MLS Western Conference roster build status | Armchair Analyst

As it's the silly season, it's thus an appropriate time to take a look through every team's current roster build situation and depth chart. The Eastern Conference version of this column was published on Wednesday. Below is the West.

Both will be periodically updated throughout the rest of the offseason.

In we go...


Austin FC

The Offseason So Far: Busy, obviously. Claudio Reyna & Co. are putting together the team's debut season roster, and while there have been some missteps -- Houston pilfering Joe Corona from them is hilarious, and I'm not a big Danny Hoesen guy -- there's more to be excited about than not.

That excitement starts with Alex Ring at d-mid, moves to a backline containing a nice mix of MLS experience and high-upside newcomers. It continues up to the wings where, again, there's a good mix of MLS veterans and high-upside kids, as well as the thus-far only DP on the roster in Paraguay international Cecilio Dominguez.

There's still work to be done, and some of these moves won't work out. Nobody bats a thousand in their expansion season. But I like this foundation.

What's Next: One part missing from the foundation thus far is a clear starter as the No. 10, or perhaps as more of a dual No. 8 along with top overall SuperDraft pick Daniel Pereira. I'm assuming that manager Josh Wolff, who spent more than half a decade as Gregg Berhalter's right-hand man, has similar ideas about the game and is building a team that will play in a way somewhat reminiscent of Berhalter's US men's national team.

That could in part explain the decision to take Pereira over Philip Mayaka with that No. 1 pick. Pereira's more suited as an advanced midfielder -- think the role Sebastian Lletget plays for the USMNT -- in the type of 4-3-3 that we've seen from the US over the past two years. Mayaka would be more like the role Artur played under Berhalter & Wolff in Columbus.

Anyway, if Pereira is penciled in as a starter in one of those spots, right now the other name would be Diego Fagundez, who signed as a free agent. But Austin have also been strongly linked (as in, it might happen before we hit "publish" on this column) to 25-year-old Argentine central midfielder Tomas Pochettino, who's put himself in the shop window thanks to an excellent past couple of months with Talleres.

After that's taken care of they'll need to find some depth behind Ring, who is the only defensive midfielder on the roster. They'll also need to figure out if Hoesen really is the guy to lead the line.

EDIT: Austin signed veteran free agent center forward Aaron Schoenfeld this morning. Good depth piece.

Current Depth Chart


Colorado Rapids

The Offseason So Far: Only two incoming moves, but they were big ones: veteran winger Michael Barrios from FC Dallas for peanuts, and then Mayaka -- the consensus best talent in the draft -- fell into their laps at No. 3. Both of those guys will have the chance to win starting jobs, and Mayaka should be either a long-term piece in their core, or the type of player they can sell for millions within a few years.

Going outbound there hasn't been much, as the Rapids declined options on a few end-of-the-roster players.

What's Next: Cole Bassett is still around, and with no U-20s this year and, apparently, his failure to crack the rotation for the U-23s, it feels less like he's going to be sold in 2021. If it was otherwise then maybe I'd say "focus on a box-arriving, goalscoring midfield addition," but that's not the way the wind appears to be blowing.

Diego Rubio and Andre Shinyashiki are still around, and that's the extent of Colorado's depth chart at center forward, so I'd argue that should be next. But the Rapids are, according to reports and whispers from around the league, pretty content with that duo. 

So I'd argue that what comes next is probably a left back. Sam Vines is going to be hella busy all year and is the type of talent that seems destined for a top-five European league. Right now the only name I've got behind him on the depth chart is veteran right back Steven Beitashour. That's not enough.

Current Depth Chart


FC Dallas

The Offseason So Far: Really, really, REALLY busy. They sold their starting right back for nearly $10 million to a Champions League club, and declined the option on one of their long-time pillars in central defense. They traded the man who'd been their starting right winger for more than half a decade, and declined the option on a DP. They, as usual, lent out an academy kid to Bayern Munich.

In have come at least two likely new starters: right winger Jader Obrian from the Colombian top flight, and veteran center back Jose Antonio Martinez, a Spaniard with nearly 100 appearances in Spain's top two divisions. They also took a flier on a pair of young attackers, one foreign (Venezuelan winger Freddy Vargas) and one domestic (former Union homegrown Kalil ElMedkhar).

