Armchair Analyst: Roster build status for the Eastern Conference ahead of the 2020 season

NOTE: This column was first published on January 6, and will be updated periodically throughout the preseason. 

Welcome to the 2020s.

Welcome as well to the real start of the roster-building season. There have been some moves, of course – especially in central Ohio – but for the most part, MLS front offices have spent the past few months paring down their rosters in order to create flexibility to add more depth and quality ahead of the season.

And "ahead of the season" means just about now. The SuperDraft was a couple weeks ago and preseason has started for all 26 teams. The transfer window officially opens in early February, and the 25th MLS season kicks off on February 29. All of that means that the clock is ticking and there are deals that need to get done.

With that in mind, here is the roster build status for the 13 Eastern Conference teams. Here is the companion column on the 13 Western Conference teams. I will be updating both columns semi-regularly throughout the preseason.

And... off we go:


Atlanta United FC

The Offseason So Far: Darlington Nagbe's gone and while it hasn't yet been made official, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez is surely going. Will Franco Escobar be next? Tito Villalba? Julian Gressel?

They've shipped out most of their left back/left wingback depth, and Brandon Vazquez was taken in the expansion draft so they don't have much center forward depth, either. They did get Emerson Hyndman permanently and were able to get Brooks Lennon from RSL for a song, so it hasn't been a total egress of talent, but nonetheless this has been a fairly significant roster retool that could end up seeing as many as six new starters in 2020.

Will that mean one or both of Ezequiel Barco and Pity Martinez gets sold? I kiiiiiind of doubt it, but wouldn't stake my life (or yours) on that doubt. At some point they'll want to give Frank de Boer the ability to sign one of "his" DPs, and that'll mean parting with one of their non-Josef DPs.

Some reports have 22-year-old Paraguayan international CM Mathias Villasanti incoming, and he profiles very clearly as a Nagbe replacement. Others have Vilsanti's teammate, left back Santiago Arzamendia, as the imminent Paraguayan arrival.

Por que no los dos?

January 22 Update: LGP is officially gone-zo. At the same time, CBs Fernando Meza and Anton Walkes officially arrived, and then a couple of days later Atlanta used their first-round SuperDraft pick on Patrick Nielsen (a lot of smart college soccer folks were/are high on Nielsen, though bear in mind he occupies an international roster slot so nobody should expect to see him playing above ATLUTD 2 this year).

So they've answered their CB depth issues – and, in Meza and Miles Robinson, presumably have their starting duo in ink. This is no longer an area of concern.

Left back still kind of is, though it's now much, much less of a concern given they brought in MLS veteran Edgar Castillo on a free. Some combination of Castillo and George Bello should give them the flexibility they need to work a deal for Arzamendia or whichever other LB happens to be highest on the target list.

But yeah, here's my question to you: Which is a bigger loss – LGP or Gressel? Because on Tuesday Atlanta finally made it official, shipping the German wingback/fullback/winger/CM up the road to D.C. for a king's ransom in allocation cash.

I kiiiiind of get it. Gressel's best position is as a wingback, but it doesn't look like De Boer wants to play with wingbacks, so from a certain point of view it doesn't make sense to pay the kind of contract (reportedly $700k) he ended up with. This was obviously a hard and potentially disastrous decision, but there's logic behind it.

My guess is that there'll be a flurry of further moves from Atlanta – how much longer do we think Villalba's got, especially now that Adam Jahn is in town as Josef's backup? – as soon as the CBA is signed.


Chicago Fire

The Offseason So Far: 

If Atlanta gets "significant retool" then the Fire are the poster children for "complete overhaul." All three DPs are gone, as is Dax McCarty, as are a bunch of depth pieces at every level, as are three of their five goalkeepers.

And obviously the even bigger story of the offseason is the new braintrust in town. Veljko Paunovic was dismissed in November and Nelson Rodriguez has moved to the business side of operations, which means that its GM Georg Heitz, technical director Sebastian Pelzer and head coach Raphael Wicky who are now calling the sporting shots. Heitz and Wicky worked together for an FC Basel team that was notable for their commitment to pushing young, promising players through the system and into the lineup, and in the press release announcing Pelzer's hire at the end of December one of the job descriptions was to "scout and evaluate players locally and abroad."

