By Tom Sweezy
Sergio Busquets (Photo courtesy of FC Barcelona)
Galaxy adds to center-back depth
The LA Galaxy acquired center-back Tony Alfaro from NYCFC for a guaranteed fee of $125k in GAM. NYCFC could also receive up to another $375k in GAM if certain incentives are met by Alfaro. Alfaro signed with NYCFC this off-season, only making seven appearances before the trade. The 30-year-old defender is a veteran of Major League Soccer, winning MLS Cup back in 2016 with the Seattle Sounders. Alfaro played in 148 games over his career for the Seattle Sounders, NYCFC, D.C. United, Tacoma Defiance, CA Zacatepec, Reno 1868 FC, and Deportivo Guadalajara.
With a long-term injury to center-back Martín Cáceres and the departure of Séga Coulibaly, the club has been relying on league veterans Chris Mavinga, Eriq Zavaleta, and Kelvin Leerdam, as well as youngster Jalen Neal. Alfaro gives Greg Vanney another veteran option at the backline to rotate in. I don’t foresee Alfaro as an everyday starter for this club. The rise of Neal has been amazing and Mavinga has been playing better in 2023. I see Alfaro as another reliable bench option for his future in Carson.
Charlotte FC add another midfielder
Charlotte FC has signed veteran midfielder Brecht Dejaegere as a free agent heading into the second half of the 2023 MLS season. The 32-year-old Belgian central midfielder most recently won the Coupe de France this past season with FC Toulouse. Before that, winning Ligue 2 with FC Toulouse during the 2021/2022 season, the Belgian Pro League in 2014/2015, and then won the Belgian Super Cup in 2015. Dejaegere truly is a global veteran of the game with his career 421 games between FC Toulouse, KAA Gent, and KV Kortrijk. In those games scoring 37 goals and 50 assists.
Dejaegere fits into a crowded central midfield for Christian Lattanzio and Charlotte FC. The club recently signed Scott Arfield this summer, added Ashley Westwood this past off-season, and already has Derrick Jones, Brandt Bronico, Ben Bender, and Chris Hegardt in the mix. I would assume that Lattanzio plans to use his new signings primarily with a starting midfield three of Dejaegere, Arfield, and Westwood. But as we all know in MLS, depth is key.
Big inter-MLS trade alert!
Toronto FC and the New England Revolution have traded midfielders! Toronto FC sends Canadian international midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye to the New England Revolution for MLS veteran Latif Blessing. Both players are very well-known commodities in MLS as both have been highly successful and won a lot in this league. Kaye, 28, won the Supporters’ Shield and was a MLS All-Star with LAFC in 2019 and also won the USL Cup in 2017 with Louisville City.
The Canadian has been capped for his national team 40 times since his debut in 2017 and has been a stellar central midfielder within this league. Kaye joins Ian Harkes and Thomas Chancalay as Revolution signings this summer. New England continues to prove roster-wise that they are true MLS Cup contenders. A midfield that includes Carles Gil, Matt Polster, Mark-Anthony Kaye, Noel Buck, and Ian Harkes seems plenty to be a club at the top of the Eastern Conference.
Latif Blessing, 26, will now join his fourth MLS club after only 16 games for the Revs this season. The MLS Cup Champion, two-time Supporters’ Shield Winner, US Open Cup Champion, Ghanaian Premier League Player of the Season, and Ghanaian Premier League Golden Boot Winner will now look to bolster a roster that needs a facelift.
In 217 professional games for Blessing, he has scored 25 goals and 29 assists for New England, Kansas City, LAFC, Sporting Kansas City II, and Liberty Professionals FC. Blessing is Toronto FC’s second summer signing this season, following the inter-MLS loan of Franco Ibarra. Jonathan Osorio, Blessing, Ibarra, and Brandon Servania are an improvement on what the midfield looked like to start 2023 for Toronto FC.
Houston Dynamo FC exercise loan purchase option
The Houston Dynamo decided to exercise the purchase option for winger Nelson Quiñónes. Quiñónes is a 20-year-old winger who was previously on loan to Houston from Colombian club Once Caldas. Quiñónes will occupy the Dynamo’s second U22 Initiative spot on the roster, and Aliyu Ibrahim occupies the other. Over his season and a half with Houston, the young Colombian scored two goals and recorded three assists.
He has also made one appearance for the Dynamo’s second team in MLS Next Pro. Quiñónes also recorded a goal and an assist during his time with Once Caldas as well. Quiñónes has played well under new manager Ben Olsen and I think he can continue to grow on this roster.
