There are plenty of words down there, perhaps even a gluttonous amount, so let's just cut to the chase: We're handing out grades for this wild, COVID-impacted Secondary Transfer Window, which just ended on Thursday.
One quick note before kicking things off: We're leaving out 2021 expansion side Austin FC and 2022 MLS entrants Charlotte FC because while each made two moves this summer, there isn't a full roster to grade, much less any on-field product. Each club will get plenty of attention as they ramp up their roster builds.
Onto the grades!
Atlanta United: B-
All things considered, and despite their struggles on the field, there isn't much more Atlanta could've done during the Secondary Transfer Window. I should also note that the early returns on the Primary Transfer Window aren't great.
But this summer? Atlanta mutually parted ways with head coach Frank de Boer, added Jurgen Damm on a free deal (even if he flops, it's worth the roll of the dice), signed Erick "Cubo" Torres (who else could they have gotten in the wake of Josef Martinez's injury for free and with domestic status?) and even found a way to turn a profit with the sale of Pity Martinez. Hoping to salvage 2020, they moved quickly to sign Marcelino Moreno to a DP deal, but it wasn't done on a whim or in a panic given how long he's been on their radar.
They're slow-playing the coaching search to the impatience of fans, but as long as they make the right hire, that'll be long-forgotten.
Chicago Fire: C+
Chicago did a ton of work last offseason, adding 17 (!) new players, so it doesn't come as a surprise that they mostly stood still during the Secondary Transfer Window. The performances have been encouraging under head coach Raphael Wicky, but the Fire have left a bunch of points on the table and (as of writing) remain below the playoff line.
Their lone transaction in or out was Colombian youth international defender Carlos Teran, who just made his debut a day before the window closed, so there's not much to grade here quite yet.
How the front office elects to tweak the roster this winter will be interesting.
FC Cincinnati: B-
For some teams, the Secondary Transfer Window is about fine-tuning a roster for the playoff push or trophy chase. For others, it's more about building for the future — kickstarting a busy offseason with some additions and an eye on next year.
FC Cincinnati are in the latter group.
They moved on a few little-used players under Jaap Stam like Fatai Alashe and Kekuta Manneh, all while adding Kamohelo Mokotjo, Alvaro Barreal and Franko Kovacevic. Which players will be regulars in 2021 as they chase what could be their first-ever playoff berth? This window will ultimately be judged on long-term fits between the three key signings.
Columbus were in that position last year, too. They added Eloy Room, Luis Diaz and Youness Mokhtar in the summer when they fell out of the playoff race. In 2020 those three are regulars for one of the best teams in the East, following key offseason additions in Lucas Zelarayan and Darlington Nagbe.
Colorado Rapids: C+
The club were intent on going younger, opening more minutes for Diego Rubio and Andre Shinyashiki. They also got some reimbursement for Kamara while doing a solid for the league's fifth all-time leading scorer, sending him where he was likely to find more playing time.
Columbus Crew SC: B
The Crew didn't have any major needs this summer, but pre-empted their injury woes by adding four useful squad depth/rotation players. If Columbus continued on and only took a slight blip in points, this is easily an A. But they've won just once in their last seven, so we'll settle on a B.
Why? Because we get to our central themes of expectation, value and alternatives. They didn't recklessly mortgage future flexibility just to add a few bodies for the sake of it this summer. They did the moves early, too. Also, any team losing the likes of Darlington Nagbe, Lucas Zelarayan and Eloy Room for long stretches would struggle.
D.C. United: C
Luck was not kind to D.C. United in 2020.
First, they lost Paul Arriola to a torn ACL in February. They've then been without club-record signing Edison Flores, center back Steve Birnbaum, goalkeeper Bill Hamid, midfielder Felipe and others for long stretches this year. They fell to the bottom of the Eastern Conference and head coach Ben Olsen, a club legend, paid with his job.
In spite of all this, D.C. did take some swings to try and rectify the situation. They signed forward Gelmin Rivas, and then traded for mercurial attacker Yordy Reyna to the tune of $400,000 GAM. He's under club control through 2021, but despite his talent, he hasn't put together consistent performances in his MLS career. That figure feels a bit steep.