If Paxton Pomykal comes back healthy, then he basically counts as a new offseason addition as well, and would change the nature of the starting lineup. But health is a massive "if" at this point in Pomykal's career and shouldn't be assumed.

What's Next: All of the above means the usual thing, which is that Dallas's roster is completely stuffed and it'll be the play of the guys at the top-end -- the DPs -- who determine if the team makes a playoff appearance or makes a playoff run. Neither of the DPs, center forward Franco Jara and central midfielder Bryan Acosta, impressed last year, and both will have to fight the kids for a starting role.

The players they'll be fighting with are all likely already on the roster, and as it stands the only real question is how they replace Bryan Reynolds at right back. I think there's a chance that Ryan Hollingshead, the league's best left back, flips sides and John Nelson becomes the starting left back. I also think it's possible that Hollingshead stays where he is and Homegrown Eddie Munjoma gets the first crack at replacing Reynolds, or perhaps converted winger Ema Twumasi gets slotted in.

There could be another DP joining their ranks, though. Reports have Uruguayan winger Carlos de Pena on the way to Frisco from Dynamo Kiev. If he's signed, slide him into the XI at left wing.

Current Depth Chart


Houston Dynamo FC

The Offseason So Far: Another really busy team out there in the West, Houston have mostly flown under the radar with their acquisitions. But they also made headlines when they finally sold Mauro Manotas, getting $4 million from their star center forward from Club Tijuana. Manotas's replacement was likely already on the roster, though they did for good measure flip veteran center back Kiki Struna for veteran center forward Maxi Urruti in a trade with CF Montreal.

Working within the league like that has been their M.O. this winter. They pilfered Corona from Austin (again: this was HILARIOUS and a worthy first shot in the Texas Triangle Derby), threw cash at RBNY for Tim Parker, then did the same with Dallas for veteran winger Fafa Picault and with Nashville for central midfielder Derrick Jones.

All of those guys have shown the ability to perform somewhere on the scale from "okay" to "really quite good" in MLS, and adding more guys in that range is a pretty good idea for a team that's struggled pretty badly for most of the past eight years.

I also thought they were clever in the draft in trading down for allocation cash, but still ending up with the consensus best center back on the board in Generation adidas signee Ethan Bartlow. Between him and Parker, a glaring need from last year has been addressed.

What's Next: I genuinely don't think anything is next unless something falls in their laps. And while nobody's going to predict titles for this team, I really do like their offseason -- they got better and younger almost everywhere and even started signing some more Homegrowns. This team feels like it's finally building an identity and a culture.

Here's the catch: they have zero DPs. It's hard to win without DPs in this league, and everybody saw the massive drop-off last year once they sold Alberth Elis.

So while I like a lot of what they did this winter, and the structure is better overall, I'm not sure it'll matter that much in the standings if they don't have match-winners. If it turns out they don't, then that's job No. 1 in the summer window.

EDIT: So in between the time I wrote that blurb and we hit "publish," reports of former RSL center back Carlos Salcedo moving from Tigres to the Dynamo have surfaced. Salcedo and Parker, together, would represent one of the best center back combinations in the league.

Current Depth Chart


LAFC

The Offseason So Far: I think, if not for the pandemic, this would've been the offseason during which LAFC sort of burst onto the global scene as a selling club. There's been significant interest in the likes of Diego Rossi, Eduard Atuesta, Latif Blessing and Eddie Segura, and if budgets hadn't been destroyed by COVID-19, it's a fair bet that one or more of those guys would've been sold.

But that's not the way things are. LAFC have instead kept their young core almost entirely intact, with only Young DP winger Brian Rodriguez -- a likely backup in 2021 as the roster stands -- heading out on loan (with an option to buy) to UD Almeria in Spain.

Yes, that means LAFC have an open DP slot. They haven't done anything with it yet, and there aren't even any rumors percolating. Yet.

More importantly, they brought on-loan center back Jesus David Murillo back permanently, added Marco Farfan as depth behind Diego Palacios, brought in Corey Baird as depth all across the front line and added their presumptive starting right back in Kim Moon-Hwan. Raheem Edwards (as yet unsigned) was added in the Re-Entry Draft.

They also let Bradley Wright-Phillips walk in free agency, which is what leads me to believe that Rodriguez's DP slot is being kept open for a center forward signing.

What's Next: Center forward is the obvious spot to upgrade. Danny Musovski and Baird have both been useful there, but neither's the type of No. 9 most title-winning teams have. I expect LAFC to go big with this one, though it might not happen until the next window.

