Nearly a third of the Major League Soccer season is done and the league standings have begun to separate the contenders from the pretenders. While there’s still plenty of time for teams to improve — or regress — the May 7 primary transfer window deadline is looming.
Time is ticking for clubs across the league to make said improvements, if they so choose. The secondary transfer window won’t open until July 7 and lasts just one month.
The following is Pro Soccer USA’s team-by-team guide of needs and transfer buzz ahead of the May 7 transfer deadline:
With three designated players on the roster, no international slots currently available and little cap space, there isn’t a lot of room for Atlanta to make a move — and that’s OK. Atlanta’s first-choice 18 is mostly settled.
Areas of need: The one big area of concern is left back, which has been hit hard with injuries. George Bello, the expected starter coming into 2019, has played one game and is out for two-to-three more months. Mikey Ambrose has missed time too, leaving Brek Shea to take the bulk of the minutes.
Potential fits within MLS: Anyone signed to play left back would be a short-term option, and Gordon Wild, a converted striker, is already a regular for the game-day squads. If necessary, Atlanta would do better to bring someone up from its USL team.
Transfer buzz: There hasn’t been much, though MLSsoccer.com’s Matt Doyle did recently write trading away Darlington Nagbe, who was the subject of preseason rumors, “is still very, very possible.” Considering Nagbe’s importance in midfield, that doesn’t seem likely.
The Chicago Fire have been below the red line in the Eastern Conference standings through most of the season, thanks in large part to the team’s mediocre defensive record. The Fire’s offense has largely played its part, but the back line has struggled to hold up its end of the bargain.
Areas of need: Since the start of the season, the Chicago Fire has had two glaring weaknesses: left back and right back. The Fire have tried to move attacking players or midfielders to those spots with varying degrees of success, but injuries have further depleted the team’s options. The team’s move to acquire Minnesota defender Francisco Calvo seems like a step in the right direction.
Transfer buzz: The rumor front had been mostly quiet for a few weeks, but the team took a step toward addressing its lack of defensive depth by signing Calvo on Friday.
The Colorado Rapids went through a facelift – one bigger than anything they were likely to do via the transfer window – when they fired head coach Anthony Hudson May 1. Former Rapids star Conor Casey is now interim coach.
Hudson called his team “a bottom group of players” and decried the gap between the Rapids and other clubs when it comes to spending money. Now the onus is on Casey and Rapids general manager Padraig Smith to get more out of the team, which is still winless through two months of the season.
Areas of need: Tim Howard’s retirement tour is not going as planned because the Rapids have given up more goals than any other team in MLS. It’s not all Howards’ fault though. The backline needs a serious upgrade.
Potential fits within MLS: The Rapids could stand to make a trade with a team that has a surplus of defensive options, such as FC Cincinnati or FC Dallas.
Transfer buzz: The Rapids seem to get that they need help, but it remains to be seen how active they’ll be before the deadline. The team did make a number of moves during the offseason, so getting everything to come together may depend on the coaching change more than a singular transaction.
Columbus Crew SC
Columbus Crew SC can’t get complacent and say it’s “comfortably” in playoff position, but the talent is there for this club to make the postseason and do a lot of damage. That said, a lot of said talent is either getting older or not contributing in the same way as years past. With an open Designated Player spot, the Crew may opt to find someone who can buttress the creativity of Gyasi Zardes and Federico Higuain.
Areas of need: The Crew need some kind of an impact player in the attack, be that a striker or winger. Columbus isn’t exactly lighting it up offensively, and they stand to lose Zardes during the Concacaf Gold Cup, anyway.
Potential fits within MLS: The Crew have been unafraid to make deals in the past, so they may want to move some of their defensive assets by the deadline. That said, the elite player this team needs is likely coming from overseas.
Transfer buzz: The Crew will reportedly be acquiring central midfielder David Guzman from the Portland Timbers. The move would reunite Guzman with his former coach, Caleb Porter.
