- The World Cup may be winding down, but the MLS offseason is just starting to heat up
- Here are five of the most interesting roster and front office moves from around MLS so far this winter
Because of this thing called the “World Cup”, the MLS offseason has been a little busy. I don’t get it, frankly. Some little soccer tournament kicks off and we stop paying attention to how GAM is to-ing and fro-ing about the corridors of Major League Soccer? Priorities, people. Priorities.
Today, though, we make amends.
We’re looking at the five most interesting MLS offseason moves so far, plus a few honorable mentions at the bottom. One other thing before we get started: we’re only focusing on incoming deals in this piece and we’ll get to the outgoing deals later in the offseason. Alright, let’s get to it.
GARTH LAGERWEY TO ATLANTA UNITED
“This opportunity has limitless potential. I can’t wait to get started.”
That’s a quote from Garth Lagerwey after he was hired as Atlanta United’s president and CEO earlier in the offseason. With Darren Eales off to Newcastle in the Premier League, there was a seat open at Arthur Blank’s table. Now it’s been filled by one of the best executives in MLS.
Lagerwey helped build a near-dynasty in Seattle. He played a big role in forming MLS’s first Concacaf Champions League-winning roster and he’s won a trio of MLS Cups, too. With a more ambitious owner in Atlanta than he had in Seattle, Lagerwey is pretty close to correct when he says that there’s “limitless potential” for what this group in Atlanta can achieve.
It will be fascinating to see how Lagerwey works with Carlos Bocanegra, Atlanta United’s technical director who has missed on more than a few big signings over the last few years. Atlanta was once the cream of the MLS crop, but now it’s a team with an unbalanced roster that has missed the playoffs in two of the last three years. As it turns out, signing players who almost exclusively like to dribble as opposed to, you know, any of the other stuff, doesn’t make for a strong squad.
Atlanta could use a touch of the Ole Garth Magic (trademark pending). We’ll see if — or when — they get it.
GYASI ZARDES TO AUSTIN FC
Even at 31, Gyasi Zardes is a better striker than anyone Austin FC has used in that position during the team’s entire MLS existence. This is a smart free agency pickup from Claudio Reyna, Josh Wolff, and company.
Zardes moves well off the ball. He gets into good spots. He takes quality shots.
Basically, he does a lot of the stuff that you want your striker to do if you plan on scoring goals over an extended period of time.
Austin lit the Western Conference on fire last year, scoring 65 goals which was second only to Los Angeles FC. They may not reach that same 65 goal figure in 2023 (because 65 goals is a lot of goals!), but adding Zardes to the attack will certainly help. With star midfielder Sebastian Driussi making late-arriving runs into the box and Zardes almost constantly hunting for space inside the 18, Austin will be difficult to fully shut down in the final third.
WILFRIED NANCY TO THE COLUMBUS CREW
I love this one.
I absolutely love that MLS teams are starting to look around the league at coaches and front office members and say, “hey, why don’t we take that smart person from them and have them work for us?”. It’s competitive. It’s smart. It shows ambition. And it shows a confidence in some of the soccer minds we’re developing in and around the United States.
So yeah, I’m very interested in this hire.
The Columbus Crew had to send some undisclosed amount of compensation to CF Montreal to sign Wilfried Nancy as their new manager. Nancy helped turn Montreal into one of the best teams in MLS, leading them to a second-place finish in the East last year while playing controlled, effective possession soccer.
Nancy looks like a strong hire who will make Columbus a better team in 2023 than they were in either of the last two seasons.
EVANDER TO THE PORTLAND TIMBERS
The Portland Timbers are splashing the cash, people. They paid one of the biggest transfer fees in league history to sign Evander from FC Midtjylland in Denmark.
So, who is Evander? He’s a 24-year-old Brazilian midfielder who’s scored a healthy number of goals across the Danish top flight and the Europa League over the last couple of seasons. It’s worth noting that a lot of Evander’s goals came via penalties. Four of his five goals in 2022 came from the spot and six of his 14 goals were penalties last season.
After watching some tape, though, it’s clear Evander can be special.
He can drop a shoulder, lose a defender, drive the ball forward on the dribble, and then slip a pass in behind. He also has a killer right foot and looks excellent at delivering set pieces. Still, he’s too loose on the ball, super stiff with his body movement, and just…lackadaisical. He’s not very strong, either, and he doesn’t play with much urgency.
Evander could be a game-changer in MLS or he could be the latest in the league’s long line of under-performing DPs. At that price tag, there’s really no in-between.
Just for kicks, here are my raw scouting notes on Evander after watching some of his Europa League match footage:
- Played a lot as a left CM in a midfield three
- Right footed
- Can hit a great set piece
- Skilled, but loose with the ball at times
- Some needless giveaways while dropping deep on the left
- Plays some lovely passes
- Can break a line and drive on the dribble
- Not very strong
- Stiff body movements
- Some effort defensively, but doesn’t close the ball down well
- Slightly concerned that his rough traits are habits at this point given he’s 24
COLE BASSETT TO THE COLORADO RAPIDS
Cole Bassett’s entire 2022 looked an awful lot like an Oprah Winfrey car giveaway. Except instead of the entire audience getting something, it’s literally just Cole Bassett. And instead of new cars, Cole Bassett got, like, 87 different loans to the Netherlands.
“You get a loan! You get a loan! You, specifically you and only you, Cole Bassett, get a loan!”
It’s safe to say that Bassett’s trip across the Atlantic didn’t go to plan — he only played a few minutes in the Eredivisie this calendar year. But now that he’s back in Colorado, he’ll get a chance to play and continue the improvement that we’d been seeing before he left.
According to American Soccer Analysis, Bassett’s goals added value improved every year from 2019 to 2021. He’s an incomplete player, which is fine given that he’s just 21, but he finds the ball in good spots and makes good late-arriving runs out of midfield. The next step for Bassett is to couple that off-ball movement with more on-ball creativity and progression. We’ll see how he does in Colorado this year.
Honorable mentions: Kevin Cabral to Colorado, George Campbell to Montreal, Derrick Etienne Jr. to Atlanta, Andres Perea to Philadelphia