The 2022 MLS campaign was one for the record books, as the league welcomed a 28th team with Charlotte FC, won the CONCACAF Champions League for the first time in more than two decades via the Seattle Sounders. To close things off, it showcased arguably the best MLS Cup in its 27-year history as LAFC defeated the Philadelphia Union in a penalty-kick shootout.
But 2022 also perhaps kicked off a new era in MLS, one in which it attracts a different profile of player. Toronto FC made waves last January when they announced the signing of Lorenzo Insigne from Napoli and followed it up with Federico Bernardeschi from Juventus. Fresh off of winning Euro 2020 the previous summer and with both still theoretically in their physical primes, the Italian duo scored 14 goals, as the team charged up the Eastern Conference table in the second half of the season.
Columbus Crew made a comparable splash with 23-year-old striker Cucho Hernandez following his relegation from the Premier League at Watford, while the Los Angeles Galaxy made an ambitious move for Riqui Puig, a midfielder a few weeks shy of turning 23, who graduated from Barcelona's famous La Masía academy and then made the unprecedented move to the United States rather than looking for a different Champions League-level team in Europe. Both players have become cornerstones for their new clubs in MLS, posting a combined 12 goals and four assists following last summer's arrivals.
And don't forget the incredible business LAFC did in signing a plethora of veterans both from abroad (Gareth Bale, Giorgio Chiellini and Denis Bouanga) and from within the league (Kellyn Acosta, Ilie Sanchez, Ryan Hollingshead), who all contributed to winning the club's first MLS Cup and Supporters' Shield double last season.
So with the league growing stronger every passing year, which imported players can make similar impacts upon their arrivals to the U.S.? Who has landed at the perfect club within the league to be a difference maker this season?
These are the 10 biggest transfers, trades and offseason moves that will shape MLS heading into the 2023 campaign.
TOP 10 OFFSEASON TRADES, TRANSFERS AND MOVES IN MLS
Josef Martinez: Atlanta United to Inter Miami
Martinez's time with Atlanta United may have ended messily, but there's no doubt the 29-year-old will go down as a club legend after scoring 111 goals in all competitions from 2017 to 2022. Even when it became clear he was falling out with the club hierarchy last season, the 2018 MLS Cup winner and MVP continued to be effective as an impact substitute and averaged three shots and .56 goals per 90 minutes. While he'll be hard pressed to return to his pre-2020 form due to the ACL tear that forced him to miss almost that entire season, this version of Martinez is still a menacing prospect for any opposing defense. He should still be an improvement over the now-retired Gonzalo Higuain in Miami and form a deadly striker pairing with exciting youngster Leonardo Campana.
Evander: FC Midtjylland to Portland
The Timbers have had their eyes on FC Midtjylland's Brazilian star Evander for a few years and with Diego Valeri back in Argentina and Sebastian Blanco turning 35 in March, the time was finally right to bring in the attacking midfielder on a club-record Designated Player deal. He racked up 50 goals and 38 assists during five seasons in all competitions for Danish side Midtjylland, including nine goal involvements in 12 appearances across the last two Europa League campaigns. The 24-year-old is a true No. 10, a perfect new-generation answer to the aforementioned club legends Valeri and Blanco, and he will be a mouth-watering addition to an already strong attacking unit in Portland with Yimmi Chara, Santiago Moreno and Dairon Asprilla.
Mateusz Klich: Leeds United to D.C. United
Klich is probably the most well-known name to join MLS this offseason thanks to his successful Premier League spell with Leeds United, where he tallied five goals and seven assists across 68 appearances (54 starts) in 2020/21 and 2021/22. The 32-year-old was schooled in the high-pressing, high-intensity practices of Marcelo Bielsa, and he was brought in by D.C. United manager Wayne Rooney to help solidify the midfield of last season's Wooden Spoon winners (last place). There is enough experience and talent around him in Christian Benteke, Taxiarchis Fountas and Victor Palsson for this workhorse Designated Player to help raise United to much higher levels than their shocking performance in 2022.
Aaron Long: New York Red Bulls to Los Angeles FC
Long has been one of the best center-backs in the league for some time and being called up to the U.S. Men's National Team for numerous international windows in 2022 (including the World Cup itself) ensured that he would be one of the most sought-after free agents after a seven-season stay with the Red Bulls. LAFC won the sweepstakes and the 30-year-old is switching coasts to join the defending MLS Cup and Supporters' Shield champions where he should displace an all-time positional legend Giorgio Chiellini in the starting back-line.
