As Major League Soccer clubs become ever shrewder shoppers, it has become more and more difficult to rank all the newcomers they capture every offseason— but that is precisely the fool's game we're here to play today.
Although clubs may not have scooped up quite as many headline acts as they did over the past two offseasons, they did sign a sizable crowd of excellent complimentary fits that should improve their respective sides.
No. 10: Przemyslaw Frankowski & Marcelo
I'll get my usual cheat pick out of the way fast. These guys will feature at opposite ends of the field for a Chicago team that saw their goals for-goals against ratio essentially reversed in the wrong direction in 2018 (from 62 for and 48 against in 2017 to 48-61 last season).
While new winger Przemyslaw Frankowski comes from Poland with legit questions about his level of end product. The darting, dancing 23-year-old has every ability needed to scare the hell out of defenses on the regular. Of course, if he does that with even solid production, the kid will become a hero in a city where roughly one of every 14 locals has Polish heritage.
I'm actually just as sold, if not more so, on the Fire's Marcelo pick-up. The 29-year-old center back is an extremely busy, physical defender and his presence on the Chicago's last line will go a long way toward ensuring that Bastian Schweinsteiger stays in midfield where he belongs.
No. 9: Lucas Rodriguez
So you're D.C. United, coming off a terrific rally season and you want to keep as much of the first unit together as possible, but were simply unable to bring back tricky left winger Yamil Asad. What do you do? Never fear, Black-and-Red nation, the younger, speedier Lucas Rodriguez is here.
Landed on a season-long loan with buy option, the 21-year-old may actually prove to be a more well-rounded player than Asad. While quick as can be on the ball, Rodriguez also exhibits impressive patience to let plays fully form. It's an unusual blend of skills, and one that can drive foes mad whether he's acting as pressure valve to get out of his own end or raiding your area to fatal effect.
No. 8: Marco Fabian
Let's be right upfront about this one: I'm not nearly as high on the Union's acquisition of Marco Fabian as some are. Fabian is not your typical "tee up the center forwards" type of No. 10 (like the guy he's replacing, 2018 assist king Borek Dockal, was) and he's had a helluva time staying fit over the last couple years.
That said, the 29-year-old should provide enough blasts from the top of the box, strong restarts and tempting crosses when he wanders wide to help this club. And with Alejandro Bedoya, Derrick Jones and Haris Medunjanin doing all their dirty work behind him, Fabian can focus on driving the attack. Basically, he'll be a decent international-caliber player put in a great situation... not unlike the guy he's replacing.
No. 7: Bryan Acosta
Heads were turned league-wide when FC Dallas dealt away young two-way midfield ace Kellyn Acosta last summer. It took the club about six months to directly replace the US international, and as it turns out they did so by signing a slightly more seasoned unrelated namesake that routinely features for Concacaf rival Honduras.
That's not to imply that the new Acosta on the scene is a direct copy of his predecessor, but they do hold a few similarities. Bryan, the Catracho, offers a bit more ball security in the buildup, but still manages to pop up with some offense from time to time. Like Kellyn the USMNTer, the 25-year-old is capable of forcing turnovers anywhere on the field. All in all, the new guy looks like the right man to bridge the FC Dallas back and attack for years to come.
No. 6: Diego Polenta
Everyone and their mother knew that the LA Galaxy needed drastic improvement in the heart of defense following a season that ended with them blowing a two-goal second half lead at home to a Houston Dynamo team with nothing to play for, a result which forced them to miss the playoffs by a hair despite having the third-most potent offense and the most expensive back line in the league.
How best to start fixing this obvious problem? Go get an enforcer? A ball-playing center back? Well, the Galaxy did both at once by snaring Diego Polenta on a free. The talented 27-year-old can act as a forbidding brick wall one moment, and then ramble forward in a surprisingly nimble fashion the next. Hell, he can even cross well if the situation calls for it.
No. 5: Nani
While we're on the topic of breaching opponents' boxes to spark offense, let's welcome veteran wheeler-dealer Nani to an Orlando City side that badly needs his brand of play. Long story short, he's everything the Lions wanted from Justin Meram last year in the way of an elusive flank scoring threat and even more of an assist man.
Will Nani cut inside or race to the touch line like a traditional winger? Will he go for his own nasty shot or opt for one of his array of set-up methods? You just never know what the 32-year-old might do at any given moment, and that X-factor is practically priceless for a team that allowed opposing defenses to grow far too comfy last season.
No. 4: Jan Gregus
Minnesota United have needed a lot of things in their first two seasons of existence, but perhaps nothing more than some proper bite and organization in midfield. In January, they used their last Designated Player slot to corral Jan Gregus, an excellent midfield traffic director with plenty of UEFA Champions League, Europa League and international experience.
However, the 28-year-old is not what you'd call a hard man in central park; his defensive successes are much more likely to involve jumping a passing lane or slowing an opponent through keen positioning than it is to include crunching tackles. Mere days after signing Gregus, the Loons lightened his workload by picking up veteran Ozzie Alonso to play bad midfield cop. This master stroke will free the Slovakian to do what he does best, and the two have formed a fast chemistry during a preseason that has suddenly stingy Minnesota shut out all of their MLS foes.
No. 3: Inbeom Hwang
This signing seems to have flown under the radar and I have no doubt that many will question the 22-year-old South Korea midfielder ranking so high on this list, if only because they'd never heard of him before Vancouver made him a Young DP capture. Don't be fooled by the unfamiliarity; with the possible exception of well-known commodity Fredy Montero, none of the Whitecaps 473 offseason maneuvers will pay off nearly as much as this kid.
Hwang is a true central park ranger, but has enough skill to fill in as a No. 10 if needed. He's almost impossibly agile on the ball, with feet as quick as a flash. He makes sly decisions and holds every brand of pass in his tool belt. In other words, don't be surprised when he grows into stardom in Vancouver before being sold for a tidy profit down the line.
No. 2: Alexandru Mitrita
No, he's not David Villa. He's not going to be as involved in/integral to the NYCFC buildup as Villa was, and he's probably not going to provide anywhere near the number of scoring chances for teammates that Villa did. Hell, Alexandru Mitrita is not even close to a standard center forward type, and none of that matters now.
That's because the diminutive Romanian international is a pure big-play threat. Mitrita wiggles past defenders with great ease. He can score invading from any angle. He's a broken play killer, quick to loose balls and always eager to shoot without a touch. And, sweet heavens, don't grant him space to fire from the top of the area or tee up a danger free kick for him. You've been warned.
No. 1: Pity Martinez
Let's face it, defending MLS Cup champ Atlanta United haven't even given their fans enough time to miss Miguel Almiron. That's because the Newcastle transplant had a replacement in Pity Martinez before he was even out the door. The newest Five Stripes marquee player arrives fresh off claiming the prestigious Rey del Fútbol de América prize, which is handed out to the best South American player of the year.
Even though it actually might be best to shift Martinez to left wing and slide Ezequiel Barco into his more natural No. 10 role, the new guy actually does many of the same things that Almiron did so well. He's a dribble wizard/foul magnet that strikes fear into 'keepers from distance and set pieces. If anything, Atlanta's new No. 10 shirt might be an even better chance creator than the departed two-time MLS Best XI choice now shining in the Premier League he's following.