The summer transfer window is open, which means it’s time to break out the checkbooks and do some shopping – or, since this is MLS, a little bit of trading. And it’s worth remembering, of course, that thanks to the rising cap and an influx of Targeted Allocation Money, MLS GMs have more cash to use than at any prior point in the league’s history.
It’s also worth remembering that spending a lot doesn’t necessarily guarantee a lot. We’ve seen a number of outright failures amongst discretionary TAM signings already (Alfredo Ortuño and Ager Aketxe, come on down!), and there will assuredly be more to come.
This should not surprise anyone. MLS, as a league, is relatively new to the global international transfer game, and there will be a learning curve in terms of identifying and integrating talent. Even good teams with good front offices can struggle with that.
I’ve got the Western Conference teams, and my colleague Bobby Warshaw’s got the East teams.
“Needs? Lol. What needs?”
Let’s look at the checklist for building a team:
- Elite talent: Check. Almiron, Martinez, Villalba, Nagbe, etc etc.
- Squad balance: Check. Atlanta can pair their star attackers with disciplined anchors like Jeff Larentowicz and Michael Parkhurst. New addition Eric Remedi adds muscle and athleticism in the middle, as well.
- Depth: Check. Atlanta are two deep at every position, and can bring in a starting-caliber player if anyone goes out. Center back might be their weakest position in terms of depth – Miles Robinson is still untested and Chris McCann may or may not be good enough – but I’m a believer that teams should leave room for young players to grow. If Michael Parkhurst or Leandro Gonzalez Pirez get hurt, Robinson might be forced into action. It might damage Atlanta’s chances in 2018, but it would help a key young asset grow, which is important for Atlanta in the long term.
- Youth development: The Five Stripes have youth starlets Andrew Carleton, Chris Goslin and George Bello on the roster and more in the academy pipeline.
In other words, Atlanta should be chillin’. Any new parts would be more likely to unbalance the squad than fix any holes.
The Fire are a team in limbo. They have star players at the tail end of their peak (though still at a very high level) – Dax McCarty, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Nemanja Nikolic – and then a group of younger guys who have shown potential. The window on the older guys may close before the young’uns ripen to maturity.
Most immediately, the Fire need a central attacking player and a center back. Signing a center mid, however, would take minutes from rookie Mo Adams and second-year pro Brandt Bronico, and a new center back would demote highly-rated rookie Grant Lillard. So do the Fire give Adams, Bronico, Lillard and others minutes and help them develop into elite players? Or do they sign ready-made starters to get the team to the playoffs now?
The Fire would regret missing the Dax-Bastian-Nemanja window, so they should sign both a playmaker and a center back, but only for the right price and at the right age. If those guys aren’t available, they should use McCarty, Schweinsteiger and Nikolic to guide the team to sustainable growth via the young talent.
They just played a 5-4-1 with six center backs on the field at various spots, and exactly zero of their big signings from the last two years have paid off to a degree commensurate with their salaries, and the pipeline of young talent hasn’t been robust, and to be completely honest they have so many questions in this team that I’m not sure where, exactly, they should start looking for answers.
How about a No. 10? A guy who can really, really pass the ball would make this team more fun, at the very least.
Columbus Crew SC
This is the easiest one in the top bunch. Crew SC need a winger who can contribute goals. Their leading goal scorer is Gyasi Zardes with 11; Federico Higuain is second with four. After that, it’s pretty barren. Pedro Santos, Mike Grella and Eduardo Sosa have one goal each, while Christian Martinez and Luis Argudo have yet to score.
Columbus don’t lack for chances or shots – they are seventh in MLS per game in both categories; they simply aren’t scoring when the openings come. It means that, as a whole, Crew SC are next to last in goals scored in the East. It’s already starting to take a toll, as they have lost six of their last nine.
Perhaps one of the wingers will break out and start finishing the chances. Offseason signing Sosa is now healthy and should get a run at winger and provide new flair. Or perhaps he/they won’t and the problem will tank Crew SC’s season. Or perhaps head coach Gregg Berhalter will hedge his bets and find another winger via trade or the transfer market.
