NOTE: This column was first published on January 7, with an update on January 22. The final update is for February 10.
Welcome to the 2020s.
We are in the midst of the silly season. The SuperDraft was a month ago, preseason started for the five CCL teams on January 11, and for the rest of the league on January 18. The transfer window officially opens on Feb. 12 – less than a week after the CBA was agreed to between MLS and the MLS Players Association. The 25th MLS season kicks off on February 29.
All of that means that most teams have already mostly built out their rosters, but the clock is ticking and there are still deals that need to get done.
With that in mind, it's time to take one last look at each team's roster build before we really start churning out the preseason content next week. The below is for the West, while you can click here for the Eastern Conference roster builds (final update for that one is coming tomorrow).
And now... off we go:
The Offseason So Far: I said throughout the final two months of the season and into October that priority No. 1 for Colorado had to be bringing Lalas Abubakar back, and I half-doubted their ability to do it quickly or on a reasonable number. Well, not only did they get it done before Thanksgiving, they managed it for $400k in GAM, which is MUCH less than I thought he'd go for.
On that same day they got Philly Homegrown and USYNT center back Auston Trusty for $750k of combined GAM and TAM, and then a week later signed Drew Moor as a free agent (which feels quite a bit like an academy coach or assistant GM-in-waiting type of deal).
At the same time they shed some of their larger contracts, opened cap space and now here they are looking healthy and deep up top and on the backline, with three DP slots worth of flexibility to address their midfield needs.
One of those DP slots will probably go toward a playmaker. GM Padraig Smith was in Argentina along with head coach Robin Fraser, but my guess is their soon-to-arrive No. 10 will be from Europe. I'm also guessing that they add another pure attacker, though I'm not sure if that'll be a DP or not.
The Rapids are doing it different. None of the incoming players will be blockbuster names, but as they showed for the final 2/3s of 2019, you can win at a 60-point clip even without those types of players if everything else is solid (and if your set piece game is spectacular). Colorado will be trying to build upon that with a little bit more magic in the middle.
January 22 Update: The Rapids did it, didn't they? In the first part of the offseason they cut dead weight and retooled a good chunk of their defense – getting younger and faster – and then in the second part of the offseason they added two very nice-looking attackers in winger Nicolas Benezet and DP playmaker Younes Namli, all while working out a deal to have teenaged Argentine winger Braian Galvan come on a free in the summer.
They are now deep everywhere in central defense and all over the attack. Looking at their roster, about the only pieces you could say they need are another central midfielder just in case they get hit hard with injuries/international absences (a rugged, veteran, Luke Mulholland-type would make sense) and a two-footed back-up fullback.
But yeah, this front office's work is done. I'm excited to see if they can improve upon what they did in the second half of last season.
February 10 Update: It looks like their roster is mostly set – they haven't signed anyone since the last update, though keep an eye on trialist Will Vint. Vint, a Colorado native, was part of Manchester United's academy for a hot minute before a visa issue meant he had to leave, and when he returned to the US he ended up with Atlanta. After a year there he left and joined the Rapids academy in late summer of 2019.
I suspect Vint will be eligible to sign a Homegrown contract but not play until August of this year (think Chris Richards signing with FC Dallas before he was eligible to play), and I suspect the Rapids would very much like to get the 18-year-old d-mid onto the depth chart.
Here's our best guess as what they look like right now:
Bear in mind they still have a couple of draft picks in camp (both likely fullback depth) and will almost certainly sign a third 'keeper.
The Offseason So Far: There have been two notable incoming moves: Brazilian Thiago Santos, who arrived from Palmeiras and will presumably compete for the starting job from Day 1, and winger Fafa Picault, who they got for $300k GAM from Philly. Picault – who is maybe the best defensive winger in the league – should slot in at the left wing and allow Luchi Gonzalez to push higher and harder than they did last year, and toggle between counterattacking, possession and pressing pretty seamlessly.
It was a good, under-the-radar acquisition provided Picault can finish. That is the qualifier for all Dallas attackers.
The more interesting aspect of the offseason will be when/if they sell any of their Homegrown players. The most likely to go this winter, according to reports and basic logic is USMNT RB Reggie Cannon. Paxton Pomykal got a TAM deal, and Jesus Ferreira got a TAM deal and Cannon, who's more accomplished than either... hasn't. And won't. I'm 99.9% convinced he's going.
And because this is Dallas, the replacement will certainly come from within. John Nelson, a first round SuperDraft pick last year, was very good in limited minutes. Homegrown 18-year-old Bryan Reynolds, a converted attacker, has had some impressive moments at right back in the USL. And another Homegrown, Eddie Munjoma, was either the best or second-best right back in college soccer this year, depending upon who you talk to.
My point is that Dallas are two deep pretty much everywhere, and I don't expect any major incoming moves. When you see a headline about them this winter it'll be about who's leaving.
