Armchair Analyst: Nine silly-season moves I want to see before the window opens

The biggest moves of any offseason come once the transfer and trade window re-opens in January. You start getting hints about what those moves will be, or even sometimes outright confirmations, but they don't become official until the new year.

But those are very obviously not the only moves that can be made. MLS teams have a surfeit of roster build mechanisms – this is a league that literally has a draft of drafts, folks – and so there's plenty that can happen before Jan. 1. Re-Entry Draft Stage 1? Check. Re-Entry Draft Stage 2? Check. Free agency? Check. Waiver draft? Check.

It's not enough, but it's still a lot, and that's what this column is about. If you're already in the comments section screeching about Mario Balotelli to Montreal, Jesus Medina getting traded to FC Cincinnati or Gabigol signing anywhere (please make it happen!), you've blown it because you're commenting on the wrong column. Those moves can't happen until 2020, and this column isn't about that.

This column is about the moves that can, and in some cases will happen over the next month. And after having perused the roster clear-outs that were announced last week, I've come up with a few adjustments that I'm now trying to write into reality.

Let's start where I always start:

LAFC acquire Juan Agudelo via Re-Entry Draft Stage 1

I firmly, relentlessly and probably stupidly still believe there is a break-out season waiting for Agudelo somewhere as a center forward. I can not quit him.

This belief has gone beyond tragedy and is probably now comfortably embedded as farce, because Agudelo scored all of three goals in 2019 with the New England Revolution, a year in which he spent most of his time playing basically anywhere except center forward. He has six goals in the past two seasons, and it's not like he hasn't been on the field during that time: my guy got almost 3500 minutes. And yeah, he's now been a pro for a decade and has never scored double-digit goals in a season.

But the talent is there (please inscribe that on my tombstone). Everyone who's ever watched Agudelo play has thought to themselves "oh man, if he just puts it together..."

That includes LAFC head coach Bob Bradley, who 1) gave Agudelo his USMNT debut 10 years ago, and 2) has a hankering and a knack for fixing broken things (as he's done for Adama Diomande). I am not the only one who thinks this way:

Agudelo has scored some of the most ridiculous goals in league history (you should really do yourself a favor and click on all of those). But as his lack of super-productive goal-scoring seasons underlines, he doesn't play "goal hungry." He'd almost rather just drift around the 18 and combine, creating chances for others, than put the ball in the back of the net himself. He's never really seemed to think of himself as a first option.

Now consider that skillset within the context of LAFC's attack – specifically who their wingers are.

By the way, Agudelo's still just 27 years old. I might be writing this same column ahead of the 2030 MLS season to be honest.

Why it won't happen: Because he's 27 years old, he's been a pro for a decade without scoring double-digit goals, and his last coach decided he'd be best as a central midfielder. And because his contract puts him just into TAM territory, which is a lot to spend on a journeyman – which is what Agudelo now is.

He's much more likely to go in Stage 2, at which point he becomes a no-brainer for FC Cincinnati with the No. 1 pick.

Why it will happen: As I mentioned, Bradley loves to fix broken things and unlock latent potential in players young and old. Beyond that there's the on-field fit, but also the roster fit. So far LAFC have resisted, at almost all costs, signing a DP center forward, and even if they sell Diego Rossi this winter they'll probably still resist the urge to get themselves a DP No. 9.

Thus right now, as at the end of last season, Diomande is the only guy on the roster at that spot. They literally have no center forward depth.

They need a guy who can be a functional MLS backup or – better yet – who can challenge Dio at that spot if things go right. Agudelo is that guy, even if it requires a fairly expensive gamble to figure out as much.

Other scenarios I'd accept: Agudelo to...

  • Sporting Kansas City because Sporting always take Revs cast-offs and usually make them better. Though I can't imagine Peter Vermes would be wild about trusting his center forward role yet again to a guy who's a questionable finisher.
  • Cincinnati because they need talent, and Agudelo's got that. Plus I think he'd work well in the 4-3-3 that Ron Jans is trying to build.
  • Montreal because when Agudelo and Thierry Henry were teammates, Agudelo used to drive Henry nuts with his laissez-faire attitude, and I am forever #TeamChaos.

