Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference is going to look different when it comes to star power for the 2019 regular season, which begins March 2.
Miguel Almiron, David Villa and Sebastian Giovinco were among the big-name departures from the East during the offseason, but a brand new batch of stars is ready to make its impact on the league.
Atlanta’s Pity Martinez, Philadelphia’s Marco Fabian, New York City FC’s Alexandru Mitrita and Lucas Rodriguez of D.C. United are among the new faces expected to make their mark on MLS right away.
Below is a look at the additions and departures for each of the 12 Eastern Conference teams, and a breakdown of where each franchise stands ahead of the 2019 campaign. See Western Conference offseason grades here.
Additions: D/M Brek Shea, GK Brendan Moore, M Dion Pereira, M Pity Martinez, D Florentin Pogba
Departures: GK Mitch Hildebrandt, D Sal Zizzo, M Oliver Shannon, M Andrew Wheeler-Omiunu, D Greg Garza, M Miguel Almiron, M Chris McCann
The Five Stripes are the only club in Major League Soccer capable of selling a player for a league-record transfer fee and bringing in a star who will make a similar, if not bigger, impact on the club.
After months of speculation, Miguel Almiron was finally sold to Newcastle United to open up the third Designated Player slot for Pity Martinez, who enters the 2019 season with high expectations to help the defending MLS Cup champion try to achieve league and continental glory.
“A good attitude. A good work ethic. He’s got that creative mind,” Atlanta United defender Michael Parkhurst told MLSSoccer.com of Martinez. “You can see that he likes to take somebody one-on-one, and as soon as he’s got him beat, he’s looking forward to see who’s running, where they are.”
He's just automatic 😱🎯
Pity Martinez curls in an unstoppable free kick! pic.twitter.com/T6XIFsvUpB
— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) February 10, 2019
With most of their core returning, the Five Stripes appear to be in good shape ahead of their first Concacaf Champions League match.
Although the offseason can already be ruled a success for Frank de Boer’s side, the grade could be even higher if it gets the best out of winger Brek Shea, who struggled to make an impact with the Vancouver Whitecaps the last two seasons.
Additions: M Fabian Herbers, D Marcelo, M Przemysław Frankowski, M Jeremiah Gutjahr, M Cristian Martinez, M Amando Moreno, D Andre Reynolds, GK David Ousted
Departures: F Alan Gordon, D Brandon Vincent, D Christian Dean, D Jonathan Campbell, M Drew Conner, F Michael de Leeuw, M Daniel Johnson, GK Patrick McLain, F Yura Movsisyan, F Luis Solignac, D Matt Polster, D Nicolás Del Grecco
Chicago’s biggest offseason move wasn’t a new acquisition, it was retaining the services of Bastian Schweinsteiger for another season.
The Fire made some upgrades in defense and added midfield reinforcements, but they could’ve had an even better offseason if they found a way to sign MAC Hermann Trophy winner Andrew Gutman, who joined Scottish side Celtic.
Of the new additions, Przemysław Frankowski and Marcelo could make the biggest impact at their respective positions, while Jeremiah Gutjahr is a nice piece to add to the team’s young core.
Frankowski is expected to make the biggest impact of the new acquisitions, as he is expected to provide an extra punch to the club’s attack.
“Przemysław is a very versatile player with fantastic pace,” Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic said when Frankowski was signed. “He fits the profile we’re looking for in a winger very well and is capable of committing defenders, delivering great balls from the flank and scoring goals. He also has a great work rate, focus and attitude. We are looking forward to him joining our Club and contributing to the success of the team.”
Additions: GK Spencer Richey, F Darren Mattocks, M Eric Alexander, D Hassan Ndam, D Greg Garza, D Kendall Waston, M Victor Ulloa, GK Przemysław Tytoń, M Leonardo Bertone, D Mathieu Deplagne, D Alvas Powell, M Frankie Amaya, M Allan Cruz, M Roland Lamah, M Caleb Stanko, D Nick Hagglund, D Logan Gdula, M Tommy McCabe, GK Ben Lundt, GK Jimmy Hague, M Rashawn Daily
FC Cincinnati’s roster building for its inaugural MLS campaign began last summer, when Fanendo Adi and Fatai Alashe were added to the squad.
Over the last few months, the former United Soccer League franchise has added some intriguing parts, but there seems to be a logjam in the central midfield positions.
