Report Card for Every MLS Team's Offseason as February Begins
MLS teams have begun their preseason regimens as the 2015 campaign draws closer. While the season might be delayed due to the ongoing CBA negotiations, every club is still preparing as if everything will go on as scheduled.
Plenty of teams made some marquee signings this winter, such as Toronto FC and expansion side Orlando City SC. Meanwhile, the likes of New York City FC were in the news for all of the wrong reasons.
Every MLS club will be graded based on their offseason moves between December and February. If a team addressed their biggest weaknesses or upgraded specific positions, that will result in a high grade. If a specific side didn't fill any voids or had any negative publicity, they will be ranked lower.
Here are the complete report cards for every MLS team's offseason to this point.
All official transactions via MLSSoccer.com.
Chicago's biggest acquisition was Scotland international Shaun Maloney, who signed as a designated player with the Fire. The Wigan playmaker gives the Windy City a dynamic attacking midfielder who can create chances for the forwards.
Chicago also added forwards Kennedy Igboananike and David Accam from Swedish clubs AIK and Helsingborgs, respectively. Striker Guilherme do Prado was brought in on a free transfer as well. The Fire had just 41 goals in 2014, the fifth-lowest amount in MLS, so these signings should help.
Another important area was the midfield. Michael Stephens joined the Fire from Bob Bradley's Stabaek side in December. He recorded seven assists in 30 appearances last season in Norway, so Stephens will be able to add some creativity in a deeper role than Maloney.
Other notable signings include ex-San Jose Earthquakes goalkeeper Jon Busch and defender Adailton, plus Trinidad and Tobago international Joevin Jones.
It's hard to determine how much of an impact these players will have, because they're relative unknowns in MLS. However, the Fire did fill some gaping holes in their squad, which is a positive.
The Colorado Rapids had a season to forget in 2014, but the club made a couple of significant signings this winter that will give the fans some hope.
Marcelo Sarvas was the prized acquisition. The Rapids got the midfielder in a trade with the L.A. Galaxy in exchange for their spot in the allocation ranking. Sarvas' addition is crucial, especially after losing Jose Mari. The San Jose Earthquakes' Sam Cronin could be the ideal partner for the Brazilian.
Colorado upgraded its goalkeepers by loaning Zac MacMath from the Philadelphia Union. The 23-year-old was one of the most underrated shot-stoppers in MLS last season and will compete with Clint Irwin for the No. 1 spot.
Bobby Burling gives head coach Pablo Mastroeni an experienced MLS center back. The Rapids used their first-round pick in the 2015 SuperDraft to select Axel Sjoberg, a tall, 23-year-old Swedish defender. Ex-Portland Timber Michael Harrington will help to provide some valuable experience on this young team.
The defense is an area of weakness for the Rapids. They conceded 62 goals in 2014, more than any other team. Colorado and Zat Knight cut ties on Monday night, per MLSSoccer.com, but he wasn't too convincing in his time in the Mile High City.
However, Colorado could have used another striker. Deshorn Brown scored 10 goals, but Vicente Sanchez, Gabriel Torres and Charles Eloundou combined for just nine.
The Columbus Crew emerged as underdogs at the end of last season. The Crew finished third in the Eastern Conference, but were crushed by the New England Revolution in the playoffs.
However, Columbus rebranded and has already signed a few players who can help the Crew compete in the postseason. Kei Kamara was one of the more notable signings, as the Sierra Leonean started his MLS career in Ohio.
The majority of Columbus' acquisitions came from abroad. Midfielders Mohammed Saeid and Kristinn Steindorsson were free transfers along with defender Hernan Grana. Cedrick Mabwati, formerly of Real Betis, was the only player brought in for a fee.
All of the players are relative unknowns, but the Crew also signed defender Chris Klute, who will be a valuable full-back for head coach Gregg Berhalter.
Notable departures include Agustin Viana, Bernardo Anor and Jairo Arrieta. The Crew still have the spine of their squad intact and added players who should be able to help Columbus compete in the East.
D.C. United lost a few squad players this winter, but none of them was a crucial figure. For that reason, United didn't have to be as active in the market as other MLS teams.
Thomas McNamara was acquired via the Chivas USA dispersal draft, but he was later selected by New York City FC in the expansion draft. The midfielder suffered a torn ACL last season, but he was impressing for Chivas prior to his injury.