Seattle Sounders sign Kelyn Rowe via Free Agency

It seemed, two years ago, like Rowe was finally going to get the chance to grow into the kind of modern attacking midfielder he'd never really been afforded in his club career. He was drafted by a New England team that already had Lee Nguyen as their playmaker, and so Rowe ended up becoming something of a utility man, being used on either wing, sometimes as a No. 8, sometimes as a 10, and way to freaking often at left back.

And then he finally got that call-up for the 2017 Gold Cup, and seemed to make the most of it:

Rowe was really, really freaking good. And then for some reason Bruce Arena sent him home after the group stage, and then Rowe never really jibed with Brad Friedel in New England, and then it didn't work out – at all – with Vermes in KC, and then he hit "little-used sub with no real position" status in the second half of this season with Real Salt Lake.

This is not how his career should have gone.

Why it won't happen: There is no good reason except "someone else comes in with a bigger checkbook or guarantees a starting role."

Why it will happen: Seattle have tried to acquire Rowe before. I know that for a fact – there has been serious interest there. And now they're in a situation where they need depth everywhere in attacking midfield since it looks like MLS Cup MVP Victor Rodriguez isn't going to be back and Harry Shipp's role has been reduced (if he's even coming back).

Rowe literally has a tattoo of the Seattle skyline on his calf the back of his arm. I'll be surprised if he doesn't finally head back home this winter.

Other scenarios I'd accept: Rowe to...

  • I'm not sure Rowe is a Ben Olsen type of player, but if D.C. United offer him the No. 10 shirt – playing underneath Ola Kamara and alongside solid wingers like Yamil Asad and Paul Arriola – that could be an attractive spot.
  • Colorado had Rowe for a hot minute last year before shipping him to KC, and they need attacking midfield pieces. Plus their ethos of "buy low on distressed assets" fits pretty well.
  • Would be tough to say no to LAFC or the LA Galaxy, right? Hollywood ain't home, but Rowe went to college at UCLA.

Haris Medunjanin to the Galaxy via Waivers

Note: FC Cincinnati claimed Medunjanin in Monday's Waiver Draft.

Medunjanin was an iron man last year for Philly, playing every minute. It caught up to the 34-year-old at the end of the year as he looked heavy-legged and slower than usual (and his usual is pretty slow). He can't do that kind of lift again, and the Union know it. So they've understandably moved on.

That should give the Galaxy an opportunity to move in. Now that the Zlatan era is over it stands to reason that Guillermo Barros Schelotto will want to give his team more of an "we're an actual soccer team" structure, and that should start in central midfield. Everything will and should run through Jonathan dos Santos, but dos Santos will need to be strategically rested – I guess we'll call it "load management," as they do in the NBA – and in those games, the Galaxy will need a deep-lying midfield conductor.

Medunjanin could/should be that guy.

Why it won't happen: It would require a pretty hefty pay cut for it to make sense from LA's point of view. If Medunjanin's not willing to do that, then this won't get done.

Why it will happen: I just don't think I see a spot where he gets starter's minutes or starter's money in MLS, so if he wants to stay in MLS, there are much worse ways to ride into the sunset than living in Manhattan Beach on a quarter-million dollars a year.

And by the way, there's a non-zero chance that if they do acquire Medunjanin, the best Galaxy lineup could feature him, Dos Santos and Sebastian Lletget in the same midfield with Cristian Pavon, Romain Alessandrini and *insert big-name DP striker here* up top. Last year LA struggled to get the ball to their attackers in rhythm and against scrambling defenses, but that midfield trio I listed, with Medunjanin pulling the strings from deep...

I mean, Medunjanin really is a wizard at manipulating the shape of the entire opposing defense and then getting the ball to the wingers in space.

Other scenarios I'd accept:

  • Maybe LA would prefer Sacha Kljestan for this role? He's a little bit younger younger and he played something similar to this spot back in his Anderlecht days.
  • Marc Dos Santos tried to use Jon Erice as a budget Medunjanin last year in Vancouver. Maybe this year they go for the real thing.

Nashville SC acquire Fabian Castillo with the No. 1 Allocation Slot

Ok, I'm cheating with this one, since Nashville wouldn't technically be able to get Castillo into town until Jan. 1, but the deal could get done before then. Anyway...