Manager Alan Koch needs to figure out the right combination in the middle of the park in order to get the season off to a solid start.
Veterans Greg Garza and Kendall Waston are good additions to the back line, which can make or break the success of an expansion side as Minnesota United taught us.
The concerns for FC Cincinnati lie up top, where a second scoring threat behind Adi needs to develop. Darren Mattocks is a prime candidate for that role after scoring 10 goals for D.C. United in 2018.
Up next: #CCC19.
— FC Cincinnati (@fccincinnati) February 14, 2019
Additions: GK Joe Bendik, F JJ Williams, M Robinho Barbosa, D Aboubacar Keita, D Waylon Francis
Departures: GK Logan Ketterer, M Mike Grella, M Cristian Martinez, F Adam Jahn
Columbus’ biggest offseason acquisition came at head coach. Caleb Porter replaced Gregg Berhalter, now the United States men’s national team boss, on the sideline.
By adding a few depth pieces to the players already on the roster, the Crew filled some holes with eyes on the future.
When Zack Steffen departs for Manchester City after the Concacaf Gold Cup this summer, Joe Bendik is expected to slide into the starting role, while the addition of veteran Waylon Francis was necessary after Milton Valenzuela suffered a season-ending injury.
“In Waylon, we gain a talented, MLS veteran who adds strong versatility and who knows what it takes to compete in this league as well as at the national team level,” Crew president Tim Bezbatchenko said after the Francis trade. “His familiarity with the organization will be beneficial as we re-incorporate him back into this roster and we look forward to his contributions as we prepare for the upcoming season.”
Porter proved his worth as a manager in Portland, and if he can get the best of Gyasi Zardes, like Berhalter did, the Crew will be in good shape up top. We’ll know if the Crew need to add a piece or two in the summer based off how they play in Porter’s system.
Additions: GK Earl Edwards Jr., M Lucas Rodriguez, GK Chris Seitz, F/M Antonio Bustamante, D Donovan Pines, D Leonardo Jara, D Akeem Ward, D Chris McCann
Departures: D Taylor Kemp, D Nick DeLeon, D Vytas, D Kevin Ellis, M Ian Harkes, M Jared Jeffrey, F Dane Kelly, F Bruno Miranda, D Kofi Opare, M Yamil Asad, F Darren Mattocks, GK Travis Worra, GK David Ousted
Lucas Rodriguez is the big piece of D.C. United’s offseason haul.
If things go right for the Black and Red, Rodriguez, Luciano Acosta and Wayne Rooney will form one of the top attacking trios in the Eastern Conference.
“He’s played the No. 10 quite a bit,” D.C. head coach Ben Olsen told MLSSoccer.com of Rodriguez. “He can play out wide on the right or left. He prefers the left, and that’s where he spent a significant amount of his wide minutes. But he gives us some tactical flexibility too. We can have another offensive, attack-minded guy and tweak our current style. We’re looking forward to seeing where he fits in.”
Defender Leonardo Jara is the other intriguing addition to Ben Olsen’s squad. He’s expected to be an upgrade to the back four.
Outside of Rodriguez and Jara, the Black and Red mostly worked on improving their depth by adding a few veterans and Homegrown players.
Additions: D Daniel Kinumbe, M/D Clement Bayiha, F Harry Novillo, F Maxi Urruti, D Zachary Brault-Guillard, F Orji Okonkwo
Departures: D Rod Fanni, D Kyle Fisher, M Louis Beland-Goyette, M David Choiniere, F Michael Salazar, F Quincy Amarikwa, F Matteo Mancosu, GK Maxime Crepeau, D Chris Duvall, M/F Alejandro Silva, D Michael Petrasso, D Thomas Meilleur-Giguère (Loaned out), M Jeisson Vargas (Loaned out)
Montreal made its biggest splash of the offseason in the days after MLS Cup, bringing in Maxi Urruti from FC Dallas.
Urruti scored at least eight goals in four of his last five seasons with FC Dallas and Portland, with two of them being double-digit goal seasons.
If Urruti is able to replicate his form from years in the Western Conference, the Impact will have a solid scoring trio in Urruti, Ignacio Piatti and Saphir Taider.
Forward Orji Okonkwo, who is on loan from Italian club Bologna, could turn into the X-factor of the Montreal attack if he fills in the depth at forward behind Urruti.