FC Dallas sell another academy product
FC Dallas has sold 19-year-old defender Justin Che to Bröndby IF of the Superligaen (the Danish top division). The teenager can play both right-back and center-back which he has been able to sport across multiple teams in his young career. For the 2022/2023 season, Che was on loan to Bundesliga side Hoffenheim. During that time Che played mainly for Hoffenheim’s second team, with 18 appearances in the German fourth division.
In a young but exciting career so far, Che has played across top divisions in the U.S. and Germany with a combined 18 appearances for Hoffenheim and FC Dallas. He’s also played for various second teams racking up 48 appearances combined for Hoffenheim II, North Texas SC, and Bayern Munich II. The former USL League One All-League player also has made his presence known within the U.S. youth sides, most recently playing for the U20s in this summer’s U20 World Cup. Che has 10 caps for the U20 side and scored against New Zealand’s U20 side this summer.
The FC Dallas youth machine is very real. Outside of Che, Dallas has been able to sell the likes of Ricardo Pepi, Bryan Reynolds, Tanner Tessman, Reggie Cannon, and Chris Richards in recent years. How far can a guy like Che go? I think he has a future with the full national team. The Danish top division isn’t the most exciting sell for U.S. fans, but a club like Bröndby can be an opening to opportunities in the future. In recent years Bröndby has sold players to the English Premier League, Ligue 1, German Bundesliga, Italian Serie A, Turkish Super Lig, and other top divisions. I am excited at the potential for what a good season at Bröndby could mean for the future of Justin Che.
Inter Miami confirms history
Okay, first things first… Lionel Messi is officially an Inter Miami CF player! I don’t need to get into the details of Messi, who he is, and what he’s accomplished. He is the G.O.A.T and if you want to read up on what Messi can bring to Miami and MLS, I wrote another piece that you can check out here. A Designated Player roster spot had to be opened to bring in one of the greatest soccer players of all time. Miami reached a mutual contract termination with now-former Designated Player, Rodolfo Pizarro.
Pizarro was one of the major moves made by Inter Miami CF when they first began MLS play, signing him for a reported $12m fee by Tom Bogert. But things with Pizarro never worked out with Miami, going out on loan last season back to Liga MX and only making 62 club appearances in about three and a half years. The former Mexico National Team player now moves on from MLS and has signed with AEK Athens in Greece.
With a Designated Player spot open after the contract termination of Pizarro, Lionel Messi can now fill that spot. But what other history has Inter Miami CF made outside of this league-altering move? Well, the club decided to bring in Messi’s former teammate and arguably one of the best defensive midfielders of all time, Sergio Busquets. The 35-year-old Busquets signed with Inter Miami CF on a free deal after finishing his contract with FC Barcelona last season. Name any competition, and Busquets has won it.
The World Cup, Club World Cup, La Liga, UEFA Champions League, UEFA Nations League, the Euros, and the list goes on and on. Yes, Busquets is coming in at an older age, but the man still made 42 appearances across all competitions last season for Barcelona. The worst team in MLS (points-wise) is about to change how we view the league forever.
NYCFC adds Norwegian center-back to bolster the backline
After left-footed center-back, Tony Alfaro's departure, NYCFC replaced him with a new left-footed center-back from the Norwegian top division. NYCFC has signed center-back Birk Risa from Molde FK in the Eliteserien. Risa, 25 years old, joins NYCFC after a career that has seen him play for two clubs in the Eliteserien as well as a few games for German Bundesliga side FC Köln. In his 181 games between Molde FK, FC Köln, and Odds BK, Risa has racked up 181 career games, 8 goals, and 16 assists. The former Norway youth national team member was able to win the Eliteserien with Molde FK in 2022 as well as the Norwegian Cup for the 2021/2022 season.
NYCFC has needed a left-footed center-back to replace club legend Alexander Callens who left the club this last off-season. Now, Risa joins a group at NYCFC that consists of Maxime Chanot and Thiago Martins, as well as converted center-backs, James Sands and Justin Haak. NYCFC has a very strong history of scouting and signing players from Europe's not as “flashy” leagues.
The club has seen varying success of players from the region like; Maxime Chanot (signed from the Belgian top division), Anton Tinnerholm (signed from the Swedish top division), Alexandru Mitrita (signed from the Romanian top division), Héber (signed from the Croatian top division), Gudmundur Thórarinsson (signed from the Swedish top division), Malte Amundsen (signed from the Danish top division), and Mitja Ilenic (signed from the Slovenia top division). This could be a great signing to bring NYCFC back to success again in 2023 and beyond.