Start your countdown clock now. Less than 50 days until the secondary transfer window opens on July 9. Summer is coming, and with it a crop of new faces.
While we wait for the rumor mill to take over the news cycle, it’s an opportune time to take a closer look at the best import work done in the primary window. I’m not talking trades. I’m not talking free agency. I’m talking players new to Major League Soccer, players whose arrival gave the league a boost of quality.
I give you all 24 club’s best signing from the 2019 primary transfer window. Remember, it’s my opinion, not yours. You’ve got ample space for a rebuttal in the comment section or in my Twitter mentions.
Atlanta United – Pity Martinez
By default! Pity was the big-ticket move of the MLS offseason and the likes of Dion Pereira and Florentin Pogba can’t knock him off this list, even though one goal and one assist in 15 games (MLS and CCL) isn’t enough from a player with his resume and price tag. The Argentine looks a little more comfortable every game, but patience has to give way to production at some point.
Chicago Fire – Nicolas Gaitan
Shout out to Przemyslaw Frankowski, but Nico Gaitan is the clear choice here. Frankowski’s versatility and pace make the Fire better, but Gaitan’s playmaking ability has the potential to push the club into the top tier of the Eastern Conference. He started slow, but dropped two goals and two assists in two games before picking up a hamstring injury. Chicago better hope the knock is an outlier.
FC Cincinnati – Leonardo Bertone
The #PlayYourKids half of my brain wanted to go with Frankie Amaya, the No. 1 overall SuperDraft pick who’s pushed his way into the starting XI of late. The #CCLFever half said it had to be Allan Cruz. Mathieu Deplagne got some consideration, too. I’m taking the 25-year-old Bertone, who made history with his laser beam against the Sounders and has paired well with Victor Ulloa in central midfield. There’s no obvious answer, which you can read a couple different ways.
Colorado Rapids – Andre Shinyashiki
Padraig Smith eschewed TAM signings this offseason in favor of the MLS trade market, free agency and a batch of Homegrown Player signings. There is but one MLS newcomer for the Rapids, and that’s SuperDraft first-rounder Shinyashiki, who already has a game-tying goal in the driving snow and the only game-winning goal scored by any Colorado player. Not a bad start for a rookie striker.
Columbus Crew SC – Aboubacar Keita
In an ideal world, the choice here is Robinho and Columbus have less to worry about when it comes to chance creation and legitimate goal threats not named Gyasi Zardes. This is not an ideal world. The Homegrown central defender is the pick here because of his potential … and because Robinho hasn’t show himself to be an impact player yet. Keita is headed to Poland with Tab Ramos’ US squad for the U-20 World Cup. He’s just 19 years old.
FC Dallas – Edwin Cerrillo
Maybe I should have gone with Bryan Acosta. The Honduran Designated Player is the conventional choice, given his profile and salary. I think it’s Cerrillo because of the message the 18-year-old midfielder is sending to his FC Dallas academy peers and the rest of MLS. Hype isn’t everything. Give the kids a chance, and they might just show you something you weren’t expecting. The only reason he won’t be in Luchi Gonzalez’s XI for the next few weeks is because he’ll be with Ramos and the U-20s in Poland.
D.C. United – Leonardo Jara
Lucas Rodriguez has shown flashes, and perhaps the answer to this question will be the 22-year-old come October. For now, though, steady and sometimes spectacular Leonardo Jara is the best import for general manager Dave Kasper. Jara arrived in D.C. fresh off a run to the Copa Libertadores final with Boca Juniors and immediately locked down the right back job. He’s arguably been the top player in his position in MLS.
Houston Dynamo – Aljaz Struna
The Eddie Robinson and Bobby Boswell days are long gone. Center back has been a revolving door for the Dynamo since 2013, and Struna’s brought a no-nonsense, no-mistakes approach to the position while partnering Maynor Figueroa and Alejandro Fuenmayor. Runner-up status goes to Matias Vera, who has helped cover for the previously irreplaceable Juan David Cabezas.
LAFC – Eddie Segura
Central defenders! It’s a trend. It was Walker Zimmerman and ?????? for Bob Bradley last season. Laurent Ciman was the captain, then he was gone and Dejan Jakovic and Danilo Silva split duty. Nobody has played more minutes for LAFC in 2019 than Segura, who arrived on loan this winter from Atletico Huila in his native Colombia. Good scouting from John Thorrington and his staff.
LA Galaxy – Diego Polenta
You could go with Uriel Antuna, the raw-but-talented 21-year-old on loan from Manchester City and recently included in Tata Martino’s Gold Cup preliminary squad. Same for Julian Araujo or Joe Corona. Maybe Favio Alvarez will push his way into this conversation. For now, it’s gotta be Polenta. The guy was riding horses in Uruguay and thinking about walking away from soccer for good six months ago. Instead, Guillermo Barros Schelotto and Dennis Te Kloese convinced him to come settle the Galaxy backline. The last four games are meh, but he’s a massive improvement on the previous situation.
