Every year, Major League Soccer as a whole takes convincing steps in achieving its ambition: Becoming a top league in the world. There are many necessary steps in achieving such a prosperous reputation; many that the league takes, but clubs themselves must take initiative in upgrading their rosters, academy, fan base, and all other aspects of their club.
This list is based off present talent. Which teams have taken the load on their shoulders over time and built a team worth fearing over in the 2017 campaign. Whether it be short-term or long-term, time will tell.
The Portland Timbers missed the playoffs last year, as defending champions. They won just 12 of 34 matches during that title defense, which showed evident needs of roster upgrades. They’ve done a fantastic job in addressing these needs, bringing in Costa Rican center midfielder David Guzman, who is already fitting in nicely in Caleb Porter’s system. They released bust Lucas Melano, who has returned to Argentina, freeing up a Designated Player slot. This opening prompted the Timbers into signing another Argentine winger, this one already havens proven his ability, signing 28-year-old Sebastian Blanco from San Lorenzo, for an initial $5 million fee. Blanco and Valeri are sure to build a chemistry in the Rose City, and with Portland having kept the likes of Nagbe and Adi over the offseason, I’m expecting big things in Portland.
This club has proven over the course of time their dominance in MLS. Winning in total 5 MLS Cups, more than any other MLS team. Club legend Robbie Keane has moved on, and although fans are mourning over the loss of their ex-captain, I believe his departure is a blessing in disguise. Giovani Dos Santos has been waiting for his chance as the main striker in LA since his arrival from Villarreal back in the Summer of 2015. He now has that chance, and with their new DP signing, ex-Marseille speedster Romain Alessandrini, and an injury-free Gyasi Zardes, Dos Santos will have quality options on either flank. They have also added versatile Portuguese central midfielder Joao Pedro, via Target Allocation Money, as well as signing 2016 defender of the year finalist Jelle Van Damme to a contract extension, making Laurent Ciman’s buddy a designated player for the Galaxy.
This isn’t a joke. We’ve seen many poor off-seasons for this club in recent years, many of them consisting of horrible signings; yet this year, Houston fans are in for a treat. Call it a roster overhaul if you will, the Dynamo have changed the face of their team, bringing in familiar names to MLS fans such as experienced winger Vicente Sanchez, who played for Colorado a few years back. Centreback/Right fullback A.J. Delagarza, who is a quality addition to this team, he has proved his worth with the Galaxy over the years. They have also signed free agent centre back Leonardo, who last played for the Galaxy last season, before the expiration of his contract. Erick Torres is returning to the Dynamo, he hasn’t scored a goal in 2 seasons with the club, but he’s hoping to make a good impression under new management. The Dynamo have also cut ties with out-of-form striker Will Bruin, who has struggled to score, trading him to the Seattle Sounders in exchange for Targeted Allocation Money and General Allocation Money.
Think we’re done covering the Dynamo?
Not quite so, they’ve dealt a lot of players in-and-out of MLS, but then there are their under-the-radar international signings, that will truly make the Dynamo a force to be reckoned with.
They’ve signed Honduran striker Alberth Elis on loan from Mexican club Monterrey. A position that they drastically need improvement in. They’re hoping that he brings goals during his short stay in Texas. Deportivo Saprissa captain Adolfo Machado has signed with the Dynamo as well. The 31-year-old Panamanian defender had been in Costa Rica since 2014. Another Central American signing is the one of speedy, athletic 25-year-old Romell Quioto, who has signed from CD Olimpia via transfer. Last but not least, there’s Deportivo Cali’s Juan David Cabeza, the 25-year-old midfielder brings quality to what was a dull Houston midfield.
There you have it! Houston’s overhaul can go one of many ways, but I think Houston is headed in the right direction for the first time in a long time.
The Impact will be heading into what will be their 6th MLS season. They have made the playoffs 3 times out of 5 attempts, which for an expansion team is quite impressive. They made the Eastern Conference Final last year, before being beaten by their bitter rivals in what was a thrilling matchup. Although the only signings they’ve made are Chris Duvall and Blerim Dzemaili, they’ve cut the dead weight, and for the first time in their MLS era, they haven’t had to make too many off-season changes.
Busts such as Lucas Ontivero, Kyle Bekker, and Amadou Dia are no longer with the club. While Didier Drogba (as much as he brought to Montréal in terms of popularity and attendance) is a relief to have the team as well. Don’t get me wrong he’s a legend that brought experience and leadership to the club, but his legs just aren’t there anymore.
What makes the Impact a team to be feared this year is the unity of the group, most players experienced the heartbreak last year, and they want revenge. Then around summertime, they will get Blerim Dzemaili, who is tearing it up in the Serie A for Joey Saputo’s Bologna.
We finish off with a team that is yet to play in a competitive match. Atlanta United will play in the beautiful Mercedes-Benz stadium, they have already sold 27,000 season tickets, and they’ve hired Gerardo Martino as head coach, he had most recently had been coaching FC Barcelona and the Argentina National Team, no big deal.
This club has everything going for them this early on in their existence, but it’s not just what’s off the field, the players they’ve signed are ecstatic.
Filling up all 3 DP slots with the likes of Miguel Almiron from Lanus, for an initial $8 million fee. The 22-year-old Paraguayan attacking midfielder had opportunities to go to top European clubs, as well as China, but he chose to go to Atlanta under Tata Martino. Hector Villalba is another DP of theirs. The 22-year-old Argentine winger was their first ever signing, San Lorenzo fans will surely miss this talent, who was snatched upset Summer and loaned to Tijuana. The third DP is Josef Martinez, the 23-year-old striker from Torino adds to the list of classy attackers for Atlanta.
The other key players they’ve signed apart from DP attackers are as follows: USMNT goalkeeper Brad Guzan. Defender Michael Parkhurst. USMNT Defender Greg Garza. 24-year-old former River Plate defender Leandro Gonzalez Pires. 2016 MLS Cup champion right back Tyrone Mears. Experienced defensive mid-Jeff Larentowitz. Argentine loanee Yamil Asad, who plays as an attacking midfielder. 30-year-old German midfielder Kevin Kratz. Former Southampton and Stoke City striker Kenwyne Jones.
This team is full of potential and Atlanta fans are surely excited for their inaugural season.