The same could be said for the goalkeeper corps. Kenneth Vermeer is an adventure, as is Pablo Sisniega, while Tomas Romero is very young. There is not a clear-cut No. 1 among them, though I could see LAFC's braintrust holding off on any real decision about that until the summer.

So my guess is that LAFC's done shopping for this window, save for signing Edwards and their second- and third-round draft picks (a center back and a midfielder). Don't be surprised if they come with the thunder this summer.

Current Depth Chart


LA Galaxy

The Offseason So Far: They got their man in new head coach Greg Vanney. It seemed obvious, once he stepped down as head coach and technical director at Toronto FC, that he was headed for a similar role in Carson after the Galaxy had dismissed Guillermo Barros Schelotto. It took a while, but it did finally happen.

What's also happened has been a large exodus of largely disappointing players from the past few years, as well as a steady trickle of new signings. The two most important are Jorge Villafana, acquired from Portland for allocation cash and certainly the new starting left back, and goalkeeper Jonathan Bond, a veteran of the English Championship and League One.

Cristian Pavon is also technically, as of this writing, gone. But note that Vanney has spoken of Pavon over the past month as if the Argentine DP is in his plans.

What's Next: Finding a way to get Pavon back to Carson on a permanent basis, I'd imagine. He has been electric.

After that it's a question of figuring out the backline -- they need at least one starting-caliber center back -- and then central midfield. Jonathan dos Santos missed basically all of last year and is now in his 30s; how much gas does he have left? Would it be as a No. 6 or a No. 8? Should Sebastian Lletget move deeper to play as an 8 (or an 8.5, which is his USMNT role) and bring in a true No. 10 for a 4-2-3-1? Should Efrain Alvarez play there, or play at all? Do they need a true ball-winner no matter what?

Then there's the fact that even if Pavon comes back, there aren't enough wingers on this roster. The good news for Galaxy fans is that our own Tom Bogert has reported that the Galaxy are involved with Austrian international winger Husein Balic. Nothing is finished yet, but Balic has the profile of an MLS starter.

So does Julian Araujo, but there's no depth behind him. And -- here's the big one -- neither Chicharito nor his backup, Ethan Zubak, looked like MLS-caliber center forwards last year.

Vanney's got his hands full.

Current Depth Chart


Minnesota United FC

The Offseason So Far: At this point in the offseason, it's fair to say that Minnesota got worse. Kevin Molino signed elsewhere in free agency and Ozzie Alonso is still out there as well, perhaps looking for a new home. There is still no solution at center forward, and that doesn't just go for the starting No. 9 -- most of the depth has been purged, as well.

But I don't think there's any cause for worry. The Loons always crush it in the SuperDraft and I suspect they did so again in 2021, by trading up to get winger Justin McMaster and center back Nabi Kibunguchy. Both have the profile of guys who will at the very least be contributors. The same can also be said of center back Callum Montgomery, a former top-five pick who never broke through with Dallas and who Minnesota got for a song. Shrewd move.

Signing Wil Trapp as a free agent is a bit of Ozzie insurance, while trading for Jukka Raitala gives needed depth on the backline.

What's Next: Signing Ozzie should be next, and then maybe finding a loan for Thomas Chacon, who seems unlikely to break through into any sort of regular role for Minnesota. Airlocking Chacon would necessitate at least one addition in attack, probably a veteran who can play some on the wing and some as a No. 10. There aren't too many players fitting that profile out there, but there's not none.

All of it pales in comparison to the No. 9 situation. When Minnesota fans read "what's next" up there they said, as one, "a DP center forward!!!"

I have been trying to speak Santos Borre into existence for you guys for four months now. I'll do it again here: Santos Borre, who's out of contract in the summer, is the perfect solution for the Loons.

Current Depth Chart


Portland Timbers

The Offseason So Far: When you're pretty certain you're championship-caliber as long as you're at full health, you might as well run it back for one more year. And that's what the Timbers have decided to do, though with the added benefit of some potential upgrades at both fullback slots.

That's where they've concentrated their efforts this winter, as they shipped out Jorge Villafana, Marco Farfan and Chris Duvall, and shipped in Claudio Bravo (the new presumptive starter at LB) and Josecarlos Van Rankin (the new presumptive starter at RB) to remake the fullback depth chart.