What I'm saying is that I think the Fire are going to be a younger team that profiles more closely to what, say, NYCFC or LAFC have done rather than the long-in-the-tooth bunch they were under Paunovic.

Their one significant offseason move thus far has been signing Spanish central midfielder Alvaro Medran back in October. They still have all three DP slots open and I'd be shocked if at least one of them wasn't filled with a big name before the season kicks off.

January 21 Update: The first DP signing of this new era was... fringe Serbian national team forward Robert Beric from Saint-Etienne? And then he did a shot of Malort?

This is the most Chicago welcome possible, and I am now a fan for life. Beric doesn't have a gigantic resume but he does have a "this guy should be more-than-solid-in-MLS" resume, and I'm good with that. And besides, "solid" strikers have a way of becoming much more than that if the front office surrounds them with exceptional playmakers.

Which, you know, they're still efforting. One report, which I believe, is that they're combing South America for young attackers, while I've seen others that say there will be an attacking right back brought in from Eastern Europe. That makes a lot of sense to me, and makes me happy, but I still think they add to need one "name" DP.

Here's the news that made me even happier, though: Chicago signed Homegrown DM/CB (for what it's worth I think he'll be a ball-playing CB in MLS, and I'm not kidding when I say that I think he could start from Day 1) Mauricio Pineda last week. Pineda's brother Victor was the original Fire Homegrown 10 years ago, and Victor's career did not go as anyone had hoped, and given that Mauricio was allowed to go through all four years of college soccer without getting an "ok, I've gotta sign this one" offer from the Fire, I was pretty worried they'd lose this kid.

That they didn't is potentially a huge tell regarding the future of the club.

Is the tell that this new brain trust will have a more aggressive approach to identifying, developing, signing and integrating (and then potentially selling) local talent than previous iterations? I sure hope so. Chicago's a gold mine of talent, and all they have to do is be willing to dig.


FC Cincinnati

The Offseason So Far: It hasn't been a full-on cull; there are just too many long-term, guaranteed contracts to do that. The way the FC Cincy brain trust put this roster together a year ago might've effectively made their expansion entrance into the league last three years. It's a case study, and not in a great way.

So new GM Gerard Nijkamp and head coach Ron Jans have had to make moves within the margins. Getting Philly regista Haris Medunjanin looks, on the face of it, like a smart move. He'll sit in front of a veteran central defense and behind two energetic ball-winners and just pull strings with that gorgeous left foot of his, repeatedly getting his wingers out into isolation or, even better, into space.

The big question is obviously whether the wingers or center forwards on the roster are equipped to do much with whatever Medunjanin or the other midfielders conjure. Vazquez, who just turned 21, will presumably get his big chance to prove he can be a starting-caliber No. 9. Joseph-Claude Gyau and Kekuta Manneh will each get one last chance at the Last Chance Cafe.

But yeah, this roster's almost full and Cincy have been up front since before Day 1 that they're not going to make any huge moves until they're ready to move into their new stadium, which isn't happening for another year. Expect another trade or two, but what you're seeing now is likely pretty close to what you'll get.

EDIT: Ok, it turns out that last paragraph was almost entirely wrong. The Athletic's Sam Stejskal reported in mid-December that Cincinnati aim to have three new DPs – all attacking players – though that could be spread out over this window and the next. Allan Cruz has already been moved down to a TAM contract, and there's obviously going to be some sort of resolution with regard to Fanendo Adi.

A source says the first of those DPs could be announced as soon as this week.

January 21 Update: Yuya Kubo was the DP that they were about to sign, and then they went ahead and actually did sign him. I'm still not sure whether they see him more as a center forward or a winger, but this is how it breaks down: They are threadbare on the wings and probably need him more at that spot. However, Kubo is probably better and more comfortable (via reports I've read and clips I've seen) as a center forward.

