Despite all of the intra-MLS mechanisms to pass and big signings/trades announced, we're still at the beginning of the offseason for MLS clubs. All 27 have big decisions to make, but these are five clubs to keep a particular eye on.
A lot of focus has been (and will continue to be) on Austin FC's inaugural roster build for obvious reasons. Given the uniqueness of their offseason, and they've gotten plenty of deep dives, we'll leave them out of consideration for these purposes.
I've typed out these words too many times lately so apologies for the redundancy, but: It's never boring around the LA Galaxy.
They are currently without a head coach, though it was reported by Grant Wahl a few weeks ago Greg Vanney is close to filling that vacancy after Guillermo Barros Schelotto was let go. They transitioned from Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez last winter with much fanfare and expectations, though, as you may have heard, Chicharito struggled heavily in his first year in MLS.
In addition to sorting out a new coach, the Galaxy are grasping with trying to keep superstar winger Cristian Pavon. His loan from Boca Juniors expires in a few days. The club had a $20 million purchase option, negotiated in a pre-pandemic world, they hoped to negotiate down. No deal has yet been found, though a source tells MLSsoccer.com discussions are still on-going. There hasn't been much positive news on that front.
Discussions between the LA Galaxy and Boca Juniors over a deal for Cristian Pavon are still ongoing, per source. Saga not done yet.— Tom Bogert (@tombogert) December 28, 2020
Pavon’s loan ends in a few days. He has 13g/15a in 33 games in MLS. Had a $20m purchase option that the Galaxy aimed to negotiate down.
Pavon has 13 goals and 15 assists in 33 appearances with the Galaxy. If the clubs can't find an agreement, the Galaxy will then look for a new DP.
Irrespective to Pavon's future, the club have plenty of holes to fill. They finished below the playoff line with defensive frailties aplenty and just have 13 (!!!) players under contract for next season.
Toronto, like the Galaxy, are still searching for their next head coach. Unlike the Galaxy, they are definitely looking for a third DP.
They also have much of their core in place, a squad among the most successful in MLS over the last half-decade. With reigning MVP Alejandro Pozuelo, rising forward Ayo Akinola, a number of strong MLS veterans plus US national team veterans Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore, Toronto expect to be challenging at the top of the Eastern Conference once again in 2021.
Toronto have been linked with Patrick Vieira and Laurent Blanc in their head coaching search and reports are dry on their third DP at the moment. Remember, this club signed Sebastian Giovinco and Pozuelo two of the last three times they've looked to sign a DP.
It's a good time to be a Minnesota United supporter.
The club just made the Western Conference final, falling agonizingly short of reaching MLS Cup. They have a superstar in Emanuel Reynoso, a few exciting rising talents in Chase Gasper and Hassani Dotson, and should be well-primed to stay towards the top of the West moving forward.
This offseason is key to that claim.
Minnesota can open two DP spots alongside Reynoso, who didn't take long to settle in the league despite going months between competitive matches, with two goals and 14 assists (!) in 1,079 minutes between the regular season and postseason. Jan Gregus' deal can be bought down with allocation money and the team have been public with their plan to loan out Thomas Chacon.
They also are hoping to bring back forward Luis Amarilla, who was on loan in 2020, but need to find an agreement with Velez Sarsfield. Kevin Molino said his goodbye to the team on social media, so they'll need a replacement there, while Ozzie Alonso's future is very much up in the air.
It's a big winter in Minnesota.
New York Red Bulls
It's truly a new era at Red Bull Arena, with head of sport Kevin Thelwell leading his first offseason and head coach Gerhard Struber in place for his first full year in charge.
Expect the club to dial up the press even further. Under new management, there could be a fair bit of turnover on the roster as the Red Bulls find players who match Struber's ethos, though not entirely different from past iterations of the team.
Rumors are flying Kaku may be departing this winter while the team already have 21 players under contract for next year.
My man Matt Doyle already wrote this next thought better than I can so I'll just boost an excerpt from his annual end-of-year column on all teams:
I do not believe Struber — who is well-regarded both in England and on the continent — would've taken the job if he wasn't guaranteed a certain amount of squad investment, including DPs. So perhaps we'll see exactly what this RBNY core would look like with those types of players leading the way.
San Jose Earthquakes
Assuming we're past the bi-annual "Matias Almeyda is a target for (insert latest Liga MX managerial vacancy here)" reports, is 2021 the year we see what Almeyda's Quakes' look like with his squad in place?
Almeyda has been in charge for two seasons in San Jose and while the club have made a few key additions (like Cristian Espinoza and Judson), it hasn't yet been truly overturned. They made only one addition in 2020 outside of their academy or the SuperDraft.
This winter, though, they have two open DP spots and plenty of roster flexibility as Vako, Guram Kashia and Danny Hoesen headline key players departing this offseason while Magnus Eriksson left over the summer.
There is plenty of room for key additions and expect the club to get their work done as early as possible. GM Jesse Fioranelli has said on multiple occasions that for such a demanding and unique tactical approach, it's all the more important for new signings to be ready for the first day of preseason preparations.