Zlatan Ibrahimovic - LA Galaxy - 2019
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The 10 biggest roster holes left to fill across MLS as 2020 arrives | Charles Boehm

The 2020 MLS preseason starts in a matter of days. And while there’s still time to get deals done before the more daunting deadline of opening weekend at the end of February, many teams are facing crunch time as they address significant needs on their rosters.

With that in mind, here are my 10 biggest holes to fill across the league.

10. A proven finisher in Nashville

This observer is intrigued and mostly impressed by the expansion debutants’ roster-building thus far. It hasn’t necessarily been flashy, but Nashville SC have collected a diverse array of high-end, mid-grade and depth talent with a particular focus on the defensive side of the ball. The one glaring absence? A reliable frontrunner capable of efficiently dispatching scoring chances.

David Accam can score in bunches but he's expected to roam the wings, while Dominique Badji and the injury-prone Abu Danladi bear promising but incomplete resumes as MLS strikers. Daniel Rios and Cameron Lancaster have been brought up from their USL squad and could be dark horses, but it’s a risk to expect them to contribute end product from the jump.

9. Wing options at TFC

With the likely departure of Nicolas Benezet, who will TFC have fill the hole at wing this season? | Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Most of Toronto FC’s best moments of the past few years have featured dangerous, productive wide players, whether via fullbacks, wingbacks, traditional wingers or some combination thereof. But who will offer that sort of impact this season?

It sure looks like Nicolas Benezetto his chagrin – won’t be returning to Ontario in 2020. It’s unclear where Erickson Gallardo, the Venezuelan signed with TAM over the summer but given just 244 league minutes and none in the postseason, fits into the Reds’ plans.

Maybe they expect Griff Dorsey or Jacob Shaffelburg to make the leap in 2020, or are happy with trusted incumbents like Justin Morrow, Richie Laryea and Tsubasa Endoh. But to me they look a body or two short out wide.

8. A poacher for RBNY

  • 17, 24, 17, 20, 2
  • 1st, 1st, 6th, 1st, 6th

The first line above contains Bradley Wright-Phillips’ year-over-year league scoring totals for the New York Red Bulls. The second contains RBNY’s regular-season finish in the Eastern Conference standings (two of those first-place finishes were also Supporters’ Shield-winning campaigns).

BWP’s precipitous dropoff in 2019 – a slide heavily influenced by a nagging injury issue – was a devastating blow for the Red Bulls, and now the club legend is gone. Will it be enough to keep polishing a "goals by committee" approach relying on young strikers Brian White and Tom Barlow and the continued contributions of Daniel Royer and Kaku? I suspect a high-end spearhead of some sort is needed.

7. High-end creativity in D.C.

Who will be D.C. United's playmaker with Lucho Acosta no longer in the fold? | USA Today Sports Images

Having lost Lucho Acosta, Lucas Rodriguez and Wayne Rooney from last year’s squad, United are badly in need of attacking reinforcements to complement targetman Ola Kamara and busy wide men Paul Arriola and Yamil Asad.

They’ve recently been connected to a flurry of potential signings from abroad, including Santos Laguna’s Brian Lozano, Venezuelan striker Gelmin Rivas and Ecuadoran playmaker Christian Aleman, and appear to have gotten a big-money deal for Peruvian winger Edison Flores over the line this weekend. Will capturing two or three of this quartet be enough to replenish the armory?

6. Star power in Miami

Inter Miami finally got their first-ever head coach locked up with the unveiling of Diego Alonso the other day, a big box to check for sure. They have 22 players under contract at present, and could field a pretty decent starting XI tomorrow if they had to.

But only one of those 22 is a Designated Player, and as the Armchair Analyst Matt Doyle wrote, “this is Miami. In Miami, like in Los Angeles, you need at least one signing who makes headlines.”

So who will provide the sizzle to spruce up the steak? The list of rumor-mill names mooted is a dazzling one, including the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Antoine Griezmann and Edinson Cavani. We may not see those megastars in pink and black for some time yet; David Silva, Roger Martinez and/or Ignacio Fernandez seem more realistic gets right now.

5. An identity for Fire FC

I wrote about this topic at length after Chicago installed their new technical-staff brain trust, so check that out for a detailed breakdown. The short version is with new leadership, brand and home stadium, the Fire urgently need to flesh out their vision for 2020 – including their tentpole talent on the field – if only so that they have something concrete to sell to fans pondering their investment in the club’s new era.

4. A starting goalkeeper in Houston

Is William Yarbrough set to be the Dynamo's new No. 1 goalkeeper? | USA Today Sports Images

The Dynamo currently have just one ‘keeper, Michael Nelson, on their roster. And while the third-year pro may be ready to vie for the No. 1 job, he’s still yet to play a minute in MLS. So expect a prominent name or two to arrive soon.

Club Leon's American-Mexican dual-national William Yarbrough is reportedly a transfer target, as is Croatian youth international Marko Maric. As of now the GK spot is the thinnest for Tab Ramos and La Naranja.

3. Center backs for ATLUTD

What does Frank de Boer have in store at center back with Leandro Gonzalez Pirez's pending departure? | USA Today Sports Images

Expect Leandro Gonzalez Pirez's sale to Club Tijuana to go official any minute now. Once it does, Atlanta United will have just two out-and-out center backs on the books: Miles Robinson and 18-year-old Homegrown George Campbell. For a team that expects to fight for trophies again this year, that’s probably nowhere near enough!

It’s just one of the reasons I’ve been nonplussed to see LGP shipped out, no matter what transfer fee he may fetch. Clearly Frank de Boer has a plan in mind, and Five Stripes fans are eagerly waiting to see it manifest itself.

2. Strikers in LaLa

I’m cheating a bit here but it’s because the similarity between the frontline situation at LAFC and the LA Galaxy is striking. Though Cristian Pavon and Aleksandar Katai are savvy pickups for wide roles in the attack, the elder half of El Trafico have a large, Zlatan Ibrahimovic-shaped hole in the No. 9 role that won’t easily be filled.

Downtown at Banc of California Stadium, the reigning Supporters’ Shield holders have Adama Diomande as a proven option up top, and that’s about it. Sure, Carlos Vela can play as a false 9, but it’s not exactly Bob Bradley’s ideal setup. Selling Diego Rossi would open up both a DP slot and a place in the Black & Gold front four, if they want to make a splash.

1. A head coach for NYCFC

Ronny Deila will have to hit the ground running as NYCFC's new head coach | Reuters/Action Images

This one is pretty self-explanatory, no? The East’s top regular-season finisher in 2019 have a pretty menacing roster from top to bottom, but the Cityzens are now the sole coach-less team in MLS and the clock is ticking loudly. All that said, I expect them to unveil former Celtic boss Ronny Deila on Tuesday – and he’ll have to hit the ground running.

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