, however, excellent against the 'Caps? Definitely so.
Look, at this point I have no idea what they're planning to do with the cap space and allocation cash they got for their captain. But it's fair to say that Marsch et al (and "et al" no long includes Ali Curtis) are building this team in a totally unexpected fashion. The fans will be antsy if early results aren't positive.
New York City FC
The Offseason So Far: It's pretty clear that City have decided it's in their long-term best interest to get younger. They've replaced Josh Saunders with Sean Johnson, signed USL MVP Sean Okoli as David Villa's back-up at center forward, and let Frank Lampard walk without any noticeable fuss. They're also working on a contract extension for Tommy McNamara, while keeping both Jack Harrison and Khiry Shelton in the fold.
Unless Ronald Matarrita is sold, it looks like the defense will return pretty much intact. I'll let you, gentle reader, decide whether that is a good or a bad thing.
Midfield is where all the questions are, and questions breed rumors:
I want so much for that to be true, but I have literally no idea of where it falls on the plausibility meter. Nobody keeps things tighter than the front office in the Bronx.
Whether it's Khedira or not, I do expect one splashy (and hopefully functional) signing for the NYCFC midfield next month, as well as a few other less glittery names in on loan.
Do I expect Mix Diskerud, meanwhile, to head elsewhere? Kiiiiinda. But maybe not. That situation is very difficult to get a read on.
JANUARY 1 UPDATE: No moves yet, though there's an intriguing rumor that has NYCFC linked to Panamanian international attacker Miguel Camargo.
JANUARY 18 UPDATE: The Camargo deal came through. Hurrah.
Elsewhere... science preserve Patrick Vieira's love of developing players. NYCFC sent out $325K of General Allocation Cash on SuperDraft day to acquire Generation adidas winger Jonathan Lewis and Canadian left back Kwame Awuah (who will count as a domestic player). Lewis is lightning-fast, and an excellent playmaker in the final third, while Awuah is a relentless overlapper in the Matarrita mold.
Both will play significant minutes next season, and I'm pretty sure that Lewis's presence means McNamara will slide inside as a No. 10, fighting for minutes with Camargo or perhaps even playing alongside of him.
Like all of you, I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop with that third DP slot. The Khedira rumors have not gone away, and I don't expect them to until/unless NYCFC either sign him, or a third designated player.
JANUARY 30 UPDATE: The Khedira rumors have gone away, which is maybe for the best? NYCFC seem determined to get younger just about everywhere, and that includes the use of their DPs.
Peruvian center back Alexander Callens is not a DP, but the 24-year-old left-footer will almost certainly be penciled in as a starter in the heart of the defense. If they're able to sign 25-year-old Finnish international center mid Alexander Ring, he'll certainly be a starter as well (and from what I've heard I do expect them to sign him).
I don't expect him to be a DP, however. And that's when things get interesting, because I can't imagine Vieira wants to wait until mid-season to use that third slot. My gut says something big is going to come to the Bronx, but I legit have no idea what.
FEBRUARY 13 UPDATE: They signed Ring about 15 minutes after my last update, which is nice. He hasn't joined the team yet, which gave 16-year-old academy kid James Sands a chance to start at d-mid against Emelec in front of 40,000 screaming fans in NYCFC's preseason opener.
He was, apparently, great, and there seems to be an "If you're good enough, you're old enough" vibe building up around him as the team heads to Tucson for their next preseason stop. I expect them to sign him.
If/when they do, it looks very much like he'll be competing with another teenager, Venezuelan Yangel Herrera, for minutes. The 19-year-old international plays either center back or defensive midfield, and would seem to A) fit a need, and B) fit Vieira's M.O.
I'm faaaaaar more dubious about their rumored interest in 29-year-old Argentinean winger Maxi Moralez, especially as a DP.
FEBRUARY 24 UPDATE: Well, I was stupid to be dubious about the prospects of their signing Morales, wasn't I? He'll come in and be this team's No. 10, tasked with creating chances and (more importantly IMO) scoring goals with the type of late runs into the box that Lampard excelled at.
Herrera, meanwhile, is probably more likely to start at d-mid than Ring.
They also added MLS veteran winger Rodney Wallace, and journeymen John Stertzer and Ben Sweat. The team is now younger than last year's group, and deeper and more flexible – I don't see any glaring weaknesses. I'm not convinced, however, that they'll be better.
The Offseason So Far: They lost a backup central midfielder, a backup central defender, and a backup right back. In the process they cleared out a bunch of cap space and a bunch of playing time for their academy kids who are starting to push into the regular rotation.
The big question I have regards how TFC will address this particular need:
Jozy on what #TFC needs: "To be completely honest, I think we could use a little bit more of a creative player [in midfield or on wing]."— John Molinaro (@JohnMolinaro) December 13, 2016
I think the answer is Homegrown No. 10 Jay Chapman, who impressed in the middle of last year before suffering an injury in late summer that effectively ended his season. Putting Chapman behind two of Jozy Altidore, Sebastian Giovinco and Tosaint Ricketts should lead to LOTS of goals.
If they're comfortable with Chapman in that role they can spend their newfound capspace, TAM & GAM elsewhere — most likely on re-signing Benoit Cheyrou then reinforcing the backline, or perhaps right wingback. Both Drew Moor and Steven Beitashour were very good last year, but both players have a lot of miles on their legs and are nigh irreplaceable.
TFC are also reportedly working hard to ink academy product Ayo Akinola, who's just a couple of weeks shy of his 17th birthday.
Also, the more I look at this team's roster and Drew Moor's age, the more I expect them to sign a veteran, starting-caliber center back who can eat up some of those minutes.
JANUARY 18 UPDATE: TFC quietly had an excellent draft, getting CB Brandon Aubrey when he dropped to 21st, picking up $75K of TAM by flipping a pair of second-round picks, and then taking the best 'keeper in college soccer in the third round. Robert Moewes has a very real shot of sticking around as the third 'keeper, and because TFC have so many international slots open they can afford to spend one on him. Few if any teams in MLS could've done the same.
They're still, at this point, in need of another center back and a back-up for Beitashour. And while I'm close to certain they're scouring the earth for a No. 10, there have been zero leaks to that effect since December.
Expect one or two more Homegrown signings this winter as well.
JANUARY 30 UPDATE: Tim Bezbatchenko has pocket queens and is just letting the rest of the table raise, call and bluff before he makes a move, I think.
One thing to note: Local Toronto writers are now talking about Chapman as a possible solution in central midfield. It'll be interesting to judge the fanbase's reaction to that, especially after he scored for Canada in their win over Bermuda.
EDIT: And overnight, it looks like TFC got their man at the back. L'equipe reported that former French youth international LB/LCB Chris Mavinga will join the Reds from Rubin Kazan. Pretty sure this is a done deal even if it hasn't been officially announced yet, because that's DEFINITELY MLS letterhead he's signing.
FEBRUARY 13 UPDATE: Nothing since Mavinga's arrival. One note, though: Former US U-20 center forward Ben Spencer (you may remember him from when he saved the US in CONCACAF qualifying two years ago – he's been hurt pretty much ever since then) was training with the first team with both Altidore and Jordan Hamilton absent.
Spencer was really good before the injuries. He had soft feet, good vision, and the type of willingness a target forward needs when it comes to mixing it up in the 18.
Even if they sign Spencer, they'll still have a bunch of roster spots open and the ability to add at least one more big piece.
FEBRUARY 24 UPDATE: Playmaker Victor Vazquez didn't leave much of an impression during his time with Cruz Azul, but his profile in the Belgian league compares pretty favorably to that of Sacha Kljestan. That obviously isn't a guarantee he'll be as influential as Kljestan's been, but it's certainly a worthwhile data point, and the exact kind of signing TAM was created for.
I'm still a little bit wary about depth on the backline and at right back/wingback. TFC have the roster space to address both spots, and may also be able to find solutions from within their own academy/USL rosters.
For what it's worth, I've picked this team for the 2017 Supporters' Shield.
The Offseason So Far: This offseason has been LA's busiest since Ruud Gullit was replaced nearly a decade ago. There's a new GM, and a new head coach, and Robbie Keane's gone, and Landon Donovan's gone again, and Jermaine Jones has (almost) arrived, and it's not at all clear what this team is going to look like as of yet.
Personal opinion: Build around Gio Dos Santos and Gyasi Zardes up top, Sebastian Lletget in central midfield with Ema Boateng and Jose Villarreal on the wings. I assume something close to that will happen, with Jones playing deeper as more of a pure backline shield than he did in either Colorado or New England.
But I don't know that's going to happen, and it's worth remembering that Jones has always been at his best when paired with another center mid who will shadow him, which is the role Scott Caldwell played so well. I'm not sure that's in Lletget's wheelhouse, and if the rumored Juninho move comes to fruition, I don't think it's in his wheelhouse, either.
The good news for LA is that the starting backline is mostly set, the academy should provide answers all over the field, and that there are probably two open DP slots to play with for upgrading the roster.
Oh, and they should re-sign Alan Gordon for one last tour of duty.
JANUARY 1 UPDATE: The Galaxy don't even have a coaching staff at this point, and thus there've been no moves made, major or minor.
One thing to keep an eye on for when they do finally spend: Do they see Zardes as a forward or a winger? I've made it known here that I see him as a No. 9, and the way the team's performed with him in that role suggests that I'm, as always, 1000% correct. But if they go out and drop seven figures on a forward, that means it's back to the wing for Gyasi.
Also... with Juninho signing in Chicago, we can put that speculation to rest. The Galaxy still haven't signed Jones either, so things are very much up in the air for this club.
JANUARY 18 UPDATE: They now have a coaching staff, which is a good sign. And they signed Jones, which some Galaxy fans aren't wild about but others are. YMMV.
The interesting moves are about to come flooding in, though. On Wednesday they were linked to 23-year-old Portuguese d-mid Joao Pedro, and that deal is going to happen. So too, is the deal for Marseille winger Romain Alessandrini, I believe, and I think that answers the Zardes question pretty thoroughly (and with Gordon gone, academy products Ariel Lassiter and Jack McBean will get their chances to win the backup job).
