For outbound transfers from MLS, this winter window was slower than expected. Only five players were transferred for a fee north of $1 million and only one of those went to Europe (but not one of Europe’s top five leagues). As a result, the list of top winter deals looks more like a collection of sensible moves, with no real blockbusters.
Some caveats: Karol Swiderski was loaned to Hellas Verona, but has a purchase option well north of $1 million. Charlotte transferred Kamil Jozwiak to Granada in the Spanish top flight for an undisclosed fee, though sources indicate it wasn’t more than $1 million.
Other deals to Europe include Vinicius Mello from Charlotte to Cukaricki, Simon Becher from Vancouver Whitecaps to AC Horsens and Thor Úlfarsson from Houston Dynamo to Debreceni. Ezequiel Barco, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez and Caio Alexandre’s loans in South America became permanent but all three had been gone with no expectation of returning already.
The lighter winter for transfers didn’t just apply to MLS; European markets were also quieter than expected. That’s in part due to the nature of the players involved – centerpieces that demand a big-money deal Thiago Almada, Alvaro Barreal and Coco Carrasquilla, and rising teenagers like Noel Buck and Caleb Wiley. Both are first-choice for their clubs and are expected to play consistent minutes this year. They’ll both be in Europe sooner rather than later, but there’s no rush to leave.
Improved contracts around MLS have made things trickier. The mid-level player may be more valuable in MLS than they would be to a potential stepping-stone club in Europe. Jesus Ferreira made $1.85 million in salary last year. To match that and pay a transfer fee is a steep financial package for, say, a mid-table Spanish or Italian team.
It’s part of why Vazquez to Monterrey made sense. Rayados were easily the strongest monetary option on the table for both Cincy and the player.
Summer international tournaments played a role, too. Miles Robinson, for instance, signed with FC Cincinnati in free agency on a short-term deal. He knows he’ll be first-choice at the club in a league he’s familiar with. If all goes well, he should be in strong contention to be part of the United States’ Copa America squad.
Here’s an early projection of what to expect when the summer window rolls around.
Potential league-record watch
This summer — with a more robust European market than January and Almada headed to the Olympics with Argentina — feels like the most likely time for serious bids to arrive for the Atlanta United star.
Atlanta’s stance has been that they are not actively shopping him around or counting the days until he leaves. If it worked out that Almada signs a new contract and spent the next five years with the club, that would be Atlanta’s most favored outcome. Granted, that isn’t the most realistic outcome at the moment – the club’s leadership understands the player’s desire to move in the near future.
That being said, Atlanta will only acquiesce to a transfer if their valuation for Almada is met. There will be no cut-rate deal at this stage with his contract running through 2025. After this summer, though, things would be different.
Atletico Madrid was the latest team linked with Almada in the winter. The pool of suitors who could offer both the financial package to satisfy Atlanta and the ambition for Almada isn’t long: basically the top half of the Premier League and top five-ish in Germany, Spain, Italy and France.
Ahead of the summer transfer window, FC Cincinnati conveyed to Alvaro Barreal and Vazquez they would not sanction a transfer. They wanted to push for trophies and the plea was: stay, be successful and then you can leave a winner in the winter.
Cincy won the Supporters’ Shield and Vazquez transferred to CF Monterrey, but Barreal remains in Cincy for now.
The wingback and club will reassess ahead of the summer, hoping the market will be more robust in Europe. He just signed a new contract with club options through 2025.
The Panamanian star helped lead the Dynamo to win the Open Cup and to their best season in recent memory, leading Houston Dynamo to brace for bids. Shockingly, no bids came for Carrasquilla this winter, but they very well could this summer.
The player wants to return to Europe — he has experience in Spain’s lower divisions before Houston. The club won’t stand in his way, but they also weren’t going to stand in the way this winter, when nothing materialized.
Maybe, like Kai Wagner and Miles Robinson, sticking in MLS isn’t the worst solution. It may be wise for Houston to dangle a new, long-term contract for Carrasquilla and see if he’d pledge a few more years in Texas.
Unlike Carrasquilla, there were bids for Julian Carranza this winter; he just didn’t like any of the destinations.
Sources confirm a report from The Inquirer that Carranza turned down the chance to move to Werder Bremen after the Union agreed to terms on a fee. Carranza also deflected interest from Ipswich Town.
Carranza’s contract expires in the winter. The Union is on the clock whether to roll the dice and keep him at the risk of losing him for free in a year or re-sign him like they did Wagner when the German didn’t get the options he hoped for in free agency.
