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Taking Stock of MLS Transfer Season

How Atlanta’s upcoming opponents improved their squads

Soccer: 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup -USA  at Jamaica Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

As teams get ready to make runs in the playoffs, or just hope to make it to the post-season in the first place, some new faces have joined MLS while others have swapped clubs within the league. Atlanta United made just one move but some of the opponents that Atlanta will face between now and October 22 did add new pieces.

One player can make a significant difference for a team and the Eastern Conference is stacked with four teams within six points of the final playoff spot. The Five Stripes are in a good position to make the playoffs, but a lot can happen between now and the end of October. Let’s review how Atlanta’s future opponents and other teams competing to make the playoffs fared as the transfer window drew to a close.

The Patron Saint of bringing in a flashy winger when you need a holding midfielder

The Columbus Crew made a big signing by bringing in Pedro Santos from Sporting Braga on a DP contract. Santos joins a team that has plenty of offensive capability from the likes of Ola Kamara, Federico Higuain, and Justin Meram and saw Ethan Finlay absolutely disintegrate since his breakout season in 2015. The defense is still a mess and Will Trapp is a work in progress but this should help Columbus find more consistent wing play down as the season winds down.

Atlanta did itself a lot of favors by beating Columbus in their two meetings. The Crew currently occupy the 6th playoff spot in the East with many teams having one or even two games in hand on them. Still, adding a new player to an already dangerous team could make them a threat to jump Atlanta United in the playoff race.

Ethan Finlay and the Loons look to revive each other

The move meant that the Crew needed to make room on their roster and the team did so by shipping Ethan Finlay to Minnesota United for some Garber bucks. This would be a great move for Minnesota if it were 2015 or if Finlay were a center back who knew when to step to an attacker (honestly if you let Will Bruin beat you like that one of your wins should be stripped from your record).

Finlay may just need a change of scenery but if he took a giant step back after playing with a team that had better attacking midfield play than the Loons, then it’s doubtful that just moving to a new team is going to have him playing at a higher level. Minnesota is going to miss the playoffs but maybe this move will help them avoid winning the fewest games in MLS history.

The Loons and Finlay will look for revenge after the 6-1 drubbing that Atlanta handed Minnesota in March when they visit MBS on October 3.

Orlando City signs a soccer player of some kind who plays a position, or several

FC Disney brought in an attacking left back or a midfielder depending on how the team lines up. Yoshimar Yotun joins the club from Swedish side Malmo FF and gives them some options. It isn’t clear what role he will play yet, but if Orlando is looking to address an actual need that it has, playing him as an attacking midfielder and moving Will Johnson to holding mid and sending Antonio Nocerino as far away from the field as possible would be a step toward solidifying the team.

OCSC showed early this year that they could be a decent defensive side and if they can resolve their problem in central midfield they could claim one of the lower seeded playoff spots in the East. On the other hand, they could just move Johnson aside and keep Nocerino in the starting 11 or start Yotun as a left back to hit crosses at Cyle Larin and totally screw this up.

Orlando will be back in Atlanta on September 16 looking to hold onto a lead against United in the team’s final matchup of the season in what will promise to be a charged atmosphere.

Maybe two dos Santoses will play like one dos Santos

The LA Galaxy have had a difficult season. Injuries and having Clement Diop on the team have them nine points back of the final playoff spot in the West. In addition to their injury woes, the team decided that Curt Onalfo was the wrong man for the job and brought Sigi Schmid in to try and improve play to stop all of their fans from deserting them for LAFC in the offseason. The one bright spot on the season has been the play of French winger Romain Alessandrini, but for all of his individual brilliance after 22 games the team has only six wins.

Part of the struggles in LA have been due to the play of Giovani dos Santos. The attacking player had a solid first full season with LA last year scoring 15 goals and adding 13 assists. This year GdS looks less like the player who had established himself in Spain and could boss a league he was punching under his weight in and more like the player who failed to live up to expectations with Barcelona and Tottenham.