What's unclear is whether or not having six central midfielders on the roster already precludes them from going after Jonathan Dos Santos:
He and Joao Pedro are very similar, it has to be said. Also, it has to be said that these signings almost certainly mean that Lletget will head back out to the wing in 2017.
Regardless, I think there's a good chance LA sit on that third DP slot (Alessandrini will occupy one, and Gio the other) until summer. In the meantime they'll try to find some more depth pretty much everywhere on the backline.
JANUARY 30 UPDATE: Alessandrini will be arriving presently, and it looks like the third DP slot will stay in-pocket for now (Jelle Van Damme will occupy it until the summer transfer window).
The attack and midfield really is full. Time for LA's powers-that-be to strengthen the backline, and I'll be shocked if there's not at least one significant addition.
FEBRUARY 13 UPDATE: Alessandrini arrived, and nothing's happened since then. It's fair, I think, for Galaxy fans to be concerned about backline depth as long as they admit they're pretty impressed by how things look in the midfield and up top.
FEBRUARY 24 UPDATE: Still no tested depth on the backline, which has become more of an issue with RB Robbie Rogers set to miss the start of the season. That means Rafael Garcia – a midfielder who's played more minutes with Los Dos than the actual Galaxy over the last few years – is the probable first kick starter at that spot. I think Garcia's a pretty decent player, but that's a big test.
Also a big test? Replacing Zardes, who underwent surgery on his knee and is out an as-yet-undetermined amount of time. Right now it'll be Lassiter or McBean, so the Galaxy youth movement is starting in earnest whether it was meant to or not.
The Offseason So Far: While fans were drowning themselves in rivers of celebratory rave green beer, GM Garth Lagerwey got busy remaking the roster that had just delivered the franchise's first MLS Cup. Zach Scott retired and 13 other veterans had their options declined, which means there are gaps just about everywhere.
One of those gaps was filled with Thursday's acquisition of Harry Shipp, who I think can slot in as a rotational piece in attacking midfield with the potential to become more than that if he shows the ability to play both sides of the ball at a higher level with greater consistency. I confess to being a Shipp stan and think he can do the job, but he's 25 and I only "think" it, I don't know it. But the bottom line is that he has to do a lot more work in possession if he wants to be a starter for a championship team.
Another gap could be filled if Clint Dempsey returns to full health. Your guess is as good as mine there.
The others will be attacking wingers (my guess is we see them spend a DP slot there), a No. 9 and a backup center back, while a young fullback and a young central midfielder or two will be brought up from the academy.
What the first part of that means for Jordan Morris remains to be seen. He progressed as both a center forward (his hold-up play improved dramatically) and as a winger (ask Colorado) throughout the course of the season, and I could see him finding a long-term home in either role. Where Seattle spend their money this winter will go a long way toward telling the rest of us exactly what that role will be.
JANUARY 1 UPDATE: The above blurb was out of date about 14 seconds after I wrote it because of the addition of Will Bruin. He's going to eat up some minutes as a No. 9, and if he finishes the chances he finds (that's always the big "if", because Bruin remains excellent at finding chances) he may even become a starter.
So does that mean Morris is actually a winger henceforth? Perhaps. Or perhaps Lagerwey et al see Morris/Bruin as the No. 9 depth chart with Homegrown Victor Mansaray and about-to-be-signed Homegrown Seyi Adekoya in reserve, while any additional spending will come on the wings. Tough to say.
Of note: They're also said to be signing another Homegrown, midfielder Henry Wingo from the University of Washington. Wingo reminds me of D.C.'s Nick DeLeon in a bunch of ways, including the "he should actually be playing right back" way. I think he has the tools to be an exceptional fullback in this league.
JANUARY 18 UPDATE: Those two Homegrown signings got done, and Seattle added their 8000th Stanford grad when they picked up center back Brian Nana-Sinkam with the last pick of the first round of the SuperDraft.
What happens next? Hard to say. There seems to be real optimism that Dempsey could be back this spring, which is obviously huge in that A) he's a really good player, and B) they really can't do much roster-building until they know for sure one way or another. So in the meantime they're filling out spots 18-28 with kids, and intend to look at yet more kids this preseason as they bring up guys from S2. Several of those players have a chance to stick and play meaningful minutes, as does second-round pick Dom Oduro (who looked like a pretty quality d-mid at the Combine and already has pro experience, and isn't that original Dom Oduro).
Even with Oduro in the fold there will be another addition in central midfield to back up Ozzie Alonso and Cristian Roldan, and I think there will be two more center backs on the way as well. Seattle are still only three-deep there, and given the age and international commitments of Roman Torres and Chad Marshall, depth is necessary.
In case you're keeping track: Yes, all of the above would leave Seattle with a spare DP slot to use -- or not -- as they see fit. Given their luck with last year's mid-season addition, I wouldn't be at all shocked if they waited until July to do something fun.
JANUARY 30 UPDATE: It looks like 29-year-old Swedish d-mid/center back Gustav Svensson could is be on his way from China, thanks to the CSA's newly instituted cap of three foreigners per roster (EDIT: For the second time in this column's cumbersome history, the Sounders made a move just hours after publication). That's forced multiple Chinese teams to sell off or release outright a significant number of imports, and the Sounders stand to benefit greatly. Svensson isn't a game-breaker, but he's as Swedish international who'll be useful depth at two spots where Seattle are a little short.
Japanese playmaker Hiroshi Kiyotake would be much more than that if Lagerwey et al are able to grab him. The 27-year-old hasn't worked out with Sevilla, but he was great in the Bundesliga and as a starter with Japan. This would be a huge DP signing.
Two caveats: It's looking slightly more likely that this happens in the summer rather than in the next month or two, and Kiyotake really does work better centrally as a No. 10 than as a winger on either side. Given Dempsey's improving health, that spot on the field could suddenly get pretty crowded.
FEBRUARY 13 UPDATE: Svensson's looked really good in his brief preseason run thus far, to the point where it feels like this could be the first year in franchise history where it wouldn't be fatal if Alonso has to miss a few games (and since Alonso has been resting his knee instead of playing for the last couple of weeks, that's kinda crucial).
The Kiyotake move didn't happen, and I'm honestly starting to think the Sounders are done making moves for this window. Part of that is because most of the kids they've promoted from S2, signed as Homegrowns or drafted have looked good, and part is because Dempsey is officially playing again. He hasn't looked great, but that's what preseason is for, right?
Seattle's roster is short (they have only 22 players officially signed), but it's really well put together. They have depth and experience everywhere.
FEBRUARY 24 UPDATE: Nothing new, but still no holes. I'm pretty sure at this point Seattle will sit tight with what they have and then, if necessary, make one more splashy signing at mid-season.
Dempsey's return has continued without incident, by the way. I'm not sure he'll start the opener, but I'll be shocked if he doesn't play at least 30 minutes. We should probably just give him the "Comeback Player of the Year" award now.
The Offseason So Far: There's been a lot of churn, but the identity of this team is still mostly the same with Dom Dwyer up top, Benny Feilhaber and Roger Espinoza in central midfield, Matt Besler in central defense, and a bunch of overlappers at fullback.
Said overlappers have gotten younger over the last few years, and it looks at this point like SKC have decided to give a Besler/Ike Opara pairing the green light for 2017. I think that's a good move.
And I think all of the above matters little if they don't get a secondary scorer on the wing to play off of Dwyer and ease some of his burden. Diego Rubio could in theory be that guy, but his goalscoring record over the years leaves much to be desired. Same for rumored acquisition Gerso Fernandes.
Let me put it this way: There's the potential that this team could really miss Jacob Peterson.
So one way or another they need to hit a Krisztian Nemeth-style home run with one of their wingers, and then add some depth in both central defense (the SuperDraft has a lot of quality in central defense this year) and attacking midfield. Feilhaber's not going to stay young forever, and his workrate declined precipitously most of last season before he cranked it up to 11 for the stretch run.
JANUARY 1 UPDATE: They've shored up their fullback depth with the signing of Igor Juliao (remember him from a couple of years ago? He was fun in a "whenever he overlaps either Sporting score, or Sporting's opponents score" kind of way), who should have no troubles adjusting.
The Fernandes signing hasn't been made official, but it looks like it's going to happen. Same for the acquisition of 19-year-old Ghana Premier League MVP Latif Blessing. If those guys are as good as advertised it'd go a long way toward answering last year's weaknesses, though the attacking corps would still be thin.
On that note: They've apparently registered a Homegrown claim for US U-17 forward Josh Sargent, who I'd describe as Bradley Wright-Phillips-esque in terms of his movement, workrate and relative lack of flash. The kid's a real talent, though he's probably at least two years away from being MLS ready and will have to work hard to improve his hold-up skills and survive the kind of beating Dwyer endures every weekend.
JANUARY 18 UPDATE: Gerso is on board, and I think SKC fans will be very happy if he lives up to this scouting report:
Blessing signed when Gerso did, so that means SKC have actual wing depth. They also added 26-year-old d-mid Ilie Sanchez who came up via Barcelona B and has experience in both the 2.Bundesliga and La Liga, and a pair of guys from USL teams, and have first-round pick Colton Storm slotted somewhere in the league's deepest right back rotation.
Unless a trade happens, it feels very much like SKC's work is done for this offseason. When (if?) Storm signs they'll be 28/28 on the roster, with all three DP slots filled and all their international slots spoken for, and meaningful depth just about everywhere on the field.
It seems like they finally got tired of breaking down late in the season. I'd expect more squad rotation this year and a chance for the kids to get out onto the field in mildly high-leverage situations.
JANUARY 30 UPDATE: SKC brought Soony Saad back from Thailand to add some more frontline depth. I really don't think we'll see much other movement beyond that in the next month.
FEBRUARY 13 UPDATE: Saad's been the only new signing of the past month, and what you see with the SKC roster is what you'll get the first weekend of March.
If you really care about the tail end of this squad, it might be worth noting that Peter Vermes has been giving minutes to Swope Park Rangers center back Amer Didic. But the reality is that Sporting had the vast majority of their work done by mid-January, and they'll enter this season deeper, younger and faster than at any point since 2013.
FEBRUARY 24 UPDATE: No new signings, but it's starting to look like Graham Zusi has beaten out Saad Abdul-Salaam for the starting RB spot. That could make SAS one of the most intriguing trade chips in MLS (there are about 19 teams that could use him), but my money's on the kid winning the job back and making it his own for the next five or six years.