So your guess is as good as mine. But I don't think any Cincy fans will be complaining about incoming talent.

Know who's probably not incoming? Uruguay national team playmaker Gaston Pereiro. Rik Elfrink is a god-tier source for all things PSV:

For what it's worth, Cincy fans: I would not be at all upset at the club for not being able to get this one across the line. Be impressed by their ambition and confident they'll find another avenue for improving the attack.

Pereiro would've been nice, though. Very, very nice.


Columbus Crew SC

The Offseason So Far: While there's a sense of waiting-in-for-the-big-news for most teams, the work in central Ohio is mostly done. Tim Bezbatchenko and Caleb Porter started tearing out chunks of the old roster in the summer window (the busiest in team history) and pretty much finished the job this winter with the acquisition of Nagbe, center back Vito Wormgoor and – I still kind of can't believe this – Tigres playmaker Lucas Zelarayan. Then they stunted on poor Oxford United by recalling right back Chris Cadden from his loan (Ed. Note: Cadden was always supposed to come back for the season, but the Oxford United manager’s reaction was pretty hilarious).

Now it looks like they're about to get busy signing Homegrowns, as d-mid Aidan Morris and CM Seb Berhalter (yes, you know who his dad is) are reportedly on the way. Even if those two guys decide to stay in school for another year, you're looking at a Crew team that's two-deep at literally every spot on the field.

For what it's worth, Morris was the best freshman in college soccer this year and is going to be a big part of this January's US U-20 camp. If he comes into preseason and looks the part of an immediate contributor, don't be surprised if the Crew put one of their other center mids (my guess would be Artur) on the block and work out a fairly massive trade.

January 21 Update: They did indeed sign Morris – who was reportedly exceptional at this most recent US U-20 camp – and Berhalter. Whispers through the grapevine say that Morris has a real chance to win minutes this year.

Those same whispers also say that it's not Artur who's on the trade/sell block, but Wil Trapp.

The Crew's top SuperDraft pick was Spanish-American center forward Miguel Berry, who they took 7th overall. He will presumably have the chance to compete with Jordan Hamilton and JJ Williams for the job of backup up Gyasi Zardes.


D.C. United

The Offseason So Far: Wayne Rooney and Lucho Acosta are gone. The loan deals for Leonardo Jara and Lucas Rodriguez expired. That's four(ish) starters.

Obviously that leaves D.C. with some giant holes to fill, but also with a lot of flexibility. They've also got their spine mostly set up, with a trio of d-mids all back (though there are reports of German interest in Russell Canouse), their center back depth chart intact and Bill Hamid back permanently.

Going from Rodriguez back to old friend Yamil Asad, who was signed just after the summer window closed and thus counts as a winter transfer, should be an upgrade. Ola Kamara is obviously the starting No. 9. Paul Arriola is still around, and there is hard-working, two-way depth behind him and Asad.

There is no playmaker, though. Or maybe there is:

Once they sign Flores their front six will look niiiiice, but they'll still be in need of depth at center forward and both fullback slots.

And they'll need to ask this question: What's the ceiling in 2020 MLS for a team whose match-winners are Flores, Asad, Arriola and Kamara?

If they don't like the answer to that question, don't be shocked if another move happens. Maybe that would be Lozano, but I have my doubts.

January 21 Update: The Flores signing came through, which means D.C. have their No. 10. Then they went out and did something clever to get a back-up No. 9, signing 20-year-old Estonia international Erik Sorga to their USL affiliate, Loudoun United. The Washington Post then reported that the club intends on bringing Sorga up to the first team as soon as possible, pending the ongoing CBA negotiations.

Clever.

I have no idea if Sorga will be any good or not but I applaud D.C. for the ingenuity in getting him into the fold before someone else could snap him up.

D.C. should probably still add another piece there. And they're critically short of depth at LB, go only three-deep at CB and would suddenly be thin at d-mid as well if Canouse is actually sold. Does the trade for Gressel make it more likely that Canouse could/will be sold? I think... maybe? Gressel, like Canouse, can play as a FB and a No. 8 (I don't think he can do the work Canouse has done as a 6, but maybe the kid's got more surprises in store).

