Stejskal: Potential deals to watch during the MLS primary transfer window

The 2019 MLS season is underway, but rosters are still very much under construction.

In the past few days alone, we’ve seen Toronto FC complete the signing of Designated Player Alejandro Pozuelo, FC Cincinnati officially acquire American international midfielder Kenny Saief and the LA Galaxy sign US international midfielder Joe Corona. Those clubs aren’t alone – several other clubs are also trying to make big moves before the league’s primary transfer window closes in May.

Here are some of the most significant MLS acquisitions we could see over the next couple of months:  

Chicago still chasing Nico Gaitan, Joakim Nilsson

As reported by MLSsoccer.com last week, the Chicago Fire are closing in on acquiring Argentine midfielder Nico Gaitan from Chinese club Dalian Yifang and working to land 25-year-old center back Joakim Nilsson from Swedish club IF Elfsborg. There hasn’t been any reported movement on either deal since the weekend, but a source confirmed to MLSsoccer.com on Wednesday that the Fire are still working to sign both players.

If acquired, Gaitan would be signed using Discretionary Targeted Allocation Money. Chicago already have the league maximum of three Designated Players on their roster, none of whom can be bought down with TAM. Gaitan, who turned 31 last month, moved to China in February 2018 following a disappointing 18 months with Spanish club Atletico Madrid. He recorded two goals and nine assists in 28 league appearances as Dalian Yifang finished 11th in the Chinese Super League in 2018.

Nilsson has made 74 league appearances for Elfsborg since he joined the club in February 2016 and has four career caps with the Swedish national team. He would add some much-needed competition to a corps of Fire center backs that currently includes Johan Kappelhof, offseason signing Marcelo and second-year Homegrown Player Grant Lillard.

Toronto FC pursuing TAM targets

Toronto FC got their big one over the line on Monday, when they announced the signing of Pozuelo to a DP contract from Belgian club Genk.

With Pozuelo’s protracted, dramatic, complex transfer saga out of the way, TFC are now turning their full attention toward TAM targets. A source told MLSsoccer.com on Wednesday that it’s still up in the air whether the team will use their available TAM on one or two new signings. If the team uses all their available TAM on one player, it’s most likely that the new signing will be a winger. If the team splits their TAM between two new signings, they’d either bring in two wingers or a winger and a defender. The source added that Argentine winger Jonathan Menendez, who TFC were pursuing earlier this winter, is no longer a target.

The source also confirmed that the team is looking to get out from under Gregory van der Wiel’s contract. The Dutch defender reportedly got into an altercation with TFC head coach Greg Vanney early in preseason and hasn’t taken part in team activities since. A separate source told MLSsoccer.com last week that van der Wiel has been training individually at TFC’s practice facility since the incident while he and the club work to resolve his status.

Until the European, Chinese and Middle Eastern transfer windows re-open later this year, TFC are essentially down to three options in regards to van der Wiel: Trade him to another MLS team, waive him/buy him out or keep him. The only option that would offer any budget relief would be to trade van der Wiel, but, considering his hefty salary, up-and-down 2018 form and the reported altercation with Vanney, sources around the league expect TFC to have a hard time moving him without covering a significant portion of his budget charge.

Portland working for DP striker

One of the more public searches off the winter remains on, as a source confirmed to MLSsoccer.com on Wednesday that the Portland Timbers are still looking to sign a Designated Player at striker.

The club pursued Tigres forward Eduardo Vargas and Julian Quiñones earlier this winter, but the source said they’ve since moved on to two different targets. The source said that the club would like to complete the signing before the primary transfer window closes in early May, but they feel like it won’t hurt them too much if they have to wait until the secondary window opens in July to complete a signing.

NYCFC after a No. 9

This won’t come as a huge surprise to anyone who watched Maxi Moralez play out of position at center forward on Saturday at Orlando, but New York City FC remain in the market for a striker. Sources told MLSsoccer.com last week that the club made a very strong offer for former LA Galaxy forward Ola Kamara before he was sold to Chinese club Shenzhen FC, a bit of news that head coach Dome Torrent partially confirmed when he told reporters that NYCFC were indeed interested in the Norwegian.

With Kamara no longer in play, NYCFC are now searching the international market for their forward. The club doesn’t have a DP spot to play with, but they do have the space to make a TAM signing. With no natural center forward currently on the roster following the offseason departures of David Villa and Jo Inge Berget, they’re looking to get a deal done as soon as possible.

Revs in talks with multiple DP targets

It was a relatively quiet winter for the New England Revolution, but they’re trying to change that by adding a new DP. Head coach Brad Friedel stated publicly on two different occasions last month that the club will sign a second Designated Player after Carles Gil, though he made clear that the Revs will be patient and wait for the right fit. That squares with MLSsoccer.com’s understanding of the situation – New England are engaged with multiple DP targets and want to get one over the line as soon as possible, but they’re not afraid to wait until closer to the end of the primary window if they can’t find the right fit for the right price.

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