Sporting are still Sporting, and I still have the same question about them that I did at the start of the preseason: Who, besides Dwyer, will get goals? If the likes of Gerso, Blessing, Rubio or Daniel Salloi can't answer that question definitively, SKC will be a fringe playoff team rather than a contender.
Real Salt Lake
The Offseason So Far: It started earlier than I think they expected when Javier Morales took to Twitter and announced his departure. And then Jamison Olave retired, and Burrito Martinez's kids got homesick, and suddenly it feels like the rebuild has kicked into high gear.
The good news? For the first time in team history each of RSL's attackers is under age 30, and the majority of them are under age 25. The bad news? It's not clear yet whether Jordan Allen or Bofo Saucedo — who's been tearing it up with the US U-20s – are ready to take on Martinez's role fulltime.
Bofo barely played on loan at Veracruz last year, but he's got a world of talent (scroll ahead to 2:55):
I actually think Allen isn't really a winger, but more of a classic wide midfielder more suited to a 4-4-2, which could complicate things slightly. This team really might be better in that formation with Joao Plata playing as a second forward underneath Yura Movsisyan.
I'm definitely burying the lede, though, so here goes: The one thing I think we can bank on this offseason is that GM Craig Waibel will go out and get a No. 10 to replace Morales. I'd expect them to skew toward a young, under-the-radar player like when Dallas signed Mauro Diaz four years ago, rather than going for an in-his-prime signing like Nicolas Lodeiro or breaking the bank on a major international target like Atlanta's Miguel Almiron.
They also very badly need a back-up center forward for Movsisyan, and it wouldn't shock me if that came via free agency, or if they made a move in the draft for someone like Nick DePuy or Julian Gressel. A little more depth in central defense is also a thing that should happen.
JANUARY 1 UPDATE: It looks like Slovakian international Albert Rusnak is the No. 10 they've been looking for, and the deal appears imminent. Attackers moving to MLS from the Dutch Eredivisie generally have produced in MLS, so RSL fans are right to be hyped about this one.
They should also be hyped about the Landon Donovan news if that happens. The idea is to sign a DP-caliber attacker (and LD is still that) not to replace the kids long-term, but to play about 2000 minutes and help mentor Saucedo and Allen over the next 12-24 months, while still being a game-changer in high-leverage situations.
Think of it this way: What would it mean for their development if RSL went out and got a 28-year-old DP winger from Corinthians or Millionarios or some other legit South American club? Well, that guy would play every single minute available, which means neither Allen nor Saucedo would ever get off the bench for the next three or four years at least. And if that happens then why invest so much in the academy in the first place?
If it doesn't happen with Donovan, one other name to look at for the mentor role is Mauro Rosales.
JANUARY 18 UPDATE: The Rusnak deal got done, and the Donovan deal is dead. One out of two ain't bad, especially since Rusnak probably has the inside track on "Newcomer of the Year" given the role he'll play and the talent around him, and especially since he seems to have the profile of a guy who can lead an MLS team creatively for a decade. Waibel et al did good work to get a guy just entering his prime from a legitimately good Eredivisie team.
The big question now: Who backs up Yura? It might be an MLS veteran they land via free agency, or it might be former Homegrown Brooks Lennon, or it might be both. Probably both, given RSL's roster numbers and cap flexibility.
The Lennon thing is exciting, for what it's worth. He's been bagging goals while playing all across the front line for Liverpool's U-23s, and while he doesn't appear to be in the full team's plans, he's undeniably a real talent. Though he may actually be more of a winger than a true No. 9 at this point, it'd be a great pick-up for RSL either way.
JANUARY 30 UPDATE: After having missed out on Alan Gordon they signed Chad Barrett as No. 9 depth, and after having missed out on Donovan they brought Luis Silva back as attacking depth, while also rounding out their central defensive corps by signing free agent David Horst.
RSL have had a really good offseason even if a couple of reaches came up short. If they manage to ink Lennon (who trained with them over the weekend in preseason, and is now off with the US U-20s), fans will have plenty of reason to go into 2017 optimistic about the team's youth, depth and new direction.
FEBRUARY 13 UPDATE: Lennon is officially in the fold, and he'll be in Sandy for the year on a loan with no set purchase price from Anfield.
Don't expect to see him any time soon, though, as he's one of four RSL guys (along with Glad, Saucedo and left back Danilo Acosta) officially on duty with the US U-20s this month. In their absence, Allen has asserted himself as the probable No. 1 option at right wing, playing in that front three alongside Movsisyan and Plata.
RSL have serious depth in their youth, as befits franchise that's spent time and money on both their academy and Real Monarchs. In addition to the ones already mentioned, midfield playmaker Jose Hernandez also deserves a shout for his good form, and the fact that he presents as a pretty obvious back-up to Rusnak at the No. 10 spot.
I still have questions as to whether this team will play with a little more cohesion this year, or whether it will be another series of isos all season long.
FEBRUARY 24 UPDATE: The 4-3-3 of the past several years looks as if it's given way to something closer to a 4-2-3-1, which perhaps makes a little more sense given this team's structure.
The best news over the past two weeks for RSL? Lennon bagged a hat-trick from the wing for the U-20s. If they can get a field-stretching goal-threat on one side or the other, that should open up more space for Movsisyan, Plata and Rusnak.
The Offseason So Far: They're returning their top 15 or so players, with the only significant loss being veteran center forward Alvaro Saborio. That's not a huge loss since Patrick Mullins will continue to be the starter, Alhaji Kamara is expected to be healthy and ready to go as a super-sub, and new signing Jose Guillermo Ortiz can play anywhere along the frontline in the 4-3-3/4-1-4-1 D.C. switched to mid-season.
The biggest move was bringing Luciano Acosta back to the team permanently after an impressive first season in the league, followed by re-signing Steve Birnbaum in the face of serious European interest. United aren't spending like TFC or NYCFC, but they're not letting talent get away.
Which brings us to potential Homegrown midfielder Ian Harkes...
Ian Harkes y'all... pic.twitter.com/Mi8gqWAIyv— Matthew Doyle (@MLSAnalyst) November 13, 2016
He was the best player in college soccer this year, and I think he'd be a perfect fit next to Acosta in that United midfield.
Problem is, of course, that there's both European interest and not-all-that-unrealistic speculation that Harkes could sign for FC Cincinnati of the USL and play for his dad, USMNT legend John Harkes.
JANUARY 1 UPDATE: It looks like A) the Harkes deal is close, and B) he might be the guy they see as the long-term answer at d-mid. He was so good as a No. 8 for Wake Forest this season that I saw him in that role as a pro, but perhaps he really could be a No. 6? He certainly has the physical tools and game awareness.
Beyond that, I expect them to take a defender in the draft. And I think those will be the only offseason moves from D.C.
JANUARY 18 UPDATE: Well, they took a defender in the draft by snagging local kid Chris Odoi-Atsem with the 12th pick. To me, that pretty much seals the deal on Franklin moving to central defense, and hopefully Odoi-Atsem (who's a fantastic 1v1 defender) starts his career as DeLeon's back-up.
D.C. are pretty stocked at this point, going three-deep at center forward and five-deep on the wing, while boasting a cadre of central midfielders young and old to support Acosta. Harkes will be one of them, and I think he will start sooner rather than later.
JANUARY 30 UPDATE: The Harkes deal got done, as did a deal for free agent winger Sebastien Le Toux. D.C.'s now stuffed full through midfield and all across the front line.
Former Montreal man and 12-times-capped Canadian international Maxim Tissot is trialing with United this preseason, presumably for that left back role. Given D.C.'s roster flexibility (they've used only four international slots) and lack of other trialists, he has a good shot at sticking.
FEBRUARY 13 UPDATE: They signed Tissot. They decided Harkes is actually a No. 8. They're leaning toward moving DeLeon permanently to right back. They have kept continuity in terms of the roster, and in terms of the approach since Ben Olsen has said his team will stay in that 4-1-4-1/4-3-3 hybrid that was so effective at the end of last season.
The only questions now are around the starting XI and subs. Olsen has more talent to choose from than at any point in his managerial career, and managing that is a different sort of test for a still-young coach.
FEBRUARY 24 UPDATE: No new additions, just the happy return to health of Bill Hamid, who got 45 minutes in a 3-0 win over St. Louis on Wednesday.
D.C.'s roster is set. I think the biggest question over the next week will be "Who starts at d-mid, Vincent or Sarvas?" My money's on Sarvas in the short term, with Vincent getting plenty of reps throughout.
The other big question is how Olsen handles the glut of wing options. Nyarko and Sam are the incumbents, but Ortiz, Neagle and Le Toux have all had strong preseasons. United have options.
The Offseason So Far: They let a ton of dudes walk, including Didier Drogba. And they signed Blerim Dzemaili, who will arrive next July. And they kept their starting XI from the playoffs together (pending Patrice Bernier re-signing, which will happen), which is nice.
I'm looking at this and just going with this assumption: The roster cull was designed to open up playing time for young, high-upside players like Anthony Jackson-Hamel and Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla. That is not very Impact-like, but the opportunities should be there for the kids given the age of the front six this team prefers to trot out.
As for the defense … any team that concedes seven goals in a two-legged series needs to find a mirror. I'd expect all four starters to be back, as well as a couple of the top reserves, but I also wouldn't be at all shocked if there was a DP center back imported to try to make this team a little more respectable when defending set pieces.
I do, however, think they're done with Drogba-style signings.
JANUARY 1 UPDATE: They've been linked with Thiago Motta and Panagiotis Kone in recent days, which makes sense given their modus operandi but doesn't make sense given their roster needs.
The big rumor is that Boca Juniors are thinking about ponying up for a bid on Ignacio Piatti. Needless to say, if he's sold that would require some serious work on a top tier replacement.
JANUARY 18 UPDATE: Piatti is staying. Everything else pales in comparison to that -- Montreal will keep both their best player, and the XI that nearly made MLS Cup last year.
Beyond that XI things have changed. They're adding more Homegrowns and a couple of draft picks, and it's starting to feel like Dzemaili's summer arrival will be the big acquisition of the year for the Impact. This is maybe a good thing in that this team has real chemistry, but it's maybe a bad thing in that their central defense got abused all year by physical strikers.