Castillo hasn't really had the career most of us thought he would once he left FC Dallas a few years back. Like Agudelo he is now a 27-year-old journeyman – albeit a journeyman who has mostly been a starter or key sub for one of the best teams in Liga MX during the Apertura. And a journeyman whose contract is running out next summer. And a journeyman who, remember, did stuff like this in MLS once upon a time:

I like Nashville's roster build-out so far, but Randall Leal's not a sure thing, and neither is David Accam (given his injury history), and Abu Danladi certainly isn't, and neither is Alan Winn, and neither is Hany Mukhtar.

Castillo is. I don't think he'd be a Best XI-caliber guy in the 2020 version of MLS, but it wouldn't shock me at all if he reprised the types of 9g/7a seasons he had in Dallas that got him to the fringes of the Colombian national team in the first half of the decade.

Why it won't happen: I don't have a good answer for this beyond "Nashville have their eye on somebody else from the allocation order." Fabian Johnson and Andy Najar are both there, and both potential solutions at right back for the newcomers, but given their respective injury histories, I'd stay far, far away from each of them.

This should happen.

Why it will happen: All of the above. Plus bear in mind that Queretaro are a selling club who are currently in the midst of one of their best-ever seasons, and will want cash to keep their core group together no matter what happens in the Liguilla. Castillo's been good, but he's been edged out of that core group, and his contract is up next summer, so it makes way too much sense for them to get what they can for him and bank it.

Other scenarios I'd accept: Nashville sell the allocation slot to...

  • RBNY badly need speed and goal-scoring from the wing. Castillo's not as high-profile as their fanbase would want, but damn would he be a nice fit.
  • Cincy – say it with me now – need attacking talent.
  • Vancouver – say it with me now – need attacking talent.

Sporting KC acquire Juan David Cabezas via Re-Entry Draft Stage 2

Cabezas was so, so good for Houston in 2017. Then he got hurt and they went in the tank for 2018 – though he did return for the U.S. Open Cup final, and was a big part of a dominant win for the Dynamo. Then he kind of fell out of favor, and got hurt some more in 2019, and now he's out of contract.

Lots of bad luck, and I think some bad coaching decisions played a factor here. But Cabezas, at his best in 2017, was one of the very best d-mids in the league, a true ball-winning hard man who made it so, so difficult to play through the middle vs. Houston. Sporting badly needed a dose of that this past season.

Why it won't happen: "He was good before he basically missed two straight seasons via injury" isn't the greatest sell, is it? There's a chance he's just too physically broken to replicate what he did in 2017.

Why it will happen: He's still just 28! He's nowhere near over the hill, and while missing the past two years sucks, it will have limited the ambient wear-and-tear that comes from playing 3000 minutes a season.

Plus Cabezas was never on big money. If he's willing to sign after going through Stage 2 of the Re-Entry Draft, he'll be very, very affordable.

Other scenarios I'd accept:

  • San Jose don't have much hard-man, ball-winning depth behind Judson.
  • Colorado's central midfield depth chart is one player deep at pretty much every spot, so Cabezas would be useful. Plus he's a different kind of player than Kellyn Acosta or Jack Price, which could give Robin Fraser some tactical flexibility.

Houston Dynamo acquire Miguel Ibarra via Re-Entry Draft Stage 1

Christian Ramirez went to the Dynamo last summer. Darwin Quintero joined him this winter. Ibarra should join them on Tuesday.

Back in 2018, when all three guys were on Minnesota United, they shared the pitch for just over 1000 minutes as per Opta, and as first noted by Jeff Rueter. In those 1000 minutes the Loons scored 23 goals – or 2.1 goals per 90. In the other 2,300 minutes Minnesota played that year, they scored 26 goals – or 1.0 goals per 90. This remains the best performance in MNUFC's MLS history:

This one should be easy for Tab Ramos and the Dynamo. Get veterans who know how to play together and who would have instant chemistry.

Why it won't happen: Ibarra's contract is so affordable relative to his two-way ability, positional flexibility (he used to play central midfield) and locker room rep (he's one of the good guys) that somebody could/should pick him before the Dynamo, who are sixth, will get a chance to do so.

Why it will happen: The first stage of the Re-Entry draft is usually pretty slow, so other than Inter Miami we'll probably see a lot of passing in those first six picks.