FC Dallas: B+
Ricaurte got off to a great start in Dallas, his quality evident from the minute he stepped on the field, but he hasn't had a goal contribution in his last nine starts. It'd be a surprise if he doesn't find form again, though. Phelipe is yet to make his MLS debut, but his international pedigree is promising, having just been called to Brazil's Under-23 national team.
Perhaps their biggest move was transferring homegrown right back Reggie Cannon to Boavista in a layered, strong deal for Dallas. They retain a big sell-on percentage of the US men's national team defender's rights, and his future likely lies with Ligue 1 club Lille. Immediately after he left, fellow homegrown right back Bryan Reynolds signed a new contract and positioned himself as one of the league's brightest young talents.
Franco Jara joined this summer, too, but the DP forward's deal was agreed back in the winter.
Houston Dynamo: C
Alberth Elis' departure from Houston wasn't a surprise given his profile, talent and long-standing interest from European clubs. It was a while coming, and while the Dynamo struck a decent deal considering he could've left for free this winter (reported to be $1 million with a sell-on percentage), it's a fraction of what could've been hoped for with the rising Honduran international.
Houston signed promising Argentine forward Mateo Bajamich, plus former Galaxy forward Ariel Lassiter, and the attack hasn't lost much luster. But that hasn't been the issue under first-year boss Tab Ramos. Their defensive misfortunes are why they're only ahead of the Galaxy in the Western Conference standings, yet Houston didn't address that this window.
It looks like Jesus Murillo is the long-term Walker Zimmerman replacement, and LAFC are picking up form now that he (not to mention another fairly-important player named Carlos Vela) is in the lineup.
Murillo was LAFC's key addition for the window, filling their most pressing need heading toward the playoffs. Murillo settled in immediately and is forming a strong partnership alongside fellow Colombian center back Eddie Segura. It was a bit of a boom-or-bust window in that regard for LAFC, who are once again entering the playoffs among the Western Conference heavyweights.
It's also worth mentioning the club's first three academy graduates were signed to the first team during the summer. LAFC slow-played their academy to get it right and now they're starting to trickle into the first team. They're quite young and not ready for regular roles, but could be one day soon if some promising performances are any indication. Los Angeles is among the most fertile ground for talent in the country.
LA Galaxy: D
Things aren't going well for the LA Galaxy.
They've lost eight of their last nine matches, conceding 26 goals in the process, landing the club uncomfortably at the bottom of the Western Conference and ultimately costing Guillermo Barros Schelotto his job. There were plenty of problems around the team and much of it fell at Schelotto's feet. But they've also had glaring deficiencies in defense that haven't been addressed.
Goalkeeper Jonathan Klinsmann was the only defensive addition since February, which could prove a shrewd move, but what the team really needs is multiple reinforcements on the backline, particularly at center back.
Inter Miami: B+
It was a busy summer for Miami with a number of big-time additions.
Miami brought center back Leandro Gonzalez Pirez back to MLS, a top-level talent at his position during his time with Atlanta United. Then they acquired World Cup-winning midfielder Blaise Matuidi... and he didn't even take up a DP slot. They used that vacant spot to sign Argentine marksman Gonzalo Higuain. And for good measure they traded for his older brother, Federico Higuain.
Yet still, they haven't locked up an Eastern Conference playoff spot and are still below the line with two games left. If results kept pace with the talent acquired, this would be an easy A. But it hasn't. Still, it's a hugely impressive collection of talent for one window.
Minnesota United FC: A-
The Loons' window is headlined by the signing of that long-awaited No. 10 from Boca Juniors, hoping to lift an already-strong group. Another long-term target joined, with defender Bakaye Dibassy arriving from French side Amiens before they traded for Kei Kamara.
Adrian Heath believes Reynoso to be one of the league's most talented players, and if he's right, he can have the same impact of Lucas Zelarayan in Columbus and Alejandro Pozuelo in Toronto, lifting all players around them.
They did trade promising USYNT forward Mason Toye to the Montreal Impact for $600,000 GAM. It's a big chunk of change for the Loons, but even Heath noted they'll look silly if Toye starts banging in goals on the regular for the Impact. Time will tell.
Montreal Impact: C
The success of Montreal's summer window rides on the success of Mason Toye, whom they acquired for $600,000 GAM from Minnesota. His talent is undeniable, but can he become a regular starting forward in MLS?