So don't be surprised if there's one more significant piece added, as well as a backup for Ambroise Oyongo at left back.
JANUARY 30 UPDATE: Zero new updates – it's almost eerily quiet. The only real rumor over the past month is that, with Bologna safe, Dzemaili will be released early and arrive in April instead of July.
FEBRUARY 13 UPDATE: Nothing but the silence of a Quebecois winter.
FEBRUARY 24 UPDATE: They finally made a move, and it was a good one. Montreal announced this week that they acquired 24-year-old Argentine d-mid Adrian Arregui from Temperley as a TAM player. I'm not sure he'll step right into the starting XI, but chances are he'll get every chance to win a spot there over the first few months of the season.
It was incredibly important for the Impact to add some youth in that part of the field, though it might not matter all that much if the central defense continues to struggle against physical attackers.
The Offseason So Far: You're not going to believe this, but the Timbers unceremoniously released a bunch of former draft picks who never made a dent with the first team. Safe to say the answers to their roster questions won't be coming from within.
Signing Costa Rican international D-mid David Guzman should give us a hint as to what the future should bring for Portland, though, as Guzman is a surefire starter at that spot. That means there are only two spots in central midfield for Diego Chara, Diego Valeri and Darlington Nagbe, and the writing appears to be on the wall regarding Nagbe's potential move to Celtic.
If that happens I'd wager the cash infusion is used on a high level winger who can add more long-term, two-way value than Lucas Melano has (and you can color me at least a little bit surprised that Melano is still a Timber). There also needs to be another face in the central defensive rotation, and a break-in-case-of-emergency center forward to back up Fanendo Adi, and a third 'keeper from somewhere.
Portland still have their top SuperDraft pick, but given their allergy to acquiring contributors via that route, expect them to trade it for whatever they can snag in return.
JANUARY 1 UPDATE: The writing on the wall regarding Nagbe's move was incorrect — he's staying. And now the midfield is crowded, and I do kind of wonder if a diamond with Guzman at the 6, Valeri as the 10 and Nagbe/Chara as shuttlers makes more sense than yet another year of shuffling Nagbe to the wing.
So it'll be interesting to see what they get for Melano, and then how they replace him. It'll also be interesting to see if they decide to go after Rodney Wallace and try to bring him back into the fold.
JANUARY 18 UPDATE: So the Timbers traded up in the SuperDraft and took one of my favorite players available, center forward Jeremy Ebobisse. And they signed three guys from their USL team, and they kept Nagbe for real, and Melano is gone on loan to Belgrano, and then they even picked two of my favorite players late in the draft (though both are long-shots to make the team), so it feels like my skepticism was, perhaps, misplaced. Their improvements really have come from within, and the core of the team that won the 2015 MLS Cup is still largely intact and has been reinforced with youth.
Ebobisse is the gem here, in that his ceiling is high and that he fills such a crucial need. Adi is excellent, but he's made noises every season about leaving -- or at least noises have been made about him leaving -- and the Timbers were a vastly different team without his hold-up play. Ebobisse should be able to replicate a lot of that, and is probably a better open-field threat and finisher. It's entirely possible that the kid will make Adi transferrable should the right offer come this year.
I could see Portland adding another target forward just in case, and perhaps another winger (Wallace isn't having a great time with Recife), a center back and a central midfielder. They have room on the roster and in terms of DP slots, so it's not unlikely.
Everything seems to be in place, except for Sebastian Blanco. There's been a "will-he-or-won't-he" thing going on between him, San Lorenzo, Club America and the Timbers all winter. If the Argentine attacker does eventually make his way to Portland he'll slot in on one wing as a DP, with Nagbe on the other and Valeri running the show as a No. 10.
That's a pretty damn good look.
EDIT: And in a bit of bad news, presumptive starting CB Gbenga Arokoyo tore his Achilles' and is out for the season. Only silver lining here is that it happened early enough in preseason for the Timbers to have flexibility as they shop for a replacement – which they will need to do, since Arokoyo's loss leaves a hole that needs filling.
FEBRUARY 13 UPDATE: They got Blanco, which was a nice bit of work. So far he's starting at right wing in a 4-3-3/4-2-3-1, and he's very two-footed, so there's been a good bit of positional swapping going on throughout Portland's attack. I feel pretty confident that he'll be a better player for the Timbers than Melano. Between him and Guzman, Portland should have two of the better newcomers in the league in 2017.
There are worries in central defense, however. The Timbers immediately traded for SKC's Lawrence Olum following Arokoyo's injury, and Olum has struggled in his minutes thus far. None of the other candidates to start alongside Liam Ridgewell have distinguished themselves at this point, either. So central defense is a worry.
Left back isn't, though. In addition to incumbent starter Vytautas Andriuskevicius, Homegrown Marco Farfan has looked very good going forward so far in preseason. He's gotten lit up a couple of times defensively, but that tends to happen to young defenders from time to time.
The US U-19 international is still much more likely to play USL minutes rather than MLS minutes, but getting him into the depth chart is a major step forward for this franchise.
FEBRUARY 24 UPDATE: The starting CB job looks like it's Olum's to lose. It's a fair bet the Timbers will give up some goals this year.
It's also a fair bet they'll score some goals, especially with Vytas overlapping up the left side. One of the under-discussed aspects of moving Nagbe to the left wing on a fulltime basis is his ability to bring his left back into the play because his ball security is so good – he just doesn't turn it over. So expect Vytas to generate a LOT of danger this year.
The Offseason So Far: Really, really, really quiet so far. I think that changes with two big signings in the next month:
- A DP No. 9
- A TAM-level No. 6
I was fully onboard with the C.J. Sapong experience, but the Union can't have a starting center forward who goes half the year without sniffing an open play goal.
As for the No. 6 spot, it's pretty clear that Brian Carroll's race is just about run, and that Warren Creavalle is a little too adventurous to properly shield a young backline. If they could find their own Marco Donadel I'm sure the Union braintrust would be thrilled.
JANUARY 1 UPDATE: Nada, save for re-signing Charlie Davies. However, I have a totally irresponsible theory to put out here: The Union are the mystery MLS team targeting Icelandic and Nantes No. 9 Kolbeinn Sigthorsson. Earnie Stewart is well aware of the kid, who spent nearly a decade in the Netherlands (including a couple of years with Ajax), before making what's been an unproductive move to France.
Secrets don't leak out of the Union front office, though. So this is just a theory and I have zero inside info. Also, getting Sigthorsson would require a significant expenditure from a team that hasn't always been known to splash the cash.
JANUARY 18 UPDATE: Well, I was wrong on Sigthorsson. Instead they got forward Jay Simpson from Leyton Orient of England's League 2 (the fourth tier... yikes). Simpson has what I'll charitably call a "mixed" scoring record, in that he had one good year in the Championship back in 2009/10, and one tremendous year in League 2 in 2015/16. In between he had a bunch of low-output seasons and a trip to Thailand for a chunk of 2013 and 14.
I'm skeptical. But I'll say this: Bradley Wright-Phillips spent most of the first part of this decade toiling in the lower tiers of English soccer, and he's been pretty decent in MLS. Maybe Philly are attempting to catch lightning in a bottle, and see in Simpson a similar profile? Hard to say since I've never seen the kid play.
I've never seen their other signing, Giliano Wijnaldum, play either, but Stewart surely has. The 25-year-old Dutchman was brought in to compete for the starting left back spot, and while he's yet to truly break out as a pro, he's a former Netherlands youth international with 80+ games of experience spread across the Eredivisie and 2.Bundesliga. Any MLS team worth its salt would take a chance on a guy with that resume.
Still nothing on that No. 6 I mentioned earlier, though this is encouraging:
Maurice Edu is down here, working in weight room, no brace or wrap or anything— Kevin Kinkead (@Kevin_Kinkead) January 6, 2017
Edu would fill a huge need if he could stay healthy for the entirety of the 2017 season, and at the same time allow Philly to potentially spend that third DP slot elsewhere.
The two other pieces I think they'll add? A third-string 'keeper and another center back. It wouldn't shock me if they addressed that latter spot in a big way.
JANUARY 30 UPDATE: The only move of the last three weeks for Philly was signing veteran center back Oguchi Onyewu on a free. Gooch hasn't played regularly since 2014, so this feels very much like a "come here and mentor our young backline" move, rather than "come here and play 2000 minutes."
The lack of action in terms of signing a No. 6 leads me to believe they're optimistic about Edu's return. Fingers crossed.
EDIT: And another new signing! It came late on January 30, so I'm going to ninja-edit this blurb. Bosnian No. 8 Haris Medunjanin has signed with Philly from Maccabi Tel Aviv, and suddenly there's a truckload of center mids in Chester. That means someone's got to go, right?
Elsewhere in the attack, the arrival of erstwhile USMNT winger/forward Fafa Picault from St. Pauli seems imminent. Things are happening quickly, and suddenly it feels like there's been more turnover with this team over the last 8-10 months than expected, and that they're actually set to be older than last year. I'm not sure this was the blueprint, but wheeling and dealing is required when you're trying to stay afloat.
FEBRUARY 13 UPDATE: The Alberg thing was not a thing, and he's been starting as a No. 10 for the Union thus far. It's presumed he'll be backed up by Adam Najem, the RBNY Homegrown Philly acquired for a second round pick next year (this feels like a steal for the Union, for what it's worth).
Also, it turns out that Gooch is far more than decorative, and the chances are he'll have to play big minutes with Josh Yaro sidelined until mid-season. Given the layers of rust, this feels like a risk.
Meanwhile, Simpson has started up top, Edu still hasn't played this preseason, and Bedoya is once again a No. 8.
Anyone who claims they know what's coming from the Union in 2017 is lying. I could see everything working out and them claiming a top four seed in the East, but I could also see injuries, age and inexperience alternately ravaging this team.
FEBRUARY 24 UPDATE: No new additions, but here's a new twist: Homegrown midfielder Derrick Jones has looked very, very good over the last three weeks, and the 19-year-old is very much in the mix for a starting job. He has the same kind of field-shrinking, nuclear athleticism that Jermaine Jones has put to such great use in MLS, and would be a pretty natural fit next to/in front of a more stationary player like Medunjanin.
