The SuperDraft is done and teams are opening their preseasons, which means we are now into the home-stretch heart of the winter transfer wonderland, a joyous carnival of gorging on reports and speculation that even results in some actual signings along the way.
Predictably, our dumb brains are wired to spend most of our primary transfer window energy kicking about things like the chase for famed Designated Player captures (it's a real thing, you don't need to look it up). That clinically-proven scientific fact actually acts as cover for several players to land stateside a bit under the radar, and some of those guys will shine.
To wit: It was on the relative down-low when New York City FC lured Ismael Tajouri-Shradi and Anton Tinnerholm to MLS two winters ago, but they've surprised many by providing a ton of impact since then.
Obviously, that was all a setup for us to shine a light on the best "sneaky-good" signings of the offseason thus far. There's a lot of defensive ability in this group, and four of the five are headed to Eastern Conference clubs. As with any self-respecting list, there are a few honorable mentions worth note: Francisco Ginella (LAFC), Danny Musovski (LAFC) and Miguel Nazarit (Nashville SC).
No. 5: Alvaro Medran, Chicago Fire FC
This 25-year-old freebie has 77 La Liga games under his belt and enough talent to have scored a UEFA Champions League goal for Real Madrid, but never fully blossomed at the four Spanish top-flight stops that came after he left the Bernabeu.
Teams have mostly used Medran as a No. 8, but he might fare better nudged slightly up the pitch. If the Fire can fit the proper defensive personnel behind him and create upfront chances like they did last season, the 25-year-old could emerge as an Osorio-like attack supplement.
No. 4: Vito Wormgoor, Columbus Crew SC
This shrewd Columbus signing (pictured at top) was obscured a bit by other moves made by his own new team (Darlington Nagbe a month earlier and Lucas Zelarayan two days later). Wormgoor is an Ajax youth product center back and plays like one.
He's quite proactive defensively, jumping pass lanes and sliding the ball away from dribblers with good technique. He's also solid in the air and will pick out well-weighted long diagonals all day.
No. 3: Tom Pettersson, FC Cincinnati
For as much help as FCC need at the back after leaking a league-record 75 goals last season, one might have thought there'd be more notice of Pettersson coming on board. He's a highly mobile central defender who speed-reads the direction of opposing attack moves and can even ably cover left back in a pinch.
The Swede is sturdy in the box, but makes better stops on the run. And like Wormgoor, he hits a sweet diagonal ball from the back.
No. 2: Thiago Santos, FC Dallas
Oh, FC Dallas fans are going to love the veteran defensive midfielder. Thiago Santos is a relentless ball-hawk, but he's not your typical gatekeeper. The Palmeiras transplant loves to uses his closing speed and verve to break up opposing rushes before they even get started.
This quirk will see him force loads of turnovers across midfield, giving his teammates a much shorter counter road to hoe towards goal. Of course he's Brazilian, which means he's pretty silky and creative with the ball at his own feet. On top of all that, he's also a helluva set-piece target for a guy under 6 feet tall.
No. 1: Jose Andres Martinez, Philadelphia Union
Following the departure of Haris Medunjanin, Philly look set to turn the defensive midfield spot over to a space-shrinking destroyer. And Martinez won't just coolly pick your pocket, he'll race it down field or hit a pillowy lead ball.
He's quick, he's surgical and he's why opponents will need to rewrite their books on the Union midfield in 2020. The days of free passage through Zone 14 in the 610 appear to be over, and their counterattacking ability is a bigger concern.