Allow me to introduce you to the MLSsoccer.com transactions page. It’s one of the tools of the trade that I use every single week. Now is probably a good time to refresh your memory when it comes to the winter transfer window business that went down around Major League Soccer.
Why? Because that feels like a lifetime ago. I barely remember all the ins and outs. The debuts of the players we spent the preseason hyping up are more than 100 days in the past. The past three months have been such a blur that they basically didn’t happen. We got 26 games, then the league shut down. We’ll get double that in Orlando during the MLS is Back Tournament and some first looks at some big names that didn’t quite make it on to the field back in March.
Here are five names I’ll be watching closely when they make their MLS debuts in July.
Pablo Piatti (Toronto FC)
What would Ali Curtis and the Reds do with their third Designated Player spot? That was the big question this offseason after Michael Bradley signed a new contract that made him TAM eligible. The answer was Piatti, who was coming off a knee injury and two-and-a-half disappointing seasons with Espanyol in La Liga. Toronto needed pace and 1v1 ability on the wing, and the 31-year-old Argentine needed a fresh start.
That fresh start got derailed by a hamstring injury, but a couple of months off might have been exactly what the left winger needed to get his body right. Given his age, injury history and a dry couple of years production-wise – Espanyol signed him after a 10-goal season on loan, followed by just three goals in 53 games – this one felt like a bang-or-bust move from the start. Now we get to see which way the coin will fall.
Piatti could very well be the missing piece. He’s got the skillset and, reportedly, the chemistry with Alejandro Pozuelo. He could also fall far short of expectations. These aren’t exactly ideal circumstances for making a big career transition.
Siem de Jong (FC Cincinnati)
Another 31-year-old in need of new environs, de Jong will play as the attacking midfielder in Jaap Stam’s 4-3-3. He doesn’t have a shortage of talent in front of him. Jurgen Locadia’s loan was extended, and Yuya Kubo and Adrien Regattin are clear upgrades from 2019.
The question is whether de Jong is still capable of throwing it back to his glory days with Ajax, where he made 168 league appearances and scored 57 goals for the club over six seasons from 2007-2014, performances that earned him six games with the Netherlands. It’s been more of mixed bag since then, bouncing from Newcastle United to PSV back to Ajax and, most recently, to Sydney FC on loan.
Maybe de Jong just needs an extended run and the faith of his manager. He ought to be comfortable in Cincinnati with the style of play and the head coach, both decidedly Dutch. He knows Locadia, too, from his time at PSV. The real question for the club is whether they can defend with any competency, but their new attacking midfielder is one to watch as Cincy attempt to rebuild the squad after a frustrating first season in MLS.
Franco Jara (FC Dallas)
When Luchi Gonzalez was getting consistent production from Zdenek Ondrasek at the end of last year, his team was a break or two from knocking off the eventual MLS Cup champions. Cobra started 2020 hot with two goals in two games, but Dallas clearly needed some consistency from the forward position to take the next step forward. Jara provides that after five productive years in Liga MX with Pachuca.
How productive? How does 83 goals in 169 appearances in all competitions sound? Like music to FC Dallas’ ears. The best part is that the 31-year-old Argentine ought to bring out the best in Jesus Ferreira, Michael Barrios, Fafa Picault and Paxton Pomykal in the final third. His movement and finishing ability will make the game easier for everyone around him.
Cup contenders? For sure. They may even be one of the favorites in Orlando.
Victor Wanyama (Montreal Impact)
I’m cheating a bit here. We already saw Wanyama in the Concacaf Champions League. He certainly had moments; the sort that made me think those concerns about his knees might go away as the performances stacked up. Then COVID-19 hit, and Wanyama, like the rest of us, was locked down. No soccer. No time to develop chemistry with his teammates. No nothing.
Like Piatti, maybe the downtime was just what the Kenyan international’s body needed. If Wanyama is healthy, he has the ability to be one of the most dominant central midfielders in MLS. To start, it’s probably best not to ask him to do too much. Just win the ball, start the counter and make sure Montreal are organized. Thierry Henry clearly has a plan for the 28-year-old, and we’ll finally get to see it in action come July.
Winston Reid (Sporting KC)
The New Zealand international and long-time Premier League center back is my wildcard. He didn’t start either of Kansas City’s first two games, with fellow winter signing Roberto Puncec getting the nod from Peter Vermes. According to MLSsoccer.com’s own Tom Bogert, Reid will return to Sporting for the Orlando tournament. Will he play? I guess we’ll see.
Maybe I’m being completely unrealistic, but Reid could very well be another inspired flyer from Vermes. What if he gets healthy (finally) and rediscovers the fitness and form that made him a lock in the Hammers’ starting XI for six years? Of course, the odds are that he doesn’t. Vermes is certainly playing them with a depth chart that goes five deep. I can’t help but dream.