Armchair Analyst: Grading all 22 teams for the summer transfer window

ExtraTime Radio Podcast

LISTEN: Who won a pleasantly busy transfer window? D.C. United, who splashed the cash? LAFC, who got a coach and a foundational star? How about Sporting KC, which stockpiled allocation money? Maybe Crew SC, who got the cash and a DP? Former Red Bulls sporting director Ali Curtis and D.C. United general manager Dave Kasper are featured guests! Subscribe now and "Like" our Facebook page so you never miss a show! Download this episode!

As of midnight ET on Thursday morning, the secondary transfer/trade window is officially closed in MLS. That means the vast majority of big moves have been made.

It does not, however, mean that all moves have been made. The transfer window in Europe is still open, so if an obscene offer comes in for the right MLS player, we could still potentially see some outgoing movement. And the transfer/trade window doesn't prohibit MLS teams from signing out-of-contract players, which we could see very soon in Harrison with the on-trial Dilly Duka. The roster freeze date is September 15, so anybody who's free right now can plausibly be added over the next month.

But for the most part, what you see now is what you'll get through the end of the season. And also...

Yes, it certainly felt that way, even if there were too few trades for my taste.

Now let's take a look at all 22 teams:

Atlanta United: C+

They needed CB depth and were able to add two-time MLS Defender of the Year Bobby Boswell for a bag of soccer balls and a Capri Sun. Boswell's 34 and his best days are behind him, but 1) he's been a winner in this league for a long time, and 2) he's still very good defending set pieces, which is an area where the Five Stripes could use improvement. He fits a need as a situational sub, and will probably get a start or two during Atlanta's very crowded late-August-through-early-October schedule.

I'd argue they also needed an answer at right back. Anton Walkes is more of a stopgap solution – he can't play the final ball in the way that Tata Martino's scheme demands – and Tyrone Mears has lost a step-and-a-half. 

Chicago Fire: B+

Fire GM Nelson Rodriguez is on record as saying that he likes to get the bulk of his work done in the primary transfer window. And the fact that he and the Fire went HAM this past winter explains their largely quiet summer despite being linked to big names incoming (Juan Quintero! He's fun) and outgoing (David Accam would be missed).

Holding onto Accam – picking up his option for next year to provide him with seven figures of financial security, as well as (I'm guessing here) a verbal agreement that they'll give him his heart's desire by accepting a transfer bid from one of his Bundesliga or Serie A suitors – was the right move, provided that Accam has bought in. If he has, then the locker room will stay harmonious and the Fire are a top contender for both the Supporters' Shield and MLS Cup. Let's all remember the work this man does:

On top of that, Chicago were able to add a still-relatively-young, high-upside left-footed center back in Christian Dean in exchange for not much. That's useful, specific depth at a spot that was vulnerable.

Colorado Rapids: C

The Rapids got German veteran Stefan Aigner at the start of the window and shipped Dillon Powers out for Luis Gil and $100k of allocation money at the end of it. It seems clear that Gil is just a rotation piece at this point in his career, and may have to eventually learn a new spot (I always sort of suspected he'd be an interesting right back). On raw talent, the Rapids lost that trade, but the allocation cash and extra cap space they have by moving Powers – who I still like a lot, but who never quite worked for Pablo Mastroeni – gives them some flexibility.

How Aigner does is the real measure of this transfer window, though. He was very good and productive in the Bundesliga for the first half of the 2010s, but his production started to slip in 2015/16 and he was something short of "indifferent" last year in the 2.Bundesliga, posting just 3g/2a in 24 games.

It could be a change of scenery is just what the winger needs. Or it could be that Ainger, who turns 30 in 10 days and has logged nearly 27,000 professional minutes, is starting to show the effects of all those miles.

Columbus Crew SC: C+

As with Colorado with Aigner, this window for Columbus comes down to how quickly and thoroughly one guy adapts. For Crew SC, it's 29-year-old DP winger Pedro Santos in the crosshairs.

He has a great highlight reel and is clearly a technical player, but he's played in a good-not-great league for good-not-great teams, and has never really been all that productive. Add that he primarily plays at a spot – winger – where Columbus are and have been stacked for a good long while, and I have to admit this wasn't a super intuitive move.