Here's the truth: When the Gressel deal went down, none of us at the office could quite figure out how D.C. would best use him. I'm going to put my chip on "overlapping right back" for a variety of reasons:

  • RW Paul Arriola is an exceptional defensive winger, which means Gressel should be able to get forward a ton and still have cover.
  • Of all the positions he plays, that's the one where D.C. obviously have the most Qs.
  • When D.C.'s attack goes thermonuclear every couple of years, a lot of it tends to have to do with the attacking quality of their FBs.
  • Gressel is one of the greatest crosses in MLS history, up there with David Beckham, Brad Davis and Steve Ralston. Keep him wide.

Also of note: they signed 16-year-old attacker Kevin Paredes, but he's probably three years away from being a contributor. 


Inter Miami CF

The Offseason So Far: 

We've kind of gotten spoiled with new teams coming in every year or two and bringing half of Latin America with them, haven't we? Obviously everybody expects Inter Miami CF to be the next on that list, following in the footsteps of LAFC, Atlanta and Orlando City (remember, the Lions tried to build via this method but never really were able to get it to work).

Just as obvious is that everyone kind of expects Miami to go bigger and bolder than any of these other teams. Miami is the capital of Latin America and David Beckham is the club's co-owner and every South American star seems to have been linked, at one point or another, to a next career step in South Florida. They've finally went out and got a head coach, and while Diego Alonso is not as big a name as some of the others who've been bandied about (including by me), if you want to be the best team in North America it makes sense to, you know, hire a head coach who's multiple times laid claim to the "best team in North America" title.

Alonso is legit. Miami's plans are grand, and the expectations are grander. The anticipation is palpable.

And yet... the roster build's been pretty understated so far. Their only DP, 19-year-old Argentine winger Matias Pellegrini, was signed back in July. They have 22 players on the roster, and the vast majority have come from low-risk intra-league player acquisition devices (they will likely add two more low-risk, cap-protecting players on Thursday with the Nos. 1 and 3 picks in the SuperDraft). They have kept their GAM and TAM dry, and they have avoided making any panic trades or using up too many international slots.

That won't last. There will be a horde of high-priced reinforcements coming, including at least one blockbuster DP. Whether it's a blockbuster in the David Silva sense or a blockbuster in the Thiago Almada sense I couldn't tell you at this point. But it really is coming.

January 21 Update: Still mostly waiting, aren't we? Inter did well in the SuperDraft in adding forward Robbie Robinson at the No. 1 pick (they feel like he can play as a lone 9 or on the wing, though I have some doubts about the latter) and RB Dylan Nealis – who may very well start – with the third pick.

Nico Figal won't get headlines, but he'd be a damn good signing if/when it officially happens. Right now that's looking much more like "when."

Once he's in the fold I imagine they'd officially be done with the backline and goalkeeper, and it's just a matter of pushing (checks notes) two more DPs and four TAM signings across the line. Woof.

So yeah, it's still a lot. Despite the Inter front office insisting otherwise, I think that Miami will lean more in the direction of LAFC's approach toward a first-year roster build in that they keep chopping and changing throughout the season. LAFC added a DP, a TAM-level No. 10, a TAM-level 9 and a couple of other major pieces throughout the season rather than rushing to get it all done before first kick.

If Inter really do follow that path, I'd say that means one DP and three more TAM signings, in addition to Figal, get done by the end of February.

Will Roger Martinez be one of those DPs? I'll only go so far as to say "probably." 


Montreal Impact

The Offseason So Far: The biggest name to arrive in MLS this offseason will almost certainly be the guy who came to Montreal a couple of months ago: head coach Thierry Henry. My colleague Andrew Wiebe's hype meter hit 11 when that was announced:

Beyond that, though, there hasn't been much from a team that missed the playoffs and haven't really threatened to make a run since 2016. Montreal are, it seems, bringing back largely the same group they had in 2019.

As of now that includes a pair of DPs in Ignacio Piatti (healthy once again I hope) and Saphir Taider, though there are the usual rumors of Piatti wanting to head back to Argentina.