That would push Bedoya up into the No. 10 role, which is fine – that's where he spent a good chunk of his time in Europe, even if he never put huge numbers on the board.
New England Revolution
The Offseason So Far: I do not see a single true center back on their roster at this point. In the next month they should sign three and draft one, and try to avoid the struggles that plagued this team last season.
The midfield has also been thinned out via the retirement of Steve Neumann and the fact that Gershon Koffie is still out of contract. I think that Koffie was absolutely vital for the Revs last year when he was healthy and playing at the base of the diamond when they switched to a 4-4-2, and that would be enough reason for me to re-sign him if I was calling the shots. Perhaps they feel that last year's DP signing Xavier Kouassi (who missed all of 2016 with an injury) can fill that role, but Koffie was REALLY good there for a while, and the rest of the team fell into place around him pretty easily.
One other thing to watch: Juan Agudelo was awesome as a No. 9 when healthy last season, and as long as Kei Kamara's there as well Agudelo's going to be playing in another spot. I think this makes Kamara one of the more tradeable players in the league, and could see that as a way of landing a quality center back.
Agudelo's versatile enough to play as a second forward, on the wing or even as a creative midfielder, but he was devastating as a center forward down the stretch. That should be his role.
JANUARY 1 UPDATE: Nada. They've got to go out and get some center backs in the next 10 days or Revs fans will riot.
I do kind of wonder if they'll try to trade up into the top five of the draft and aim to take either Miles Robinson of Syracuse (Boston-born US U-20, and he'll almost certainly be part of the GA class) or Brandon Aubry of Notre Dame (the top senior center back, and most MLS-ready).
JANUARY 18 UPDATE: Koffie's gone, which bums me out. Still, they've got Kouassi and, in second-round pick Napo Matsoso, a guy who I think projects as a ball-winning terrier in central midfield.
Let's un-bury the lede, though: The Revs still have zero real center backs, and I assume there's panic on the streets of Foxborough. New England's braintrust did try to trade up to the No. 2 spot and get Robinson, but whatever they were dangling didn't entice Atlanta enough to move the pick.
So here they are, less than a week until preseason opens, and the backline is in worse shape than what they left it at in October. Taylor Twellman reports that there are serious talks to bring in two TAM-level CBs, and I don't doubt him. I think many, however, doubt New England's ability to get the signings done at this point.
And regardless, you need more than two CBs to get through the season.
The Revs are fine elsewhere, and first round SuperDraft pick Brian Wright may really, truly turn Kamara into a trade chip in order to bring back a CB from within the league (Wright projects as a just fine back-up No. 9). But the clock is ticking and Revs fans are, um, beginning to insist:
JANUARY 30 UPDATE: They've arrived! The Revs signed a pair of TAM-level center backs in Antonio Mlinar Delamea (a 25-year-old Slovenian international) and Benjamin Angoua (a 30-year-old Cote d'Ivoire international). That brings them up to a total of three center backs on the roster, which will jump to a totally acceptable "four" if they sign SuperDraft pick Joshua Smith out of the University of San Francisco.
Revs fans should be relieved and, pending preseason form, "happy." This team is still thin and unproven in a crucial place, but both Delamea and Angoua are the types of guys the fanbase has been dying for since December of 2014, while Smith has the profile of a late-round steal (he got a cup of coffee with the US U-17s years ago, and spent his youth training in Germany for Karlsruher SC).
Is it enough to patch up last year's leaky ship? I'll remain skeptical, but no one can say the front office didn't really, really try to get it right.
FEBRUARY 13 UPDATE: No new signings for the Revs, but some good news: Smith has continued to impress at center back, and it seems a fair bet New England will sign him. They might also sign French trialist Jeremy Sabaly, which would give this team honest-to-goodness center back depth.
It's a brave new world in Foxborough.
A few other things to keep an eye on for the moment:
- Kouassi is back in small-sided drills, but isn't playing full games just yet
- Cody Cropper seems to have a leg up in the race to be the starting 'keeper
- Kamara can't stop scoring (goals in three straight games)
- The Revs are playing a 4-4-2 diamond, not the 4-2-3-1 of years past
- Agudelo had minor facial surgery after the Jamaica game
All of the above is interesting to me, for good and for bad. I wish the Revs had kept Koffie, but I think they'll be a better team this year regardless.
FEBRUARY 24 UPDATE: It's a diamond with Kamara and Nguyen up top, and Agudelo as an unconventional No. 10 playing just beneath them or sometimes ahead of them. This will be fascinating.
The defense so far has looked less fascinating, but in a good way. Delamea has been solid, Angoua was fine in his debut, and Smith – who hasn't been signed yet, but still – continues to put in good performances (including a delightful little shoving match with notorious agitator Dom Dwyer in New England's 6-2 win over Sporting this past week).
The Revs still don't have the same kind of depth in spots along the backline or d-mid as the East's best, but their starting XI should be significantly improved over last season.
One other note: They brought Femi Hollinger-Janzen back from Minnesota in exchange for former starting 'keeper Bobby Shuttleworth. Femi had a useful rookie season, and his reacquisition probably officially makes Teal Bunbury a trade chip.
Bunbury has never really come close to living up to his early promise, but there's still probably a market for the 26-year-old attacker.
Orlando City SC
The Offseason So Far: As of now they have four goalkeepers and only two fullbacks, along with three guys I'd consider to be primarily D-mids. Safe to say that things are still under construction in central Florida.
I'm honestly not sure who's on the trading block, who could be sold, and who the core of the team actually is. One DP – Kaká – has said he's in his last year in Orlando, another – Bryan Rochez – has been on loan for the last six months, and the two other guys who came into the league as DPs are back-ups. So are their two TAM guys in Brek Shea and Antonio Nocerino.
It does look like they're about to sign Will Johnson and Gregory Certic, which would probably give a bit more of a defensive identity to the spine of this team. But as of now I have no idea what OCSC will look like when training camp opens next month.
JANUARY 1 UPDATE: The Johnson signing is official, which means they now have 1,000,000 central midfielders. I bet the smarter teams in the league are calling to ask about Cristian Higuita's availability, and I also bet that if the OCSC brass could hop into a time machine and undo the Nocerino signing, they'd do it.
JANUARY 18 UPDATE: The Certic thing didn't come to pass, and given that they've been unable to unload either Nocerino or center back David Mateos, their salary cap situation remains pretty tight. They were able to sign left back "PC" (yup, he's Brazilian) for free from Fort Lauderdale, but that's been it since the new year.
Right now they've got 27 of 28 roster spots spoken for and not much they can do in terms of adding significant new pieces unless something falls into their laps, or unless they're willing to move Kevin Molino. Minnesota United have already made serious inquiries, and I doubt those will stop just because OCSC have said "no" the first few times. Perhaps last year's first-round draft pick, Richie Laryea, breaks out in preseason and thus makes Molino expendable? That's a best-case scenario situation for the Purple Lions.
Of note: Two of the more promising USYNT attackers, Pierre da Silva and Joe Gallardo, are in OCSC's youth set-up. Don't be shocked if one or both sign with the full MLS team this year.
JANUARY 30 UPDATE: It turns out they were indeed willing to move Molino, and got a king's ransom ($650K in allocation money) for the 26-year-old attacker. It had to have been painful to part with a guy who put up 11g/8a last year and was, at times, pretty clearly better than Kaká.
But OCSC's roster was such a mess that they had to give up value in order to get value, and Molino was their best trade chip. Signing Da Silva (as they did last week) can, perhaps, make up for some of the productivity shortfall they'll suffer, and this also doubles as Shea's last, best chance of even partially living up to the potential he showed waaaaay back in 2011. Or maybe heretofore little-used DP Carlos Rivas will get the job on the left wing, or even as a second striker if the Purple Lions shift to the 4-3-1-2 their personnel sort of suggests should be their go-to formation? Rivas had 3g/4a in 800 minutes last season, which isn't at all a bad ROI.
Even so there are a lot of questions about this team, still. One fewer than before, though, as Jonathan Spector was signed specifically to play as a center back, presumably alongside Jose Aja. On paper that's a pretty solid combo, though I do wonder what'll happen to them when asked to defend in the air.
Expect this roster to evolve a ton over the course of the season, even if it stays largely steady through the next month.
FEBRUARY 13 UPDATE: No movement, which is much to the chagrin of the powers that be in Orlando. Jason Kreis has straight-up said that Rochez, Mateos and Devron Garcia have no future at the club, and word is that OCSC have put in a ton of legwork trying to get new addresses for all three guys, but for one reason or another all three have been unmovable.
It's not an unprecedented situation in sports (just think about how Jose Mourinho humiliated the great Bastian Schweinsteiger earlier this year, right?), but it's devastating in a salary-capped league.
Right now Orlando City are heading into a fight with one hand tied behind their backs. That'll continue to be the case until and unless a solution is found for those three guys in particular, and a few of the other redundant parts scattered elsewhere throughout the roster.
FEBRUARY 24 UPDATE: No movement roster-wise. The good news, though, is that Kreis has shifted toward the 4-3-1-2 with Rivas partnering Larin up top. I am excited for this duo. Lions fans should be, too.
That said, let's not call it a 4-4-2 diamond just yet. In the RSL diamond of yore there were some pretty serious positional rotations that were learned over literally years, while in a 4-3-1-2 it's much more of "these three deep-lying midfielders will support the one genius who feeds the two forwards."
I'm sure it will evolve as the season goes along.
The Offseason So Far: They probably shored up their weak spot at right back by trading for Sheanon Williams. Williams hasn't developed into the All-Star that many projected him to be, but he's a solid contributor at that spot on both sides of the ball and won't get lit up like the since departed Fraser Aird and Jordan Smith.
But yeah, the song remains the same for the 'Caps: Who will score the goals? There's no new No. 9 yet, and now there's no No. 10 either, since Pedro Morales departed.
Of those two holes I'd expect the No. 10 spot is the more likely to get plugged with a DP signing unless Homegrown playmakers Marco Bustos or Kianz Froese really show out in training camp, while Masato Kudo is given a real chance to win the starting job at center forward (though I could easily see the 'Caps packaging a couple of their surplus center backs or midfielders to the Revs in exchange for Kamara, who'd fit their needs quite well).