UPDATE: Columbus traded an international roster slot to the Portland Timbers to acquire midfielder David Guzman on May 6
The injury bug plagued D.C. United over the past few weeks, specifically in the defensive third. United didn’t concede a goal in the first three games of the season, but then defender Joseph Mora took a knee to the face in United’s game against Orlando City SC. The team proceeded to concede 10 goals in the next seven games.
Mora went down with a broken jaw, followed by MLS veteran Chris McCann (hamstring), defender Leo Jara (groin) and defensive midfielder Russell Canouse (knee). While McCann and Canouse are back in full training, Mora and Jara are still getting back to fitness, so United could be active in strengthening its back line.
Areas of need: The backline didn’t have much depth going into the season. With the injuries, United had to switch from a four-man defense to a three-back system. Homegrown defender Donovan Pines took advantage of the shift and made his debut in the middle of the back three against Colorado. Needless to say, United needs help with the men directly in front of goalkeeper Bill Hamid.
They need an affordable outside back that can contribute now to the depleted backline. The new addition needs to be able to adapt to the two different formations United has used so far and work with the current rotation of players coming back from injury.
Transfer buzz: D.C. has signed Marquinhos Pedroso from FC Dallas.
FC Cincinnati’s bright start to the season has fizzled out as the team has regressed toward the Eastern Conference basement, but the club shouldn’t fear too much. It’s got enough assets to make credible improvements before the deadline. Cincinnati has one Designated Player slot open and international slots to burn.
Areas of need: Attack. Cincinnati just went through a period in which it only scored one goal in five games. Fanendo Adi and Darren Mattocks can ball, but they haven’t been consistent enough within coach Alan Koch’s current system.
Transfer buzz: Outside of Koch saying his team needs to add some new faces and reports that midfielder Kenny Saief might not stay through the entire MLS season, nothing specific.
Dallas is about to officially ship away Pedroso, making way for Ryan Hollingshead to claim the top spot at left back with rookie John Nelson as his back up. So does Dallas need to be active ahead of the deadline?
The team will face some absences due to international competitions, but has the depth to get through it.
Areas of need: Left wing. Luchi Gonzalez has been experimenting with multiple players, including Paxton Pomykal and Pablo Aranguiz. Both have been deployed as false wingers, of sorts. However, Dallas has struggled to find a true partner for Michael Barrios.
Potential options within MLS: None, really. Dallas has the players to experiment at the position. Dominique Badji can slot in there and so can Hollingshead. It may be a matter of rotation and more tooling around with the lineup, rather than a move.
Transfer buzz: Dallas opened an international roster spot by trading Pedroso to D.C. There has been some speculation, thanks to FCD’s partnership with Bayern Munich, that a Bayern player could eventually fill that open spot. While that may be a fun rumor, it’s likely a long shot – at least for a prominent player. Those Arjen Robben-to-MLS rumors seem to have softened, even though Dallas would surely love to have the Dutch legend.
As of right now, the Houston Dynamo roster is pretty complete thanks to the changes and acquisitions the club made prior to the start of the 2019 season. For the benefit of team depth, management might be involved with one or two acquisitions before the May 7 deadline, but it’s not under pressure to make a move.
Areas of need: The Dynamo have a competitive team, but need more options at forward and centerback.
Potential fits within MLS: While the league has a few interesting options, the Dynamo recently showed interest in using homegrown players. Houston, like Seattle and New York, might choose that option instead.
Transfer buzz: No specific names have been thrown out.
UPDATE: The Portland Timbers traded a 2019 international roster slot to the Houston Dynamo for $175,000 in Allocation Money on May 6
Los Angeles FC
When it comes to the trade deadline, Los Angeles FC doesn’t have all that much to do. The team is strong through its attacking third and the midfield — which used to be a looming question mark, even at this time last season – but has been rounded out well, especially with the continued growth of Eduard Atuesta.