They also trimmed some depth pieces in central defense and midfield, and brought back forward Felipe Mora on a permanent basis.

What's Next: Bravo is the only LB on the roster, so it stands to reason that there will be another addition at that spot, though not a starter. There will be another addition at central defense as well, though not a starter. And perhaps another in central midfield, though -- say it with me now -- not a starter.

Portland have already made their biggest moves. Their offseason is mostly done.

Current Depth Chart


Real Salt Lake

The Offseason So Far: Obviously no team is in more flux than Real Salt Lake, who are in the midst of an ownership change and cultural reboot. Dealing with the roster feels like just a small part of that.

Still, Kyle Beckerman's retirement is no small thing even if he wasn't, in 2020, the player he'd been even two years previous. That is a large void to fill in the locker room, one compounded by the retirement and departure of center back Nedum Onuoha. Obviously Onuoha isn't the cultural icon in Utah that Beckerman is, but he was a leader last summer during arguably the most difficult time in the club's history.

They traded Corey Baird for allocation cash, and Baird represents a larger void to fill on the pitch. The rest of the departures were fringe guys and, disappointingly, a couple of Homegrown attackers (Luis Arriaga and Julian Vazquez) who, for some reason, never developed.

More Homegrowns are inbound, as is Generation adidas right back/central midfielder Bret Halsey, whom RSL selected seventh overall. They also signed at least one former USMNT forward: Rubio Rubin from San Diego of the USL Championship, and possibly Bobby Wood, who reportedly won't arrive in Utah until this summer after his contract in Germany runs down.

What's Next: At least one center back -- maybe two? -- and perhaps nothing else. RSL actually do have a ton of depth everywhere but in the middle of the backline, and much of that depth is proven.

The issue, of course, is the top-end talent. Albert Rusnak took a massive step back last year, and Damir Kreilach is getting up there in age. Rubin, for all his potential as a youngster, is now a 24-year-old journeyman who's never put the ball in the net regularly outside of the USL. Young DP Jeizon Ramirez barely played last year, and after putting up 13g/7a in 2017, Justin Meram has put up 9g/7a total across the subsequent three years.

Anyway, that's all for a different column. What I'm saying is this: I don't think any big moves are coming this winter for RSL.

Current Depth Chart


San Jose Earthquakes

The Offseason So Far: Some big numbers came off the Quakes' books, as DP winger Vako and veteran center back Guram Kashia saw their contracts run down and not get renewed. They also traded Nick Lima to Austin for a good chunk of cash, then had the good fortune of having Austin select Danny Hoesen in the Expansion Draft, which meant San Jose got $50k worth of allocation cash for a player they weren't going to be bringing back anyway.

So far they have made only one significant move with all that cap space, all that cash and two open DP slots: signing Eduardo "Chofis" Lopez on loan from Chivas. So they got their No. 10 (they hope), and yes, it's yet another player who previously played for Matias Almeyda.

They also stayed local with the SuperDraft, taking Cal center forward Tommy Williamson (who never met a shot he didn't like, and IMO that's a good thing in a young forward) 12th overall. Maybe they'll get lucky and he'll turn into the next Wondo.

What's Next: I'm not sure anything is next, though I'd argue they could use a BIG center back and some central midfield depth. Their set-piece defense was catastrophic last season, to the point that a personnel upgrade might be required, and in the middle of the pitch they are one Judson injury away from a crisis.

Now, they have spoken glowingly about second-round SuperDraft pick George Asomani, a Ghanaian wrecking ball of a No. 6 who did very good work for NC State over the past couple of years. But "replace Judson" is a lot of ask of any draft pick.

That would be a fantastic story if that's how it works out, though.

Current Depth Chart


Seattle Sounders

The Offseason So Far: So yeah, Jordan Morris is gone. It's not "officially gone for good" time, but my money is on him doing well enough with Swansea City to earn a permanent move to the EPL, either by helping the Swans to promotion or by catching the eye of one of the other EPL teams. It is very likely the end of an era.

It's not just Morris who's gone, though. Also out this offseason:

  • Joevin Jones
  • Gustav Svensson
  • Kelvin Leerdam
  • Roman Torres

Jones started in MLS Cup. Svensson and Leerdam should have started. Torres came back late in the season for one last hurrah as defensive depth and didn't play much, but his permanent departure is still meaningful.