The team announced that it had added Jonathan dos Santos from Villareal to join his brother. Jona is a talented central midfielder who can command the center of the pitch and set the tempo for his team. He fills a giant hole for LA that Jermaine Jones, Baggio Husidic, and Joao Pedro have left open in the middle of the field. Dos Santos number two should also provide a mental boost to his brother. The two were together at Villareal and getting a player he already has chemistry with will also help get LA back to its place as one of the top teams in the league.

The Galaxy will be a real challenge for Atlanta United when they come to visit on September 20.

Current biggest loser is the biggest winner

DC United are having a historically bad season. The team has five wins and looked like it was in seriously bad shape as it gets ready for an offseason where it will prepare to open a new stadium in 2018. Then this week something unexpected happened, the front office suddenly looked competent and essentially pulled off an offseason’s worth of transfers in little less than a week.

The Red and Black have been dross this season amassing a dismal -24 goal differential thanks to scoring just 19 goals and allowing 43 in 23 matches. In response, the team unloaded Bobby Boswell and Lamar Neagle while making some additions.

Reinforcing their lineup is Hungarian international Zoltan Stieber in midfield, USMNT U-20 midfielder Russell Canouse, a 19 year-old Bolivian striker named Bruno Miranda, and they transferred in USMNT winger Paul Arriola. All will improve the team but Arriola is an especially exciting player for DC. He brings a marketable USMNT player that the team can build around who will make an immediate impact for the team.

There are two ways to look at the moves that DC United made. Perhaps they earnestly thought that bringing in Sebastien Le Toux and relying on the continuing magic of their string of unsustainable results down the stretch last season would carryover into 2017. Or they took a completely cynical approach to putting the team together this season and decided that they didn’t need to field a competitive team until late in the year as it became time to start rounding up season ticket subscriptions for the stadium opening in 2018. I’ll let you be the judge, but one of these is more cost effective from the perspective of the team’s ownership.

DC United won’t be making the playoffs this year but the moves to stabilize the midfield and upgrade their wing play will make them a challenging opponent for the rest of the year. Atlanta will look for sweet revenge against the re-vamped DCU when they come back from the bye weeks on August 23.

And then there were actual losers this transfer window

Several teams that Atlanta will face needed real help and didn’t get it. On August 26 United will take on the Philadelphia Union who seem content to go into the final few months of the season with the players they have already and will continue to try their luck either scoring or allowing three goals every game. At least they’ll look better than they play as Philly announced that they acquired a Chief Tattoo Officer.

Another upcoming opponent is the New England Revolution who did nothing to address the fact that they can’t defend or adjust their lineup to keep other teams from scoring without sacrificing their attacking options. United faces the Revs on September 13 and will look to get revenge for Arthur Blank’s other team.

Finally, there is the Montreal Impact who were surprisingly quiet during the transfer window. Le bleu-blanc-noir spent much of last season looking like a team that would be ready to make a deep post-season run only to fade in the final weeks of the season and back into the playoffs where they made a deep run anyway. This year they look more like the team that doesn’t look like it belongs in the playoffs than the squad that almost made it to the MLS Cup Final. The Impact will come to town on September 24 in the middle of the busiest part of the Five Stripes crowded home schedule as the season winds down.


I wrote this before the deadline passed so there were a couple of movies I missed or that didn’t happen.

  • Le Toux is staying put in DC.
  • New England added Krisztian Nemeth, a forward who had 10 goals and six assists with SKC in 2015. It’s a curious move for the Revs who haven’t struggled at scoring so much as they haven’t been able to keep other teams from putting the ball in the net.
  • Orlando City may have found the solution to their problem in central midfield. The team sent Luis Gil to Colorado in exchange for Dillon Powers. The 2013 MLS Rookie of the Year hasn’t quite lived up to his potential, but playing in Colorado may have hindered his creative talents.