Areas of need: Perhaps the only sizable area of need for LAFC is on the defensive end, which might seem odd to say about a team that has only ceded eight goals this season, the lowest number in MLS. In goal, Tyler Miller has fully cemented himself as the team’s starting keeper and Walker Zimmerman keeps things pretty locked down at centerback. But the depth at the fullback position has been questionable. Jordan Harvey and Steven Beitashour have been more than enough to defend the wings in the past, and they’re backed up by some promising young talent, such as Shaft Brewer. Still, the team might need some experience to round out the backline if either of the starters ever saw a serious injury.
Potential fits: One option could be Jonathan Bornstein, a 34-year-old fullback who currently plays in the Israeli Premier League and will be out of contract soon. Bornstein has experience playing in Los Angeles as a former four-year veteran of Chivas USA, where he played for LAFC head coach Bob Bradley, and at this point in his career he could make a solid fit for the price point and experience that the black and gold are looking for on the defensive side.
Transfer buzz: With such a low need ahead of the deadline, there’s not a whole lot of talk circulating around the team’s plans. It’s a much different feeling than last year — when the acquisitions of Lee Nguyen and Adama Diomande were on the horizon — but there’s a level of contentment in the lack of transfer drama in downtown Los Angeles this season.
Los Angeles Galaxy
The Galaxy is expected to add at least one more piece to its roster, especially since the club has not filled the role (or salary) that Ola Kamara vacated just prior to the start of the season.
Areas of need: The LA Galaxy mostly need attacking options, especially with midfielder Romain Alessandrini out injured until September. Further, they do not have a ton of offensive depth to fill in when star forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic is unable to play. General manager Dennis te Kloese has said recently the team is looking for a versatile offensive option.
Potential options within MLS: Not many MLS teams have a surplus of attacking options. I expect the Galaxy to look outside MLS for this deal.
Transfer buzz: The Galaxy are linked to 26-year-old Favio Alvarez, who currently plays in Argentina’s Atletico Tucuman.
Minnesota United FC
Minnesota United FC isn’t under much pressure to bring in players ahead of the May 7 deadline. Its roster is relatively healthy, and the Loons aren’t in immediate danger of falling out of contention for a playoff berth. They’re currently sixth after playing six-of-nine on the road to begin the season.
Areas of need: Position would be the wrong way to look at it. Minnesota has a fairly balanced roster. Sporting director Manny Lagos and head coach Adrian Heath came into 2019 on the back of a pair of disappointing seasons and platitudes about MNUFC having a three-year plan. During the winter, Lagos shored up areas of need with veterans, and an already-experienced roster got even older. The Loons will eventually need to get younger, but that doesn’t necessarily have to happen this month.
Potential departures: Francisco Calvo has departed for Chicago. Also, since Quintero, both Ibarra’s, Finlay, Molino, Danladi and Rodriguez are all competing for minutes as Heath juggles his front four, the Loons could spare an attacking midfielder. A number of teams — Cincinnati, Colorado, Columbus, L.A. (Galaxy), Montreal, New England, the Red Bulls, Orlando and Vancouver — could probably benefit from added depth at that position.
Transfer buzz: The Loons are notoriously tight-lipped regarding player acquisition, and nothing of note has changed on that front. Any significant moves will likely be put off until the summer. Angelo Rodriguez’s current DP-level contract can easily be bought down with TAM. Lagos has also mentioned that adding a third designated player is back on the table now that the cost of paying for Allianz Field is behind the club.
The issue with the Montreal Impact truly is: Can they afford to add another player to the squad? Earlier this month, the Impact lost the possibility of signing young fullback Emile Legault because of the monetary compensation from his former club, AJ Auxerre. Legault instead signed for Pacific FC of the Canadian Premier League. The Impact did get hold of a new signing in Omar Browne, who joined on a season-long loan from Panama’s C.A Independiente.
Areas of need: Even if Maxi Urruti remains a staple in head coach Remi Garde’s lineup, the Impact need help up top. At center forward, the bleu-blanc-noir can only count on Urruti and Anthony Jackson-Hamel.
