web analytics
Eastern Conference: What every team needs in the transfer market | MLSSoccer.com

Eastern Conference: What every team needs in the transfer market | MLSSoccer.com

MLS preseason officially begins this week, and while there are what I would consider an unusual number of clubs with fully fleshed-out rosters, virtually everybody has at least one or two things they still need to address before the 2024 regular season kicks off the last week of February.

The Western Conference version of this column was pubbed yesterday. Today we’ve got a team-by-team look at the Eastern Conference, going in reverse alphabetical order. This might be the only time all year Toronto FC are at the top of any sort of standings!

In we go:

Clarity on the Italian DPs

We’ve heard time and again, from reports on both sides of the pond, that both Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi want out. But I’m writing this on Jan. 15, and not only are both guys still here, but there are zero specific reports saying that any move anywhere for either is imminent.

If these guys had lived up to their billing last year, that might be a good thing. It might be the kind of situation where a new coach could get through to them and get both to show the kind of game-breaking talent each is still expected to have.

But we kept waiting for that to happen in the back half of 2023 and it just didn’t, right? So either both guys are washed, or both guys are so unhappy that it’s affected their performance to the extent that they might as well be washed. Either way, it was effectively the same outcome on the field.

There’s a lot of rubble to clear out elsewhere on Toronto‘s roster, and it’s probably easier to get that work done than it is to move two massive salaries. But the truth is this team’s not going to give itself a chance to enter a happier new era until/unless they find some resolution for the top of the roster.

Re-sign Alejandro Bedoya

In the wake of the Kai Wagner deal, it looks like the Union are aiming towards running it back with this exceptional group that’s gotten so close so many times. It only makes sense to have Bedoya as a part of that, even if he’s not the indestructible 3,000-minutes-a-season workhorse he was two years ago.

Once that’s done, though, I’d expect some focus to turn toward their DP center forwards. I think there’s a pretty decent chance neither ends the season in Union colors.

DP No. 10

I’ll admit that Mike’s report here scares me a little bit:

#OrlandoCity training updates

• Martin Ojeda hasn’t arrived yet, still handling paperwork in Argentina.

• OCB coach Martín Perelman with the first team coaching staff.

• Oscar says team is open minded on where Facu Torres will play this season, either wings or middle. pic.twitter.com/oqr079DyNW

— Mike Gramajo (@byMikeGramajo) January 15, 2024

Torres is a lot of things, but what he’s not is a visionary chance creator, and the difference between Orlando posting another solid, 55-to-60-point season and Orlando being potentially the best team on the continent is adding a visionary chance creator at the No. 10*.

(*) Note that they signed Sounders legend Nico Lodeiro as a free agent, which is a smart move for a team that’s going to play a million games and try to win multiple trophies this year. But Lodeiro is a short-term band-aid, not a long-term cure.

They have a DP slot open, though as I’ve noted elsewhere, they would need to make the signing a Young DP since Torres has aged out of that designation and Orlando are putting their U22 Initiative slots to use.

They need a center back as well. Everything else is taken care of.

DP target forward

Dante Vanzeir was supposed to be the answer to this, and maybe he actually will be during his second season. It wouldn’t mark the first time a player has come to MLS and struggled in Year 1 before igniting in Year 2 (David Gass Theorem Hive stand up).

The arrival of Emil Forsberg as a chance-creation hub out of central midfield should help with that, whether the Red Bulls add a third attacking DP or not. But I know RBNY fans would feel a lot better about their club’s chances if RB Global decided to splash out for a third high-upside attacker. Even if it’s just Roko Šimić on loan for a year from Salzburg, that’d make a ton of sense for a side that, in virtually every other way, looks like it has the pieces to be a contender.

Another true striker

I liked what I saw from Mounsef Bakrar last season, but not enough to say he should have the job permanently with no competition. And even if that was the case, NYCFC would still be thin at that spot heading into the season. That’s a good way to tank your whole year.

