It’s the ides of January, and while there’s plenty more of silly season left to go, we’re seeing big acquisitions arrive and other key moves transpire across MLS.
So who did the best business over the past week or so? Here’s my top five.
Orlando sign Josue Colman as Young Designated Player
The fertile South American market is always a pivotal hunting ground for MLS, and well, clubs all around the world. There’s a new focus on Paraguay in the wake of Miguel Almiron’s smashing inaugural season in Atlanta, however, and earlier today Orlando City completed the capture of Colman, another creative Guaraní with enormous upside.
Colman, who’s just 19, has playmaking skills as well as a striker’s toolkit, which promises to be useful in Lions coach Jason Kreis’ system. His game might have some rough edges, but he’s committed to a long-term contract that gives player and club alike the time and motivation to smooth those out and reap the benefits, both in terms of results in MLS and the possibility of a lucrative transfer out in future years.
Crew SC re-sign Sauro
This one probably flew under the radar for anyone outside Ohio, but it could turn out to be a pivotal move for an MLS Cup contender. Gaston Sauro is a smooth, commanding center back who’s been stung viciously by the injury bug since arriving in Columbus in 2015.
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Most clubs would’ve cut bait after a series of knee problems ruled him out for the entirety of 2017 before the season had even begun. Yet Crew SC boss Gregg Berhalter’s faith remains steadfast, and the Sauro responded in kind by reportedly taking a pay cut to stay with the club. If he can stay fit, he’ll be the cornerstone of the Yellow Football Team’s defense.
A former center back himself, Berhalter’s instincts are noteworthy here. He spotted and signed Costa Rican national teamer Giancarlo Gonzalez before the rest of the world admired his performances at the 2014 World Cup, leading to a multi-million-dollar transfer to Serie A side Palermo.
Dynamo re-sign DeLaGarza, despite ACL injury
Again, it’s easy for clubs to get scared off by serious knee injuries, especially when the body in question is on the proverbial “wrong side of 30.”
So in that light, on paper Houston are taking a risk in re-upping with AJ DeLaGarza, a veteran defender who’s never been the biggest or fastest in his field, before he’s completed his recovery from the torn ACL that ended his 2017 season.
But in reality, this is a no-brainer just the same. DeLaGarza is a leader and a winner who was quietly influential in changing the culture in the Dynamo locker room as they stormed from cellar dwellers to playoff troublemakers last year. He’s overcome injuries and setbacks before, and I expect him to resume his role as the most underrated defender in the league when he’s back to full fitness come summer.
D.C. United acquire David Ousted
Last fall United bid farewell to a club legend – and at D.C., that term really does mean something – as goalkeeper Bill Hamid departed for Danish side FC Midtjylland. One of the first Homegrowns, and arguably one of the best, in MLS history, Hamid was usually a cheat code for the Black-and-Red, making big saves that covered up weaknesses elsewhere in the United lineup.
Veteran ‘keeper Steve Clark arrived in late summer to audition for the role of Hamid’s successor, with fairly inconclusive results. So D.C. went out and got Ousted, who for years did for Vancouver what Hamid did for United, to compete for the starting job.
Ousted left the Whitecaps under less-than-optimal circumstances, and the Dane will surely be hungry to prove himself all over again in his new locale. Considering that D.C. are moving into some snazzy new digs at Audi Field in July, his timing looks pretty canny.
Sounders sign Handwalla Bwana to Homegrown deal
Bwana’s backstory is fairly incredible: His family were religious refugees inside their native land of Kenya, spending years at the infamous Kakuma camp for displaced peoples before emigrating to the United States in 2010.
Coping with massive cultural adjustments, they made their way to Washington State, where the young Handwalla, carrying instinctive skills honed by endless hours of barefoot soccer at Kakuma, rose through the local youth scene and was eventually ushered into the Seattle Sounders’ academy system.
No one expects Bwana to unseat the Rave Green’s classy maestro Nico Lodeiro anytime soon. But he’s a gifted attacker who can play multiple positional roles, he’s already got USL games with Sounders 2 under his belt and his upside is simply enormous. This is an American dream worth tracking.