It's only been 49 days since the 2021 Major League Soccer season concluded with New York City FC's triumphant MLS Cup win in Portland, and there are still 30 days before the 2022 campaign gets underway, yet it's been an entertaining offseason so far.
The league's embrace of its role in the global transfer market, that of a seller, has never been more evident than in this offseason. Players developed in MLS academies and U.S. colleges such as Ricardo Pepi, Daryl Dike, Tajon Buchanan, Cole Bassett, Justin Che, James Sands and Kevin Paredes have all left for Europe. Rodolfo Pizarro, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez and Eduard Atuesta have left the league for some of the biggest clubs in South and Central America.
Yet, in the face of these intriguing exports, there have been numerous deals that have led to fresh faces arriving and established stars moving within the league. The Houston Dynamo smashed their transfer record to sign Sebastian Ferreira to a designated player deal. The LA Galaxy dealt longtime United States midfielder Sebastian Lletget to the New England Revolution.
So, with the transfers, trades and subsequent questions piling up, ESPN's Jeff Carlisle and Austin Lindberg looked into some of the most interesting, exciting and complex deals that have brought new players to new teams in MLS for 2022.
Lorenzo Insigne, Forward, Napoli to Toronto FC
The Italy international was the offseason's most spectacular capture given that his reported annual salary of $15 million is more than double the previous record of $7.2 million (the reported part anyway) for former LA Galaxy forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic. And it's one that has led to questions about whether it's a sign that MLS in general is loosening its purse strings, especially given the player's pedigree and importance to the Azzurri ahead of the 2022 World Cup.
The reality is this looks more like a Toronto team reverting to type. This is an organization that shelled out eight-digit transfer fees for the likes of Michael Bradley, Jermain Defoe and Alejandro Pozuelo. In Insigne's case, he arrived on a free transfer, allowing TFC to plow more money into his salary. Only a handful of MLS teams have shown anything close to the financial wherewithal to do anything close to what Toronto did.
The trend in MLS of signing young players — especially from South America — so they can be transferred out at a profit later also remains in force. The league's roster rules, including the U-22 initiative, invites teams to go that route. The more likely outcome as it relates to Insigne is that teams will look at the signing carefully and see how it plays out before thinking about whether to follow suit. — Jeff Carlisle
Kellyn Acosta, Midfielder, Colorado Rapids to LAFC
Trading for a "rental" is pretty commonplace when looking at the North American sports landscape, but it's not something seen all that often within MLS, yet that's exactly what LAFC have done in sending up to $1.4 million in general allocation money to Colorado for Acosta. The FC Dallas academy graduate has just a year remaining on his contract, and in the wake of his trade to Los Angeles, he made public his desire to play in Europe and that the Rapids had received interest from clubs on the continent.