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DP targets? Potential winter 2024 transfers for MLS teams | MLSSoccer.com

DP targets? Potential winter 2024 transfers for MLS teams | MLSSoccer.com

The big-money moves are gaining steam, folks.

With precious little time between now and the 2024 regular season starting, expect some high-priced Designated Player deals to soon get over the line. 

Now, where clubs undoubtedly have long, detailed lists filled with DP targets that have been built up over time, I have access to the internet and a passion for offseason speculation. But I’m nonetheless playing matchmaker for a handful of MLS clubs that are likely in the market for stars during this winter transfer window.

Gabriel Pec, Winger – Vasco da Gama (Brazil)

I’m starting with a softball for one of the Galaxy’s two open DP spots, mostly because this deal is reportedly sprinting over the line as you’re reading this.

Still, signing Gabriel Pec looks like an excellent piece of business from Will Kuntz and LA’s front office. At just 22, Pec put up some lovely numbers in Brazil’s Série A last year for Vasco da Gama, scoring eight goals and adding four assists in 2,600 minutes. Toss in his spot in the 86th percentile in non-penalty expected goals per 90 among his positional peers in “Next 14” leagues (basically, the best leagues outside of Europe’s Big 5, as defined by FBref) and you’ve got a stew cooking.

Legitimately and sustainably producing as a young winger is rare, but Pec has shown an ability to do just that. With good speed and a great left foot, it’s easy to get excited about his fit with the Galaxy alongside Riqui Puig

Keep an eye out for a striker signing from LA, too.

Harold Preciado, Striker – Santos Laguna (Mexico)

The Portland Timbers have shopped in Liga MX for a No. 9 before and they could do it again this offseason.

Harold Preciado has been consistently productive for Santos Laguna in Mexico over the last two seasons. The Colombian was in especially hot form in the 2023 Apertura, scoring 12 goals in less than 1,600 minutes. At 29, Preciado would be a plug-and-play option up top for new head coach Phil Neville, using his sharp movement in the box and height to capitalize on all sorts of passes from his teammates.

Like the Galaxy, Portland have the flexibility to add another DP this winter after both Yimmi Chara and Jaroslaw Niezgoda left the club.

Gerard Moreno, Striker – Villarreal (Spain)

Assuming LAFC’s brewing Dénis Bouanga saga fizzles out, the club’s biggest need is a No. 9. Mario González never seemed to click under Steve Cherundolo after arriving mid-season, which means he could be heading back across the Atlantic in the January window.

What if Villarreal’s Gerard Moreno came the other way? 

At 31 and playing for the 13th-place team in LaLiga, competing in Los Angeles for one of MLS’ biggest clubs could have major appeal. From LAFC’s perspective, Moreno would fill the striker spot, providing plenty of goals and some elite playmaking. The Spanish international would be a smash-hit in MLS and has seven non-penalty goals in 1,200 LaLiga minutes this year.

The stars would have to align for this move to happen, but a player in Moreno’s tier isn’t out of the question for the Black & Gold (even as Carlos Vela’s future remains very much undetermined).

Henry Martín, Striker – Club América (Mexico)

The Chicago Fire need a striker. It sounds like they’re willing to write a pretty sizable check to get one, too.

So why not go big for Club América’s Henry Martín? At 31, Martín is still a hugely productive force in the attack for the Liga MX giants, finding chances for himself and his teammates at an impressive rate. The Mexican international likely wouldn’t be easy to pry away from Club América, but money talks.

Martín, with Xherdan Shaqiri, Brian Gutiérrez and potentially another DP in Chicago’s attacking midfield line would present a scary proposition to MLS defenders.

César Huerta, Winger – Pumas UNAM (Mexico)

With Jefferson Savarino reportedly leaving for Brazil this offseason, Real Salt Lake will have the chance to fill his spot with another DP winger.

César Huerta from Pumas would be a fantastic addition out wide. It would take a big swing, but RSL seem open to taking a few swings – the club signed Chicho Arango from Pachuca for a record fee last summer. With elite scoring and creating ability, Huerta would become RSL’s attacking focal point, taking pressure off Arango and opening space for Diego Luna.

At 23, Huerta is just entering his prime and earned his first six caps for Mexico in 2023. If RSL (or any MLS team) can beat Liga MX or European suitors to the punch on Huerta, they’ll be better off.

Cameron Puertas, No. 10/Winger – Union SG (Belgium)

D.C. United need another dangerous force in the final third and they have an open DP spot.

Swiss attacker Cameron Puertas, who currently plies his trade in Belgium’s top flight for Royale Union Saint-Gilloise, would be an inspired addition for new GM Ally Mackay. The 25-year-old has four goals and 12 assists in just over 1,600 league minutes this year. Puertas is extremely comfortable in tight spaces, has a great right foot and looks comfortable in either halfspace or in a more central position.

Christian Benteke, who began his career in Belgium and now plays for a Black-and-Red team that has done business with Belgian clubs in recent years, would very likely surpass the 14 goals he had last year with Puertas playing somewhere underneath him.

Tadeo Allende, Winger – Godoy Cruz (Argentina)

For my money, the Dynamo need a little more quality in their attack, either in the form of a high-level striker or a high-level attacker who likes to play wider.

Tadeo Allende, a 24-year-old Argentine, fits into that second bucket. The Godoy Cruz attacker has a rocket of a right foot, excellent vision and can add a dose of directness to either wing. Allende scored six goals in Argentina’s top flight last year in just over 1,600 minutes and landed in the 95th percentile in non-penalty xG per 90 among his positional peers among the Next 14 leagues. 

Houston need to get deeper and stronger in the frontline to keep ascending in 2024, and this move would help them do just that.

Gauthier Hein, Attacker – Auxerre (France)

In the past, MLS teams have found success when shopping around recently relegated teams from big European leagues. Want an example? Look no further than Bouanga, who LAFC acquired from Saint-Etienne in France after they’d been relegated from Ligue 1 to Ligue 2.

Gauthier Hein probably wouldn’t quite be Sporting KC’s version of Bouanga. But the 27-year-old French attacker has been excellent for Auxerre in 2023-24 and put up some quietly solid underlying numbers for the club even as they dropped down a division. Hein currently has nine goals and five assists in just over 1,600 Ligue 2 minutes this season.

With a low center of gravity, Hein excels at turning out of pressure and brings sharp, direct running with him wherever he goes. Peter Vermes could use him on the wing or as one of the free No. 8s in his 4-3-3 shape.

SKC already have Alan Pulido, Dániel Sallói and Johnny Russell in the attack. Someone like Hein would push them into another tier.

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