It’s a good thing the front office seems to have learned their lesson, because one of the rising stars of Serbian soccer, Jovan Mijatović, could very well be on his way:

CFG have become progressively better at leveraging their international scouting network and young signings for NYCFC’s benefit. This would be another great example of that, and there are potentially other attackers on the way.

That, of course, is less urgent than getting center back depth. If/when Mijatović is in the fold, attention must next be paid to the middle of the back line.

No. 9 or nothing

The Revs are built to contend right now, and have acted like it by making a permanent move for DP winger Tomás Chancalay and bringing in goalkeeper Henrich Ravas. Provided they avoid the injury bug that murdered their 2023 season, this team is adequately deep and adequately talented at the top end of the roster to win something.

Provided, that is, DP No. 9 Giacomo Vrioni plays like a DP No. 9. The Albanian international was brought in from Juventus two years ago and has had so many moments when he’s looked out of his depth on a tactical level:

Uh, this is a bit concerning from Vrioni.

Any good No. 9 immediately recognizes that when possession has slid out to the overlapping fullback, you’ve got to get into the box.

Hell, he should’ve been there even before Bou made that pass. pic.twitter.com/d7OU8LMRp5

— Matthew Doyle (@MattDoyle76) September 18, 2022

He’s had other moments when he looked ok, and his production – 10 goals in just over 2,000 minutes across all competitions – has been ok-ish. But there is a reason he wasn’t a starter under Bruce Arena or either of the interim managers who succeeded him.

New head coach Caleb Porter said during his introductory press conference that he sees Vrioni as a guy who can be part of the answer for this year, and fair enough since the dude clearly has some talent.

So I suspect he’s going nowhere for now. But if we’re a month into the season and Vrioni isn’t producing and has lost the starting job under yet another coach, will the Revs have license to move on from him and get the kind of DP No. 9 who’ll be worthy of the tag?

That very well could be the difference between a title of some sort and another year of mediocrity.

Right back and central midfield depth

The ‘Yotes pretty clearly have their starting XI in place and decent depth at most spots. The two most obvious non-Hany Mukhtar areas are right back, where Shaq Moore is the only true option on the roster, and central midfield, where they’re one long-term injury from being thin.

Obviously, I do think they should figure out a young chance creator to be Hany’s understudy, but chances are that’ll be a by-committee situation with Randall Leal and new acquisition Tyler Boyd doing most of the work.

A true chance creator

Bryce Duke is a nice little player, Mathieu Choinière had an excellent 2023, and I am super high on both Nathan Saliba and Rida Zouhir. All of those guys can meaningfully contribute to winning in MLS.

But none of them are the kind of high-level chance creator this Montréal team needs to truly compete for titles. Can they make an offer for a guy like, say, Jari Vandeputte from Catanzaro in Serie B? The Belgian is in his prime and would seemingly fit perfectly in the 3-4-2-1 new head coach Laurent Courtois is expected to use.


As constructed, this is the deepest and most talented roster in MLS history. I doubt Miami have the cap room to make any more significant moves.

Signing first-round SuperDraft pick Yannick Bright (he provides cover at d-mid and right back) and adding a fifth center back on a minimum deal are about all I can see as even the most minor needs for this group.

Central midfield depth

I think D.C. United‘s roster (as it stands) best lends itself to a 3-5-2 with Christian Benteke and Ted Ku-DiPietro up top, but whether it’s a 3-5-2 or a 4-4-2 diamond or a 4-2-3-1 or the 4-2-2-2 that new head coach Troy Lesesne used most often last year with the Red Bulls, the fact is the central midfield depth chart is just three names long. And one of those guys is entering his mid-30s, another is constantly injured, and the third is a 20-year-old with zero career MLS minutes.

I wouldn’t be at all shocked if D.C. used their open DP slot to bring in a presumed starter at d-mid, moving Russell Canouse to the top deep-lying back-up (when healthy, anyway). And even after making a move like that, they’d be wise to add another veteran to the mix.