The only inbound player thus far is veteran utility-man and Seattle native Kelyn Rowe. They were also able to keep Joao Paulo after hitting the right number to get him permanently from Botafogo.

What's Next: Depending upon what you think about the situation on the wings (we'll get there in a second), there are either three or four glaring needs: right back, center back depth, and either one or two starting-caliber wingers.

I didn't write "a starting right back" because maybe Alex Roldan can show he's got what it takes at that spot? He was more than just serviceable there in 2020, the first year he's ever played as a fullback at any level, and... I mean, stranger things have happened. But I do think it's more likely than not that Seattle go out and get an obvious starter there and Roldan becomes depth.

I went with "depth" at center back rather than going out and getting a clear-cut starter despite the fact that it is reasonable to ask if either Shane O'Neill or Xavier Arreaga are starting-caliber CBs for a high-level MLS team. Could they find an upgrade to partner with Yeimar Gomez Andrade? Possibly.

As for the wings, it's obvious they need at least one starter inbound in order to replace Morris. The question is whether they will need a second, as Cristian Roldan seems likely to go back to central midfield and Homegrowns Shandon Hopeau, Ethan Dobbelaere and Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez haven't really been convincing on their journey toward the first team.

With all this happening (or not), bear this in mind: Seattle GM Garth Lagerwey hates to make big moves during the winter window. So there's a chance Rowe is the only new signing and Lagerwey just rides it out until summer.

Current Depth Chart


Sporting Kansas City

The Offseason So Far: Another perennially competitive Western Conference team, and another drastic makeover. Gone for good is former captain and Defender of the Year Matt Besler. Gone for now (and perhaps for good) are former DPs Felipe Gutierrez and Gerso, as well as super-sub Erik Hurtado. Center back Winston Reid, who started in last year's playoff run, was also shown the door.

There have been two significant additions in central midfielder Remi Walter (Peter Vermes has suggested he'll be playing primarily at defensive midfield) and center back Nicolas Isimat-Mirin. Both guys look good on paper and Wyscout, but there's been more than the usual amount of buyer's remorse when it comes to high-priced imports for Sporting.

Gadi Kinda, of course, was not part of that. The Israeli No. 10 was one of the most productive attacking midfielders in the league last year, and Sporting brought him back permanently this winter.

What's Next: I'm sure their focus is on the front three. Their starters, left-to-right, are most likely Khiry Shelton, Alan Pulido and Johnny Russell, and while on their day they can make an exceptional triumvirate, 1) none has ever been, at any point in their careers, a clinical finisher, and 2) the depth chart behind them is sketchy.

Among the wingers, Daniel Salloi got cursed by the soccer gods for that no-look goal in the 2018 playoffs and hasn't been the same since, while Homegrown 18-year-old Tyler Freeman is probably a year away and Homegrown Grayson Barber was just signed out of college.

Shelton is Pulido's backup at center forward. Behind them is Homegrown Wilson Harris, who's been super productive on a per-90 basis in the USL Championship, but unproven beyond that.

Sporting have a DP slot open, so they could make a move. I'm not sure it'll be a DP-sized move, but I do expect them to do something about that front three.

Current Depth Chart


Vancouver Whitecaps FC

The Offseason So Far: They've been moving slowly, mostly trimming the edges of the roster. The only regular contributor from 2020 who looks like he's not coming back in 2021 is veteran center forward Fredy Montero -- an understandable decision given that's an area of depth for the 'Caps.

One of the reasons it's an area of depth is the arrival of first-round SuperDraft pick David Egbo, who went ninth overall. Egbo's not expected to play a ton in 2021, but he'll be useful when Lucas Cavallini and Tosaint Ricketts are on international duty with Canada.

Deiber Caicedo is, at this point, the only other official arrival, and he is expected to play a ton. The 20-year-old Colombian youth international already has around 4000 first-team minutes, which means he's not purely a young prospect: he's got to contribute.

They really don't need to make any other signings. Except for one.

What's Next: Vancouver need their own Lucas Zelarayan or Bebelo Reynoso. This team is dying for a DP No. 10, and they have been linked to both Porto's Otavio and Benfica's Chiquinho. Sign either one of those guys and this offseason's a success.

That said, they'd still be a little light on the wings. Caicedo shouldn't be the only incoming winger, and I doubt he will be.

Current Depth Chart

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