So far it's been mixed reviews for Toye in Montreal, starting twice then being left on the bench for the last three games. Obviously, it's still early.
The Impact also transferred midfielder Saphir Taider, reportedly for a small fee, and still haven't given Thierry Henry much by way of defensive upgrades, which will be desperately needed this winter after Luis Binks heads to Bologna.
Nashville SC: A-
Nashville said all offseason that they weren't in a rush to fill all 30 roster slots, spend every dollar of allocation or max out the cap by opening day. They knew they weren't going to get every single decision right and valued retaining enough flexibility to stick or twist this summer.
It didn't take long to realize the defensive part of the equation held up. The attack lagged a bit behind, so they went out and made a handful of big moves in attempts to remedy that.
DP striker Jhonder Cadiz headlines their window and much of the retrospective analysis on this summer will be tied to whether or not he's successful, but they also added a pair of wingers from elsewhere around MLS in Alex Muyl and Handwalla Bwana. Muyl's industrious work rate (he's currently the league leader in ground covered per 90 minutes, according to Second Spectrum) fits perfectly within Gary Smith's tactical ethos for his wingers, while Bwana's talent has long been evident in Seattle. He just never got regular playing time in a star-studded attack.
US youth international goalkeeper Brady Scott also arrived with a view on the future.
New England Revolution: B+
Bruce Arena's side acquired Lee Nguyen, Tommy McNamara and Kekuta Manneh via trades, plus signed Matt Polster to bolster their quality in defensive midfield. Nguyen immediately became a constant after returning, starting eight of the club's last 10 games.
Now Gil is back from injury, soon Gustavo Bou will be too, and the Revs will hope to make noise in the playoffs.
New York City FC: C
So far, they're holding up without additional attacking reinforcements after Heber's season-ending ACL injury and loaning Alexandru Mitrita to Saudi Arabian side Al-Ahli. Maxi Moralez has returned from his own injury woes just in time.
Mitrita serves as the only official transaction of the window for NYCFC. They'll have two DP slots open this winter, and it'll be a big one.
New York Red Bulls: D+
Perhaps his roster designation was just temporary, but for now, Dru Yearwood was signed as a Young Designated Player and hasn't moved the needle for RBNY. Ditto for forward Samuel Tetteh, whose cap hit is partially being covered by allocation money.
It also feels churlish to make grand proclamations for midseason signings in 2020, amid a global pandemic. Let's not write off either player for the rest of the season or 2021 (there's a club option to exercise a permanent transfer with Tetteh).
On the positive side, the Red Bulls continue to pump talent through their USL Championship side and into the first team. Caden Clark burst onto the scene as one of the brightest young talents in the league. Jared Stroud is another who's positively contributing in MLS after coming through RBNY II. Brian White and Tom Barlow continue to contribute after making their MLS debuts last year, so they're headed to the playoffs once again despite disappointing early returns on key additions.
Orlando City SC: B
Orlando are one of the surprises of 2020, working with a number of shrewd signings over the last two windows. As such, with Daryl Dike's emergence and a strong team behind the rookie forward, the Lions made just two moves this window.
Alvarado, 21, is an Ecuadorian international and has an interesting profile. The winger is on loan with an option to buy this offseason.
Philadelphia Union: A
The Philadelphia Union made no official additions for this window (though a trio of Homegrowns got signed for 2021) nor any official outgoings for this window (though Brenden Aaronson will officially depart after the season). Yet they still get an A for a few reasons.
First, transferring Aaronson to Red Bull Salzburg for $6 million with incentives potentially taking it to $9 million, as well as a healthy sell-on percentage, is tremendous business. They've rightfully been celebrated for the move.
Second, they kept Aaronson in Philly through the end of the season instead of sending him to Austria immediately. Ditto for center back Mark McKenzie, who has plenty of European suitors. The Union are within touching distance of their first-ever trophy by leading the Supporters' Shield standings and are among the favorites for MLS Cup.
Third, they shouldn't be docked a grade because they entered the season with a talented and deep squad. It's about as good as the Secondary Transfer Window could have gone for the Union.
Portland Timbers: B
There isn't much to assess for the high-flying Timbers. They couldn't find an amicable solution to make Jorge Moreira's temporary stay a permanent one, so he returned to River Plate and Portland elevated young right back Pablo Bonilla from Timbers 2 to the first team.
