Hey there. Welcome to Backheeled’s MLS transfer coverage.
This is where you’ll be able to keep up with the latest incoming deals and learn more about MLS’s newest players. This transfer notebook includes scouting reports and background information on recent MLS signings – we’ll keep updating it throughout this summer transfer season.
For more MLS coverage, head over here. Now, let’s get to the transfers.
LAFC SIGN SUPERSTAR GARETH BALE
June 27: LAFC officially sign the former Real Madrid forward
Reported fee: N/A
Who is Gareth Bale and how does he play?
At this point, you know who Gareth Bale is. Even if you weren’t familiar with Bale before this weekend, with all of the transfer buzz surrounding him over the last couple of days, you probably are now. He’s won the UEFA Champions League five times. He’s won La Liga three times with Real Madrid. He’s been a star for Wales on the international stage for years now. Bale is one of the biggest names in global soccer.
At 32, Bale isn’t the same forceful, direct player he used to be. He’s still quick, but he’s not going to use his speed in every moment of every game like he did for Real Madrid during their most recent era of European dominance.
We’ll still see plenty of athleticism from Bale in MLS, but the thing we’ll see most from him is his quality left foot. Bale can create magic with his left. Whether he plays on the wing, as a striker, or as some sort of second forward, Bale’s left foot has the potential to carve right through opposing defenses.
What it means for LAFC, MLS:
Before this year, signing Bale would have felt like a very un-LAFC thing to do. Their transfer strategy has mostly focused on bringing in young players from South America. But now, LAFC have seemingly gone full “sweeping up aging, out-of-contract European superstars” mode this offseason, signing both Bale and Giorgio Chiellini. However, the fact that neither Bale nor Chiellini will be DPs this year means the risk of signing that pairing is relatively low – lowering risk is important when you’re signing older players in a league that limits your roster resources.
At this point in MLS’s life, there’s room for teams like LAFC to scour South America for talent, while still taking advantage of chances to sign players like Bale. It’s not an either/or. Nor should it be. One of MLS’s biggest advantages is that it has teams playing in places where global superstars want to be. And, most of the time, those global superstars have the potential to make MLS better and more fun.
Gareth Bale certainly does. Now it’s up to Steve Cherundolo to figure out where and how to use Bale to make LAFC even better.
D.C. UNITED SIGN WINGER MARTIN RODRIGUEZ FROM TURKEY
June 23: D.C. sign the Chilean using TAM
Who is Martin Rodriguez and how does he play?
Rodriguez, 27, is winger/second striker who is coming to D.C. after a spell in the Turkish Super Lig (and before that, Chile and Mexico). Looking at his scoring record, the Chilean attacker has never been a true goal threat during his career. Rodriguez has only averaged 0.16 goals per 90 minutes throughout his career – which comes out to 5.3 goals over a 3,000 minute season. That’s not great.
It’s not that Rodriguez doesn’t have skill. He has a strong right foot and likes to take on defenders one-v-one. To my eye, though, he’s not a brilliant one-v-one attacker, but he should bring a little more of that verticality that D.C. United have come to love so much.
What this deal means for D.C.:
With Edison Flores gone, it makes sense that D.C. would fill his roster spot without another attacker who can occupy the wings or move inside into the halfspaces. Rodriguez should have a chance to get real minutes under Chad Ashton during the second half of the season.
SPORTING KANSAS CITY SIGN MIDFIELDER ERIK THOMMY
June 23: SKC sign a 27-year-old, ex-Bundesliga midfielder
Who is Erik Thommy and how does he play?
Another signing for SKC! Thommy’s pedigree isn’t crazy, but he has a few thousand Bundesliga minutes to his name across spells with Stuttgart (who decided not to renew his contract after this most recent European season), Dusseldorf, and Augsburg.
At 27, Thommy is in his prime – and he’s played in a handful of positions over the course of his career, including attacking midfield and right and left wing. The German is quick, he can be an asset in transition, and he makes runs in behind the opposition’s backline to create space for his teammates in possession. When Thommy is on the ball, he looks fairly comfortable in tight spaces, he likes to use his right foot, and he can bend a good ball into the box.