Right wingback

The defending champs are loaded up at virtually every slot – that includes central midfield, where I think Derrick Jones will be one of the best under-the-radar signings anybody in the league makes this year – save for right wingback, where they lost Julian Gressel in free agency and where presumed starter Mo Farsi has reportedly attracted interest from clubs in the UAE.

The good news: When you have a manager like Wilfried Nancy, who takes pride in developing young players, you are never truly thin at any position. I think there’s a quiet confidence in Crew fandom that even if Farsi is sold, Nancy will be able to craft 2023 SuperDraft pick Max Arfsten into a more than adequate replacement, or do something fun and unexpected like play U22 Initiative signing Marino Hinestroza as an inverted wingback.

Still, though, Gressel played a huge role in the Eastern Conference Final win over FC Cincinnati. His insertion into the lineup (particularly his ability to play the final ball) changed that game.

I suspect Tim Bezbatchenko and his staff are searching for a guy who can replicate that.

Re-sign their free agents

Santiago Arias and Junior Moreno were starters last year, while Dom Badji and Ray Gaddis were key contributors.

I’m not sure all of those guys will be back in 2024, but I suspect most of them will be. And that’s appropriate for a team that won one trophy (the Supporters’ Shield) and came close to two more (US Open Cup and MLS Cup).

Amidst all of that, I do expect Cincy to look for a big target forward who can be a late-game kitchen sink sub.

Sign a DP playmaker

We’ve seen over the past couple of years how Xherdan Shaqiri just isn’t going to do it, and while Brian Gutiérrez is very good, I’m not sure he’s “primary focus of the attack” good.

The nice thing about Gutiérrez, though, is he adds value at either wing or as a No. 10, which should in theory give the Fire’s braintrust the flexibility to simply go for the highest-level chance creator available irrespective of positional preference.

They also need a center forward – which is where I’m guessing they’ll use their other open DP slot (once they move on from Jairo Torres, anyway) – and one more deep-lying midfielder. I’ve heard all winter long that Kellyn Acosta is their target for that spot, which makes a lot of sense to me.

Push the Albert Grønbæk signing over the finish line

Sources: Charlotte FC has submitted a bid around $9.5m for attacking midfielder Albert Grønbæk from FK Bodø/Glimt. Would be club-record sale for Bodø/Glimt.

Grønbæk, 22, a rising Danish youth int’l. 4g/2a in UEFA Conference League this year. https://t.co/9oS9qlNApP

— Tom Bogert (@tombogert) January 7, 2024

We’re still waiting for this to get done. If/when it does, it’d necessitate moving on from Karol Swiderski, who really wouldn’t fit with both Gronbaek and DP No. 9 Enzo Copetti, and who reportedly has interest from Bundesliga sides.

Find a left-footed backup left back

The Five Stripes pretty quietly filled their three biggest needs by bringing in goalkeeper Josh Cohen, center back Stian Gregersen and (likely soon) d-mid Bartosz Slisz. All three of those guys are projected to be starters, and this winter’s other big signing – veteran d-mid Dax McCarty – gives Atlanta serious depth up the spine.

So as of now, the only place they look thin is left back beyond Caleb Wiley. I think that’s an easy fix.

What’d be a harder fix is if that Godfather offer for Thiago Almada finally came in. The World Cup winner has been pretty open about wanting to head to Europe ASAP, and the types of clubs that are now reportedly in for him…

🚨⚪️🔴 EXCLUSIVE: Thiago Almada is one of the top names on Atlético Madrid list in case Ángel Correa will leave the club.

Al Ittihad will approach Atléti for Correa and Thiago Almada has always been appreciated by Atléti.

His name is very high on club’s list. 🇦🇷 pic.twitter.com/lnfQHgSdAd

— Fabrizio Romano (@FabrizioRomano) January 11, 2024

…are the types of clubs that don’t often come up short when they want to buy a player.

I don’t think Atlanta will be in any rush to sell their No. 10, but money talks. If the right bid comes in, this would go from a position of strength to a position of urgent need overnight.

I am certain, however, that Atlanta’s front office will have planned for exactly that.

Read More

Add Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *