Strengths, weaknesses and needs: Breaking down all 22 MLS team rosters
It often feels like MLS doesn’t have an offseason.
In many respects, it doesn’t. Player acquisitions, expansion drafts and in-league trades often eat into the “slow days” of December and January. (I felt that the news stopped basically one day all offseason: Christmas.) For the players, though, the six-week break from day-to-day soccer has officially ended.
Players around the league report Monday for the start of preseason and the opening game of the season is a little over a month away. With practices revving up again, I thought we’d take a quick detour from the normal column format and take a quick swing around the league to see where teams stand and what they may want to add before the first weekend in March gets here.
Here’s what I like and what I don’t like around MLS.
What I like: The expansion team has done a nice job of building its inaugural roster. The international signings look very solid (Miguel Almirón, Kenwyne Jones, Chris McCann, Hector Villalba), but don’t overlook the MLS experience that was added to this roster: Michael Parkhurt, Jacob Peterson, Zach Loyd, Mark Bloom and Jeff Larentowicz). Tyrone Mears reportedly is on his way to Atlanta, too.
What I don’t like: United still needs a true playmaker to put the pieces all together. Once the Oscar Romero deal fell apart, so did the perfect picture for Atlanta’s first season. There is still time to find that playmaker, and I think Almirón likely opens the season in that role.
What I like: The 2017 Fire remind me of 2016 Philadelphia. They added some good core pieces (Michael de Leeuw, Johan Kappelhof) and now complemented those with Nemanja Nikolic, Juninho and Dax McCarty to really strengthen a team that has been at the bottom of the league the past two seasons.
What I don’t like: This team still needs quality depth and a starter at right back. If the Fire find the right piece at right back -- and maybe even purchase a high-end starter at center back -- then there’s a chance to truly compete. Chicago can afford to wait until summer on a center back, but right back is a big hole.
What I like: The quality core that took Colorado to the Western Conference final last year remains basically intact, save for the loss of Jermaine Jones, who signed with the Galaxy. Tim Howard’s health will be vital for the Rapids this season.
What I don’t like: Colorado standing pat reminds me a bit of Columbus from 2015. Gregg Berhalter told me he miscalculated by only adding depth and not enough competition in the starting XI, and that’s what it feels like in Colorado, with only a couple homegrown player signings so far.
What I like: It was clear the Crew needed to overhaul the back line and that’s what they did, signing Jonathan Mensah as a Designated Player and adding Jukka Raitala, Josh Williams and Lalas Abubakar, as well as homegrown center back Alex Crognale. It was defense-defense-defense for Columbus this offseason.
What I don’t like: This team will still rely on Justin Meram, Federico Higuain, Wil Trapp and Ethan Finlay playing up to the highest standard. Ola Kamara has shown he’s a true finisher, but is there a plan for summer help if the attacking pieces falter like some did in 2016?
What I like: There was no overhaul needed this offseason, but D.C. did add some decent pieces to bolster the depth: Jose Guillermo Ortiz and Ian Harkes stand out. I also think Chris Odoi-Atsem will end up being a rookie that surprises at right back if United ends up needing him to pitch in right away.
What I don’t like: Adding Guillermo Ortiz was a smart move in case Patrick Mullins can’t replicate his goal-scoring rate of last season, but I wonder whether more goal-scoring depth will be needed at some point this season. Where will the goals come from outside of Mullins? They need Patrick Nyarko and Lloyd Sam to have big seasons.
What I like: FCD did a nice job signing Javi Morales to fill in for the injured Mauro Diaz at the No. 10 spot to start the season, and otherwise has the strong core back intact with no major losses. If Anibal Chalá and Jose Salvatierra lock down the back line for Dallas, the Hoops should again be considered the favorites in the West.
What I don’t like: It felt last year like the biggest area of need was a go-to goalscorer, and I still feel that way going into this season. Michael Barrios will again be counted on to replace Fabian Castillo and Maxi Urruti is still the starter up top. Is that enough?