January 22 Update: Munjoma was officially signed and is on the roster. Cannon still is, too, and there hasn't been much talk of him heading overseas too recently. Perhaps the idea is to wait until after the Olympics? A strong showing there would be meaningful.
And yes, I was wrong about that "I don't expect any major incoming moves" bit, which is weird because I'd previously written about how Dallas had targeted Argentine striker Franco Jara, who I think officially qualifies as a Pachuca legend. And FCD had inadvertently telegraphed their strong interest a few weeks back before anything was officially done:
Yes, that's him on the depth chart two weeks ago. No, he is not on there as of yet, but yes, he will be soon – Dallas signed him to a pre-contract (which is possible because he's in the final six months of his deal at Pachuca) meaning he will be good to join when the summer window starts on July 7.
It is gratifying to see MLS front offices getting clever about this sort of thing. Jara on a free, even at 32-years-old, is a hell of a deal.
Dallas also traded reserve CM Jacori Hayes for a draft pick and Schroedinger's allocation cash, and drafted a couple of players in the middle of the first round who will almost certainly spend the year at North Texas.
February 10 Update: No new signings since Jara, and Cannon is still in Dallas at least until the summer transfer window it seems.
Here's our best guess at the current depth chart, though bear in mind Pomykal's been recovering from surgery all winter (according to the Dallas broadcast team of Mark Followill and Steve Davis, he's very close to full health) so we haven't seen where Luchi's planning to use him in 2020. Best guess at what the depth chart is right now, though obviously that can change:
It should be a bloodbath for minutes in central midfield. That's a good thing.
The Offseason So Far:
Ok, they haven't exactly achieved lift-off yet (that's a real photo by the way – NASA's awesome) it does feel like the start of something better and more sustainable in Houston under Tab Ramos. They signed Homegrown Marcelo Palomino on Monday, center back Erik McCue is in line to get real minutes, and Memo Rodriguez should be an even bigger part of the team in 2020. That's the step forward this team needs to turbo-charge their academy initiative.
But don't expect Ramos to just throw the kids out there for the sake of it. Darwin Quintero is there to be a starter, as is Alberth Elis (for one more year, anyway), as is Christian Ramirez, as is Tomas Martinez, as is Matias Vera.
You'll notice who I didn't mention. I think Mauro Manotas will have a new address soon.
Even without Manotas there aren't any obvious, pressing needs with this team (though you could talk me into a DP No. 8). They'll have to get some more front line, central midfield and goalkeeper depth, but the key players are already in place. How high they can fly will be determined by just how good Quintero, Ramirez, Elis (maybe) and Martinez actually are.
January 22 Update: Nothing new on Manotas yet, or a DP No. 8, but at least they've got a starting goalkeeper! Houston signed 24-year-old Austrian/Croatian goalkeeper Marko Maric, regarded as one of the best goalkeepers in Scandinavia the past two years. It is a good bet that he will be given plenty of rope to make that job his in Houston for as long as possible.
I'm very interested in seeing what happens with their top SuperDraft pick, goalscorer Garrett McLaughlin from SMU. McLaughlin played as a run-off-the-back-shoulder No. 9 and was a prolific college scorer while doing so, though most have compared him to Ethan Finlay or Jordan Morris as a potential pro – i.e., goal-scoring wingers.
That versatility means he will absolutely make the team and provide depth, potentially at two spots. Maybe he could be even more than just "depth," though, if the stars align.
February 10 Update: The Dynamo made a couple of depth moves, adding goalkeeper Cody Cropper and CB Kyle Adams. The much bigger news is that both Elis and Manotas are still in Houston, and Elis is sporting a shiny new green card, which gives the Dynamo a bit more flexibility throughout this window (which stays open until May 1).
Best guess at the current depth chart:
This is very much a "for now" proposition, as it's entirely unclear whether Quintero – who has mostly retired from defending – can still play on the wing. They might have to hide him centrally in front of two ball-winners, which would change the team shape from the 4-3-3 to a 4-2-3-1 or even a much more conservative 4-4-1-1.
The Offseason So Far: They bid adieu to a pair of veterans in Steven Beitashour and Lee Nguyen, and to a handful of youngsters who weren't going to move the needle. They added Uruguay youth national team d-mid Francisco Ginella – who might as well be wearing an "Eduard Atuesta's heir apparent" tag – and USL center forward Danny Musovski, who should provide much-needed depth at that spot.
Goalkeeper is a question mark. The need another central midfield reinforcement or two. They could use another young, athletic center back. They definitely need some right back depth with Beitashour gone and Tristan Blackmon now apparently moving there fulltime, but no one behind him.
But yeah, as with FC Dallas and Cannon, we're all just sitting here waiting to see
if when Diego Rossi is sold, right? That's the big non-story (so far) of LAFC's roster build. If they get the right number they will sell him, and that will open up a DP slot, and then the league's best team will spend that on what? Another Brian Rodriguez type? A bigger name than that? A center forward? A central midfielder?