New England Revolution
Additions: M Nicolas Firmino, D Edgar Castillo, F Juan Caicedo, M Tajon Buchanan, F Justin Rennicks, M Carles Gil
Departures: D Chris Tierney, D Claude Dielna, M Guillermo Hauche, F Femi Hollinger-Janzen, M Cristhian Machado, D Nicolas Samayoa, M/D Mark Segbers, M Kelyn Rowe
New England made a significant alteration to its attacking core in December, when it traded Kelyn Rowe to Sporting Kansas City.
In order to bolster the attack, which includes MLS mainstays Juan Agudelo, Teal Bunbury and Diego Fagundez, manager Brad Friedel went out and signed forward Juan Caicedo and midfielder Carles Gil.
— New England Revolution (@NERevolution) February 7, 2019
All signs point to the Revs producing at a high volume in attack, but they need to improve on their 55 goals conceded from a year ago to become a playoff team.
Adding Edgar Castillo from Colorado provides the Revs with an international-caliber player on one of the defensive flanks, and he’s expected to reinforce a back line with returners Antonio Delamea and Andrew Farrell.
The good news for Revs fans is they aren’t done shopping to improve their roster — they’re still looking to bring in an elite player from overseas.
New York City FC
Additions: M Tony Rocha, M Keaton Parks, M Justin Haak, M Juan Pablo Torres, GK Luis Barraza, F Alexandru Mitrita
Departures: F David Villa, M Eloi Amagat, M Kwame Awuah, M Tommy McNamara, GK Andre Rawls, M Rodney Wallace, M Yangel Herrera, D Saad Abdul-Salaam, F Jo Inge Berget, M Cedric Hountondji
New York City FC’s top offseason task was to replace David Villa, and the club found that in Alexandru Mitrita.
The 24-year-old doesn’t have the pedigree of Villa, but he comes to Domenec Torrent’s side with a proven goal-scoring record that includes a pair of double-digit goal seasons in the Romanian Liga.
While it’s rare to see a player from the Romanian league move to MLS, think about this move compared to Chicago’s acquisition of Nemanja Nikolic a few years ago.
NYCFC is hoping Mitrita can come from a mid-tier European league in Eastern Europe and become one of the league’s top scorers.
“He was an important player at his previous club and very well-liked by an amazing and loyal fan base,” NYCFC sporting director Claudio Reyna said of Mitrita. “Our fans will immediately notice the personality he carries on the field and they’ll really enjoy watching him play for NYCFC.”
If it works, Mitritia will be one of the top offseason signings, but if not, NYCFC might have to dip into the summer transfer market.
The other intriguing addition to the 2019 squad is midfielder Keaton Parks, who has generated buzz on the international stage because of his potential with the USMNT.
American fans haven’t seen much of Parks during his spell at Benfica, so the 2019 season should provide more intelligence on what type of player he is and how much of a role he’ll play for the USMNT moving forward.
New York Red Bulls
Additions: M Jean-Christophe Koffi, D Amro Tarek, M Marcus Epps, M Omir Fernandez, F Mathias Jorgensen
Departures: M Tyler Adams, D Aurelien Collin, D Ethan Kutler, D Kevin Politz, M Carlos Rivas, D Fidel Escobar, D Tommy Redding, D Hassan Ndam
The New York Red Bulls were one of many Eastern teams to lose a key cog of their 2018 squad, and replacing Tyler Adams is going to be one of the most difficult tasks of the 2019 season for any club.
Adams is a massive piece to replace, but it’s not like the Red Bulls are starting from scratch to begin the 2019 campaign.
Coach Chris Armas has the majority of his key pieces back, and since the Red Bulls system is so defined, he’ll be ready to plug Cristian Casseres or Jean-Christophe Koffi into Adams’ role.
If Koffi thrives and Mathias Jorgensen adds some pop to the attack, which is still headlined by the always-reliable Bradley Wright-Phillips, the Red Bulls’ offseason will be viewed as a success.
“We feel like (Jorgensen), as a striker, has some dynamic tools that we feel can help us right off the bat,” Red Bulls sporting director Denis Hamlett said.