I don't know what they're going to do with that third DP slot, or even if they're going to use it. I do know that if they want a better outcome in 2019 than what they had in 2020, they have to do a better job of building that defense.

January 21 Update: They brought Ballou Tabla home permanently, which is a good thing. He's still just 20, and the list of players who couldn't quite make it at Barcelona is pretty damn long. No shame in trying.

The more interesting move was the $100,000 they paid CPL side Cavalry FC for Canadian CB Joel Waterman, a 23-year-old who by all accounts was one of the dominant players in that league's maiden voyage. We have zero data for CPL-to-MLS moves, and I'm not about to guess at how ready Waterman is to be the first man on the moon nor how telling his success or failure would be.

But it's a move that, for the sake of Canadian soccer, I'm thrilled to see. I hope we end up looking at this transfer as one of the steals of the year.


New England Revolution

The Offseason So Far: I don't think anything better embodies the "we're in a new era of MLS" reality than what's happened in New England over the past year. They broke ground on a gorgeous new training facility, then broke their own transfer record to get an in-his-prime playmaker, then hired a legendary head coach/GM, then set another new record to get an in-his-prime goalscorer, then announced the creation of a USL reserve side to go with an expansion of their academy, then opened up that new training facility, then went out and signed a third DP and a pair of veteran defenders from good European leagues.

This is unprecedented from the Revs. Eighteen months ago at this time even one of these things would've been cause for celebration amongst the fanbase. Taken together it looks like win after win after win as they enter a new decade.

How big a win it'll all add up to will rest, in large part, upon the quality of the three big winter signings thus far: center back Samba Camara, left back Alex Buttner and DP center forward Adam Buksa. There are a lot of variables at play, especially when considering that even in the midst of their improvement last season New England looked eternally vulnerable up the gut.

Still... like the Crew, the Revs look legitimately two-deep at pretty much every spot on the field, and have already made all their biggest moves.

For what it's worth, though, I do expect them at some point to explore the trade market for Diego Fagundez.

January 21 Update: So about that Samba Camara signing... something unexpected happened. I can't remember the last time I heard of an MLS signing's P-1 Visa getting denied, but here we are. The Revs get some TAM back and open up an international roster slot.

Nonetheless they are still four-deep at CB because Bruce Arena got his man in the SuperDraft, taking giant University of Virginia CB Henry Kessler with the 6th pick in the draft. It's unlikely Kessler will play any role in 2020, but he should be 1) a good test case for the new Revs' USL side, and 2) a good break-in-case-of-emergency depth option.

I would expect New England to go back onto the market and do a little bit of veteran CB shopping after the Camara departure, though.


New York City FC

The Offseason So Far: I guess maybe I should've saved the Caddyshack GIF for the Cityzens? They finally hired their head coach on Monday morning, bringing Ronny Deila over from Norway.

And that's pretttty much it. Back-up left back Ben Sweat is off to Miami, and either he or back-up CM Ebenezer Ofori is the biggest loss. For a while it looked like starting CM Keaton Parks was going to be the biggest loss, but then CFG reportedly opened up the checkbook and Parks should be back in the Bronx (and Queens) fulltime.

That means they're bringing back their entire starting lineup, and I'd say their best 13 players. That's unheard-of-stability in this era of MLS – doubly so when considering this is a 64-point team that everybody should be trying to poach from.

So all told, it looks like it could/should/will be a relatively quiet offseason... except for the fact that Jesus Medina is still on the roster! The  young Paraguayan winger/playmaker is the one major signing over the past few years who hasn't really worked out for NYCFC, and he's using up a DP slot and it stands to reason that at some point, whether it's within the league or outside of it, they're going to move him.

When that happens, how big will they go on a new DP? Will they go for a new DP at all? I don't know, but I suspect it's a question for a different transfer window.

As it stands, in this window it looks like NYCFC could use a little bit of depth at center back, left back and center forward.