D.C. acquired Andrew Driver, who is a solid, experienced midfielder, from the Houston Dynamo. United also signed Finnish midfielder/defender Markus Halsti and drafted Dan Metzger in January's SuperDraft for extra depth in defense and midfield.
One area of inconsistency for United last year was the strikers. Fabian Espindola was the top goalscorer among D.C.'s forwards with 11 goals. Eddie Johnson was extremely disappointing, but if he can live up to his designated player status, then there won't be any issues.
Jairo Arrieta is now a United player, but he's scored only 17 goals in 67 MLS games, which doesn't restore any confidence in the striker situation. However, the club did well to add some extra midfield depth.
FC Dallas cleared a lot of cap space and roster spots this offseason. Peruvian goalkeeper Raul Fernandez left the club and was replaced by Dan Kennedy after Dallas selected him in the Chivas USA dispersal draft.
Kennedy is one of the most underrated, experienced goalkeepers in MLS. He'll compete with Chris Seitz for the starting spot.
However, apart from Kennedy, Dallas' arrivals have been underwhelming. Atiba Harris and Kyle Bekker are depth acquisitions and probably won't start for head coach Oscar Pareja.
Harris played for Pareja in Colorado. However, the midfielder doesn't add a lot of goalscoring or creativity. He's also prone to injury.
Meanwhile, Bekker failed to make an impact with Toronto FC in most of his 20 appearances last season. It's unlikely that he'll reach the expectations he had after being selected third overall in the 2013 SuperDraft, but a change of scenery could help him.
Dallas did well in selecting Kennedy and by clearing some cap space. Pareja's side didn't make a lot of moves, but the additions of Bekker and Harris are questionable given their recent history.
Owen Coyle was named as the Houston Dynamo's second head coach in franchise history in December. He also brought in old assistant Alexander Stewart, which is alarming given the lack of MLS experience, but Wade Barrett is still on the staff, so he'll help in that department.
Houston's transactions have been highlighted by the addition of Erick Torres, who signed a five-year designated player contract. Torres scored 15 goals in 29 appearances last season with Chivas USA, and should be able to thrive with the likes of Brad Davis feeding him the ball.
The downside is that Torres will stay in Guadalajara, where he's currently on loan, until the summer. However, Giles Barnes and Will Bruin can carry the load until the Mexican arrives.
The Dynamo may have gained a new coaching staff and Torres, but the club also lost a few important players. Goalkeeper Tally Hall is now with Orlando, while midfielders Andrew Driver and Servando Carrasco left the team.
Houston still has a solid midfield and a few youngsters for depth, plus Tyler Deric proved that he can start in goal. However, the defense was an issue last season. The Dynamo conceded 58 goals and have made only one key defensive signing in Raul Rodriguez.
That glaring weakness is the only thing preventing the Dynamo from getting an "A" grade.
Steven Gerrard is the only player that the L.A. Galaxy has signed, but it's a terrific move for many reasons. Landon Donovan's retirement left the Galaxy devoid of a marketable star. L.A. now has a big name with Gerrard.
The only issue with the Liverpool captain is his current ability. He'll need to cope with the grueling travel, and his role within head coach Bruce Arena's system is unknown. However, the Englishman's intelligence on the ball and leadership qualities should boost the team in almost every area.
The Galaxy traded midfielder Marcelo Sarvas to Colorado for the Rapids' spot in the allocation order. L.A. was supposedly interested in American international Sacha Kljestan, per MLSSoccer.com; however, he ended up signing with the New York Red Bulls.
Sacrificing Sarvas is a risk. He formed a tremendous midfield partnership with Juninho and was crucial in the Galaxy's MLS Cup run last season. Gerrard is a great player, but he won't arrive until July and it might take some time for him to adjust to the league.
L.A. didn't address the defense, either. Omar Gonzalez, A.J. DeLaGarza, Robbie Rogers and Dan Gargan are the go-to defenders for Arena. Todd Dunivant is a good rotation option, but Leonardo is shaky. Tommy Meyer and Oscar Sorto are still improving, so they will be called upon when the usual starters are rested.
The Galaxy won the MLS Cup with those same defenders, so this may not be an issue. However, with a significantly stronger Western Conference, they might not be able to get away with it this time. This, coupled with Gerrard not arriving until the summer, slightly decreases L.A.'s grade.