Bonilla and Chris Duvall have largely deputized well at the position. The decision to let Moreira leave after River Plate wouldn't budge on the purchase option (which was north of $1 million, on top of his 2019 salary of about $600,000 that made him one of the most expensive right backs in MLS) has worked fine.
Portland haven't needed any more additions, even after Sebastian Blanco went down with a season-ending ACL injury. Offseason signing Yimmi Chara has hit form, Diego Valeri is still Diego Valeri, and Jaroslaw Niezgoda now has seven goals in fewer than 600 regular-season minutes.
Real Salt Lake: C-
Perhaps the lack of additions is down to their lack of flexibility. They appear to have all 30 roster slots accounted for in 2020, as well as all three DP slots and all international slots. That means they could only improve the squad by letting a current player go, and it's understandable why that didn't happen this window. But the club's results haven't been congruent with last year's third-place finish in the West.
San Jose Earthquakes: B?
One one hand, the current squad isn't much different than the last-place squad Matias Almeyda inherited two seasons ago when he took over and it's exactly one senior addition (Oswaldo Alanis) different than the team that missed the playoffs last year. But GM Jesse Fioranelli has noted it's key to have new additions get a full preseason with Almeyda's demanding, unique system. Last year's two summertime additions (Carlos Fierro, Andy Rios) were players who had extensive experience with Almeyda in the past.
On the other hand... I phoned a friend on this one and Matt Doyle demanded the following passage was included, hence the question mark in the grade:
"Their performance shows that if you have a productive academy, then you don’t necessarily need an active window to turn the season around. Cade Cowell and especially JT Marcinkowski in bigger roles have made a difference. Honestly though, having an active window is nice but actually figuring out how to get the best out of the talent already on hand is better. That's what Almeyda's done, so if you give the Quakes a bad grade this window you are a monster, Thomas.
PS- Wondo please don't retire."
Seattle Sounders: A-
Three of Seattle's starters in their 2019 MLS Cup triumph departed the club this offseason and, by the end of the Secondary Transfer Window, two were back.
The Sounders' signing of Australian international left back Brad Smith as a free agent has flown under the radar. Smith is one of the most talented left backs in the league and eventually returned following his successful loan spell on a free transfer. A week later, Seattle traded for center back Roman Torres for further defensive depth. That's a strong week for one of the league's best teams.
They also got $225,000 and left-footed utility man Jimmy Medranda in the trade that sent Handwalla Bwana to Nashville. Decent return for a player not in their regular rotation.
Sporting Kansas City: B
Another team that fell into the "we didn't really have anything to do" category, Sporting did all of their work this past offseason. And they're riding those moves back to the playoffs after a rare season missing out in 2019.
Looking forward to the winter, though, Sporting will have to decide on the future of on-loan players Gadi Kinda and Winston Reid. Plus, as has been well-covered, there's future of homegrown midfielder Gianluca Busio. Will more offers roll in this winter for the rising talent?
Toronto FC: B
Toronto didn't really have any obvious needs to address this window, other than adding another left back. They did just that by signing former Liverpool Under-23 Tony Gallacher, and he's helped take the load off starter Justin Morrow as the fixtures pile up.
Outside of that, the club's core has long been set and they target more hardware this season. They have depth all over the pitch, which is no more evident than by Ayo Akinola stepping up in Jozy Altidore's absence so admirably before picking up an injury of his own.
Injuries are the current storyline in Toronto, though. Between Altidore, Akinola and now Pablo Piatti, they may have to make do without a key attacking piece or two heading to the playoffs for the second year in a row.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC: C+
Perhaps it's harsh given the context, expectations and timing for new signings to debut in the COVID-19 pandemic, but it was a slow summer window for a Vancouver team with several needs. The winter will be huge for them.
They have an open DP slot they haven't yet filled, though sporting director Axel Schuster noted the difficult timing given the required visa and quarantine processes. Still, the attack needs creative help and it's likely that's where the final DP slot will go to.
Receiving a $3 million transfer fee plus a 25% sell-on clause for midfielder Inbeom Hwang was good business, though. Plus, as expected, center back Ranko Veselinovic's loan was made permanent. The young Serbian has been a regular with Vancouver.