January 21 Update: The Parks deal got done. The only other signing NYCFC have made since November is brining on Gedion Zelalem to add midfield depth. Which means

  1. They still need to get real LB depth
  2. They still need to get at least a little more No. 9 depth
  3. Everybody's still waiting to see how it shakes out for Jesus Medina in CONMEBOL Olympic qualifying

Medina went 90 for Paraguay in their 1-0 loss to Uruguay – goal by LAFC's Diego Rossi by the way – but I haven't found any accounts that were enthusiastic about his performance.

New sporting director David Lee was, uh, pretty open about listening to offers in a recent interview with The Athletic:

"He’s under contract and, as with pretty much any player, if there’s an offer that’s right for the club, then we’ll consider it," Lee said. "But he’s under contract with us and I still believe there’s a very, very good player in Jesus. I’m looking forward to him joining the group, but if an offer comes in that we think is right for the club, then of course we’ll consider it.”

Guys, I think they're open to offers.


New York Red Bulls

The Offseason So Far:

I think, right now, there is more tension in the RBNY fanbase than any other in MLS. That's what happens when your all-time leading scorer, your captain and all-time leader in appearances, your starting, World Cup-veteran right back, a Homegrown with a decade's worth of service and another Homegrown who scored a title-clinching goal two years back are all exited in the same offseason.

Ok, so it's an overhaul, then? That must mean lots of new faces!

Except... no. So far it looks like all the replacements will be coming from within. The Red Bulls did sign former USYNT 'keeper Kendall McIntosh, but it's Ryan Meara who'll take over for Luis Robles, and it looks like it'll have to be improvement from guys like Brian White, Tom Barlow, Omir Fernandez, Cristian Casseres Jr. and Kyle Duncan that'll fill the gaps in the post-Bradley Wright-Phillips/Michael Murillo era.

Can you go all-in on internal improvement and win in this era of MLS? Left back Kemar Lawrence doesn't think so – he's asked for a trade, or to be sold.

But, well, it looks like we're about to find out.

And honestly, I kind of want to see it. White and Barlow have produced in their limited MLS minutes; Duncan actually outplayed Murillo last year and won the job before getting injured; Casseres, like Adams, will someday be sold for multiple millions of dollars to a European side. If they can sign Homegrown John Tolkin they will be, once again, officially two-deep at every position (including left back).

Going into the year with only one DP and a bunch of kids who've been brought up through the USL would be a wild zig when everybody else in the league is zagging. Red Bulls fans don't want to hear it – they would love it if the mothership went out and got them an attacker like Nahuel Barrios – but I'm not in that boat. I really want to see this experiment.

January 21 Update: Here's the thing: The best team to get drafted by is the Red Bulls, because nobody has more belief in their ability to turn college soccer players into professional soccer players than RBNY. So no matter where you're picked – whether you're Cherif Dieye at No. 15, or Wallis Lapsley at No. 36 or Deri Corfe at No. 41 – you've got a shot.

But obviously the one to keep an eye on is the No. 10 pick, left back Patrick Seagrist from Marquette. Smart college soccer people had told me before the draft that he was undervalued, so he was already on my radar. Then RBNY traded up to get him, which told me even more. When RBNY decide to invest in a college player, it means a ton.

As it is, Seagrist heads into the preseason presumably competing with John Tolkin for the job of being Lawrence's back-up (though I'm starting to have some serious doubts re: how long Lawrence is actually going to be in town). Maybe he'll even be a starter.

So now the Red Bulls really are two or three-deep literally everywhere. This looks like a solid team that can be more than that if Kaku makes a jump from "good MLS No. 10" to "Best XI-caliber MLS No. 10," and if either Barlow or White can be a 20-goal scorer, and if Fernandez, Casseres and Duncan can all level up.

But what it really looks like is a team that's missing one big attacking piece. Josh Sims is returning, and Sims is a nice player, but I don't think he's that nice. There's still a need.


Orlando City SC

The Offseason So Far: This is yet another real rebuild, and so far I like the looks of it. Orlando City declined options on a bunch of guys who weren't going to figure into the gameday 18, and said farewell to a handful of veterans with big cap hits who weren't able to do the job during this latest rebuild (and technically the one before that as well... Orlando City go through rebuilds pretty quick).