Of course, there's the possibility that Justin Meram will permanently move into a central playmaker role and there is the fact that Ethan Finlay has been traded, so more playing time is indeed available on the wing. Columbus got a king's ransom for Finlay, prying $425,000 combined of GAM and TAM out of Minnesota United, and then got another $350,000 in combined allocation cash from New England for the rights to Krisztian Nemeth.

I feel like they did a better job of giving themselves flexibility for next year than they did of improving themselves this year.

D.C. United: A

And so the rebuild begins in earnest. They didn't receive much for any of their outgoing players – Boswell to Atlanta, Lamar Neagle to Seattle and Jose Guillermo Ortiz to the abyss – but that's fine. Sometimes you've just got to clear the deck. 

In exchange, D.C. got younger in spots where they needed it. Deshorn Brown has two goals in 483 minutes so far; Russell Canouse should get a chance to show he's the answer at defensive midfield; Bruno Miranda is an intriguing teenaged attacker; and Zoltan Stieber, who they got without a transfer fee, has been a pretty good player for a pretty long while.

As for Paul Arriola… the sense around the league is that a $3.5 million transfer fee and $500,000 in allocation money to the Galaxy for his rights is an overpay.

I understand that point of view, and at least partially agree with it. But also... Arriola is a damn good two-way player who's thrived with the USMNT when used in a more attacking role (he was primarily a wingback, not a winger with Xolos). He should help D.C. a lot on both sides of the ball, and fits in with the young central midfield cohort of Canouse, Ian Harkes and Lucho Acosta that's clearly meant to be the core going forward.

FC Dallas: B

Dallas don't really have any glaring needs – they just need to start playing better and pull themselves out of this mini-slump. That didn't stop them from going out and seeing if they could find a hidden gem via the Venezuelan league, which is suddenly turning out all kinds of useful talent.

Will Luis Gonzalez be a difference-maker this season? The odds are stacked against him, but regardless, this feels like an opportunistic long-term play from Fernando Clavijo, Oscar Pareja et al.

Houston Dynamo: B

The Dynamo are a team that I thought could've made some moves within the league, but they weren't active in the trade market (which isn't to say they didn't try).

So they turned their gaze overseas, and brought in two players. One – Tomas Martinez, an Argentine No. 10 with a profile similar to Mauro Diaz's when Diaz first arrived in Texas – looks like a no-brainer. Houston have lacked that kind of raw, string-pulling chance creation in central midfield, and those types of players have a history of success in MLS. This was their biggest need and they addressed it with aplomb.

The other is veteran center back Philippe Senderos, who feels like more of a risk. Senderos, a 32-year-old Swiss international, hasn't been a first-team regular on the club level since 2012-13, and it wouldn't be a shock to see him simply melt in the east Texas heat. The Dynamo had a dart and they threw it at a low-probability target, just like Portland did last year with Steven Taylor, or like Colorado did years ago with Zat Knight.

Those darts miss more than they hit, but there's little long-term cost in throwing one.

LA Galaxy: C+

LA have had a miserable year not just by their own lofty standards. This is a team that looks something close to a sure bet to miss the playoffs; their young players, after a surge in production during the spring, have all sort of disappeared down the depth chart; their veterans have aged quickly; their forwards can't score; the midfield and defense have both been unglued.

All of the above means it's a fair bet there will be some sort of overhaul this winter, so let's give them some credit for getting two in-their-prime players who look like they can and will be part of the solution going forward. 26-year-old right back Pele van Anholt has been mostly fine in his 161 minutes thus far, and new DP Jonathan Dos Santos is a top-end midfield talent.

Here's a question, though: How does Dos Santos fit in midfield with the other two presumed long-term answers, Joao Pedro and Sebastian Lletget? And here's another: Why have LA been unable to capitalize on the talent their academy churns out by trading guys who are clearly not in the team's long-term plans? Sooner or later they have to start taking advantage of the internal market for domestic talent, which – as evidenced by the Finlay trade – is growing by the window.

Minnesota United FC: C-

Is Finlay really worth more allocation cash than Dax McCarty was? The answer from MNUFC's front office was a solid "yes," which is… bold. Finlay's a good player who can help the Loons, but $425,000 in allocation cash for him is a lot, especially since this is a team with a bunch of other winger options (though it's clear at this point that Adrian Heath doesn't really rate Miguel Ibarra, which I think is a mistake).