Additions: F Tesho Akindele, D Joao Moutinho, GK Greg Ranjitsingh, D Kyle Smith, M Sebastian Mendez, D Danilo Acosta, F Benji Michel, D Alex DeJohn, F Santiago Patino, D Ruan, M Nani
Departures: GK Joe Bendik, M Richie Laryea, D Chris Schuler, D Jonathan Spector, D Scott Sutter, D Donny Toia, M Jose Villarreal, GK Earl Edwards Jr., D/M PC, D Mohamed El-Munir, D Amro Tarek, M Tony Rocha, M Yoshi Yotun, F Stefano Pinho, D R.J. Allen
Orlando City added pieces to its roster at every position from inside MLS and from abroad.
The biggest piece brought in by the Lions was Nani, who officially signed with the club Monday.
The Portuguese winger brings plenty of championship experience to the squad, and he’s expected to be a dynamic playmaker who can create chances alongside Dom Dwyer and Sacha Kljestan.
“I play to win,” Nani said during a press conference Tuesday at Orlando City Stadium. “I play to compete. I play to achieve big things. All my life and my career, I’ve been giving all my best [with] every team that I’ve passed. Of course, I’ve always liked to win trophies.”
Tesho Akindele and Danilo Acosta were among the players added by the Lions with MLS experience, and both are expected to feature in key roles in 2019.
Akindele provides a veteran presence behind Dwyer on the forward depth chart, where a few young players reside.
Acosta, who comes to Orlando from Real Salt Lake, is one of many defensive reinforcements brought in to improve a back line that gave up 74 goals in 2018.
“The preseason, for us, is very, very tough,” Orlando City head coach James O’Connor said. “For the players, it’s very demanding. You need to realize, we need to realize, as a coaching staff, there’s going to be concentration errors. There’s going to be mistakes that are made because they are fatigued. That’s what we need to try to train.”
Additions: M Brenden Aaronson, F Sergio Santos, GK Matt Freese, D Aurelien Collin, GK Carlos Miguel Coronel, D Kai Wagner, M Marco Fabian
Departures: GK Jake McGuire, D Richie Marquez, D Josh Yaro, M Marcus Epps, M Adam Najem, F Jay Simpson, GK John McCarthy, M Borek Dockal, M Fabian Herbers, D Keegan Rosenberry
Philadelphia took a good amount of risks with its offseason strategy. The club is banking on Sergio Santos to flawlessly make the leap from the Chilean first division to MLS and Marco Fabian to be an impact No. 10 after not playing much for Eintracht Frankfurt in the last year.
“I’m a winner,” Fabian said after his signing was made official. “I don’t want to lose. I come here to win and to make the big, big dreams come true and one of them is to be champion with this team. We need to work every game step by step.”
But it’s a risk the club is willing to take as it continues its shift toward developing younger players and sprinkling the addition of proven veterans.
If Fabian produces in a similar fashion to what Borek Dockal did a year ago, the Union will be good shape moving forward.
Trading Keegan Rosenberry to Colorado was a bold move by the Union brass, and it’ll only be ruled a success if Olivier Mbaizo takes control of the right back spot, which is a big ask for a player that’s been a reserve throughout his time with the club.
Additions: D Nick DeLeon, D Laurent Ciman, M Griffin Dorsey, M Tsubasa Endoh, M Noble Okello, F Terrence Boyd
Departures: F Tosaint Ricketts, D Jason Hernandez, F Lucas Janson, GK Clint Irwin, M Victor Vazquez, D Nick Hagglund, F Sebastian Giovinco
Toronto FC’s offseason is going to be judged solely off its replacement for Sebastian Giovinco.
Whether you think that’s fair or not doesn’t matter. TFC raised its standards by acquiring Giovinco, Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley, and now it needs to find an impact striker that is capable of producing similar numbers as Giovinco.
Terrence Boyd is a low-risk, high-reward signing after he dealt with injuries and a lack of playing time in Europe over the last few years.
If Boyd returns to form, he’ll provide depth behind Altidore while the club searches for a top-notch striker.
“(Boyd) is an experienced, attacking player that is capable of scoring goals in MLS,” TFC general manager Ali Curtis said. “We’re looking forward to him joining our preseason and integrating himself into the group.”
Adding Laurent Ciman to the back line will help the Reds on the defensive side, but the Belgian won’t be under the microscope as much as the attacking replacement that comes in to fill Giovinco’s spot on the roster.