It’s tough to judge a team that’s played 12 out of 14 games on the road. Audi Field finally opens this weekend; United’s real season was always going to start as soon as that game came around.
When Sporting Kansas City opened their new stadium in 2011, they had only seven points from their first 11 games. Sporting went on a tear in the second half of the year and won the most points, 51, in their conference that season.
Before D.C. look to add any more players, they need to find out what the team looks like with Wayne Rooney in it. Rooney – like any high-priced player – will take up a lot of air, and the team will largely mold around his presence. And his best position has always been up for debate. Ben Olsen will need to find how the team will play with him, and where Rooney will play within it. From there, they can start to make other decisions about the squad.
They pulled themselves out of the 2017 death spiral and are sitting atop the West – just as they were last year at this time. They’ve also avoided last year’s mistake by selling two players (Mauro Diaz and Anton Nedyalkov) when good offers came in, which should keep the locker room closer to healthy.
The problem is that Diaz has been this team’s best player for four years and they become a vastly different team without him. None of the possible replacements as a No. 10 (Santiago Mosquera, Roland Lamah, Paxton Pomykal) play the position the same way, nor have they been as effective. Another problem is that Kellyn Acosta, who was looking like the league’s breakout star at this point in 2017, is a shadow of the player he was 12 months ago.
It might be time to test the trade market for him. And as for Diaz’s spot, Fernando Clavijo has said they’re looking at bringing in a DP-level replacement.
The Dynamo have sort of silently battled injuries to their two defensive midfielders, Juan David Cabezas and Darwin Ceren, all season long and have had to compensate lately by playing Boniek Garcia at that spot. Add in a leaky defense and it’s something of a miracle they’re still in the playoff race.
A leaky and old defense, I should add. Houston need to go out there and find their own Leandro Gonzalez Pirez or Alex Callens at center back. Get a guy back there who can save them points rather than cost them points, and they’ll be comfortably above the playoff line soon, and for good. They should be active and aggressive to get this done.
My concern going into the season with this group was they wouldn’t have enough ball-winning oomph in central midfield. And there they were on Saturday night, playing Benny Feilhaber and Lee Nguyen as dual d-mids. So what do I know, really?
About the only thing I see on this roster is a need for one more center back – perhaps a left-footer. Other than that this roster is stacked, and their biggest moves have been made.
They’ve spent a ton and my hunch is they would be quite happy to get off at least a couple of those DP contracts (and maybe all three, given that Romain Alessandrini has been only a part-time starter for Sigi Schmid’s team). I’m sure they will listen to offers.
Anything they get from said offers needs to be pumped back into the team, specifically at right back. And even if they don’t get rid of any of the large, under-producing contracts that dot the roster, they should look for a right back anyway
It’s amazing, by the way, how underwhelming Los Dos has been in terms of producing contributors compared to teams like NYRBII, Real Monarchs, TFC2 and Bethlehem Steel. LA have the richest academy talent pool north of the Rio Grande and have been running their USL side longer than anybody, but there’s never been a clear path from there to the first team and it really doesn’t look like that’ll be changing any time soon.
Minnesota United FC
They’re down at 1.06 PPG and have the worst goal differential in the West despite adding a bunch of new pieces in attack, on the wings, at fullback and at central defense. In spite of – because of? – all of that, Bobby Shuttleworth has had to be a hero week after week in order to just keep things respectable.
Fans will point to key players from last year regressing at other spots, and fair enough. But when just about everybody’s taking a step backwards, it suggests there’s something systemic at play here.
MNUFC have the second-highest median salary in the league, by the way. They’re not a high-spending team by any stretch, but their salary outlay is more than people generally realize. And given how futile some of those signings have been, and how stunted the development of most of the young players on the roster has been, it’s difficult to justify going out on the market and spending more.
They should work the phones for some trades, though, for sure.