The Montreal Impact needed to be active this winter after a dreadful 2014 season. The Impact did just that with 11 new players.
Montreal used the offseason drafts to add a few players. Goalkeeper Eric Kronberg, defenders Donny Toia and Bakary Soumare, along with midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker, were all selected.
Ex-Serie A midfielder Marco Donadel arrived for free and defenders Victor Cabrera and Laurent Ciman were acquired via loan and as a free agent, respectively.
Former Red Bulls Eric Alexander and Ambroise Oyongo were acquired in exchange for Felipe and the Impact's No. 1 spot in the allocation ranking. Finally, Dominic Oduro, who spent time with head coach Frank Klopas in Chicago, was dealt by Toronto FC.
Montreal is also pursuing a "big-name striker," per the Canadian Press (h/t Sportsnet) as the Impact tries to bolster their attack. However, the midfield has significantly improved, as has the defense.
There's no doubt that the Impact are one of the big winners of the MLS offseason. The Canadian side could be a dark-horse team in 2015.
New England Revolution
The New England Revolution made it to the 2014 MLS Cup final before losing in extra time to the L.A. Galaxy. However, thanks to their incredible playoff run, some players are surrounded by transfer rumours.
Defender A.J. Soares is still linked with a move to Serie A club Hellas Verona, and the Revs are looking for center backs, per Craig Forde of MLSSoccer.com. Forde also says that Andrew Farrell will replace Soares.
The Revolution acquired Juan Agudelo and Tristan Bowen after the team lost promising young striker Patrick Mullins in the expansion draft. However, the Soares situation will determine the fate of New England's winter.
The Revs haven't signed any noteworthy defender yet, mainly because of the Soares ordeal. However, even if he was on the roster, New England still needs some depth. Only five defenders, including Chris Tierney, are listed on the Revolution's website at the moment.
New England's lack of activity could come back to haunt them. There's a little over a month left until the regular season, so whoever arrives won't have much time to adjust to their new surroundings.
New York City FC
Lampard finally signed an MLS contract in January, per ESPN FC, but he won't arrive until the summer. The midfielder will finish the Premier League season with Manchester City before arriving in New York.
Since Lampard won't be available until July, NYCFC signed Mix Diskerud, who along with David Villa will be the team's most marketable stars. Other key acquisitions include Ned Grabavoy, Chris Wingert and Adam Nemec.
The striker depth is deep with players like Villa, Nemec and Patrick Mullins. Grabavoy, Andrew Jacobson and Mehdi Ballouchy are experienced MLS midfielders, plus Diskerud and Lampard will be crucial for head coach Jason Kreis.
Ryan Meara, Akira Fitzgerald and Josh Saunders will compete to see who is named as the starting goalkeeper. Neither of the three is a standout, but they're formidable.
The only weakness for NYCFC is center back. Jason Hernandez was average with the San Jose Earthquakes, George John is an injury-prone defender and Kwame Watson-Siriboe has played in only 30 MLS games.
Center backs are hard to find, and it doesn't affect NYCFC's grade too much, but the deception surrounding Lampard was a PR disaster and reflects poorly on the franchise.
New York Red Bulls
Jesse Marsch will be under immense pressure after replacing the popular Mike Petke as head coach of the New York Red Bulls. The club has been somewhat active in the market, but New York also lost some crucial players along the way.
Sacha Kljestan was the big-name signing for the Red Bulls. He'll replace the outgoing Eric Alexander, who was traded along with Ambroise Oyongo to Montreal in exchange for Felipe.
The Brazilian was signed by Montreal prior to their inaugural season. Marsch was the coach at the time, so the playmaker could rediscover his form with his old boss.
Felipe could help the Red Bulls attack without Thierry Henry, who retired in December. New York also has an extra designated player spot now that Tim Cahill is set to play in China, per MLSSoccer.com.
The extra cap space allowed New York to bolster the defense, which was their weakest area. Andrew Jean-Baptiste and ex-Marseille and Wolverhampton defender Ronald Zubar should provide some stability in the back line.
An extra striker would have been useful, since there are only two out-and-out forwards on the roster. However, the Red Bulls have done a good job in addressing the weaknesses and replacing any outgoing players.
Orlando City SC
Orlando City SC is arguably the biggest winner of the MLS offseason so far. The expansion side has been incredibly active this winter and the club has built a very strong roster.
