MLS transfers: The smartest summer deals from across the league

Quick Hits
  • Now that deadline day is in the rearview mirror, which MLS teams made the smartest moves in the secondary transfer window?
  • From former European stars joining the league to intra-league trades, let’s take a look at some of the best deals from the last month
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Every year in MLS, we move into the regular season with some pretty major questions about how teams are building their rosters. Usually, there are sizable holes in squads across the league. Thanks to the secondary transfer window, various MLS teams took to the market to fill those holes in their rosters.

With the window sliding shut on Thursday night, here are the five best moves that teams made during the window as we head into the final stretch of the regular season.

Honorable Mentions

While these aren’t really the fit for the main list, I wanted to take just a second to toss out a word of positivity for some of the big outgoing moves that took place during the transfer window.

The Chicago Fire getting up to $15 million from Chelsea for Gaga Slonina, when the rumored deal in March was something like $7 million, is masterful salesmanship. Keeping him around until at least the end of this season is even better. Taty Castellanos joining Girona on loan is a really nice stepping stone through the City Football Group path. If he bangs in goals in La Liga like MLS fans know he can, New York City FC will reap the rewards when they eventually do sell.

Emiliano Rigoni to Austin FC

Any chance you get to replace a Designated Player who isn’t playing (Cecilio Dominguez was suspended for an off-field domestic abuse incident before Austin terminated his contract) with a reasonably productive peak-aged attacker, you’re probably headed in the right direction.

We’re fairly limited to small minutes samples from his time at Elche and Zenit, but Emiliano Rigoni has been a pretty consistent 0.40 xG+xA or better attacker. For context, that number puts him right around Marcelino Moreno’s and Chris Mueller’s output in MLS this season but at a largely higher level. If the Argentine can take any sort of load off of Driussi, the underlying numbers in Austin might start to catch up to the results.

Julian Gressel, Alessandro Schopf to Vancouver Whitecaps

In maybe my favorite set of transactions for the window, the Vancouver Whitecaps continue to be a shrewd operator in the external transfer market and in the internal trade market. 

Adding maybe the best wingback in the league in Julian Gressel for a cool $600,000 GAM with an additional $300,000 in GAM incentives is a huge win on its own. Vancouver have gotten reasonable utility out of their wingback group this season, but adding a starter of Gressel’s quality is big.

With Schopf, the Whitecaps are getting a guy who started 27 games in the Bundesliga in 2021-22. If the discussion ends there, it’s a good move. Schopf spent some time as a pressing No. 10 for Arminia Bielefeld in Germany last season, but can also operate in a more traditional midfield pairing.

A potential Andres Cubas/Schopf midfield pairing could be a really good building block for Vancouver moving forward.

Riqui Puig to LA Galaxy

Before we get into all of the fun parts of this move, I want to add a couple of caveats. 

First, Riqui Puig is 22-years-old and reportedly had some affinity for the Barcelona nightlife. If that’s true, Los Angeles might not be the best place to go. Second, LA moved starting central midfielder Rayan Raveloson to Auxerre in France, making a solid profit along the way, to accommodate Puig. Raveloson did a really solid job of both moving the ball forward and advancing into the box to receive the ball in high-value areas. He will be missed.

Raveloson, however, can’t do this.

Puig is both an elite progressor and box receiver at 22. Now, it’s pretty hard to not look good coming on for FC Barcelona in the 70th minute of a stomping of Levante, but Puig can move the ball. I have some questions on the defensive side, but this strikes me as a pretty darn promising move for a player who, in the past, would probably never have been looking to come to MLS. 

Sebastian Mendez to LAFC

This is LAFC pushing their chips into the middle of the table. Gareth Bale and Giorgio Chiellini might be the flashier moves, but this is the one that might move the needle in the chase for MLS Cup.

Sebastian Mendez, who LAFC traded $300,000 in GAM and another $450,000 if he re-signs to acquire, makes this list for a few reasons. We have seen time and time again that midfield depth in MLS is absolutely vital. Now that Francisco Ginella is out on loan, LAFC can slot Mendez right into their rotation. Adding a competent passer who can give Ilie a break as the single pivot, or play in a double pivot next to Ilie or Kellyn Acosta, or play as a more defensive No. 8 in a 4-3-3 is a win. 

Calling Mendez a competent passer might even be underselling him. Using American Soccer Analysis’ goals added (g+) metric, Mendez leads the league in passing value on a per 90 minute basis for all defensive midfielders with at least 500 minutes played. If LAFC go on to win MLS Cup, this might be the move that pushed them over the top.

Toronto FC and the Italians

Lorenzo Insigne is going to grab all the headlines, a $15 million salary, a Maradona-esque hero worship documentary, and plenty of fanfare, but the real coup for Toronto FC in this transfer window might be signing Federico Bernardeschi. 

Bernardeschi profiled as an unproductive defensive winger by the end of his time at Juventus, but was a legitimate attacking threat at Fiorentina and in his early years in Turin. So far, the early returns in Toronto are promising. Just the 126 league minutes so far, but g+ already loves his passing and he’s picked up a goal and an assist in league play. Oh, and check out this ridiculous assist in the Canadian Championship Final.

By signing Bernardeschi, 28, TFC have some protection in case Insigne doesn’t pan out the way they hope.