This one, with Oscar Pareja on board, is probably going to be different. Pareja was the key man in rebuilding the Rapids eight years ago, and the key man in rebuilding FC Dallas after that. In each case he took a struggling team and gave it some on-field structure while rebooting the club culture and infusing new talent, both from home and abroad, into the locker room. It was never quick, but it wasn't precisely slow, and in both cases it worked.

That's what the Lions paid for, and that's what they have to be patient enough to let happen. The first moves this offseason have been bringing in a pair of young-ish CBs and a young d-mid in from South America, as well as signing a pair of Homegrowns. There is also reportedly a veteran Brazilian CM on the way.

Along with the guys who are left over from last year... honestly, I like this roster. I'll like it more if Dom Dwyer plays like he's in a contract year and bags 20 goals again (he could've come close to that number last year if he'd been cleaner in front of net), but even 15 would be a major, major boost to this side.

But yeah, Dwyer's the big question mark right now. It's no secret that he's been shopped, and it's no secret that 1) there hasn't been a ton of interest in him, and 2) reports he has a no-trade clause, so it'd be hard to work something out anyway.

All of that means that the team you see now might be the same team you see take the field in eight weeks to kick off the season.

January 21 Update: That veteran Brazilian CM landed on January 13, when they signed Junior Urso from Corinthians. Four days later they got their presumed No. 1 'keeper in Peruvian Pedro Gallese, who was released after Veracruz were disaffiliated from Liga MX.

I think it's safe to say their big moves are done. I also think it's safe to say that all eyes are now turned toward the front line, where it should be a real fight for the starting job.

It's never smart to bet on a rookie in MLS, but I love Dike. He's smart, he has great, soft feet to combine well around the box, he's a willing, inventive and patient passer, and physically speaking he is just an absolute load.

That's him with the backheel. He had 10g/8a and drew six penalties this year in leading the Hoos to another College Cup appearance. The first thing you notice is that he's built like a linebacker, but don't let that obscure the fact that the man can plan.

He's got to go out and earn it, though. All of them do, and maybe a bloodbath of an open competition is exactly what the Lions need at that spot.


Philadelphia Union

The Offseason So Far: Medunjanin is a giant, style-defining loss. The fact is, they really couldn't press as hard as they seem to want to with him. But I have real questions as to how well they'll be able to progress into the attacking third without him. That left foot of his is magic.

Medunjanin's replacement, Venezuelan Jose Andres Martinez, is nearly a decade younger and is reportedly much more of a destroyer/ball-winner. Between that and the customary adjustment period, no matter what else happens the Union will look and feel and play different next year. It's unavoidable.

But there is actually a bigger fish to fry. The permanent transfer of midfielder Jamiro Monteiro, who was excellent last year, feels make-or-break. Negotiations are ongoing, and essential.

Beyond that they need to add one or two more depth pieces at center back given the Auston Trusty trade, and they need to get Cory Burke back in the country and on the roster.

If they manage all of the above then they'll be working on pretty close to the same model as the Red Bulls – a low-budget team who's bet big on their ability to build a winner from within.

January 21 Update: The big fish is officially fried. Philly acquired Monteiro for a club-record fee a little over a week ago, which checks a pretty big box. So too, in theory, does the signing of Slovakian youth international d-mid Matej Oravec, who will presumably combine with Martinez to fill in the gap left behind by Medunjanin's departure.

It seems, however, that Burke won't be back as there are now several reports that he's to be loaned to a team in the Austrian Bundesliga. His departure, related to his visa issues, won't hurt the Union too much since they are still deep up top (though I think it's fair to worry about Kacper Przybylko's foot and whether or not the other guys on the depth chart are MLS caliber players).

They need another couple of depth pieces at CB. Bigger than that: they need guys like Monteiro and Przybylko, and like Brenden Aaronson, Mark McKenzie and Sergio Santos to be better in 2020 than they were in 2019. It's a big ask.