Everything's on the table, but there hasn't even been a Rossi rumor yet. We shall see.
January 22 Update: Rossi's down at the CONMEBOL Olympic qualifiers scoring game-winners:
Atuesta is apparently pulling strings like a young Busquets at that same tournament. LAFC might just be about to make themselves some bucks.
They invested those potential dollars into another potential high-value asset, Ecuadorian midfield Jose Cifuentes (who you might remember from last year's U-20 World Cup when he dropped a bomb on the US's head in the quarterfinals). Cifuentes is considered a very, very high-level prospect, and LAFC have shown they've got a habit of turning high-level prospects into high-level players.
Of note: He was carted off with what appeared to be a quad injury on Tuesday night and as of yet I haven't seen a solid update or any sort of time-table for availability. But even if he's out for months, LAFC have the depth to survive.
They also went out and got themselves a starter at goalkeeper after trading Tyler Miller to Minnesota United for allocation cash. Kenneth Vermeer has nearly 300 appearances, combined, for Ajax and Feyenoord over the past decade. He can play (though I'll reserve judgement re: whether he'll actually be an upgrade).
They still have holes, though. Blackmon remains the only right back on the team, there is no fifth center back and I don't think it'd be out of line to suggest they comb the desert for a third-string center forward.
February 10 Update: They made two more moves – one very clever, and one out of necessity.
The clever move was shipping $50k of GAM to RSL for the Homegrown rights to 18-year-old CM Bryce Duke, therefore becoming the first-ever LAFC "Homegrown" player (yeah those are air quotes). Duke's already gotten a bunch of minutes with the first team, and it's safe to assume he's legitimately on the depth chart. Bob Bradley's always enjoyed developing young players.
The move out of necessity was bringing in Bradly Wright-Phillips to bolster the No. 9 depth chart after Diomande broke a bone in his foot. The move is likely to be made official later this week. BWP's fallen off hard in the past year-and-a-half, but I have to admit I'm very, very curious to see what he does in LAFC's attack.
Here's the way it stands right now:
A few notes:
- Yes, Latif Blessing's on the depth chart at four spots.
- Yes, Blackmon's played every available minute at RB this winter.
- No, neither Rossi nor Atuesta were sold this window.
- Yes, there are still a bunch of trialists and academy players in camp.
I can't imaging they're not going to add another RB and one more winger, especially after releasing Josh Perez this past week. They could probably use another CB as well.
The Offseason So Far:
Ok not really, but that image was too good not to use.
Anyway, Zlatan's gone and there's only one center forward on the lineup – Ethan Zubak, who's, uh, not going to be the starter. Everybody's waiting for the next big name to come to Carson and, weirdly, there haven't been that many rumors. The only one I've seen recently that makes much sense is 26-year-old Chilean national team striker Nicolas Castillo, who's on the books at Club America and has been super productive in short minutes, but is already on the outs with their (some would say spoiled) fanbase.
I've loved Castillo when I've seen him play, but he's been on the books at seven different teams in the past six years and never stays anywhere for longer than 18 months. Plus by Galaxy standards he's just not a big enough name. So I've got my doubts.
Elsewhere in their roster: signing Sacha Kljestan (free agency), Emiliano Insua (from Stuttgart for free) and especially Aleksandar Katai (free after Chicago parted ways with him) were just smart moves. Kljestan can give cover at the No. 10 or No. 8 spots in midfield, Insua should be the starting left back (a major concern in 2019), and as we went into on Monday's Extratime, getting Katai on a TAM deal makes a ton of sense. His per-90 production rate was basically DP level, but they didn't have to spend a DP slot on him and he's already been in the league for two years, so there'll be no adjustment.
Cristian Pavon will certainly be back to balance Katai on the other wing. Once that center forward gets there, whoever it is... that front six is going to be killer.
The backline, however, remains a major concern. Do they need two new starting CBs? Probably. Do they need a new starting RB? That largely depends upon how much you believe in Julian Araujo and Rolf Feltscher. Do they have enough cap flexibility to address any/all of those slots in a meaningful way? Maybe. It's not possible to say with perfect certainty at this point, though.
January 22 Update: The Galaxy replaced Zlatan. It was not with Nico Castillo. You may have heard of the guy they went with instead.
A front line of Pavon-Chicharito-Katai will produce goals, but they are paper thin behind that trio. They're also paper thin at center back, and could probably use two more additions at deep-lying central midfield.
Left back is stocked. I like what they've got at goalkeeper and at the No. 10. Araujo has reportedly had a strong camp with the USMNT, which means right back should be in good shape. One by one they've addressed major issues.