What this deal means for SKC:
It means that Sporting Kansas City have more talent in their attack right now than they’ve had for much of this season without Gadi Kinda. With Johnny Russell and Daniel Salloi eating up most of the minutes out wide for Peter Vermes, Thommy could slot into midfield as one of SKC’s dual No. 8s.
SPORTING KANSAS CITY SIGN STRIKER WILLIAM AGADA
June 23: SKC sign a forward from the Israeli Premier League
Who is William Agada and how does he play?
Agada, 22, is a Nigerian striker who spent the last few years playing in Israel. Agada is still young – and he’s not the finished product yet. He’s right-footed, likes to make runs in behind, and has some real aerial ability. However, the striker is raw. He doesn’t have the softest first touch and he doesn’t look comfortable with his back to goal, relying on his physical ability to compensate for some of those technical lapses. His goalscoring record in Israel’s top tier isn’t impressive, either.
Don’t get me wrong: having forward who can beat defenders in transition and stretch the opposing backline is useful. But Agada needs some seasoning, which he may be able to get with SKC this year.
What this deal means for SKC:
This move is all about striker depth. By signing Agada, Sporting Kansas City give themselves another low-risk option to eat up minutes up top during Alan Pulido’s absence.
One other thing about this deal that stood out to me? Agada is the second player, after Gadi Kinda, that SKC have signed from the Israel in the last few years. There certainly aren’t many other teams that are making moves in that market.
COLUMBUS CREW SIGN CUCHO HERNANDEZ FOR A RECORD FEE
June 21: Columbus officially sign the Colombian forward from Watford
Who is Cucho Hernandez and how does he play?
Cucho Hernandez, a 23-year-old Colombian forward, is coming over from Watford where he played just over 1,100 Premier League minutes last year. With Watford and in his most recent appearance for the Colombian national team against Saudi Arabia, Hernandez mostly played as a winger.
With the Crew, though, it looks like Hernandez will play as a striker. He already has the No. 9 shirt and based on his playing style, the forward looks primed for a Josef Martinez-style positional switch from winger in Europe to striker in MLS.
While he can play with his back to goal, at 5’9”, Hernandez isn’t your classic, big-bodied center forward. Instead, he’s an energetic, forceful attacker who challenges for a surprising number of balls in the air. There’s a reason why he got on the field for a direct, defensive Watford team last year.
Hernandez is quick and he has an excellent work-rate – he’s also a capable right-footed passer who can drop into midfield or move out to the wing to help connect play. He’s never been a consistent goalscorer in a top division league, but his skillset will help him fit in MLS.
What this deal means for the Columbus Crew:
The Columbus Crew needed attacking help. Badly. Hernandez adds necessary quality to the Crew’s attack. At this point, I think it’s a little too early to tell exactly how much Hernandez will improve Columbus, but I do think it’s clear that he will make them better. I’m especially curious to see where and how Caleb Porter uses his new signing and how Hernandez and Lucas Zelarayan work together in the attack.
On a separate note, it’s great to see MLS teams being willing to really spend money. This deal involved a club-record transfer fee for the Crew and is one of the most expensive MLS transfer fees of all time.
ATLANTA UNITED SIGN JUAN JOSE PURATA ON LOAN
June 21: Atlanta sign the center back on loan from Tigres in Liga MX
Who is Juan Jose Purata and how does he play?
Purata is a 24-year-old Colombian center back who has only ever played for Tigres in his progressional career. During his time in Liga MX, Purata never racked up more than 300 league minutes in a single season. So this move is a chance for him to establish himself at a new club and in a new league.
Stylistically, Purata is a right-footed center back who is athletic enough to step into midfield and help his team pin back the opposition. In limited minutes for Tigres, Purata showed an ability to push forward and challenge opposing attackers. Still, he’s not overly mobile and can be beaten in one-v-one defensive situations. Purata isn’t Miles Robinson, let’s just say that. In possession, Purata is a capable ball progresser: he’ll take space on the dribble and can advance the ball with his passing, too.