Some transfer windows remain open now and the Union is exploring other options. Sources across the league with knowledge of the negotiations are insistent that the Union would be open to trading Carranza within the league for the right price as well.
It might be time
The Brazilian winger has taken a step back since Taty Castellanos departed NYCFC a year and a half ago. In the half-season leading up to it, Magno was one of the very best left wingers in MLS. He was miscast as a false nine thereafter, however, and struggled.
Even when he played at left wing last season, Magno didn’t have the same spark, ingenuity, confidence or output. It won’t help that NYCFC signed Hannes Wolff — an in-prime left winger who once commanded a $13 million transfer fee and was about to break into the Austrian national team — as well as spending a reported $7.5 million to sign rising Argentine talent Agustin Ojeda.
There won’t be enough minutes to go around for all three. Magno was linked with a potential move to Bologna in January that never materialized. Whether the Italians come back to the table or another side jumps in, Talles Magno could use a change of scenery this summer.
After nearly making a move to Spartak Moscow that was scrapped by MLS, Jesus Ferreira remains with FC Dallas for 2024.
Stepping stone-type European clubs can’t match his salary (nearly $2 million) on top of whatever fee Dallas would command. Spartak made an offer of $13 million but sources believe a deal could be made for less than that. The clubs that can afford that won’t move on Ferreira at the moment because they’re higher up on the food chain and need to see him succeed in Europe.
At 23 years old, there’s still plenty of time but with every passing window, the financial outlay becomes more difficult.
Well, the Blackburn saga is over (for now). You can catch up all about how two different deals to Blackburn fell apart in the space of 72 hours.
How Duncan McGuire’s move to Blackburn fell apart twice
Now what? McGuire is back in Orlando and officially re-joined training this week, but is looking at the probability of being second choice behind Colombia international striker Luis Muriel. Several teams around MLS has asked Orlando about a trade, sources say, but Orlando remains insistent they will not consider it.
Blackburn says it will reopen talks for a summer move, but Orlando would be right to be skeptical after this most recent experience. Perhaps MLS teams will test Orlando’s resolve with trade offers or McGuire will reintegrate into the first team.
Plenty of English teams continue to monitor the England U-19 standout, but a winter move was not urgent. Noel Buck’s club future is likely in England, but it remains to be seen whether that happens this summer or not and what the right option is.
Clubs big and small are interested in Buck, creating three pathways for the player to consider:
- Go to a big club in England where an immediate loan would be likely and try to break into the team that way, at the risk of never quite making the grade.
- Go to a smaller club, likely in England or Germany, where an immediate path to playing time is more realistic, but that comes with the risk of a smaller contract and the threat of relegation — or starting out at one of the top Championship teams to begin with.
- Go to a bigger club in a non-top five league like Club Brugge and develop that way.
Only Buck will be able to make that choice if teams from multiple buckets reach New England’s valuation for their star homegrown midfielder. Time is on his side — he doesn’t turn 19 until April and only completed his first full season in the Revs first team — but clubs in England like to get players from MLS as young as they can to steer their development.
Atlanta United and U.S. national team left back Caleb Wiley has long been on European radars even before breaking into a regular starting role in MLS, thanks to his performance at various youth national team levels.
Wiley, 19, is happy in Atlanta and the development curve he’s on. He understands how crucial it is to find the right landing spot in Europe, not just the first offer. In Atlanta, he’s the unquestioned starting left back in a system that allows him to attack freely while getting precious, consistent minutes to sharpen his defending.
Wiley will likely be a key player for the United States at the Olympics this summer. I’d expect things to heat up then, including some proactive teams hoping to get a deal done before the Olympics to avoid the price going up.
John Tolkin, 21, is a bit older than Wiley, but fits a lot of the same generalities.
Tolkin is entering year four as the unquestioned first-choice left back for the New York Red Bulls, playing in a transition system that suits his style. He is also likely to feature regularly at the Olympics for the United States this summer and is also on the fringe of the senior national team.
RB Salzburg, led by former Red Bulls coach Gerhard Struber, is among the clubs interested in Tolkin, as well as others across Europe, including Germany and bigger clubs in non-top five leagues.
It may be difficult to pry him away from Red Bull midseason, but I expect several clubs will try.
(Top photo of Thiago Almada: FEDERICO PARRA/AFP via Getty Images)