They still have many, many more major issues to address and, I'm guessing, not a ton of cap room to do it with. The Galaxy are going to have to get creative, and Guillermo Barros Schelotto is going to have to do some real work to conjure major defensive improvement from this team.
A reminder: They had a negative goal differential last year. If that happens again this year they won't make the playoffs.
February 10 Update: Only one signing in the past few weeks, as they officially brought giant central defender Nick DePuy up to the first team. Unless DePuy is the second coming of Aaron Long, that spot still remains the area of weakness on the Galaxy roster right now:
Two more CBs, another winger and another center forward would all be nice! There are other Los Dos players and academy kids in preseason training (Cam Dunbar has reportedly been very good and could be on the verge of a Homegrown deal), and that's as it should be. But still... this is the Galaxy, and they don't yet look like real contenders.
Dennis te Kloese still has work to do.
Minnesota United FC
The Offseason So Far:
The Loons got rid of quite a bit. Darwin's gone, as is former starter Rasmus Schuller, as is former No. 1 overall SuperDraft pick Abu Danladi, as are a bunch of guys further down the depth chart at various spots. And so far their only addition is Marlon Hairston.
Vito Mannone is not officially back yet, and Angelo Rodriguez is not officially gone yet. I went into the offseason expecting both of those things to happen fairly quickly, but... nada.
As it stands they're still roughly the same solid team that made the playoffs last year, but they need depth at both fullback slots, at central midfield and maybe a starter at the No. 9. And it's worth noting that one of the two DP slots they've used is on 19-year-old Uruguayan playmaker Thomas Chacon, who got just 85 minutes in 2019 after arriving mid-season.
All of that adds up to this: There are going to be many moves coming, at least one of which I think will be DP-sized. Whether that'll be a winger or a center forward probably depends almost entirely upon how confident head coach Adrian Heath – who's now calling the shots with regard to player personnel – is in Mason Toye.
If Toye comes into preseason fit and looks the part of a full-time starter, that'd give Minnesota a ton of flexibility. But it's up to him.
January 22 Update: The Loons' offseason was sort of slowly chugging along under the radar. They did will to replace Mannone (and avoid a sure-to-be-way-too-pricey Joe Hart deal) with Miller, who's a good MLS 'keeper in his prime on a manageable deal. They reached down into the USL to bring back James Musa, who gives them depth at d-mid and both CB spots. They got Hayes – depth at the No. 8 – for a song, and signed their first-ever Homegrown, 'keeper Fred Emmings. Noah Billingsley, a New Zealand international who they got in the SuperDraft, should have a chance to stick as LB/LCB depth.
All very nice, especially when underpinned by the weeks-long pursuit of Paraguayan center forward Luis Amarilla – and imminent departure of Angelo Rodriguez – which looks like it's going to come to a happy conclusion soon enough.
That, all together... well done. But the real bomb-drop is that it seems MNUFC really, really are going after Boca Juniors playmaker Emanuel Reynoso, who does stuff like this:
Dejame a Bebelo, nos va a dar muchas alegrias. pic.twitter.com/NingGhxuhK— Soy bostero (@soybost94738976) January 20, 2020
"Bebelo" is 24, can play on the left wing or as a No. 10, and has had his fair share (and more) of ups and downs. But he is a legit talent and would be, by some measure, the biggest transfer move in Minnesota's history.
February 10 Update: They got Amarilla on loan at the end of January, which seems like a very smart move. Amarilla's put up big numbers this year, but has not exactly been a model of consistency throughout his career, and is probably best described as a journeyman.
Maybe that changes in Saint Paul. If it does, the Loons can exercise the buy option. If it doesn't, they won't be on the hook past 2020.
The big news – or news-in-waiting, I guess – is that of Bebelo. Adrian Heath seems very, very optimistic. He would slot in at the top of the No. 10 depth chart here:
Bear two things in mind. First is that there are a bunch of trialists and draft picks still in camp, which you can see from this box score. Second is that Chacon has reportedly played very well in preseason, so I could be drastically underrating where he actually is on the depth chart.
The Offseason So Far: Seventeen of their 20 senior roster slots of filled. Three of their four supplemental roster slots are filled. Only two of their six reserve roster slots are filled, but those aren't needle-movers – those are for kids 24-and-under who earn the literal minimum.
Two of their three DP slots are filled, though they can presumably open another if they buy down Costa Rican young DP playmaker Randall Leal. I don't think they'll do that, though I'm not ruling out the idea of them filling that third slot (my guess would be a young No. 9, but I won't put money on that).
What I'm saying with all of the above is that Nashville's team is pretty much complete. They have depth everywhere, much of it proven (I really like that Dax McCarty/Anibal Godoy engine room) and some of it young and exciting. If Leal and Hany Mukhtar are both as good as their billing, this team will zoom past 40 points and... "stay in the playoff race for a good long while" is as far as I'm willing to push it unless Miguel Nazarit is the Colombian Miles Robinson.
