January generally offers little selection or value in the transfer market. Managers lament the scant options available as they ponder whether to pay over the odds or summon the courage to muddle through with their present squads. The settled nature of most teams restricts the moves made and the players placed on the market.
The problem mostly plagues teams in established leagues in Europe, but it also exerts an impact on MLS sides as they search for reinforcements. Their resources – at least in the non-Designated Player category – are comparatively limited by league-enforced strictures. They cannot afford to lavish funds wantonly in a bid to secure a player prior to the start of the season.
Most of these pressures lead to a postponement of significant moves until the summer. Foreign clubs want to sell when they have no fixtures left to play. Players want to move between seasons. MLS sides adjust accordingly in the hopes of snapping up a player or two to aid the stretch run and warding off any interest in their star players along the way. It isn’t an ideal way to assembling a coherent team by the start of the season, but most clubs cede ground in the hopes of purloining a better, foreign-based option down the line.
Clubs largely held to the well-established practice this winter as they plotted for their upcoming campaigns and scanned the possibilities at the start of the primary transfer window. Most of the activity to date came from intraleague moves (D.C. United and Seattle, in particular, scoured the domestic market for reinforcements, though United also signed Christian Fernández Salas from Spanish side Almeria last week) as teams shuffled their packs and tried to upgrade their rosters with known quantities. Other sides largely abstained from substantive adjustments in deference to the successful cores constructed over several years.
Philadelphia tempted Sochaux midfielder Vincent Nogueira to leave Ligue 1 behind to join the Union.
MLS clubs have combined for fewer than 30 incoming transfers from foreign clubs since the end of last season, but a handful of teams have still managed to make significant moves to redress lingering concerns.
Toronto FC allied the classic January overspending model with months of careful reconnaissance to splash the cash on Michael Bradley and Jermain Defoe. Bradley and Defoe each possessed European options as they contemplated moves away from their current club. The interest in their services, however, left room for TFC to swoop with offers above market value to supplement the earlier signing of Brazilian striker Gilberto. The gambit worked for all involved parties: Bradley landed a longer and more lucrative contract than he could have expected elsewhere, while Defoe received an extended, guaranteed deal far in excess of the short-term pacts available to him at other clubs. TFC’s ability to outbid the market allowed them to scoop two players capable of serving as cornerstones before the start of the season.
LA Galaxy, Philadelphia, Portland and Vancouver relied more on persistence and planning than sheer financial might to obtain their reinforcements. These sides assessed their needs, pinpointed their targets and worked quickly to seal the necessary deals. LA Galaxy added two forwards in Rob Friend and Samuel and located a natural winger in Stefan Ishizaki. Philadelphia strengthened its midfield with Maurice Edu, Cristian Maidana and Vincent Nogueira. Portland sustained its emerging Argentine pipeline by plumping for Gastón Fernández and Norberto Paparatto fill vacancies at forward and center back. Vancouver bolsters its creative options with Sebastián Fernández and Nicolás Mezquida. The decisive moves rectified lingering concerns in time to focus on cultivating the squad as a whole in time for the upcoming season.
The benefits are there for all to see as these players start to settle in with their new clubs. By striking quickly to obtain players at the start of MLS’ primary transfer window, these sides advanced their objectives as others waited for a more amenable and diverse market to emerge. Other teams will watch carefully to survey the results before weighing whether to amend their approaches heading into next season.