I'm not sure where rumored targets Scott Arfield, Luis Gil or Juninho would fit. None of those guys is a true No. 10, and all seem like extra weight at spots where the 'Caps are already solid.
JANUARY 1 UPDATE: They consciously uncoupled from Kudo, who's headed back to Japan, and they've also been linked to a pair of South American No. 9s with varying track records. Cristian Menendez is certainly the more attractive target of the pair.
Whether it's him or someone else they're going to sign a forward – they have to, right? Worth noting that Sigthorsson makes almost as much sense for the 'Caps as he does for Philly, so perhaps they're one of the other teams that are sniffing around. He'd almost certainly walk right into their starting lineup.
JANUARY 18 UPDATE: Nada, save for taking Jakob Nerwinski with the 7th pick of the SuperDraft. Nerwinski is a superb athlete who is a better soccer player than given credit for, and will serve as an able back-up at right back to Williams. Last year's sore spot is no longer sore.
There has been no movement elsewhere, and 'Caps fans are almost as agitated as Revs fans. Perhaps the plan is to start one of Bustos or Christian Bolaños as the No. 10 and try to make a go of it, with a rotation of Erik Hurtado/Kyle Greig/Giles Barnes as the center forward? That seems unlikely to work.
Whatever the case, Vancouver will have to get at least a little bit creative, since signing Nerwinski means they're at 28/28 roster-wise, and not signing him means they blew it on the 7th pick in the draft. Guys like Russell Teibert, Christian Dean and Cristian Techera all have trade value in the league, so there are options -- though personally I'd love to see Teibert get a prolonged run as a No. 8 next to Matias Laba.
JANUARY 30 UPDATE: Peruvian international attacker Yordy Reyna is, in a lot of ways, the type of player MLS teams should target: He's young (23), he's proven at a decent level, and he was signed using TAM. This is, by almost any measure, a quality acquisition from the 'Caps.
It's also a little bit of a confusing one, because Reyna is best used either as a second forward or a winger, which are two spots Vancouver had mostly covered even before his signing. Two other spots – center forward and attacking central midfield – are still open questions.
Barnes's future is also in question, as there has been noise about him reuniting with Owen Coyle in England at Blackburn Rovers. Barnes has had his moments in the league, but it's hard to imagine Vancouver's front office wouldn't be thrilled to move him along and then take advantage of the subsequent cap flexibility that would come with his departure.
I'm one of the few people left out here on Hurtado Island, but even if he comes good I can admit the 'Caps still have much to address.
FEBRUARY 13 UPDATE: Barnes isn't going anywhere it seems, and is likely to spend 2017 as a very expensive backup. That hamstrings Vancouver's ability to do too much wheeling-and-dealing, but they still have enough room to get former Sounder Fredy Montero. That should cheer 'Caps fans a little bit, right?
Now, Montero's not a perfect fit – the 'Caps still need a true target forward, I think. But he can produce in this league, he's still under 30, and he has no trouble playing on turf. For a team that's been stuck in neutral since October, getting him is a good move.
There are also whispers about Canadian international central midfielder Atiba Hutchinson, but at 34 and with nearly 600 pro games on his legs, it'd be hard to justify that move.
It really does feel like it's time for Vancouver to trust the Homegrowns, a la RBNY, Dallas and RSL.
FEBRUARY 24 UPDATE: Vancouver opened their season with a good result, snagging a 1-1 draw at Red Bull Arena in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals. They played a 4-2-3-1 with a very deep line and an obvious "safety first" mentality at the back, and "counterattack every time" ethos up top.
It worked pretty well, even without Montero (who was signed last week and will be available in the second leg).
Reyna, however, was not available and won't be until summer after suffering a broken foot last week. That's forced Kekuta Manneh into what I hope will be temporary duty as a No. 10. He's devastating on the wing when played there, but lacks the vision necessary to be an elite central playmaker or second forward.
San Jose Earthquakes
The Offseason So Far: They declined 12 options and signed one Homegrown player. Things are off to a slow start.
Happily for Quakes fans, that one Homegrown is a potential starter. Right back Nick Lima reminds me a lot of Tony Beltran, and it wouldn't shock me at all if he's on the field from First Kick onwards.
There are myriad and sundry questions elsewhere, however. As of now the only center backs on the roster are both over 30, and the only target forward is hurt, and there are four box-to-box midfielders but no playmaker, and of the five true attacking players on the roster, four are 29 or older (and the other is Olmes Garcia). If they re-sign Tommy Thompson that should help some, but the 21-year-old has played 47 career games without logging either a goal or an assist.
Reinforcements are clearly needed in both central defense and all over the attack. I think priority No. 1 needs to be a bigtime target forward who can both carve out room for Chris Wondolowski and make something of all those crosses the Quakes love to bend in.
The fact that they still don't officially have a GM leads me to believe, though, that things will continue to move slowly in San Jose.
JANUARY 1 UPDATE: The same report that linked the 'Caps to Menendez also mentioned the Quakes, and he'd be as good a fit in California as he'd be in British Columbia.
Other than that, nothing. Not even a GM.
JANUARY 18 UPDATE: They got a GM! And they got a starting center back in Harold Cummings, and then they picked a guy who I think is the best central midfielder to come through the draft since at least Dillon Powers. Jackson Yueill is really, really good, and reminds me a ton of another former Dom Kinnear player – one Stu Holden.
Yueill has that same ability to link play, put his attackers into great spots, and tireless workrate. He's the most creative passer in the mix at central midfield for the Quakes, and I hope the 19-year-old gets a chance to prove it this year. He could bring a bit of nuance to a team that spent most of the last four or five years resolutely trying to pound down the castle wall with their fists.
Center forward is more of an issue. None of those reports about incoming No. 9s seemed to have any real validity, and it's impossible to miss the lack of depth at that spot. Another rumored attacking target -- Darwin Quintero -- is busy scoring golazos for Club America, and he's not remotely a center forward anyway.
So the Quakes had a good two weeks. But man, is there still a bunch of work left to do.
JANUARY 30 UPDATE: Things changed last week when new GM Jesse Fioranelli said the team wouldn't be signing any DPs until summer. That means no Quintero, at the very least (and given Quintero's rumored locker room dramatics, maybe that's a good thing?).
So in the interim they're making do by tweaking last year's rosters around the edges, as well as a little bit of bargain hunting. Costa Rican international center forward Marcos Urena can probably be counted on as part of the answer, but his goalscoring record as a pro is underwhelming. It's hard to imagine him being the answer inside the 18 that this team so desperately needs.
Fioranelli did say that there will be a few young, attacking additions in the coming week. Former Dutch youth international center forward Danny Hoesen could be one, and if he stays healthy the 26-year-old would be a snug fit. That's always been a huge "if" with him, however.
Things aren't going to be easy for San Jose this year.
EDIT: And add another to the central midfield mix? Florian Jungwirth, a 28-year-old Bundesliga veteran and former German youth international, is on his way from Darmstadt. He will be the seventh man in the rotation there, so it's safe to say there will be at least a couple of moves made.
FEBRUARY 13 UPDATE: Jungwirth came in and immediately slotted in central defense for the Quakes. He's been a good fit there – he's more comfortable on the ball than the vast majority of MLS defenders, and he reads the game like the Bundesliga veteran he is. He'll be an upgrade, but I'd worry about him getting brute forced into submission by guys like Fanendo Adi or Dom Dwyer. Jungwirth isn't a weakling, but there's a reason he spent most of his career in either central midfield or fullback.
Speaking of fullback, Lima has been wonderful this preseason and could very well be an opening day starter. Yueill could also be a Day 1 starter, but the addition of Albanian international Jahmir Hyka means there's one less spot up for grabs in midfield. Hyka, a 28-year-old who's played in Germany, Greece and Switzerland, is expected to give something close to the creative boost this team needs.
More than anything, though, they need goals from a center forward, and it'll be Hoesen's job to provide. He, Jungwirth and Hyka were all signed within a 24-hour span that'll make or break San Jose's season.
FEBRUARY 24 UPDATE: I still don't know who's going to start for this team. I do know that Hyka arrived and has impressed, and that Thompson continues to make a very strong case:
It's usually smart to bet on a team of veterans in a 4-4-2 with Kinnear pulling the strings, but Thompson, Yueill and Lima all continue to get big minutes.
Columbus Crew SC
The Offseason So Far: They traded their captain, lost the rock they were supposed to build their central defense around for the year, declined the option on their starting 'keeper and re-signed their DP playmaker despite a pretty obvious decline in both health and productivity. It's been a weird month for Columbus.
The only two additions thus far have been veteran defender Josh Williams and Homegrown center back Alex Crognale, and given the rest of the roster's make-up I think we'll see a few more additions to the backline, specifically back-up fullbacks.
No need to panic as of yet, tho, since this team seems to make its best signings once preseason is already underway:
That No. 5 spot in the SuperDraft should be useful, by the way.
JANUARY 1 UPDATE: They got Williams, they got Crognale, and now it looks like another center back is on the way in the form of Ghanaian World Cup veteran Jonathan Mensah, who will reportedly take up a DP slot.
Given those signings there aren't a ton of holes left in this roster, even with Gaston Sauro out for the year. Expect a third goalkeeper to come in at some point, but right now my money is on Zack Steffen wearing the No. 1 kit in 2017.
They could also be on the path to finding their successor to Federico Higuain as the team's primary playmaker:
Getting word US's Junior Flores agreed to 3-year MLS deal. Leaving @BVB 2. Unclear if he'll arrive soon or summer. Club tbd. Crew top option— Steven Goff (@SoccerInsider) January 2, 2017
I was surprised when they brought Pipa back for one more year on a DP contract, but if a Flores signing is in the offing then it makes sense. Keep the incumbent there for one more year while the kid adjusts, and then one way or another be ready to transition from one generation to the other next winter.
For what it's worth, I'm betting on Columbus to bounce back in a huge way this season, and expect them to contend at the top of the East.
JANUARY 18 UPDATE: For one reason or another the Junior Flores deal fell through, and that means there's still not really a true back-up for Pipa. Justin Meram can definitely slide inside and moonlight as a No. 10, and then one of their other wingers (including SuperDraft pick Niko Hansen) can take Meram's slot on the left wing if that's what needs to happen. There is some flexibility for sure, as well as overlapping skillsets to one extent or another. This isn't ideal, but it's far from a crisis.