What this deal means for Atlanta United:
Crucially, this loan signing gives Atlanta United additional center back depth, which they’ve needed ever since Robinson went down with that Achilles injury against the Chicago Fire earlier this season. I don’t expect Purata to start dominating games for Atlanta, but he should enter their center back rotation once he’s eligible to play in July.
ATLANTA UNITED SIGN GOALKEEPER RAUL GUDIÑO
June 20: Atlanta sign the former Chivas goalkeeper as a free agent
Who is Raul Gudiño and how does he play?
Gudiño, 26, was at Chivas in Liga MX for four seasons and has also made a handful of appearances for the Mexican national team. At 6’5”, he’s a big dude. Gudiño has a long wingspan, which helps him cover large chunks of his goal at a time. That said, Gudiño isn’t flawless. Based on the numbers I’ve seen, he was an average or slightly below average shot-stopper in Liga MX. Gudiño parries the ball back into the fray a little too much and he’s doesn’t always make the correct play after coming off his line.
With the ball at his feet, Gudiño played a lot of long passes with Chivas. Using his right foot, though, he can help in buildup.
What this deal means for Atlanta United:
Brad Guzan is injured, so Atlanta’s goalkeeping situation is a little murky right now. With his experience, Gudiño is probably the favorite to start in goal for Atlanta United going forward. However, Rocco Rios Novo will have a couple of weeks until the transfer window officially opens to prove that he should be the starter.
LAFC SIGN LEGENDARY DEFENDER GIORGIO CHIELLINI
June 13: LAFC sign the Italian center back using TAM
Who is Giorgio Chiellini and how does he play?
If you’ve been following soccer even casually over the last two decades, you probably know who Chiellini is. He’s been a key player for the Italian national team and for Juventus in Serie A for a long, long, long time now.
Chiellini is squarely on the wrong side of 30 – he’s 37 – so he doesn’t have the same mobility or athleticism that he did earlier in his career. But he can still change games. According to FBref, Chiellini finished in the 96th percentile among center backs in Europe’s top five leagues and in European competitions in progressive passes per 90 minutes. He also finished in the 86th percentile for progressive careers per 90 minutes. Chiellini is still one of the world’s best players at moving the ball from Point A to Point B.
He’s also useful in the air and will bring valuable experience to LAFC.
What this deal means for LAFC:
Look, Chiellini is old. There are plenty of risks when you sign an aging player, including injuries and declining mobility. Those are real risks with this Chiellini deal. But because LAFC signed him on a TAM deal and not as a Designated Player, those risks won’t have as much of an impact on LAFC’s roster construction or their current squad.
I don’t expect Chiellini to be an every-game player in MLS, but I do expect him to make LAFC better for portions of his time on the field. For a team that’s sitting right in a trophy window, that’s a good thing.
REAL SALT LAKE SIGN USYNT ATTACKER DIEGO LUNA
June 3: RSL sign Luna from the El Paso Locomotive in the USL Championship
Who is Diego Luna and how does he play?
At just 18-years-old, Diego Luna is a creative, smooth attacker. He’s currently away with the U.S. U-20 men’s national team at the Concacaf U-20 Championship where he recently put together a downright fun performance against Canada.
If you’ve watched him play, you’ve probably noticed that Luna has a strange build for a soccer player. But he was one of the best players in the USL Championship before making the move up to MLS. He was named to the USL’s All-League Second Team in 2021 and was a finalist for the Young Player of the Year award, losing out to Jonathan Gomez. With his soft first touch and skill on the ball, Luna jumps off the screen – and the spreadsheets. According to American Soccer Analysis, Luna was the second best player in the USL Championship based on goals added per 90 minutes.
His athleticism is a big question mark, but Luna has talent.
What this deal means for RSL:
Because Real Salt Lake paid a record fee for a USL-to-MLS transaction, it seems pretty clear that they rate Luna quite highly. The teenager already played a few minutes for RSL in a 2-1 loss to Vancouver on June 4, just one day after the official transfer announcement.
Now it’s up to Pablo Mastroeni to find a way to get Luna, Jefferson Savarino, and some of RSL’s other forwards working together and contributing in the attack.