Transfer watch: 10 players who could leave MLS this winter | MLSSoccer.com
But becoming a bigger and more established piece of the global transfer market means headlines go in the other direction, too. More scouts than ever before are shopping around MLS and each export’s success story only further validates how impactful, meaningful additions are here to be found.
So, with the January transfer window soon getting underway, here are 10 players who could head overseas this winter. This list, with two quick-hit sections at the bottom, is hopefully close to comprehensive – though bear in mind deals are fluid and the unexpected is inevitable.
During an end-of-season press conference, Atlanta United VP/technical director Carlos Bocanegra described a collaborative process re: Thiago Almada’s potential outbound transfer. They’re planning for the Argentine World Cup winner to return in 2024, but also stressed “we want to work together.”
Garth Lagerwey, the club’s president/CEO, reinforced that message during an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution earlier this month, dubbing it a combination of “what does he want to do and what’s the value we’re getting.”
Then there’s Almada himself, who said during an ESPN interview that he wants to go to Europe. He highlighted the Premier League and LaLiga as two desired destinations, plus wanting to experience the UEFA Champions League.
Combine all those comments and it seems like a matter of when, not if, the Argentine World Cup winner heads overseas. The big questions are 1) if the right offer/situation arises and 2) if he’ll surpass the MLS outbound transfer record Atlanta set in January 2019 when Miguel Almirón joined Newcastle United (reported $27 million).
It seems increasingly likely that Barreal will soon head to Europe, an eventuality GM Chris Albright previously acknowledged to MLSsoccer.com: “Whether it’s the Argentina national team or a team in the Premier League or Germany, the sky’s the limit for what league he wants to play in.”
That’s not just a club executive hyping his guy, either. Barreal was a 2023 MLS All-Star and a crucial part of Cincy’s Supporters’ Shield-winning group, finishing with 5g/9a in 34 games. His 67 key passes were seventh in MLS and his 9.22 expected assists (xA) was the fifth-highest league-wide.
As Barreal potentially exits, let’s not forget he initially joined Cincy as a winger from Argentine side Vélez Sarsfield in September 2020. Fast forward and he’s a left wingback who’s been linked to RC Lens (Ligue 1) and Ajax (Eredivisie) over the past couple of transfer windows.
Speaking right after LAFC‘s MLS Cup defeat to the Columbus Crew, Bouanga raised some eyebrows when saying “it’s a possibility I have to return to Europe.” Adding another layer to the situation, French outlet L’Équipe has reported Ligue 1 side OGC Nice are keen on adding Bouanga this winter as they push to secure a UEFA Champions League spot.
So, what to make of all this? Bouanga would cost a pretty penny, as co-president/general manager John Thorrington said earlier this month: “We never know what may happen, but it’s going to be a hugely, hugely expensive transfer fee if he’s not here next year.” Bouanga also remains under contract and past comments make clear he’s happy at LAFC.
We also know Bouanga was essential to Steve Cherundolo’s group in 2023. The Gabon international won the MLS Golden Boot presented by Audi (20g/7a) and his 38 all-competition goals tied the MLS calendar-year record. There’s arguably no more lethal counter-attacking player in league history. He’s their superstar.
Given all this, from my point of view, Black & Gold fans should be far closer to the ‘monitor closely’ end of the spectrum than the ‘DEFCON 1’ side of things. There’s certainly some smoke, though.
The 18-year-old homegrown was a key figure for New England this past season, shining as a box-to-box midfielder who hits line-breaking passes. Primarily left-footed, he finished with 3g/2a in 25 games.
Buck’s performances have resulted in six England U-19 appearances, the most recent of which saw him compete in midfield alongside Premier League youngsters Kobbie Mainoo (Manchester United) and Jack Hinshelwood (Brighton). He didn’t look out of place, either.
The Revs have been an active participant in the MLS exports market in recent years, highlighted by goalkeepers Matt Turner and Djordje Petrovic heading to Arsenal and Chelsea, respectively. Buck, an academy product, might soon follow suit.
Philadelphia, understandably, held onto Carranza this past summer amid interest from Europe. Now, with Carranza entering the final year of his contract, sporting director Ernst Tanner has acknowledged they might act (i.e. sell the player abroad).
It wouldn’t be easy to replace Carranza – he’s tallied 28g/15a in 62 regular-season games and fits perfectly into the Union’s game model as a pressing, direct striker. But as head coach Jim Curtin previously claimed, Carranza has the potential to “play anywhere” and there’s some Taty Castellanos to his game (that’s a high compliment).
If Carranza leaves Philadelphia this winter, they’ve got Mikael Uhre, Tai Baribo and Chris Donovan among the leftover No. 9s. Still, the club would likely look to strengthen that group via the transfer market.
A precise destination hasn’t emerged, but there’s continued interest in Carrasquilla after his breakout season with Houston and a summer in which he earned the 2023 Concacaf Gold Cup Golden Ball (best player) award.
The 25-year-old Panamanian international also gave a recent interview in which he expressed his desire to play in Europe and recognized how any deal must make sense for the Dynamo.