But yeah, the big question I have is "How good can Daniel Rios be?" I don't think they're married to the idea of him as a starter, but I also doubt they're against it, and it's worth bearing in mind that Rios produced goals at a higher clip in the second flight than guys like Christian Ramirez and Brian White.
It wouldn't shock me at all if they made no more big moves this window and just waited until summer to address whatever needs crop up.
EDIT: Shout out to the gang at SpeedwaySoccer.com who were able to able to confirm reports by MedioTiempo and ESPN's Tom Marshall that Nashville are in fact in talks with young Ivorian center forward Ake Loba, who was one of the more exciting young No. 9s in Liga MX this past season on loan at Queretaro. I missed all those reports when they first surfaced.
Loba would be an excellent signing, but it'll take some work to get it done as Cruz Azul (I refuse to refer to them as "Liga MX giants Cruz Azul" any longer given they haven't won a title in more than two decades) are also heavily involved.
January 22 Update: "What I'm saying with all of the above is that Nashville's team is pretty much complete" is what I wrote two weeks ago, and that's where we stand. They drafted Jack Maher No. 2 overall in the SuperDraft, and he'll probably have a chance to crack the rotation (though my guess is he'll spend the first half of the season getting USL minutes somewhere), and added a couple of other guys at various spots who could stick. One of them might be Alistair Johnston, who in theory could compete for the right back job.
They also went out and bought 23-year-old central midfielder/d-mid Tah Brian Anunga from Charleston Battery of the USL – a very nice pick-up who should round out the depth chart there.
The Loba deal, it turns out, did not come through. Monterrey came in for him at the last minute, and at this point whatever Monterrey wants, Monterrey gets.
I don't know if Nashville will actively look for a different young DP No. 9 before the season starts, but I imagine they're keeping their eyes open.
February 10 Update: No roster moves since the last update. There are two big on-field updates, though. The first is that Leal has looked the part in preseason thus far, cutting in from the left and banging in goals. Second is that Derrick Jones – who was Tyler Adams' CM partner in that great US U-20 team from 2017, and often played in a more defensive role than Adams – has played pretty advanced in a midfield trio thus far in preseason, almost as a No. 10.
So I've adjusted the depth chart accordingly:
Gary Smith has only played Jones as a No. 10 since he got healthy again down the stretch last year. This is... interesting.
There are still plenty of trialists in camp, though not many roster spots open.
The Offseason So Far: A new starting center back in Croat Dario Zuparic, and a new starting winger in Yimmi Chara. It's now officially a family affair in Portland! I am looking forward to a ton of Chara Brothers content coming out of the Rose City all year long.
Yimmi is, like Andy Polo and Dairon Asprilla (who's still there! I thought he'd be done after last season) goal-challenged historically, so he's likely not the answer to all of Portland's prayers, but he should be an upgrade. Chara, like his d-mid brother, gets after it and can win you games with his energy and smarts. Any team should be happy to have a guy like that.
For the "answer to the prayers" part it looks like they'll be turning to Polish No. 9 Jaroslaw Niezgoda, who isn't a full international yet but will be soon since he's leading the Polish league in goals and it's a pretty straight shot from the one to the other. The 24-year-old missed a ton of time last year, but has returned this season with a vengeance to the tune of 14 goals in 1070 minutes. That is lethal, even if it remains a real question as to how well numbers in the Polish top flight will transfer to MLS (Przemyslaw Frankowski didn't exactly tear it up, you know?).
Whether it's Niezgoda or someone else, it seems pretty clear they're going to bring in a center forward. They've also managed to bring Diego Valeri back on a non-DP contract, and they hung onto Paraguayan right back Jorge Moreira.
All of this is good. All of this looks like Portland are determined to make a 2018-ish run, though I think there'd be an open question as to whether a Chara/Niezgoda/Sebastian Blanco core DP group would have the same upside as what you'd find down in LA or up in Seattle. The answer to that "yeah but..." in years past was Valeri's greatness, but he did take a step backward last season, and he will be 34 in April.
Still, the Timbers look deep and flexible. Other than that soon-to-arrive No. 9, they need another right back and that's pretty much it.
January 22 Update: No official new additions yet, but...
Bodily and first-round SuperDraft pick Aaron Molloy will presumably get a year (or several) with T2 in the USL.
Niezgoda's official announcement should be soon. Dude's apparently a Trailblazers fan already.
February 10 Update: Niezgoda's official announcement came on January 30, one day before they signed another center forward in Chilean Felipe Mora, who arrived on a loan with an option to buy. They are now three deep at the No. 9 (though it's worth remembering that Gio Savarese mostly saw Jeremy Ebobisse as a winger).
Bodily did sign, and factors in at the bottom of the depth chart in a couple of spots:
Portland still have plenty of trialists in camp, and it looks like one of them – MLS veteran Chris Duvall – will win the back-up RB job, though that hasn't been made official yet. That spot is thin, though, as is CB given that Bill Tuiloma will be out until late March with a calf strain.
Real Salt Lake
The Offseason So Far: Nick Rimando retired, and Tony Beltran retired, as did Jordan Allen (who was SO good before all the injuries – a modern "what could've been..." USMNT story). Long-time stalwarts Joao Plata and Luke Mulholland are gone, as are Homegrowns Bofo Saucedo, Brooks Lennon and Danilo Acosta, all of whom had been starters at various times in recent years. Kyle Beckerman remains unsigned.
Arriving in their stead have been two guys from the USL and journeyman 'keeper Zac MacMath.
Even with all those departures RSL is still well-stocked. They're four-deep at center back, two-deep at right back, loaded in central midfield, on the wings, and – yes – up top. You can make a playoff-caliber 18-man roster for this team pretty easily despite the minimal amount of roster additions so far this winter.
The question with this team is whether you can make something better than just a playoff-caliber 18-man roster. Albert Rusnak and Jefferson Savarino are both, in theory, Best XI-caliber talents, but in practice neither have shown that for more than a month at a time. Sam Johnson, the other DP, was justifiably in and out of the lineup (and produced some of 2019's most bizarre quotes).
They have the flexibility to open up a DP slot by buying Johnson down, but I suspect that's something they won't do until summer if at all. In the meantime they'll need to add a back-up left back and hope that Freddy Juarez can work some magic by coaxing significant improvement from within.
January 22 Update: Are they set? I think they're set.
- Homegrown signing Milan Iloski gives them depth at literally every attacking spot in a 4-2-3-1
- First-round pick Dayonn Harris could be a nice speed option on the wings
- Veteran LB Ashtone Morgan gives Donny Toia an experienced back-up
- Beckerman re-signed
How good can Savarino, Rusnak, Baird and Johnson be? It looks like that's the question staring RSL in the face this year.
February 10 Update: They weren't set! Savarino was sold to Atletico Mineiro for a record fee (and a massive sell-on percentage), which allowed him to reunite with his family. RSL did the right thing there.
They then reinvested that money in another young Venezuelan winger, Jeizon Ramirez. The 18-year-old will presumably be given every chance to start, and the depth chart reflects that:
Keep an eye on Homegrown winger Chris Garcia as well. He'll probably spend the year with Real Monarchs in USL, but he's been damn good in preseason.
One big caveat to the above: Baird has spent precious little time at LW over the past two years, more often lining up at RW or as a run-the-line forward. I've left him off those two depth charts because, quite honestly, with the way this roster is shaped right now, they need him to be a goal-scoring LW who can cut inside and have a go.
Can Baird make the same kind of leap that his former college teammate, Jordan Morris, made last year?
EDIT: I forgot to mention this the first time through, but it looks like RSL will be signing MLS veteran Justin Meram as a free agent, and former Italian national team forward Giuseppe Rossi has been in camp – it looks like he'll be signed on a free.
Meram fits easily into the depth chart anywhere on the "3" line in the 4-2-3-1, and could push for a starting job if he throws the clock back a couple of years. Rossi's role would be tougher to define, especially since he hasn't played in two years. At his best he was one of the better young forwards in the world, but wasn't really a No. 9. He drifted a lot.
That might actually work for RSL, though. They've tended to be better the past couple of years with non-traditional center forwards like Baird and Damir Kreilach at the No. 9.
We shall see.
San Jose Earthquakes
The Offseason So Far: They made a big move in bringing winger Cristian Espinoza into the fold permanently, the club's record signing. Judson's transfer option was exercised, so he's back, as is Florian Jungwirth. So too is DP winger Vako, and yes, Chris Wondolowski's back for one more year.
In fact just about every player of note is back. The one exception is Godoy, who was shipped to Nashville for a king's ransom of allocation cash. That means if you look at this roster now it's deep everywhere, and is almost exactly the same roster that... missed the playoffs in 2019, and picked up only 21 points in 2018. There hasn't been much change in player personnel.
Perhaps the hope is that, with half a season under his belt, former Mexican youth international winger Carlos Fierro can take a massive step forward in 2020? Or that one of the Homegrowns can show the kind of growth that Tommy Thompson embodied last year? Or that last year's first-round draft pick, Siad Haji – a passing wizard – can make enough strides defensively to earn Matias Almeyda's trust and get a spot in the rotation?
What I'm saying is that so far it's been very, very quiet with regard to any other potential additions, and Quakes fans are justifiably nervous. If they'd had one more high-level attacker last season they'd have made the playoffs. So far this offseason they've very obviously not added one more high-level attacker.
That's the main thing they've got to figure out. Beyond that they need to add some center back depth and maybe one more central midfielder.