Other scenarios I'd accept:

  • I really feel like Ibarra would be a good fit for Samurai Soccer, so I could see him playing for Matias Almeyda in San Jose.
  • Cincy – say it with me now – need attacking talent.
  • Vancouver – say it with me now – need attacking talent.
  • Inter Miami traded up to get that No. 1 Re-Entry spot for a reason...

Inter Miami acquire Mikey Ambrose via Re-Entry Draft Stage 1

I don't think the reason Miami grabbed that No. 1 slot is for a specific player. I think they went out and grabbed it because sporting director Paul McDonough believes the current trade market is inflated, and thus it's actually more cost effective – in terms of managing allocation cash – to get guys via the Expansion and Re-Entry Drafts.

Why it won't happen: If I was McDonough I'd take Cristian Higuita just because it would send Orlando City fans into hysterics. Let them know what's up.

Why it will happen: If you go out on the trade market and try to get a guy you want, a starter or a significant sub, you might get him at a better salary point, but you're paying out the other end in terms of GAM or TAM. Via the draft mechanisms you might overpay by 10 or 20 percent on salary, but in the end that's less of a hit than working the phones.

So if wouldn't entirely shock me if Miami went for a higher-salaried player here, like Higuita, Ibarra or Cabezas. But in terms of filling out the Miami roster it makes more sense to go after Ambrose – a guy McDonough has acquired before (he brought Ambrose to Atlanta via the 2016 Expansion Draft) – as a cheap and no frills way of adding left back depth.

This pick was part of the Victor Ulloa trade with Cincy, by the way. Miami will have acquired their backup LB and, in Ulloa, a potential starting DM for their own Re-Entry Draft pick (26th overall), a 3rd-round SuperDraft pick and $50,000 of GAM. It's tough to imagine a cheaper way of adding two contributors.

Other scenarios I'd accept:

  • As I'm writing this, Diego Valeri is still eligible for the Re-Entry Draft. I don't think that'll still be the case on Tuesday, but man, that'd be a hell of a pick.

Colorado Rapids acquire Jeff Larentowicz via free agency

The Rapids have been clever and aggressive about shopping within the league for contributors over the past three transfer/trade windows, and it's mostly worked for them. They've also mostly gotten younger in the process, which is a good thing.

But as of now they're thin in central midfield and in some ways it feels like they're a little bit too young. Larentowicz is a leader and a winner who's done it in Colorado before – he was arguably the best player on their MLS Cup-winning side in 2010 – and he's good for filling in about 1500 minutes at defensive midfield or on the back line.

The dude's been a leader and a winner his whole career, and while that career is almost over (he'll be 37 before next season's done), he still has gas in the tank, and is a fit for some very obvious Rapids needs.

Why it won't happen: He's a fit for some very obvious needs for both LA teams – that's where he was born – and for Philly; that's where he grew up. And there are a half-dozen other teams that could use what he brings.

Why it will happen: The Rapids really need this, and in a lot of ways it fits their M.O. more than any other team.

Other scenarios I'd accept:

  • I mean, Atlanta should probably just hit his number.
  • As mentioned above, Philly and both LA teams have need for a veteran hard-man.

Houston acquire Danilo Acosta via waivers

Note: The Galaxy – who need a left back – grabbed Acosta in Monday's Waiver Draft.

Acosta has become flammable because of off-the-field (and in-the-locker room) issues. He got his last chance in Orlando City last year and it didn't work out, but I'm drawing up one more last chance for him here. This is why:

Do you want a left back who can break three lines on one sequence? And who gets stuck in to win the damn ball? Yes, yes you do.

Why it won't happen: As talented as Acosta is – and yeah, the guy's been called into national team camps for both the US and Honduras, so it's safe to say he's pretty talented – those locker room issues are no joke. RSL tried to play him, then they benched him, then the loaned him, and then after he came back from that loan because Orlando said no thanks, they cut him.

Talent will only take you so far.

Why it will happen: Talent will still take you pretty far! In Acosta's case it took him to the quarterfinals of the 2017 U-20 World Cup, where he started at left back for a team coached by... Tab Ramos. There were no locker room issues to be found with that group, so maybe Tab is the right guy to get the right sort of professional approach out of Acosta.

Other scenarios I'd accept:

  • Literally anything that turns Acosta into a professional. The kid is such a talent – it'd be brutal to see that go to waste.
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