The transfer window comes at a weird time for the Impact. They are on a four-game win streak and have won five of their last six, pushing their way into a playoff spot. But not that long ago it felt like the team should call it a wrap for 2018 and focus on the future. And Remi Garde seemed to be the torch bearer for the idea, declaring just seven weeks ago that his team lacked talent.
The biggest requirement for Montreal is getting a clear picture of where the team stands. Has the squad rallied together and proven they are good enough to contend? If so, it may be detrimental to add someone new and mess with team’s camaraderie. Or, conversely, is the win streak a product of hitting an easy patch of games – Houston’s reserve lineup, Orlando and Colorado – that’s hiding obvious shortcomings? If that, then go get the goods while the playoff opportunity is still there.
Once they figure out who they are, they can make decisions. If they want to add, the first priorities would be a young, steady center back and a pacey center forward to run on the break with Ignacio Piatti.
New England Revolution
The Revs have been a pleasant surprise this year. They press the hell out of teams and have established a clear identity. At the same time, they often get in trouble when teams break the pressure. The Revs have allowed soft goals on balls served into their penalty box.
They could use a no-nonsense center back to clean up the mistakes. But a no-nonsense, mistake-free center back that can also play in a pressing system generally goes for hefty sums on the transfer market.
New York City FC
The Cityzens had one of the most talented, most balanced rosters in MLS, but their best laid plans took a hit in June when starting center midfielder Yangel Herrera went down for the year. Offseason acquisition Ebenezer Ofori has settled well into Herrera’s spot, but he isn’t Herrera and the team hasn’t appeared as ruthless as they once did.
Herrera’s absence also leaves a hole in new head coach Dome Torrent’s potential plans. Torrent has shown a preference in recent years to play with two attack-minded box-to-box midfielders. While at Bayern Munich and Manchester City with Pep Guardiola, they used Arturo Vidal, Thiago Alcantara, Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva in front of a single pivot.
With Herrera out, Torrent doesn’t have that type of player on the roster right now. Should he choose to play thay system, he might need to go shopping.
New York Red Bulls
A week ago, I would have said the Red Bulls should and will stand pat. They have beaten (smashed?) all of the elite teams they’ve faced this year. This past week, though, the club announced that starting winger Florian Valot is out for the year with a knee injury.
The Red Bulls will need to find a replacement for Valot, either as depth to a promoted Alex Muyl or as a starter. The recent departure of Carlos Rivas opens the necessary roster spot. The team could probably also use a reliable goalscorer to support or back up Bradley Wright-Phillips, but I personally hope Derrick Etienne Jr. gets the chance to develop into that player.
Orlando City SC
The Lions mostly need just a deep breath. Orlando have too much talent to be as bad as they’ve been recently. New head coach James O’Connor should provide the emotional reset – and tactical rigidity – the team has needed.
In terms of personnel, the lineup has been sorely missing a right back. Depending on how O’Connor wants to play, they may also need a left back. Regular left back Mohamed El-Munir only subbed on as a winger last game. But Orlando has already spent a lot of resources to assemble this team and they should focus on settling things within the locker room before they try to find new pieces.
The statistical need is obvious, but the positional need isn’t. The Union are last in the East in goals scored. They create chances, they just don’t score them. Their center strikers, CJ Sapong and Cory Burke, only have two goals each. Their big offseason acquisition, winger David Accam, has zero goals and zero assists. It’s a horrible return from attacking players that should put their spots in doubt. But...
Accam scored 14 goals for the Fire last year, and 10 and 9 in the two years before that. Sapong banged home 16 last year. There isn’t anyone in the market at the Union’s price point that would be a better bet for success in MLS in coming weeks than Sapong and Accam.
The Union don’t need a new signing up top, they just need a lucky bounce. It takes one easy goal for an attacker to get his mojo back. The talent is there, they just need to find it again.