January 22 Update: They took Tanner Beason, who spent four years up the road in Palo Alto shuffling between LB and LCB, with their first SuperDraft pick, and that one seems pretty smart to me. "Much-needed depth at two spots" is the type of tag you want to wear if you're coming into a team trying to win a job.
I think second-round pick Jack Skahan also has a chance at sticking, so long as he buys in on what is sure to be a conversion to right back.
But yeah... that's it. Quakes fans are dying for one more big signing this offseason.
February 10 Update: I don't think those fans expected the "one more big signing this offseason" to be a center back, but that's what they got as San Jose brought Oswaldo Alanis in on loan from Chivas for the year. Alanis is, like Fierro and Andres Rios, someone who's played for Almeyda before. So even if he doesn't have immediate chemistry with his teammates, he will have immediate chemistry within the system.
Now here's the big change:
Almeyda's been running a 4-4-2 so far in the preseason. There have been no streams so I haven't gotten a look at it, and your guess is as good as mine at this point re: whether the two forwards have distinctly different roles (I'm assuming they do).
The formation switch is kind of shocking – the Quakes were, for a long stretch of last season, very very good in their 4-1-4-1. But at the same time... how much do you trust any of those wingers to put the ball in the net? How much should you trust them?
After what happened down the stretch last year, I think the only appropriate answer is "not much." So getting another forward out there makes sense provided the midfield can hold together.
I'm excited to see the Quakes. Once again they are a known unknown.
The Offseason So Far: A third of their roster – including key players like Roman Torres, Brad Smith, Kim Kee-hee and MLS Cup MVP Victor Rodriguez are gone. Kim, I'm guessing, will be back and Smith might be back, but that's still a lot of turnover. As it stands they have only one CB on the roster, and only one RB, and only one starting-caliber winger (unless it's finally Handwalla Bwana season, as we all should hope).
Still, outside of the defense the core is pretty well intact. Nico Lodeiro is back, as is Raul Ruidiaz, as are Jordan Morris, Cristian Roldan, Gustav Svensson, Stefan Frei and Kelvin Leerdam. That is, obviously, a group you can win a couple of trophies with.
But they've got a lot of work to do in the next five weeks to get ready for CCL.
As usual they have a lot of flexibility to do it with. They can easily buy down DP center back Xavier Arreaga and open up that slot, and if they do that (which I think they should) that'd give them the chance to go after another big-time DP winger. An attacking quartet of Ruidiaz, Morris, Lodeiro and let's say Brian Lozano would arguably be the very best in the league. Seattle could make it happen (though remember: Garth Lagerwey likes to do his shopping in the summer).
Really, though, the time is now to go all-in on trying to win the CCL. This is Seattle's window of opportunity, the one in which their best players are still in their prime and are brimming with confidence and chemistry. Make a run at it.
January 22 Update: "It looks like the Sounders have their center back" is the tweet from our good friends at Sounder at Heart, and I'm gonna go ahead and trust that they've done the homework on this (which, you know, is pretty easy homework since his now-former team, Union de Santa Fe, put out an official tweet wishing him good luck in Seattle).
The giant (6-foot-2, 200 lbs) Andrade is Colombian but has spent the past decade kicking around the Argentine SuperLiga, where he's got a rep as a very solid and VERY physical CB. What's the over/under on how many yellows he and Arreaga pick up in 2020?
They also signed MLS veteran Shane O'Neill, which makes them three-deep at CB, and have Homegrowns Sam Rogers, Josh Atencio and Antino Lopez in preseason. To be honest, it might be now-or-never for Rogers, while the other two are a couple of years away (and Atencio might not actually be a CB – he played d-mid in the preseason's first friendly).
Who's going to be the back-up right back? I don't know, but Alex Roldan – who was released after the season – is in preseason camp and played there vs. Peñarol. Who's going to be the back-up left back if things with Nouhou don't work out? I don't know, but Dillon Serna – O'Neill's former teammate in Colorado and with various USYNTs – is in preseason camp and played there vs. Peñarol. So... "maybe."
On the bigger side of the signing chart: Seattle have been linked with a handful of central midfielders this winter, and it looks like they've finally zeroed in on one in particular. Joao Paulo, late of Botafogo of Brazil's top flight, is supposedly coming in on a loan-with-mandatory-purchase-at-the-end-of-the-year deal.
This fits a lot better with regard to Seattle's player acquisition m.o. than the rumors they were about to drop $10 million for Argentine kid Santiago Sosa.
February 10 Update: Joao Paulo arrived, as did CB Yeimar Gomez Andrade. That's the final DP slot filled (Joao Paulo) and a lot of allocation money (Gomez Andrade) spoken for. But it also means their XI is set, and they can go into the CCL without any glaring first-team holes. Take a look:
They're thin at the 10, especially if Lodeiro is badly hurt (it doesn't seem like he is, but he did go back to Uruguay for treatment and will meet back up with the team in Mexico this week).