Central defense was a crisis last year, and they've done serious work to address it in the offseason. In addition to Crognale and Williams, they finalized the deal for Mensah and then took another Ghanaian center back, Lalas Abubakar, with the fifth pick in the SuperDraft. Columbus will be younger and much more athletic at a spot that killed them in 2016.
Other than a third-string 'keeper, I can't imagine there are any other moves in the offing.
JANUARY 30 UPDATE: I was wrong! Mohammed Abu is a 25-year-old Ghanaian international who was one of the best d-mids in Scandinavia over the last couple of years, and now both Wil Trapp and Tony Tchani are officially on notice.
Columbus are pretty loaded. Gregg Berhalter has given this core group one more year to win a title, and you've got to think that if it doesn't happen in 2017, there will be a significant roster tear-down and rebuild next winter, as well as the beginning of a new era at Mapfre Stadium.
Also, according to Yelp there are two Ghanaian restaurants in Columbus. I feel like this is useful information for this year's Crew SC roster.
FEBRUARY 13 UPDATE: Is it time to sell my Trapp stock? Columbus signed two more defensive midfielders – youngsters Abuchi Obinwa and Artur – and they're now up to eight guys on the roster who can play that spot.
I still think Crew SC will look very much like one of the five best teams in the league this year, but Berhalter is pretty clearly taking no chances. If this group is soft through the middle the way last year's group was, he will make adjustments as necessary.
FEBRUARY 24 UPDATE: It seems like Trapp stock may be worth holding onto, while Tchani stock has taken a hit. It also looks like newcomer Jukka Raitala has won the left back job ahead of incumbent Waylon Francis, while Crognale's strong play has him in the mix for a starting role. Steffen, meanwhile, probably has the inside track on that No. 1 shirt.
MLS teams have a ridiculous amount of depth compared to just a couple of years ago. I think Crew SC have spent wisely this offseason, and will bounce back in a big way in 2017.
The Offseason So Far: A new coach, another DP striker and a bunch of guys who had their option declined.
As of now, Houston have four three guys whose best spot is center forward: Newly arrived Honduran international Alberth Elis; last year's late-season revelation, Mauro Manotas; enigmatic Mexican international Erick "Cubo" Torres; and veteran Will Bruin. (UPDATE: Bruin is headed to Seattle for GAM and TAM.--Ed.)
The first three are all DPs, and the fourth has scored 50 goals in six MLS seasons. Expect trades, folks.
And the Dynamo will need to make those trades count since they're rebuilding almost the entire backline and midfield while hoping, I guess, that Rico Clark continues to win his battle against Father Time. Given that Clark turns 34 in eight weeks, I'm not sure that's a great bet.
This roster will continue to be overhauled over the next six weeks at minimum, but in reality I'd expect it's a project that lasts the duration of 2017.
JANUARY 1 UPDATE: Well, they reduced their glut of center forwards by one when they shipped Bruin out, but they weren't lucky enough to have Cruz Azul purchase Torres outright after an injury-plagued and otherwise disappointing autumn loan.
They also brought in Romell Quioto, a Honduran international who can play on either wing, Colombian d-mid Juan David Cabezas and center backs Adolfo Machado of Panama and Leonardo, the Brazilian MLS vet who's spent the last half-decade with the LA Galaxy.
This is a full-on roster rebuild, or just about. But they're hamstrung for as long as they have those three DPs all taking up the same spots, so there's really not much else they can do at the moment unless they get super creative with their TAM and try to find a Luciano Acosta-type No. 10 on loan.
JANUARY 18 UPDATE: Houston got busy pillaging the Galaxy just after the new year. First they picked up Leonardo, and then they traded $125K of GAM and $50K of TAM for A.J. DeLaGarza. That's about 300 games of MLS experience, including three MLS Cup titles apiece. And both are under 30 years old.
I still have questions about the backline. Does DeLaGarza play at right back or in central defense? Is Leonardo a back-up, and which Machado will show up -- the foul-prone liability, or the lock-down, locked-in leader? Where does Agus fit in?
It's all kind of a mystery, and that's before we talk about the possibility of them re-signing DaMarcus Beasley. If the price is right for DMB, they should, but they also have to be careful about managing minutes.
I can't decide if they were clever or fooling on draft day when they passed up Yueill at No. 4 and instead traded down to No. 10 -- picking up $100K of GAM and an international roster spot for one year from Portland. At 10 they grabbed Englishman Joe Holland from Hofstra. He was very good both in college and at the Combine, but he turns 24 in three months and best be ready to contribute right away.
Whatever happens, the Dynamo are very clearly a different team than the one that struggled so mightily over the last few years.
JANUARY 30 UPDATE: Houston still have seven roster slots open, though one will surely go to Holland and another, I think, to Beasley. Keeping a veteran presence like DMB in the locker room is, I suspect, essential in order to give Cabrera the structure he needs to build a functional team in Year 1, though money can often be a tricky issue with veterans.
Trickier still is how to build an attacking team like this, one whose frontline is A) dependent upon service from a midfield that B) lacks a true playmaker.
Things can still happen – trades can be made, and the window stays open until mid-May. Dynamo fans will probably have to bear that in mind for a little while longer.
FEBRUARY 13 UPDATE: They re-signed Beasley, which they needed to do. Now they need to figure out how to get some sort of creativity out of midfield, because this is a team that very clearly lacks a No. 10.
Best hope right now may be to copy what Montreal did in last year's playoffs. They'll sit deep and compact, then try to break with narrow speed on the wings. It won't be pretty and they don't have their own version of Ignacio Piatti, but it's probably the best bet for a roster of mismatched parts even if I'm less than confident about that backline's ability to hold the fort.
One happy note for Dynamo fans? Cubo has been scoring for fun in preseason. Remember that the only coach he's ever produced for is Wilmer Cabrera, so perhaps the good times are back again? I feel like if you can poach 15 goals for Chivas RIP you can poach at least a dozen for the Dynamo.
FEBRUARY 24 UPDATE: Nothing new. Houston are definitely coming out in a compact 4-3-3 and trying to physical teams off the ball in midfield, then get out on the run. There will be no poems written about this squad.
There are, however, a few potentially useful trade chips – Manotas and Andrew Wenger in particular. I suspect this team will be more active in the trade market than in the transfer market for the short term, and if they can move enough cap space around they'll swing for the fences on a midfield playmaker come July.
The Offseason So Far: Chicago made a splash this week in beating out a number of European teams for Nemanja Nikolic's signature, which is, in theory, a nice get for a team that struggled to put the ball in the net last season. Between Nikolic, Michael De Leeuw and David Accam, there is the potential for this team to get some goals.
The problem is getting the ball to those guys in the first place. Chicago still lack a pure playmaker in midfield, and neither of the guys they've been linked to – Andres Guardado and Bastian Schweinsteiger – is really that. Both are great, and would be huge upgrades at least in the short run, but I'm of the opinion that they need a chance creator first and foremost.
They will have the possibility of using the third pick in the upcoming SuperDraft on a No. 10 (most likely Jackson Yueill of UCLA and the US U-20s), but it's hard to see Veljko Paunovic giving a domestic kid the keys to this particular car. I think, one way or another, they'll make a splashy midfield signing.
I also think, one way or another, that they need more than a single goalkeeper, which is all they've got at the moment. That can be easily remedied, though it's worth noting that Chicagoans are uneasy at the prospect of Matt Lampson as the long-term No. 1.
Here's some good news for Fire fans, though: Their defense is young and promising, and if they can add Homegrowns Mauricio Pineda and/or Grant Lillard, it will be even younger and more promising.
Chicago secretly have a really good academy and Homegrown program. Now the folks in charge have to trust it enough to use it.
JANUARY 1 UPDATE: A couple of rumors but nothing concrete since the signing of Nikolic. Veteran Uruguayan goalkeeper Jorge Bava would be an interesting signing given the depth of the domestic 'keeper pool, but that's the latest rumor.
The other thing of note: After seeming ready to give Schweinsteiger away for free earlier in the year, Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho is now talking about getting a transfer fee for the German legend.
I'm certain that will require some sort of readjustment in Chicago's thinking.
Also, Ives Galarcep reported that Lillard is the closest of the Fire's potential Homegrowns to signing.
EDIT: And as pointed out in the comments section below, I also entirely failed to mention the signing of Juninho from Tijuana. This is an unvarnished good thing for the Fire, though I'm not sure it frees them from the need to sign a higher profile central midfielder as well.
JANUARY 18 UPDATE: I'm gonna link that Dax column again since it gets into what I think the Fire will do with their newfound central midfield depth and free DP slot. Short version: They've now got every reason to skip out on the Schweinsteigers of the world and instead focus on getting a true enganche who can create chances for Nikolic, De Leeuw and Accam.
I think they'll make that move. I also think they'll sign a Homegrown midfielder, and first-round pick Daniel Johnson (a winger who tore up the Combine), and second-round picks Stefan Cleveland and Guillermo Delgado.
That leaves Chicago needing to address needs on the backline – perhaps just depth, or perhaps another high-level starter. They are sitting on more than $2 million in combined GAM and TAM, so here's an artist's rendering of Nelson Rodriguez considering his options:
I'm not yet convinced the Fire are going to be good next year, but they'll certainly be better.
JANUARY 30 UPDATE: The Fire signed a couple of their draft picks (Johnson and Cleveland), and added Homegrown central midfielder Djordje Mihailovic. So now the roster is both better than last year, and younger.
I'm still waiting for the next move, though. The backline remains thin, right back is an open question and there's no real No. 10. Yet.
FEBRUARY 13 UPDATE: No new moves, but one new look as De Leeuw is being tried as something of a No. 10 in preseason. He won't get on the ball a ton and dominate the geometry of the game in the way of a Benny Feilhaber, but rather he'll be asked for clever movement and passing in the final third a la Gio Dos Santos.
I see this as something halfway between a 4-2-3-1 and a 4-4-2, and I suspect De Leeuw will get until April to make it work. If it's not clicking by then, Chicago will pull the trigger on an enganche near the end of the transfer window, which closes on May 11.