Minnesota United – Romain Metanire
I’m a big Metanire fan. Nobody bombs up and down the sideline the way the right back and Madagascar international does for the Loons. Plucked from Ligue 2, he can deliver the final ball, defend 1v1 and connect play with his passing and driving runs. I supposed you could also go for Jan Gregus or maybe Vito Mannone, but I wouldn’t. Minnesota needed Metanire to hit, and so far he has.
Montreal Impact – Orji Okwonkwo
Middling returns so far for the Impact’s imports. Harry Novillo has been decent, but not great. Omar Browne had a nice moment, but he’s a recent arrival. Zachary Brault-Guillard and Clement Bayiha have gotten some games, but Okwonkwo is my pick because he allowed Montreal to get through a stretch without the injured Nacho Piatti.
New England Revolution – Carles Gil
Gotta hit on your Designated Players. Looks like the Revs hit on the 26-year-old Gil. Hopefully, looks are not deceiving. Lots of change coming for New England. It will be interesting to see where Gil falls in the Bruce Arena rebuild.
New York City FC – Heber
The blue side of New York went from playing a rotating cast of miscast false 9s to running out one of the most unselfish DP forwards in league history. Heber makes all the right runs, whether you give him the ball or not. That opens up space for the trio of withdrawn attackers behind him
New York Red Bulls – Omir Fernandez/Sean Nealis/Tom Barlow
In true Red Bulls fashion, we’re doing this thing by committee and pulling straight from the academy/SuperDraft/USL. All three of these guys has contributed in big moments when called upon by Chris Armas. Fernandez in CCL and now MLS, Nealis of late due to injuries on the backline and Barlow banging in goals for RBII and now the first team. This is the Red Bulls way.
Orlando City – Nani
Ruan was a nice find. Sebastian Mendez is an Ecuadorian international at the age of 22. Orlando City didn’t bet the house on either of those players, however. The Lions need Nani to come through to justify the massive investment and three-year deal. TBD on the future of that investment, but the present has shown good returns. The Portuguese international called a team meeting right off the bat to get everyone on the same page and has seven goals and four assists in 11 games.
Philadelphia Union – Kai Wagner
Sergio Santos and Jamiro Monteiro got the TAM, but Ernst Tanner deserves major props for unearthing Wagner from the German third division. The left back walked right into a starting spot and has thrived (outside one very bad, no good tackle) at left back, a notoriously hard spot to fill. Even better, he came at a value. Even better, the Union could sell him later for a tidy profit.
Portland Timbers – Brian Fernandez
The Timbers dropped a club-record transfer fee on the Argentine attacker. He scored on his debut. Jorge Moreira has had some scattered moments, but this is a no-brainer. Portland are betting the 24-year-old will keep their MLS Cup window open for a long, long time.
Real Salt Lake – Sam Johnson
Johnson says he’s moved past the public comments that got him a talking to from Mike Petke and the late arrival to a meeting that got him benched. Real Salt Lake hope that’s true because the Liberian looks the part of a line-stretching goalscorer, something the club desperate needs after a bunch of striker misses in the transfer market. His “grace period” is likely to last as long as he keeps scoring.
San Jose Earthquakes – Cristian Espinoza
Beware Espinoza in the open field with a head of steam. Matias Almeyda’s system relies on players winning their individual matchups, and Espinoza is an absolute handful for opposing defenders and more than willing to harry on the other side of the ball. He started the season as a goalscorer, now the Argentine is playing assist man. For San Jose to make the playoffs, they likely need more of both.
Seattle Sounders – Xavier Arreaga
OK, so this is more of a long play. Danny Leyva and Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez are in the Edwin Cerrillo mold, but unlike Cerrillo they haven’t played for the first team. Neither has Arreaga, of course, but he very well may be the long-term replacement for the retiring Chad Marshall, a rock the Sounders build around for the next five years. The 24-year-old captained Barcelona SC and just got the Copa America call-up for Ecuador.
Sporting Kansas City – Botond Barath
With Ike Opara out, Sporting KC needed cover. They got it in Barath, who may not have the upside of the former Defender of the Year but has so far been reliable filling in for Andreu Fontas and Matt Besler. It’s not his fault Kansas City are beset by injury and scuffling.
Toronto FC – Alejandro Pozuelo
I don’t need to explain this one, do I? He has five goals and six assists in his first 10 MLS matches, and has so far filled the small-but-metaphorically-giant shoes of former star playmaker Sebastian Giovinco.
Vancouver Whitecaps – Inbeom Hwang
If I could go with a duo, I’d go Derek Cornelius and Erik Godoy. Any time you bring in a new pairing in central defense to a team with a new coach and style of play and they perform credibly, that’s damn impressive. Just landing Inbeom was a statement of intent for the ‘Caps. We haven’t seen the final product yet, but everything else is so dazzling that it’s worth waiting for the South Korean international to find his rhythm in the final third.