Potential fits within MLS: The Impact are out of international roster spots, so unless Garde and his staff acquire one, they would need to keep it local. A forward that ticks all three of the young, local and cheap boxes would be Corey Baird from Real Salt Lake. Now, would Mike Petke and Craig Waibel let him go? That’s another story.
Potential departures: A thorn in the Impact’s side is what to do with Rudy Camacho. The centerback only started one game this season, the horrendous 7-1 loss to Sporting Kansas City. He also commands a salary of nearly $700,000 and occupies an international roster spot.
Transfer buzz: MLSsoccer.com’s Doyle suggested the Impact should consider Canadian international Lucas Cavallini. This would offer the Impact a solid option at center forward, but would most probably cost them their last designated player slot. The 26-year-old scored 12 goals in all competitions with Puebla in the 2018/19 season.
New England Revolution
The New England Revolution are off to their worst start to a season since 2001, and players have been criticized by their head coach numerous times for not working hard enough or being properly motivated. The team has been mired in or near the Eastern Conference basement for most of the season, has had major offensive struggles and boasts a backline with little depth or ability to defend.
Areas of need: Pretty much everywhere but goalkeeper. The biggest area of need, though, is on defense. The team has only three true centerbacks and apparently only one backup full back. “Apparently” is an operative word because both Brandon Bye and Gabriel Somi have played the position, but Somi has yet to make an appearance this season despite making $420,000, according to MLS Players Union figures.
Potential fits within MLS: The Revs have shown a willingness in past seasons to make springtime transfers with other MLS teams – as they did in 2013 with Juan Agudelo and in 2017 with Kei Kamara. They’ve also been sellers at the deadline, too – see: Lee Nguyen in 2018. The point is, the Revolution tend to be involved in last-minute deals. Keep an eye on any player who isn’t quite fitting in with his current team.
Transfer buzz: There has been plenty of transfer buzz. Head coach Brad Friedel has teased a signing from Europe for months and said recently that there’s a 50-50 chance the player arrives before the May 7 deadline. In recent weeks, the club has been linked to Bojan Krkic and Darren Fletcher.
New York City FC
It doesn’t appear New York City FC will be particularly active before the transfer deadline. While the team is just barely in playoff position, it satisfied its absolute, No. 1 need by acquiring Brazilian striker Heber.
Areas of need: NYCFC has quality depth at almost every position, though there is some concern at left back. With the frequent injuries to Ronald Matarrita and the inconsistencies of Ben Sweat, NYCFC may be in the market for this position (though they trained winger Ismael Tajouri-Shradi at left back Wednesday).
Potential departures: NYCFC has an abundance of wingers. Also, Jonathan Lewis could be moved. He played the first seven matches of the season but was not in the 18 in either of the last two games.
Transfer buzz: The NYCFC rumor mill is quiet.
New York Red Bulls
The New York Red Bulls need positional depth, at least as far as the current roster is constructed. It’s more likely they will be active in the secondary transfer window, when it’s possible for current players on the roster, such as Michael Amir Murillo and Kaku, to be sold.
Areas of need: The Red Bulls have a Designated Player spot open, but sporting director Denis Hamlett has said he’s in no hurry to fill that void, telling reporters at the preseason media day that he liked the current roster. Depth at outside back, center midfield and forward are the most pressing needs. Tom Barlow, who is tearing it up at Red Bulls II, could be an easy move up front.
Potential fits within MLS: The Red Bulls’ style is unique, so there’s a very specific skillset needed with pressing and counterpressing. It’s more likely the club looks from within to fill holes than elsewhere in the league.
Transfer buzz: Things are relatively quiet on this end, although the rumored interest in Murillo persists. He hoped to make a European move after the FIFA World Cup, and that didn’t happen. He hoped to leave in the winter transfer window, and that didn’t happen. Now, the Panamanian international is looking to have a big Concacaf Gold Cup to raise his stock, which has taken a hit with his struggles at the start of the 2019 season.
