Lucas Zelarayan - Tigres - celebration
Reuters

The MLS stories you might have missed during 2019 holiday break

We get it. The holidays can be a busy time of year.

But the Major League news cycle doesn’t pause. Quite the opposite, in fact. Mindful of that, here are 10 of the most important storylines you might have missed as we rang in 2020.

Chicago’s new leadership

After much waiting, Chicago Fire FC have a trifecta of new leaders on the sporting side: head coach Raphael Wicky, sporting director Georg Heitz and technical director Sebastian Pelzer. That’s all on top of owner/chairman Joe Mansueto’s first full season at the wheel, a move downtown to Solider Field, a clean slate of Designated Player slots and new logo/color scheme.

MLSsoccer.com’s Charles Boehm has an in-depth breakdown of these wholesale changes for the Fire, where there’s only two months (and change) to hit the ground running in this seminal transition. Along the way, could there be hints of longtime Champions League group stage pest FC Basel? That’s one to watch for, as Wicky and Heitz both have extensive roots at the Swiss club.

Inter Miami lands first coach

Speaking of new coaches, 2020 expansion club Inter Miami CF have landed their inaugural coach, Diego Alonso, after months of speculation which included the names of Patrick Vieira, Marcelo Gallardo and Carlo Ancelotti.

The Uruguayan enters with an impressive regional pedigree, having managed a pair of Liga MX clubs (Pachuca and Monterrey) to a Concacaf Champions League title. CCL play is a ways off for Inter Miami and Alonso’s ramp-up time is comparatively short, but the club’s front office is bullish on what he can accomplish in the 305.

"MLS has made such a focus on trying to win Concacaf Champions League, I think the fact Diego has done it twice — with two different teams — is super valuable to me," sporting director Paul McDonough told the Associated Press. "He's young, has a clear idea of how he wants to play and his desire to coach Miami in the next step of his coaching career is super valuable to us."

Charlotte make first hire

It feels like ages ago, but the league’s 30th expansion team was named back on Dec. 17. MLS, after rapid growth in the last decade, is heading to Charlotte, North Carolina, with their bid led by billionaire David Tepper, owner of the Carolina Panthers.

While the Mint City won’t entertain MLS action until 2021 when Austin FC also enters the fold, there's already a big headline out of Charlotte. They've landed Zoran Krneta as their sporting director, and he enters the fold with experience as the co-founder of the global scouting network Star Sports & Entertainment.

Revs add third DP

During their first offseason under head coach/sporting director Bruce Arena, new signings have steadily flowed for the New England Revolution. None should be more impactful, though, than Polish forward Adam Buksa.

The 23-year-old joins Carles Gil and Gustavo Bou as Designated Players on the Revolution's books, giving the resurgent Eastern Conference side a promising attack heading into 2020. He comes from Polish club Pogon Szczecin, and earned his first call-up to Poland's senior team a little over a year ago. 

Crew set transfer fee record

The Revs weren’t the only team doing some holiday shopping, as Columbus Crew SC added Argentine attacking midfielder Lucas Zelarayan as a Designated Player from Liga MX side Tigres UANL. The deal is the largest in club history, with some reports pegging it at $7 million.

One way to look at the signing is as a replacement for Federico Higuain, who missed most of the 2019 season with a torn ACL before departing with legendary status in Columbus. Zelarayan, 27, marks the second major addition in Columbus this offseason, as they also traded for midfielder Darlington Nagbe from Atlanta. 

USMNT squad list

The roster for the annual US men’s national team January camp has been released, and 22 of the 25 players are on MLS teams. As is usually the case in January, the roster leans upon several young talents with bright futures. From MLS, that certainly applies to Philadelphia Union midfielder Brenden Aaronson, LA Galaxy defender/midfielder Julian Araujo and FC Dallas forward Jesus Ferreira. There are youth national teamers such as Wolfburg's Uly Llanez, Bryang Kayo (unattached) and Hobro's Christian Cappis.

The majority of the camp won’t be held in the US, though, as they’ll train and play closed-door scrimmages from Jan. 5-25 at the Aspire Academy in Doha, Qatar, before facing Costa Rica on Feb. 1 at Dignity Health Sports Park. Why Qatar, you might ask? The 2022 FIFA World Cup is heading to the Asian country.

MLS schedule drops

The waiting game is over, as the 2020 schedule dropped back on Dec. 19. Matches will begin Feb. 29 and run all the way through Decision Day presented by AT&T on Oct. 4, with Heineken Rivalry Week set for August 20-23.

With 26 teams set to compete, each team will again play 34 matches. That breaks down to 17 home and 17 away, with two matchups set against each conference opponent and 10 against non-conference ones. That means each MLS side will miss three non-conference foes in 2020, and you can check out who that entails here

Early SuperDraft signees

 

Stanford defender Tanner Beason will soon be joining an MLS team | USA Today Sports

Every MLS fan knows the offseason brings a variety of drafts, and the next one, the SuperDraft presented by adidas, is set for Jan. 9. The entire player pool will surface before teams make their selections, though six players have already signed.

The Generation adidas players are Clemson junior forward Robbie Robinson, Indiana sophomore defender Jack Maher, Virginia junior center back Henry Kessler and Syracuse sophomore midfielder Ryan Raposo. Meanwhile, the pre-signed seniors are Georgetown defender Dylan Nealis and Stanford defender Tanner Beason.

Rumor mill keeps churning

 

Yimmi Chara could soon join his brother in the Rose City | USA Today Sports

The offseason/silly season/winter transfer window — or, really, whatever you want to call it — saw plenty of intriguing names linked to various MLS teams. One headliner is Colombian forward Yimmi Chara, who could link up with his brother Diego in Portland.

Peru's World Cup goalkeeper Pedro Gallese has been linked with Orlando City SC and there’s also buzz about Atlanta potentially adding Paraguayan midfielder Mathias Villasanti. 

For two more, several MLS clubs are linked to Chelsea winger Pedro and the LA Galaxy are reportedly adding Stuttgart defender Emiliano Insua. There’s a lot to sort through, so check out our Transfer Tracker updates here

The year, decade that was

As the calendar flips to 2020, we’re also saying goodbye to a decade of MLS action. That leads to plenty of reflective content on the 2010s, and some teams of the decade. Bobby Warshaw has one for MLS as a whole, while Greg Seltzer has another for the USMNT

There were also some stories about the 2019 season and its biggest takeaways, as Matthew Doyle takes his usual long look back and Tom Bogert selected 10 of the defining storylines.