Tally Hall and Donovan Ricketts are both experienced goalkeepers who will surely make an impact with Orlando City. Aurelien Collin and Amobi Okugo were two of the bigger acquisitions in defense/midfield (Okugo can also play as a holding midfielder).
Collin and Okugo are surrounded by some exciting prospects in Rafael Ramos, Tommy Redding and Tyler Turner, who played in USL Pro. Conor Donovan, Orlando's second-round pick in the SuperDraft, and Brek Shea can also play in the back line.
Shea can be deployed as a wing-back, but he's traditionally played as a winger. Carlos Rivas and Cristian Higuita, both of whom arrived from Deportivo Cali, will contribute in the final third and in defense, respectively.
Honduran forward Bryan Rochez was signed as a young designated player and will most likely be the go-to striker. He's still just 20 years old and impressed at the CONCACAF U20 Championships, scoring four goals in the tournament.
There are too many signings to examine individually, but Orlando has a great blend of experience and youth in every position. They should be a playoff team this season thanks to this impressive winter.
The Philadelphia Union need a secondary option to Conor Casey and another center back. C.J. Sapong was acquired to potentially be the answer up front, but in his last two seasons he's recorded just six goals in 45 appearances.
Sapong has mainly played as a winger, so he hasn't proven himself as a center forward. Andrew Wenger hasn't, either, so the Union may have to rely heavily on Casey again.
Now that the Union look set to lose defender Carlos Valdes, per MLSSoccer.com, the club should look at center backs to play with Maurice Edu. Amobi Okugo's departure didn't help matters, but Philly has to bolster a back line that conceded 51 goals last season.
The midfield has enough to depth, but if the defense and forwards aren't bolstered, the Union could be on the outside looking in on the playoffs again.
The Portland Timbers had no issues scoring goals last season. The defense was the team's Achilles heel and a goalkeeper needed to be signed after Donovan Ricketts was selected by Orlando in the expansion draft.
The Timbers gave the fans their wish. Nat Borchers arrived from Real Salt Lake, and Ghanaian international Adam Larsen Kwarasey was acquired from Norway to be the starting goalkeeper. Jeanderson, another new signing, provides depth at full-back.
Winger/forward Dairon Asprilla looks like an exciting addition. He'll be able to contribute to the scoring and will be able to unlock defenses while Diego Valeri is recovering from his injury. Once the Argentine is back, the attack should be even more dangerous than in 2014.
The Timbers quickly addressed all of their weaknesses and look set to compete for the playoffs in a stacked Western Conference. They deserve an "A" for their efforts so far.
Real Salt Lake
Real Salt Lake was pillaged this winter. General manager Garth Lagerwey was snapped up by the Seattle Sounders and the club lost a few crucial players.
Nat Borchers, one of the defensive anchors, is now in Portland. However, RSL managed to bring Jamison Olave back from New York as a replacement. Ex-Stoke City player Demar Phillips, who can play as a full-back, was also signed.
Ned Grabavoy, another stalwart, was selected in the expansion draft by New York City FC. However, RSL responded by acquiring Brazilian defensive midfielder Pecka.
RSL also made a couple of homegrown signings to add depth. The 2009 MLS Cup winners traditionally replace their outgoing players and stay competitive, so losing the likes of Grabavoy and Borchers is nothing new.
However, now that Lagerwey is gone, it will be interesting to see how RSL copes after the season begins. For now, the team has done well to patch up the holes in the squad.
San Jose Earthquakes
The San Jose Earthquakes should be optimistic this season. They will play in a new stadium, which should boost revenue and give the fans a better atmosphere to watch a match.
The Earthquakes have also been working on building the squad for the 2015 campaign. Jon Busch was the biggest loss for San Jose, but Andy Gruenebaum was acquired via the re-entry draft as a replacement.
The Quakes also brought in Leandro Barrera and Mark Sherrod for attacking depth. However, San Jose made a significant splash by signing a third designated player in Innocent Emeghara, per MLSSoccer.com.
Emeghara, a 25-year-old striker, has played in Switzerland, Italy and France. He has great pace and is a solid finisher when surrounded by creative players. He'll be the perfect partner for Chris Wondolowski and Matias Perez Garcia.
San Jose still has a slow defense, plus Gruenebaum has had injury problems, so there are still questions in that area. However, it's nice to see the Earthquakes brass spending money to improve the attack.
