By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (Feb 3, 2023) US Soccer Players – While Europe’s secondary window closed on Tuesday, on the other side of the Atlantic, Major League Soccer, with its calendar year season schedule, marked the opening of its primary transfer window. Unlike in Europe, where the market windows coincide and teams from across multiple countries are both buying and selling at the same time, MLS is mostly on its own for signing new players during this part of the year.
The most important thing to remember about the application of “transfer windows” as they currently exist is that it only matters when talking about the club doing the signing. For the next 12 weeks, MLS clubs can acquire players from clubs that won’t be able to do more transfer business of their own until Europe’s primary transfer window opens in the summer.
Before Tuesday, players could leave MLS for clubs that were in the primary window, but MLS couldn’t sign players under contract elsewhere. For example, the Chicago Fire sent Jhon Duran to Aston Villa for a reported fee of $22 million, but were limited in the ability to sign a potential replacement.
That’s not to say that MLS outfits weren’t doing business in January ahead of the official opening of the transfer window. Players without contracts could be signed, including from within the league’s suddenly fascinating internal free agency market. Plenty of clubs lined up deals that are now official via the receipt of the player’s International Transfer Certificate with the transfer window open.
The big news in the free agent market came late last week when Toronto FC announced the signing of USMNT goalkeeper Sean Johnson. Johnson moved to Canada after six years with New York City FC, the club he led to an MLS Cup championship in 2021.
Toronto coach Bob Bradley gets everything he wanted for the position. Johnson’s physical gifts are obvious, but it’s his leadership qualities and professionalism that make him a perfect fit for the culture Bradley is building in Ontario. With Johnson in goal, the Toronto rebuild takes a leap forward. Earlier in the free agency signing period, the Reds locked down former FC Dallas center back Matt Hedges, a player who represents an immediate upgrade in the back line.
Johnson’s departure from New York opened a spot on goal for that club as it looks to maintain its place among the best teams in the Eastern Conference. NYCFC was already dealing with the loss of center back stalwart Alexander Callens, who chose to join former NYCFC teammate Valentin Castellanos at Girona in Spain, when Johnson made his choice.
To replace their top keeper, NYCFC acquired Philadelphia Union homegrown player Matt Freese from the Eastern Conference champions for a package that could be worth $750,000 in general allocation money. Freese’s move gives him the chance to emerge from the shadow of three-time MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Andre Blake and claim a starting role for the first time in his career.
Designated Player signings will always draw the most attention when the transfer window opens, and this year is no exception. While the number of DP spots open around the league is never large and many clubs prefer to wait until summer and the end of the European season to bring in high dollar signings, a few teams have already made news with acquisitions this winter.
The San Jose Earthquakes under new head coach Luchi Gonzalez made a move to solidify the midfield with the transfer signing of 27-year-old Ecuadorian Carlos Gruezo. MLS fans should know the name. Gruezo spent three and a half years in Texas playing for FC Dallas before leaving MLS for Augsburg of the German Bundesliga.
Gruezo’s return to MLS is notable for a couple of reasons. Still in his 20s, he’s a player with plenty of soccer left in front of him who could become a fixture for the new look Quakes over the long term. Gruezo is also a rare example of a player who moved from Europe to MLS then earned a move back to Europe.
FC Dallas signed Gruezo as a 20-year-old from VfB Stuttgart. His time in Dallas got him a return to the Bundesliga and brought his MLS club a seven-figure fee in the process. San Jose is now spending an undisclosed amount to bring him back to the US. Also important is that Gruezo received a green card during his last stint in MLS, meaning he won’t count as an international on San Jose’s roster.
In total, 11 different players were added to the DP roles effective January 31. Gruezo’s signing is the latest to be announced, with most of the deals announced well in advance of the window’s opening. That includes Orlando’s move for Argentine winger Martin Ojeda, a player the club acquired from Godoy Cruz for a multi-million dollar fee. 24-year-old Ojeda joins a revamped Orlando City team under head coach Oscar Pareja that has the makings of a contender.
In something of a rarity, an MLS team filled a DP slot with a defender. The Colorado Rapids completed a move for Brondby center back Andreas Maxso last Friday, then officially added him to their roster on Tuesday. Maxso joins a select group of center back DPs in MLS: Walker Zimmerman of Nashville, Thiago Martins of NYCFC, and Teenage Hadebe of the Houston Dynamo.
There’s plenty of time in the window for MLS teams to add players, though most clubs will want to maximize the impact of new signings by getting them done as early as possible. The race is on to get deals done, integrate new players, and begin the quest for an MLS Cup title.
Jason Davis is the founder of MatchFitUSA.com and the host of The United States of Soccer on SiriusXM. Contact him: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter.
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Photo by Jenny Chuang – ISIPhotos.com