 They also added former Whitecap Michael Boxall, who has struggled re-integrating:

Sam Nicholson has looked useful. Brandon Allen and Alex Kapp are necessary depth. Jose Leiton is a quality player. All of that is nice.

But MNUFC didn't really get younger, and they didn't really get better in a couple of spots where they needed it (backline, mostly), and it doesn't feel like they're appreciably closer to having a winning core for next season.

Montreal Impact: B+

Quietly addressed two big issues: Size and aerial ability at central defense in the form of Romanian international CB Deian Boldor, and youth in defensive midfield by bringing in Canadian international Samuel Piette

Also, bear in mind that Blerim Dzemaili would, under normal circumstances, have been a summer window signing, but because of the ties between Bologna and the Impact, Montreal were able to get him before the primary window closed. That was a neat bit of work, and while it might not be enough to get the Impact over the playoff line, this is a team that's set up to be better from the start next season.

New England Revolution: D

It's hard to suss out what the Revs are doing. Claude Dielna doesn't really have the profile of a guy who'd be a starter in this league, let alone a TAM player. And then they paid a mint to Columbus for the right to sign Nemeth, who was a good-not-great player for SKC a couple of years back, and who can only play spots (winger or second forward) where the Revs are already stocked with talent that's both young and proven.

Perhaps they're just collecting assets to do some serious offseason wheeling and dealing. Otherwise, I'm stumped.

New York City FC: D

This team doesn't need much – they've been legitimately scary all season long:

But... they have a bit of roster flexibility, and they have only three true center backs, and one of them is hurt, and they're suddenly one injury away from a full-blown crisis.

That crisis may never come, and NYCFC may still win hardware this year, and maybe they'll be able to add a center back for free sometime in the coming weeks. However, if I was Patrick Vieira I'd be pretty steamed about going into the stretch run with zero central defensive depth on the roster. If Alex Callens slips in the shower on Friday morning, the Cityzens will line up on Saturday night with right back Ethan White in the middle of the backline. If Callens is out for any appreciable length of time, then it's back to the CB pairing that Toronto destroyed in last year's postseason.

I also find myself wondering if they're going to regret not trading Tommy McNamara now, when there's a market for him. If he continues as a deep reserve – and that seems to be his current trajectory – they'll end up with pennies on the dollar.

This team had a chance to get better and more flexible, and they didn't.

EDIT: This blurb originally said that NYCFC got cap relief after Miguel Camargo's season-ending injury. According to an NYCFC spokesman, that's in fact not the case. My bad! 

New York Red Bulls: D

So with their allocation cash and flexibility they brought in a back-up defender and a guy who's been either injured or, at best, a part-time starter in Norway and Poland.

The Red Bulls are still probably good enough to fight for a top four spot in the Eastern Conference, and can maybe make noise in the playoffs as well. But there was a chance to bring in a guy who could elevate them back into the ranks of the true contenders and I'd say their fans are right to be upset that guy didn't arrive.

Perhaps Muhamed Keita will defy expectations and do justice to that No. 10 shirt. It seems a long shot, though.

Orlando City SC: C

I wrote about the Dom Dwyer trade when it happened. Getting him this summer means OCSC can sell Cyle Larin in the winter and not have to worry about/scramble for a goal-scoring center forward. It's arguably worth what they paid for him, which was a freaking ton, and I'm sure there's hope in Central Florida that the old-fashioned Dwyer/Larin forward combo can somehow click and get this team to the playoffs for the first time in their history.

Their other two moves were, from where I sit, good ones. Both Yoshi Yotun and Dillon Powers are very good passers of the ball who can fit in multiple schemes, and who should help the Purple Lions get away from their reliance on useless long balls.

In the long run, however, this remains a team that needs some serious work on their roster. What they have now has been put together by too many people over the last three years, and the result is a collection of mis-matched parts that don't complement each other. There's been no clear vision.

The hard work in that regard should continue through the winter transfer window. This summer was an ok start, but not much more than that.

Philadelphia Union: F

The Union entered the transfer window in desperate need of a No. 10. They exited the transfer window in desperate need of a No. 10. 