Also of note: Ilsinho is still, as of now, not on the roster. We shall see.


Toronto FC

The Offseason So Far: I was talking with a friend this weekend and explaining my "Toronto FC actually shouldn't make any big signings this winter" stance. My point was this: Seattle have proven, again and again, that you can save money, find a wider variety of quality and turbo-charge your playoff push if you just wait until the summer to make big signings.

I framed it as a Seattle thing, all the while forgetting that... yeah, Toronto FC did that last year as well, didn't they? TFC were pretty good at the start of 2019, then struggled when everybody left during the Gold Cup. But then they went out and got Omar Gonzalez, Nicolas Benezet and Erickson Gallardo (three TAM guys) in the summer and sure enough, they were the best team in the Eastern Conference the rest of the way.

The natural response should be "why not go out there and get a DP now and be the best team in the East all season long?"

My rejoinder to that is "what if you don't have to?" Or even "what if you shouldn't?" Consider the following:

  • What if Alejandro Pozuelo, Jonathan Osorio and Michael Bradley really can't all be in the same three-man midfield?
  • What if Pozuelo's more cut out to be a playmaking winger in MLS?
  • How good is Gallardo? Will we ever get to answer that if you immediately get a DP winger to start over him?
  • How good can Canadian youth national team wingers Jacob Shaffelburg and Jayden Nelson be?
  • What if Jozy keeps getting hurt?

If Pozuelo, Osorio and Bradley can't all play together, then... yikes, probably should've spent that DP slot on a No. 8 or a No. 6. Same if Pozuelo's cut out to be a playmaking winger. And if that's the case, and if there's another DP winger on the roster, then the Reds will never give enough minutes to Gallardo, Shaffelburg and Nelson to develop them. Being aggressive and pro-active in the winter will have painted TFC's brass in to a corner in the summer, one in which their assets are depreciating instead of the opposite.

The Jozy thing is the biggest thing, though. When he's healthy Jozy is as lethal and complete a No. 9 as there is in the league, but he's played over 2000 MLS minutes exactly once in his entire career. What if Toronto get to mid-season, and he's hurt again, and there's a 19-year-old Colombian youth national team center forward out there looking for a new home? Wouldn't it make more sense at that point to spend the DP slot there than on yet another winger?

Because as we saw last year in the postseason, the Reds have padding on the wings. You know that between them, veterans Nick DeLeon, Tsubasa Endoh and Richie Laryea, along with help from Osorio and Pozuelo, can hold down those slots for at least half a season. That group is good enough to win games and give Gallardo/Shaffelburg the platform they need to perform (Nelson's probably still too young). What they don't have is padding at forward, or a clear succession plan. It's not wild to think that, come summer, they'll need both.

Underpinning this: there's no CCL for Toronto this year so they won't have any life-and-death games this spring. They can take their time, focus on the regular season and just try to figure their personnel needs out.

If they do all that and July rolls around and Jozy's healthy and some combination of Pozuelo/Osorio/Bradley/Marky Delgado/Noble Okello/Liam Fraser is holding down the midfield, but you just need a little bit more oomph on the wings... then that's the time to go for it. Go out and drop a bag on Brian Lozano or something.

But don't do it this winter. It's counterintuitive, but I think burning the DP slot now would decrease TFC's flexibility and margin for error. This team should just add a little bit of defensive depth (left back in particular) and roll with what they've got until the summer.

Or, well, I guess... never mind. TFC haven't done much this winter except shed some depth, create some cap space and get Bradley down from DP to TAM. Looks like there may be more and bigger things to come – soon.

January 21 Update: This is big news, but I'm not sure it changes any of the above: 

Will the Reds miss Bradley if he's out until May? Of course. But Delgado is a savvy veteran who has played spells as a 6 in MLS in the past, and Fraser has done it for Canada in a must-win game against the US (and outplayed Bradley on the day). Nobody should be panicking about giving either of them – or Okello, who's younger but whose upside is higher than either – a shot. This situation is one of the reasons to build depth in the first place.

I remain convinced the Reds should stay the course.

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