The other thing you're probably noticing here is that yeah, Cristian Roldan is a winger now. That's almost certainly going to be the spot where he plays most of his minutes in 2020, and that really does feel like the right fit. Roldan's been a good but never commanding central midfielder, and pairing Joao Paulo – whose long-range passing is supposedly superb – with Svensson when Seattle are full strength makes a lot of sense.
It does seem like Alex Roldan will be second on the depth chart at right back, though that's not official. And it looks like Homegrown CB Sam Rogers has a good chance of finally inking a first-team contract and filling out the depth chart there.
The Offseason So Far: Peter Vermes, after a miserable 2019, promised both a cull of the roster and at least one major signing at each level of the outfield.
The cull happened in earnest over a three-day stretch in November as eight players were either traded, lost in the Expansion Draft or had their options declined/were just left to walk after their contracts ended. And the major signings started two weeks later with the addition of Croatian center back Roberto Puncec, then continued when they brought forward/winger Khiry Shelton back from the Bundesliga, and crescendoed when they dropped a record fee for Mexican international No. 9 Alan Pulido, who they bought from Chivas.
There hasn't been a major signing in midfield yet, and that's where the big question is. Can Ilie be the guy he was in 2017 and 2018 – a top five d-mid in the league both years – or is 2019 a sign of things to come? How much gas is left in Roger Espinoza's tank? Are any of the Homegrowns ready to step forward into a bigger role?
Even if the answers to those questions are "2019 was an aberration" and "Roger's got plenty left" and "yeah, it's Gianluca Busio szn" I think there's still going to be a huge signing coming. My guess is it'll be a box-to-box ball-winner, though I haven't heard a single rumor about who that will be.
Vermes also has to reinforce his fullback corps and add one more young, athletic center back.
January 22 Update: The potentially major midfield signing is... Israeli attacking midfielder Gadi Kinda? Huh. Didn't see that as the spot that needed upgrading but shows what I know.
This deal isn't done and your guess is as good as mine as to how well production in the Israeli league will translate to MLS. But it shouldn't shock anyone to see Sporting thinking outside the box here.
They also brought back Amadou Dia after a few years in the USL to presumably occupy the back-up LB role, and at this point we're talking about a roster that's possibly maybe set?
February 10 Update: Yeah, Sporting's roster was set – they haven't added anyone since Kinda. Best guess at the depth chart:
Sporting have only played once this preseason, mixing and matching starters, reserves, trialists and academy kids while ripping FC Cincinnati apart for a 4-0 final.
At this point, though, I think the only spots that are really up for grabs are left wing and one of the midfield spots.
Now let's talk about service. Talk and talk and talk, courtesy of our friends at Eight-Six Forever. They went DEEP on Vancouver's lineup shortcomings and needs:
The simple version is this: Cavallini looks like a great centerpiece, but this roster is short on chance creators and showed no way, last year, or generating danger by becoming greater than the sum of their parts. Maybe it's a pure talent issue – one that would be exacerbated if Yordy Reyna does indeed leave – and maybe one or two new attacking additions would mitigate that.
The other issue to talk about is that backline. There are reports that they'll be able to bring Erik Godoy back permanently, which would help, but they'd still need to add depth pieces there and at both fullback positions. And at some point they should get a third goalkeeper onto the roster.
So, as seems to be the case every offseason for the 'Caps, there's plenty of work to do. But at least the hard part – getting a player like Cavallini to be the No. 9 – is already done.
January 22 Update: The "Service????" question looks like it's being answered, bit by bit. Winger Ryan Raposo was the No. 4 overall SuperDraft pick, and he's got a chance to make an immediate impact. Reyna is still there and the whispers of him leaving have slowly quieted. They added winger Cristian Dajome, who's been moderately productive in his home country's league, and Ghanaian No. 8 Leonard Owusu.
This is optimistic, though. Reyna's never been more than an average MLS attacker in his three years, Raposo is a rookie and Dajome's resume is shorter than – to pick two not-entirely-at-random-examples – Lass Bangoura or Lucas Venuto. Nobody here is a sure thing.
They also need one more center back and at least one more right back.
February 10 Update: Two more maybe-it's-noteworthy-maybe-it's-not signing in the past few weeks. First they picked up French winger David Milinkovic on loan from Hull City. The 'Caps are Milinkovic's seventh team in the past four years, and he's in Vancouver on loan, so... yeah. Maybe don't get too used to him.
Here we go:
They've played a 4-2-3-1 every game in the preseason so far, and I know it's presumptuous to put a rookie out there in any XI, but thus far their best performance came with Raposo's hand on the wheel.
Grain of salt, of course.
They've still got to get Jake Nerwinski some help at right back. Maybe it's worth trying to get free agent Steven Beitashour back to BC Place?