Orlando City SC
Orlando City should likely look to move a player or two who doesn’t fit with what head coach James O’Connor is trying to do. O’Connor and executive vice president of soccer operations Luiz Muzzi moved on from more than a dozen players on the 2018 squad. There are indications they aren’t done yet.
Areas of need: The addition of centerback Robin Jansson was a solid one, but injuries continue to be an issue along the back line. Carlos Ascues, who sometimes plays centerback, recently suffered a setback and new acquisition Alex de John has been sidelined with a hamstring injury. City always seems in need of depth at centerback.
Potential fits within MLS: It’s less a question of fit and more a question of will Orlando City actually look to add more players? After the team signed Nani, Muzzi said there was one more player they were looking to add. They got Jansson.
Transfer buzz: MLSSoccer.com’s Matt Doyle had an interesting take regarding midfielder Cristian Higuita. He’s played just once this season, despite the club exercising his option to bring him back after last season. If Higuita isn’t part of O’Connor’s plans moving forward, then, as Doyle said, the Lions should get something for him. It’s also worth noting Orlando City has an empty international roster slot.
The Philadelphia Union are off to a strong start this season, boasting one of the Eastern Conference’s top scoring and defensive records. Barring the potential to be involved in a sweetheart deal, the Union will probably let the transfer deadline coast by and opt not to fix what isn’t broken.
Areas of need: The roster is pretty much set and has no serious areas of need.
Transfer buzz: The Union did just add pool goalkeeper Charlie Lyon. But, outside of that, nada.
The Timbers have been open about wanting to use their open Designated Player spot, but several efforts to sign a marquee attacker have fallen through. This transfer window in MLS is notoriously tough for shopping because clubs around the world don’t want to part with their best players so late in their seasons. That means the Timbers will need to be aggressive to get a deal over the line.
Areas of need: The Timbers are looking for a goal scorer, and it makes sense: they have been getting almost no production out of the right wing. Look for the right wing to be filled first with a DP. The Timbers do need help everywhere, though – they could use a central midfielder who can help control the midfield, and they could also use an upgrade along the back line, particularly at centerback. But fans shouldn’t hold their breath for any defensive reinforcements during this window, even though they are reportedly trading central midfielder David Guzman to the Columbus Crew for $175,000 in general allocation money.
Potential fits within MLS: For the type of DP the Timbers want, they have to go outside of MLS. They’ve mainly been looking at South America and Mexico.
Transfer buzz: The Timbers have been linked to forward Brian Fernandez from Liga MX side Necaxa. The rumors have mainly been fueled by Mexican media with very little stateside reporting, but they’ve dragged on long enough without being shot down that it seems where there is smoke, there may be fire.
UPDATE: The Portland Timbers signed Brian Fernandez from Necaxa on a Designated Player deal on May 6; The Portland Timbers acquired an international roster spot from Columbus Crew SC in exchange for midfielder David Guzman on May 6; The Portland Timbers traded a 2019 international roster slot to the Houston Dynamo for $175,000 in Allocation Money on May 6
Real Salt Lake
Real Salt Lake has been flirting with both sides of the red line in the Western Conference standings so far this season, but that kind of form can’t last much longer for a team with any aspiration of making the playoffs. It’s tough to know which RSL you’re going to get – the one that gives up four goals at home to FC Dallas or the one that wins 3-0 at FC Cincinnati?
Areas of need: Real Salt Lake has plenty of depth, but the club is likely short of an impact player similar to Albert Rusnak. The team’s backline hasn’t been particularly stellar, either, though that might be statistics being manipulated thanks to the team having given up nine goals combined in losses to Dallas and D.C. United.
Fits within MLS: Can RSL acquire someone like Rusnak within the league at the deadline? Probably not.
Potential departures: MLSsoccer.com is saying Joao Plata needs a change of scenery.
Transfer buzz: Outside of that commentary on Plata needing a new home, it’s been quiet.