Houston’s midfield was awesome this past season – Carrasquilla was a blast to watch alongside Héctor Herrera, Artur and Amine Bassi as the club won the US Open Cup and reached the Western Conference Final. But we might have seen Carrasquilla’s final match in orange, and there’s every reason for Dynamo fans to trust the front office will find a replacement (from outside the club or within) if transfer speculation turns into reality.
The Timbers have already opened a Designated Player slot this winter, declining their 2024 contract option on oft-injured Polish striker Jaroslaw Niezgoda. Now, as head coach Phil Neville gets settled in Portland, could they have room to sign two DPs?
Reports connect Yimmi Chara with a return to Colombian top-flight side Atlético Junior, where he played from 2017-18. The 32-year-old has enjoyed some success with the Timbers – he’s produced 15g/29a in 102 games – but his impact declined last season. Phrased a different way, the timing makes sense and Chara leaving wouldn’t be all too surprising.
In this scenario, Portland’s remaining DP would be Evander. Then there are two slots for Neville and GM Ned Grabavoy to fill, either this winter or next summer.
Swiderski hasn’t been shy about declaring he wants to return to Europe, particularly to compete in Serie A. This follows how, in Charlotte’s brief two-year history, Swiderski is their leading scorer with 22g/10a across 61 regular-season matches. He’s unquestionably been the club’s best player, despite not having a locked-in position (he’s often looked best as a withdrawn forward).
The added context is Charlotte recently hired Dean Smith as their new head coach. Has that changed Swiderski’s mindset and career outlook, or is he determined to secure a January move back to the Old Continent? Time will tell.
All the while, DP winger Kamil Jozwiak is loosely linked with returning to Polish side Lech Poznań. A top-end roster refresh could unfold in Charlotte this winter, presuming striker Enzo Copetti remains for year two.
When Orlando signed Torres before the 2022 season, they splashed out a club-record fee – a reported $7.5 million with $1.5 million in add-ons – to acquire him from Peñarol in his native Uruguay. It stands to reason Orlando would seek low eight figures ($10+ million) on any outbound move, right?
Dollars and cents aside, it’s no wonder why someone of Torres’ profile and age (23) has been linked with a European future. The winger/attacking midfielder has been a huge success in Orlando, contributing 23g/14a in 63 regular-season games. He also remains a consistent call-up under La Celeste manager Marcelo Bielsa for World Cup qualifying and will likely feature at Copa América this summer.
Should Torres leave, this window or next, he’d be another case study in young South American talent boosting their profile in MLS before heading to Europe. In the meantime, he’s a key part of the puzzle alongside Duncan McGuire, Martín Ojeda and a potential wintertime DP addition.
Will those Borussia Monchengladbach reports resurface? What about the rumors of Premier League side Brentford being interested? Are the latest links to Liga MX powerhouse Monterrey legit? Are those old bids from Chivas done and dusted?
Wherever answers lie, Vazquez’s name has surfaced in the last few transfer windows after his star ascended in 2022. Over the past two seasons, he’s posted 26g/12a in 62 games while breaking into the USMNT picture.
Another point of consideration is Vazquez previously said on the ‘Offside with Taylor Twellman’ podcast that he’s eyeing a European move: “If I want to make the 2026 World Cup roster, I think I have to be overseas competing in the best leagues in the world.”
Should Vazquez leave, quickly acquiring a high-level replacement wouldn’t be easy. But Cincy’s front office game plans for all scenarios, and there’s one in which the player and club both benefit. In the meantime, the defending Supporters’ Shield champions would still have two prongs of their attacking trident – Luciano Acosta and Aaron Boupendza – to build around.
Two USMNT players – center back Miles Robinson and midfielder Kellyn Acosta – have suitors across MLS, yet their futures are a bit cloudy. Robinson, who has a standing offer from Atlanta United, is reportedly seeking a deal similar to Walker Zimmerman‘s DP-range one at Nashville SC. Meanwhile, the window for Acosta to head to Europe is narrowing after helping LAFC reach back-to-back MLS Cups.
Left backs Diego Palacios and Kai Wagner are both quality players and reportedly have commanded interest from abroad. Palacios, a full-fledged Ecuador international, has quietly been one of LAFC’s best players the past two seasons. Wagner, who has an impressive 5g/39a across the past five seasons for the Philadelphia Union, has been linked to a host of clubs overseas.
What about the future of two Venezuelan internationals? Box-to-box midfielder Junior Moreno was a key piece for FC Cincinnati’s Supporters’ Shield-winning team in 2023, while the rumor mill has been curiously quiet around Josef Martínez – the 2018 MLS MVP who’s ninth in league history with 105 goals.
Let’s go bullet-point style on some MLS homegrowns, calling out their place on 2023’s 22 Under 22 presented by BODYARMOR list.
- Columbus Crew midfielder Aidan Morris (No. 3)
- Chicago Fire FC midfielder Brian Gutiérrez (No. 5)
- New York Red Bulls defender John Tolkin (No. 6)
- Philadelphia Union midfielder Jack McGlynn (No. 7)
- San Jose Earthquakes forward Cade Cowell (No. 8)
- Atlanta United defender Caleb Wiley (No. 9)
One omission from that group? Box-to-box midfielder Benjamin Cremaschi, who forecasts as a big part of Inter Miami CF’s star-studded squad in 2024.