Enzo Copetti: Racing Club to Charlotte FC
Copetti was a late bloomer in Argentina, not becoming a regular in the country's top division until Summer 2021 when he was already 26 years old. But he exploded onto the scene last season, finishing as the third-highest scorer in the league (11 goals) and leading Racing Club to a close second-place finish just two points behind national giant Boca Juniors and three ahead of another one in River Plate. His play convinced Charlotte to splash the cash and sign him as a Designated Player where they are expecting him to pick up where he left off alongside Karol Swiderski in the front two as the club hopes to make a sophomore leap in the league similar to Austin FC last year.
Roman Burki: Borussia Dortmund to St. Louis CITY SC
From last season's expansion team to this season's newcomers, St. Louis has had to build an entire roster in order to be prepared for their inaugural campaign. Brazilian striker Joao Klauss was an interesting pickup, as were midfielders Eduard Lowen and Njabulo Blom, but none more so than former Borussia Dortmund goalkeeper Roman Burki. The 32-year-old has a combined 85 clean sheets from 252 appearances in the Bundesliga, Champions League and for the Swiss national team, and his composure between the sticks will be a huge determining factor as to how successful CITY can be in the club's MLS debut.
Aaron Herrera: Real Salt Lake to CF Montreal
Montreal exceeded all expectations and had a stellar 2022, finishing as the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference just two points back of the Supporters' Shield winners. But the team lost an incredible amount of talent after the season, as Djordje Mihailovic, Ismael Kone and Alistair Johnston all transferred to European clubs and manager Wilfried Nancy moved to Columbus. One man tasked with trying to lead the team to new heights is Herrera, who will be a direct replacement for Johnston at right-back after signing from Real Salt Lake in December. The 25-year-old has quietly become one of the most reliable full-backs in the league, with 16 assists and 33 clean sheets since breaking into MLS in 2018, and he'll be crucial to Montreal's game plan to maintain their success in the upcoming campaign.
Martin Ojeda: Godoy Cruz to Orlando City
Despite making the MLS Cup playoffs for a third-consecutive season and winning the U.S. Open Cup in 2022, Orlando City is also in the midst of a transition period, as mainstays like Nani, Daryl Dike, Chris Mueller, Andres Perea, Junior Urso, Ruan, Joao Moutinho, and Benji Michel have all departed the club the last two offseasons. So they continued retooling their squad by signing Ojeda as a Designated Player from Godoy Cruz. The 24-year-old recorded 32 goals and 29 assists in 97 appearances on either wing for the Argentinian side, and he is joining fellow youngsters like Facundo Torres, Cesar Araujo, Luca Petrasso and Rafael Santos in a new-look Orlando team.
Carlos Gruezo: Augsburg to San Jose
Gruezo was an excellent European deadline day acquisition for San Jose, as the 27-year-old is returning to MLS where he was an unquestioned starter with three goals and four assists for FC Dallas from 2017-19, which was followed by a decent Bundesliga stint with FC Augsburg (71 appearances, 54 starts despite two significant spells sidelined due to injuries). He is already familiar with the league, so there is very little risk in signing him as a Designated Player. The only question is whether he can provide the necessary momentum and spark from defensive midfield to finally drag the Earthquakes out of mediocrity as the franchise hasn't won a playoff game since 2010.
Dante Vanzeir: Union SG to New York Red Bulls
Here's a list of the Red Bulls' position in the Eastern Conference table, as well as their ranking by goals scored in each of the last three seasons: 2020; sixth place, 10th in goals scored. 2021; seventh place, ninth in goals scored. 2022; fourth place, fifth in goals scored. New York has consistently had one of the best defenses in the league, but they struggle to actually put the ball in the net, as no player aside from winger Lewis Morgan tallied more than five goals last season. Their newest Designated Player signing Dante Vanzeir goes some way to addressing this issue. The 24-year-old posted 23 goals and 12 assists in 49 Belgian top division appearances with minnow-turned-contenders Union Saint-Gilloise over the last 18 months, and he should hit the ground running up front for his new MLS club in 2023.
Chicago Fire are another team that has been stuck in limbo for a while, so their move for Montpellier right-back Arnaud Souquet certainly could raise some eyebrows. Nemanja Radoja was a regular feature in La Liga side Levante's midfield for a few years, and he's now aiming to break into a Sporting Kansas City lineup which wants to have a statement bounce-back campaign. Colorado Rapids are similarly looking to get back to their 2021 heights when they topped the Western Conference in the regular season and the return of 21-year-old USA international Cole Bassett will certainly help their cause. D.C. United didn't stop with the acquisition of Klich, as former Columbus Crew jack-of-all-trades Pedro Santos brings another talented veteran presence for Rooney's side. Derrick Etienne also left the Crew after a breakout 2022 and is moving to Atlanta United. And don't discount the effect that Andres Perea can have on an already dynamic and thrilling midfield for the Philadelphia Union, which are looking to make amends for missing out on last year's Supporters' Shield by a regular-season wins tiebreaker and the MLS Cup in a heartbreaking penalty shootout.