San Jose Earthquakes
The San Jose Earthquakes stumbled out of the gate by losing five of their first six matches, but things since seem to have stabilized and the club is working on extending a three-game unbeaten run. Are the Quakes contenders? Probably not, but if they get their act together and string together enough positive results, they could sneak into the playoffs.
Areas of need: The Quakes are probably going to be reconfiguring their roster into next season, but their short-term needs seem to hinge on the backline.
Potential fits within MLS: With the moves San Jose needs to make, the impact players are likely to come from abroad. It could be quiet up until the deadline for the Quakes because many of those impact players aren’t available until the summer.
Transfer buzz: Nothing of note.
Seattle Sounders FC
Seattle Sounders FC has been one of the league’s most impressive teams in 2019 and emerged as one of the top three teams in the Western Conference. That’s saying something for two reasons: First, they’re competing with two star-studded L.A. teams. Second, the Sounders have been plagued by injuries.
Areas of need: Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey recently said his team is targeting help along the “back six.” This certainly makes sense given the Sounders’ defensive record isn’t where they want it to be.
Fits within MLS: The team did just sign midfielder Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez out of the club’s academy.
Transfer buzz: Nothing concrete has emerged, but Lagerwey seems to be making his message loud and clear: the Sounders need help at the back, and he’s working on it.
Sporting Kansas City
It’s like a summer rite of passage these past couple years for Sporting KC fans to call for a striker, but the team is in good shape with Krisztian Nemeth up top and scoring options around him.
Injuries have kind of depleted this roster the last few weeks, but once guys like Matt Besler, Roger Espinoza and Andreu Fontas come back, the defense should be a lot less porous than it has been.
Areas of need: The team doesn’t have any huge needs that stand out, other than full health for the players they already have. If someone like Besler is going to be out half the season, then they might want to look into signing some depth behind him, but there’s no reason to think that will be the case. How active SKC is in the transfer window is really something that will be determined by how the club sees its injury report playing out the next couple months.
Potential fits with MLS: The joke is always that SKC is going to go find a “true” striker on the market. But they’re solid up top and it’s not a serious need.
Transfer buzz: Nothing specific as of late.
Toronto FC started the season with a vengeance after failing to make the playoffs in 2018. The team has very nicely dealt with Sebastian Giovinco’s departure by making Pozuelo his heir apparent, and is finding ways to win behind veteran savvy.
Areas of need: As has been the case for the last few years, Toronto’s backline is not as strong as its midfield or attack. Players such as Pozuelo, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore have bailed out the team’s porous backline a few times this season by coming up with timely goals to tip results.
Potential fits within MLS: Toronto probably won’t be looking within the league before the deadline.
Transfer buzz: Toronto has the top spot in the allocation order, so it can acquire United States men’s national team defender Omar Gonzalez, who currently plays for Atlas in Liga MX, if the stars align.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC
The Vancouver Whitecaps are in rebuild mode, with new head coach Marc Dos Santos openly saying before the season that the club needed at least two transfer windows to complete the squad. While the Whitecaps are focusing more on the summer transfer window, there is a distinct possibility one player could be added before the May 7 deadline.
Areas of need: Even before Yordy Reyna’s injury, Vancouver was in desperate need of a ball-carrying forward. With Reyna out for May and potentially missing seven games, the Whitecaps could act now to sign a forward.
The club is also in dire need of a transition player in midfield. This midfielder would be a hybrid type – one who attacks as often as he defends, similar to Alphonso Davies.
Potential fits within MLS: Dos Santos recently said: “The [league] rules make it very difficult to recruit within the league.” So, going by that statement, it seems unlikely the Caps’ next transaction will come from within MLS.
Transfer buzz: The Whitecaps have been linked with Canadian striker Cyle Larin and Iranian forward Sardar Azmoun. Larin knows MLS well and would fit the Caps’ needs. But Larin does not yet want to give up on his European career. Meanwhile, Azmoun has been sensational for Zenit St. Petersburg and is also linked with a move to either Italy or Spain.