They’ve already been linked to one move in the upcoming window, with young Argentinian attacker Tomas Conechny said to be heading to Oregon this month. That makes sense, and has the potential to fill an obvious need (a young successor to Diego Valeri, who’s going to enter his mid-30s next year and whose minutes should start being managed).
A more obvious need is a young successor to Diego Chara, who’s also approaching his mid-30s and is indispensable. They have a high-ceiling, young box-to-box midfielder playing at T2 already in Eryk Williamson, though he’s maybe too much of a No. 8 and not enough of a No. 6. So I think they need to find themselves a destroyer to groom.
They should also listen to trade offers for Fanendo Adi.
Real Salt Lake
Nobody’s done a better job of getting answers from within than RSL, who started five Homegrown Players and brought in a sixth off the bench on Saturday night in their 2-0 win over Dallas. When you build high-level producers like that, you don’t have to go crazy when the transfer window opens.
So right now they don’t need a ton, especially since they also get roster answers via their USL team (Nick Besler, in particular, has filled in well at two spots). The overall structure and culture of the franchise means they’re in a good spot to sit tight here unless a can’t-miss prospect falls into their laps.
San Jose Earthquakes
They’ve attempted to address a series of needs by importing a series of players who have seriously underperformed across the backline, midfield and attack. Danny Hoesen’s been good (though he came off injured on Saturday), so there’s at least a silver lining. But he’s been the exception rather than the rule.
They’re trying to fix it early in the window, and have signed veteran CB Guram Kashia from Vitesse Arnhem. Having seen him play a little bit (he was Matt Miazga’s CB partner the past 18 months), I think he’ll be a good addition. I also think they need to add a left back, and need to rethink the goalkeeper position, and need to rethink central midfield, and need to… ok yeah, they’re a team with only two wins all year, and both are against Minnesota. So obviously there’s a lot of work to be done.
They’ve already got one part of the solution coming in the form of Raul Ruidiaz, who really should help – you don’t score that many goals in Liga MX by accident.
He can’t be the only addition, though. Left back has been a constant issue, as has a lack of speed on the flanks. Plus the center-back depth chart, even with Roman Torres presumably returning soonish, is uninspiring and old.
What this team really needs, though, is to clear the books and start again this winter. Which is what I think will happen.
How much did things change on Saturday night when Ike Opara limped off? I think that’s a damn near existential injury – Opara’s the irreplaceable man on that team, more than Tim Melia or Matt Besler or Graham Zusi or Roger Espinoza or Felipe Gutierrez or Johnny Russell or or or or… And if he’s really, really hurt, for a really long while, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Sporting kick over some stones in search of their own Rod Fanni-type six-month center-back solution.
But you’re not reading this to hear me say that. You’re reading this because you want me to tell you that SKC need to go out and find a No. 9 who will bang home goals. All due respect to Khiry Shelton and Diego Rubio, both of whom have had good moments, but… yup.
The current version of Sporting + a top-tier center forward = MLS Cup contender. Current version of Sporting + a top-tier center forward + a healthy Opara and Gutierrez = MLS Cup favorites, maybe?
Time for them to push their chips in.
It’s been, well, not quite the season that Toronto had hoped. What they need is obvious – for players to get healthy. But it’s not clear when they will have their full allotment again. Or, more importantly, how sharp they will be when they return.
TFC are suffering from the one thing that would destroy any team’s season, even the best of the best. Toronto’s real need is time, but it’ll be up to their competitors in the east to determine how much they will get.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC
It’s weird to watch a ‘Caps team that scores a ton but doesn’t really know how to defend. Part of this is just that they miss Tim Parker, but part of it is also that even when things are going well this team just changes so much, so often.
I don’t think they should sign or trade anyone. I think they should actually stick with the guys they’ve got and let them build chemistry, and give the overall team a chance to become greater than the sum of its parts. I don’t see a lack of talent when I look at the ‘Caps, I see a lack of cohesion and understanding of how to play together.
Obviously if a good young prospect falls into their laps, get him. Other than that, please stop tinkering.