FEBRUARY 24 UPDATE: Nothing's changed in the last two weeks, and right now the attack looks pretty good. There are huge concerns in the fanbase about right back, though, and it's not unreasonable to wonder if a move is coming.
I'll repeat my update from mid-January: I'm not yet convinced the Fire are going to be good, but I'm certain they'll be better.
The Offseason So Far: By miles the more aggressive of the two expansion teams, Atlanta have already managed to pip Arsenal for one prized signing, then had their hearts broken when Shanghai SIPG swooped in with a fistful of yuan for another prized signing.
They've inked Homegrown kids, free agents, young DPs and returning US national teamers, including the acquisition of Club Tijuana defender Greg Garza on a season-long loan. Nobody's been more active on the trade market.
It's all left them with a roster packed with forwards, wingers and central midfielders, but I'm not sure I see a true No. 10 or a true No. 6 on the team. I also see only four defenders, only one of whom was a starter last season.
There are, I think, two more big singings to come for Atlanta. One will be a TAM center back and the other a DP playmaker. Beyond that, I think they'll use the No. 2 pick in the SuperDraft on US U-20 CB Miles Robinson, pick up a few veterans to provide depth up the spine, and get creative with bringing in South American players in on loan for both fullback spots.
JANUARY 1 UPDATE: Nothing's changed in the past 10 days for Atlanta. I expect a lot to change in the next 10 days.
JANUARY 18 UPDATE: It took a little longer than 10 days, but things definitely changed for Atlanta.
First they brought in Argentine attacker Yamil Asad on loan from Velez Sarsfield, and where exactly he slots in I'm not certain. He could end up on one wing while Miguel Almiron ends up as the string-puller in central midfield, or those roles will be reversed.
Then the picked up two guys in the draft who I think will be major contributors in Robinson and Julian Gressel, a German who can play pretty much anywhere in attack. Gressel may end up being a trade chip if he plays well enough, but we'll have to wait and see with that.
Robinson will, at this point, be penciled in as a starter because as loaded as Atlanta are in attack, they're threadbare in central defense. Whether Robinson is a starter or not they need to add at least two more guys to the mix, and at least one probably has to be TAM-level.
Speaking of: There remains a chance that Brad Guzan will be joining the team before the window closes, and on a free transfer to boot, if Middlesbrough can find an adequate back-up for Victor Valdes. If that move doesn't happen in January it'll happen in July, and Guzan would come in as a TAM player.
Which – yup – means that even with all this wheeling and dealing, Atlanta are still likely to have a DP slot open to make one more big splash. Looking at their roster I'd say they need it at d-mid, and looking at last year's MLS Cup, and last year's Supporters' Shield winner, I'd say there's a pretty good argument that spending a DP slot at d-mid isn't a stupid idea.
JANUARY 30 UPDATE: Atlanta were busy once again. First things first: They signed center back Leandro Gonzalez Pirez from Estudiantes, picked up 19-year-old English d-mid/defender Anton Walkes on loan from Tottenham, and acquired Tyrone Mears's rights from Seattle, then signed him.
This was some pretty crucial stuff rom AUFC (do we call them that????), whose roster is now closer to "complete." There's no real gaps of note, and now Darren Eales is having fun teasing his own fans:
Atlanta United’s President is the best troll in MLS https://t.co/1odCHFbPnu— Dirty South Soccer (@DirtySouthSoc) January 30, 2017
The reference is to reports linking Venezuelan national team striker Josef Martinez to Atlanta. That'd be the third DP slot if it happens, and it might – might! – mean we actually see more of this team in a 3-4-3 than in a 4-3-3. Which would be interesting.
FEBRUARY 13 UPDATE: They got Martinez, which means all of their DP slots are now spoken for. Even better is that they got Chilean international d-mid Carlos Carmona, who will be expected to tie the whole thing together and strengthen the spine of the team. It all looked very nice in a 4-0 win over Chattanooga over the weekend, and that performance was capped by 16-year-old Homegrown wunderkind Andrew Carleton bagging a goal and an assist.
Atlanta fans are excited, and they're right to be. I'm going to drop this warning RIGHT HERE, though.
FEBRUARY 24 UPDATE: Atlanta have looked juggernaut-ish in attack so far in the preseason, though most of that has come against B/C teams or lower-level squads. Still, Almiron and Martinez in particular have been devastating and given their pedigrees it's not exactly surprising to see them put up numbers.
Two things that may be surprising:
- Kenwyne Jones might not start. The attacking movement with Martinez as the center forward, Villalba and Asad on the wings and Almiron as the No. 10 has been spectacular.
- Gressel might start in central midfield. He's smart, skilled, quick and ego-less in his movement.
I'm not betting any money on either of those things coming to pass, but it's worth tracking.
The defense is also worth tracking. It hasn't been great.
Minnesota United FC
The Offseason So Far: The ball started rolling slowly, but with purpose, as the Loons filled out their spine. It looks like it'll be Joe Greenspan and Francisco Calvo in central defense, with Collen Warner at D-mid, Mohammed Saeid as the No. 8 and Johan Venegas in the free role as a No. 10. Add in probable No. 1 SuperDraft pick Jeremy Ebobisse as the No. 9 (Christian Ramirez will be in the mix there as well), and Miguel Ibarra probably on one wing, and that's a core to build around. I actually think they're better balanced than Atlanta, though Atlanta have a pretty obvious advantage in raw talent.
Thing is, though, that MNUFC's got to build fast, and all over the field. This team should be scouring the waiver wire and the free agent market, and thus far they've been a little bit slow in both spots. There's talent – not game-breaking talent, but experienced MLS depth – to be had out there, and that kind of occupational knowledge is something expansion teams generally lack for the obvious reasons. Roster spots 15-28 matter.
Expect this team to be the league's busiest over the next six weeks.
JANUARY 1 UPDATE: The Calvo signing was completed. There are some dubious links to another Costa Rican in attacker Daniel Colindres, but nothing concrete.
This team is still very much a blank slate, but once the ball gets rolling I'm sure the signings will start coming in bunches.
JANUARY 18 UPDATE: No longer a blank slate but the roster is only about half-filled, depending upon what you're hearing about Warner's European aspirations and Rasmus Schuller's impending arrival. My money is on both those guys being Loons by the time camp opens.
And so between those guys, and perhaps signing one or both of their later draft picks, MNUFC's midfield looks just about set. I'd call it more "solid and balanced" than "game-breaking," but that's really, really okay for an expansion team. The important thing is to get the structure right first, and then add the difference-makers when opportunities present.
The braintrust decided that's exactly what happened at the SuperDraft, where they passed on Ebobisse in favor of Generation adidas forward Abu Danladi. I say "forward" instead of the more generic "attacker" because I've been told United very much believe that Danladi is a No. 9 and not a winger. How that ends up working with Ramirez already in the mix remains to be seen, and we probably shouldn't rule out a 4-4-2 even if it's never been a formation Adrian Heath has been all that fond of.
At the moment there are zero goalkeepers on the roster, though I'm sure that'll change once they sign draft pick Alec Ferrell and his spectacular mustache. I'm also sure they'll find two veterans, one of whom will be the presumed starter entering the year.
There should, perhaps, be a few cold sweats about fullback depth. Corey Ashe is still out there as a free agent, and I don't believe his race is completely run. Right back is a bit more tricky, and there needs to be a fourth and fifth central defender added sooner or later.
There also need to be a couple more wingers. They're trying hard to get Molino for one, and that'd be a coup if they could pry him away (maybe at the expense of taking on one of OCSC's more distasteful contracts elsewhere). Barring that they'll have to get inventive either on the trade market, or spendy on the transfer wire in a way that seems to be against the club ethos. Right now they're one of two teams -- D.C. United are the other -- without a single DP on the roster, and I don't think anybody should be too shocked if that doesn't change.
JANUARY 30 UPDATE: Since we last updated, Minnesota have added eight players (nine if you count persuading Warner to stay in MLS rather than testing out Europe), and I think four of them are starters:
- Warner (DM)
- Schuller (DM)
- John Alvbage (GK)
- Molino (attacking mid)
It appears the team will run through the Warner/Schuller/Molino central midfield, with a three-man frontline doing work ahead of them. I see balance and speed and a good bit of CONCACAF knowhow in that front six.
I see real question marks at the back, though. Thirty-two-year-old Jermaine Taylor, who's had a nightmare couple of years, is the only "proven" MLS-caliber defender, there's a lack of depth at fullback, and there's also a perceived, at least, lack of athleticism.
I think MNUFC will score. I'd worry, though, that they'll have to score A LOT in order to be competitive. Heath's last expansion team managed it, and he'll have to pull off that trick once again in 2017.
FEBRUARY 13 UPDATE: Since last time the only official addition has been Danish attacker Bashkim Kadrii, and he immediately found some chemistry with Johan Venegas:
Josh Gatt is on his way as well. And now this team is about seven deep on the wing, but still has real questions at both fullback slots. And there's an interesting logjam brewing at center forward, since Heath has preferred to use both Venegas and Danladi there, and Ramirez hasn't stood out, and so on and so forth. The usual expansion team issues with "who goes where when?" are all present, as we should expect.
The difference, though, is that this team has generally looked very good through central midfield and central defense. Warner, Schuller and former US U-20 Collin Martin all showed well in the preseason tournament in Portland, while Calvo and Vadim Demidov were promising in central defense. They all made a concerted effort to keep the ball, and it worked pretty damn well given these guys probably don't even know each other's names yet.
So there's hope for this team even if there are question marks in a few crucial places. Lots of hard work to come, though.
For all the talk of MNUFC building on the cheap, they could pretty easily field a squad comprising 11 guys who've represented their country on either the full or youth national team levels (Gatt is the former, Thiesson the latter) and have a few more off the bench to spare.
They won't do that, of course – Warner looks like he's won the job at d-mid, and Justin Davis at left back, and for now I think it's Ramirez at center forward. That means they'll be bringing a half-dozen internationals of one vintage or another off the bench.
This doesn't make them appreciably different from most MLS teams, but that's kind of the point, right? MNUFC don't feel like a paper-thin expansion team just trying to make it work with cast-offs.
Don't sleep on the Loons.