The Seattle Sounders have one of the deepest squads in MLS, so they didn't need to make a lot of signings. However, they probably landed the biggest free agent during the MLS offseason.
General manager Garth Lagerwey turned Real Salt Lake into a powerhouse and a champion. Lagerwey signed homegrown players and scoured the globe to find diamonds in the rough who are now major contributors.
The general manager has already added some homegrown talent to the Sounders roster. Darwin Jones and Victor Mansaray inked professional contracts, while Cristian Roldan and Andy Craven were selected in the SuperDraft.
Tyrone Mears is the only signing by Lagerwey who wasn't a draft pick or a homegrown star. He was acquired to replace DeAndre Yedlin, who is now with Tottenham.
The Sounders weren't too active this winter, but they got their man in Lagerwey, which should make them an even stronger team in the future.
Sporting Kansas City
Sporting Kansas City had a busy winter. Aurelien Collin, Eric Kronberg and Lawrence Olum left the club, but SKC has signed some formidable upgrades.
Chilean goalkeeper Luis Marin, who arrived on a free transfer, will presumably be the starter. Jalil Anibaba will most likely play alongside Matt Besler after Collin's departure. Bernardo Anor is also destined to be in head coach Peter Vermes' lineup after joining from Columbus.
Roger Espinoza has also returned to the club after his spell in Europe. He should give SKC some pace, technique and creativity in attack.
Ex-Portland and Dallas midfielder James Marcelin will also provide some depth in the center of the pitch. Krisztian Nemeth, a 26-year-old striker, is also expected to contribute to the goalscoring with Dom Dwyer.
Overall, Sporting KC has had a solid offseason. They lost some key players, but they quickly addressed their biggest weaknesses in every position.
It's tough to predict if each signing will make an impact. They're either new to the league or haven't been crucial pieces to a team, but bringing them into the team before preseason should help build chemistry faster.
Toronto FC general manager Tim Bezbatchenko and head coach Greg Vanney have a plan. It's evident by how quickly they've moved in the transfer market.
Jozy Altidore, Sebastian Giovinco, Benoit Cheyrou and Damien Perquis were the missing pieces in TFC's squad, but now every position has been strengthened.
Altidore will be an All-Star forward in MLS. He knows the league and he is close friends with Michael Bradley, who played a vital role in bringing the striker to Toronto.
Giovinco was supposed to arrive in July, but the playmaker will join TFC before the start of the season, per MLSSoccer.com. The Juventus attacker gives Toronto a creative No. 10 that they have lacked for many years and should be able to dominate in MLS with his speed and technique.
Perquis gives Toronto an experienced center back who can partner with Steven Caldwell, while Eriq Zavaleta provides depth at both full-back and in the center of the defense.
Cheyrou, who was a key player for Marseille, will most likely play in a double-pivot role with Bradley in midfield. This will allow Bradley to roam more often, which is a big part of his game.
Toronto FC spent a lot of money to bring in these players, but each one fits into Vanney's system. It appears as if the Reds may finally qualify for the MLS playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
The Vancouver Whitecaps waved goodbye to Johnny Leveron, Andy O'Brien and Sebastian Fernandez, among others, this winter. However, head coach Carl Robinson found some upgrades in South America and MLS.
Pa Modou Kah, formerly of the Portland Timbers, along with Diego Rodriguez, who is on loan, will compete for a starting spot at center back with Kendall Waston.
Meanwhile, Octavio Rivero, a 23-year-old Uruguayan striker, was signed as the Whitecaps' third designated player. He's expected to provide Vancouver the goalscoring it lacked up front last season.
The Whitecaps could use another striker. Erik Hurtado and Darren Mattocks have certain qualities, but aren't complete forwards. However, the team's official website reported that ex-Cap Dane Richards, former Timber Kalif Alhassan and Robert Earnshaw are among the trialists with Vancouver in Tucson.
Alhassan and Richards would give the Whitecaps solid options out wide, while Earnshaw would be a great option at striker with Rivero, Hurtado and Mattocks.
If any of these three players are signed, the Whitecaps should be feared in the Western Conference this season. Even if none of the three stay with Vancouver, they still did well to patch up the weaknesses in the squad.
Peter Galindo covers MLS and U.S. soccer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @PGFutbol.