Portland Timbers: B

Larrys Mabiala hasn't exactly been mistake-free in his four games, but the Timbers are 2-1-1 and points are all that really matter. Bill Tuiloma, meanwhile, may never play an MLS game but he's the type of talent worth bringing in to take a look at – and with the way Portland pick up injuries, it's not out of the realm of possibility that he'll be called upon once or twice.

This was a solid, to-the-point window for Gavin Wilkinson & Co.

Real Salt Lake: B-

They added a veteran central defensive presence in Marcelo Silva, but as with Montreal, their real work came at the end of the previous window when they brought in Jefferson Savarino.

RSL are now set up to be much better in 2018, but they still have to answer the Yura Movsisyan question. At various times over the past six weeks it seemed like they were on the verge of moving him, but now the window is closed and he's still on the roster taking up a DP slot that he hasn't really been worth since his return to Sandy.

They'll need to figure out how to move him this winter, and then identify and acquire a replacement. That will take up 50 percent of Craig Waibel's head space, and finding a replacement for Kyle Beckerman will be the other 50 percent.

San Jose Earthquakes: A-

They got their Chris Wondolowski heir in Vako, and then they added an in-his-prime Swiss international center back in François Affolter. Those both look like good pick-ups.

More valuable than that might be the restraint they showed elsewhere. It looks like a cadre of their own youngsters – rookie draft pick Jackson Yueill, as well as Homegrown players Tommy Thompson and Nick Lima – are getting a real chance to play real minutes, and thus far they've all been worth it. Answering roster questions from within means more flexibility in terms of managing the budget, as well as tighter aim on the right kinds of imports.

This is something the previous regime had trouble with. Not so for the current group thus far.

Seattle Sounders: B+

Seattle are better and deeper than they were a month ago, and in Kelvin Leerdam they picked up an in-his-prime starter at a spot they'd had to scramble to fill for the first half of the year.

There is disappointment, of course, that #DerlisWatch died an unceremonious death. The Sounders nonetheless added, in Victor Rodriguez, an experienced attacking midfielder who can play all across the "3" line in the 4-2-3-1, and in Lamar Neagle a proven MLS commodity who can add value as a reserve winger. Calum Mallace in exchange for a fourth-round pick is an easy swap to make as well, even if Mallace never gets off the bench.

I get why Seattle fans are bummed this team didn't add a Lodeiro-esque signing, but it's hard for me to look at this roster and say "Yeah, they're not really built to compete." They are, and there's no team in the West who are clearly superior.

Sporting KC: A

Artistic interpretation of Peter Vermes looking at all his allocation cash:

Teams all over the world sell veterans at a profit when they feel like youngsters are ready to soak up those minutes. That's what SKC did with the Dwyer trade, and because of the way the roster's been put together, they didn't have to scramble for replacements in the immediate aftermath. Diego Rubio's slid into the starting role, they've gotten contributions from young wingers like Latif Blessing and Daniel Salloi, and they'll have more flexibility than anybody in MLS this winter.

Cristian Lobato may never play an MLS minute and Dwyer may score 100 goals for Orlando City, but I still approve of the way SKC did business this summer. They're probably going to win the US Open Cup, they're definitely going to make the playoffs, and they have a lot of cash with which to improve next season.

Toronto FC: B-

Getting right wingback depth, which is what Nicolas Hasler provides, was the only real need for the Reds, and their recent history of integrating imported talent suggests he'll be worth the minimal cost.

All their work in the winter and spring meant that this was always going to be a quiet window in Toronto, but I am surprised that they didn't figure out a way to squeeze a bit of GAM or TAM out of somebody for, say, Armando Cooper or an international roster slot. TFC are usually among the league's shrewdest operators in those situations, so perhaps interest just wasn't there.

Vancouver Whitecaps: C

The 'Caps are like LA in that they have a well-regarded academy that they just don't get much mileage out of. So that saw a pair of Homegrowns head out loans amidst a series of moves on the fringes of the gameday roster.

The one move they made that could prove to more most significant is the acquisition of Egyptian international defensive midfielder/center back Aly Ghazal. I've never seen him play so it'd be ridiculous to weigh in, but I'm happy to give Vancouver some bonus points for looking and thinking outside the box when it comes to player recruitment. I'm really not sure if they're a better team than they were a month ago, but at the very least they're more interesting.

Series: 
Topics: